Dan Wiederer began covering the Vikings in 2011, enthusiastically delivering insight on the team across the Star Tribune's print and digital products. Prior to joining the Access Vikings team, he spent seven seasons covering ACC basketball at The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer. He also covered the Chicago Bears in 2003 and 2004. Follow him on Twitter @StribDW.
Mark Craig has covered football and the NFL the past 20 years, including the Browns from 1991-95 and the Vikings and the NFL since 2003. Since 2008, Craig has served as one of the 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. He can be followed on Twitter at @markcraignfl.
Once again, Leslie Frazier's support of quarterback Christian Ponder was unwavering.
"He's our starter," the Vikings head coach said today during his final press conference of the 2013 season.
As for the team's plans for No. 2 QB Joe Webb and No. 3 QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, well, the support from the top of the Purple coaching tree was polite, but far from unwavering.
"[Webb will] be a guy that will compete for the No. 2 spot again next year, barring something that we may end up doing in our personnel meetings," Frazier said. "But we'll discuss Joe's position and everyone's position in our personnel meetings and then we'll make a decision what's best."
Asked about Bethel-Thompson's status as the No. 3 QB and the possibility that a veteran could be brought in to be the the No. 2 while Webb fills the No. 3 job, Frazier said, "It's so hard to say just two days after our season. ... Our roster is going to change. All of us in this building who've been around this league as long as we have know that. It's hard today to say that Bethel's going to be No. 3 until we see how the roster unfolds."
Webb played only three snaps during the regular season and didn't attempt a pass. Bethel-Thompson was inactive for all 16 games. But they moved up the pecking order when deep bruising on the triceps and elbow of Ponder's throwing arm kept him from playing in Saturday night's 24-10 wild-card playoff loss at Green Bay.
Webb played the whole game and was, well, awful. Trailing the Packers 24-3 after three quarters, Webb had completed 7 of 20 passes for 61 yards, an interception and a 23.1 passer rating.
"Yeah, it was a tough day for Joe," Frazier said. "Tough day all the way around. Put in a tough situation having to go start a playoff game in that environment against a good football team. We still have a lot of confidence in Joe. We understand the circumstances he played in."
Meanwhile, Frazier was clear-cut in his feelings about Ponder being the team's long-term answer at quarterback.
"We're excited about his progress," Frazier said. "The way he played down the stretch, he was great. He had a lot to do with us winning those last four games the way we did. It's unfortunate he wasn't able to play that last ballgame up at Lambeau. He wanted to play. He tried everything he could to get on the field. It just wouldn't have been a wise decision to put him out there with the injury that he had. Just didn't get the flexion back in that tricep. But he did everything in his powers to get out there. His rehab, his work ethic was tremendous. So we're pleased with the progress that he's made.
"We saw glimpses of what he can bring to our football team and the way he led us down the stretch, you feel like you've got a chance to win every game when your quarterback plays the way he played. So we're excited about his development and looking forward to him getting better this offseason."
Kluwe to have surgery on left knee: Punter Chris Kluwe, who spent several weeks on the injury report with a left knee injury, will have surgery to repair the meniscus, Frazier said. Defensive end Jared Allen will have shoulder surgery after the Pro Bowl. Special teamer Tyrone McKenzie (shoulder), cornerback Antoine Winfield (hand) and quarterback Christian Ponder (right triceps, elbow) won't require surgery, while running back Adrian Peterson's abdominal injury will be evaluated after the Pro Bowl. Peterson battled the injury down the stretch and left the Houston game early with it , but only after the Vikings had full control of the game.
Singletary, Priefer to interview with the Bears: Frazier confirmed reports that linebackers coach and special assistant to the head coach Mike Singletary and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer are among the 13 candidates who have been asked to interview for the Bears' vacant head coaching position. Singletary, who played his Hall of Fame career in Chicago, and Priefer, whose NFL coaching career began in 2002 in Jacksonville, joined the Vikings in 2011. Singletary was the 49ers' head coach from the final nine games in 2008 until the 15th game of the 2010 season.
Frazier said he would like to keep this year's coaching staff intact for next season.
"I mentioned earlier that our coaches did a great job getting our players ready to play every week," he said. "Barring someone getting a promotion, I'm hoping all our guys are back. They did a terrific job throughout the season."
Evaluating the season: Frazier obviously was disappointed to see the season end after the first round of the playoffs. But he's also encouraged because, well, you know, all the rest of us thought they'd win six games, max.
"The foundation has really been set for our team without question," Frazier said. "Our core identity showed up. The traits that we talked about throughout the year, about being a tough, smart, disciplined football team were exemplified through this group of young men."
What about that contract extension, Leslie?: Frazier, whose contract expires after next season, is expected to receive an extension soon. Asked if he's talked to ownership about a contract extension, he said: "I haven’t had a chance to talk with them at this point. These last 48 hours in the building have been meeting with players and talking with them about the future and so on, and some other things in their lives. But eventually we will talk and not worried about it. Things will work out just fine. Not worried at all."
Asked if his agent, Bob Lamonte, has spoken with ownership, Frazier said: "Not at this point. But we will have those discussions.”
After a season in which, including playoffs, he made 36 of 39 field goal attempts and hit all 10 of his tries from 50 yards or beyond, Vikings kicker Blair Walsh has only one thing left to do: visit Hawaii later this month for the Pro Bowl.
Walsh expressed excitement about the trip Monday and also revealed his intentions of bringing long snapper Cullen Loeffler to Oahu as his guest.
“He deserves it. That was a mutually founded thing,” Walsh said.
Walsh and Loeffler are still holding out hope that the Vikings long snapper will get a late invite by the NFC coaching staff to play in the game. But even if he doesn’t, Loeffler will join Walsh on the trip.
Last year, San Francisco’s Brian Jennings was the NFC’s invited long snapper, an easy choice given that 49ers kicker David Akers and punter Andy Lee played in the game.
Loeffler had previously held out hope of getting a special invite to Hawaii in years past when punter Chris Kluwe and former kicker Ryan Longwell were Pro Bowl alternates.
Said Loeffler: “The deal was, ‘Hey look, if we make it we’re taking you with us regardless.’ And so, really Kluwe informed [Blair], ‘Hey, this is how it works.’”
Futures contracts signed
All eight practice squad players were signed to futures contracts Monday, giving the Vikings exclusive rights to them when the 2013 league year begins in March. Those players are defensive tackle Chase Baker, running back Joe Banyard, tight end LaMark Brown, cornerback Bobby Felder, tight end Chase Ford, guard Tyler Holmes, tackle Kevin Murphy and receiver Chris Summers.
The draft is coming! The draft is coming!
Only 105 days remain until the Vikings go on the clock for the first time during the 2013 NFL Draft. As a result of Saturday’s playoff loss in Green Bay, the Vikings will own the No. 23 pick in the first round.
Quarterback Christian Ponder is listed as questionable for the Vikings-Packers game tomorrow because of his sore right elbow. Ponder had limited participation in practice all week.
Cornerback Antoine Winfield is also questionable because of his broken right hand.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said Thursday that he expected both to play.
Tyrone McKenzie, one of the team's top special teams player, is out because of an injured shoulder.
Listed as probable are running back Adrian Peterson (abdomen), safety Harrison Smith (knee), defensive end Brian Robison (shoulder), defensive end Jared Allen (shoulder), cornerback A.J. Jefferson (ankle), defensive end George Johnson (quadriceps), punter Chris Kluwe (left, or non-kicking, knee) and right tackle Phil Loadholt (knee).
Update: For the Packers, defensive end Jerel Worthy (knee) and wide reciever Jarrett Boykin (ankle) are out, and running back James Starks (knee) is questionable.
Cornerback Charles Woodson returns from a broken collarbone and is probable, as are wide receiver Jordy Nelson (knee), receiver/kick returner Randall Cobb (ankle) and running back Alex Green (hip).
Out means a player has no chance of playing (unless he's Brett Favre). Questionable is 50 percent chance. Probable is virtual certainty he will play.
Defensive end Brian Robison and cornerback Antoine Winfield are both officially listed as questionable on the Vikings' injury report for this weekend. But it would take an awful lot to keep either veteran from playing in Sunday's high-stakes rivalry clash against Green Bay.
A win will push the Vikings into the postseason. And so Robison, dealing with a sprained right shoulder, and Winfield, with a broken bone in his right hand, both figure to suit up Sunday and play.
Robison missed last weekend’s win in Houston, working back from a Grade 3 sprain of his acromioclavicular joint. He has been limited in practice all week but has shown signs of progress, leaving head coach Leslie Frazier optimistic about his availability.
“He’s much improved,” Frazier said Friday afternoon.
Robison knows what’s at stake Sunday and will push to be in action. If the veteran end does play, the Vikings will keep a close eye on his activity and productivity with comfort that Everson Griffen provides a nice back-up plan.
Frazier said he would listen closely to how Robison feels about his shoulder discomfort and monitor his soreness on Saturday.
“I want to hear what he has to say,” Frazier said.
Winfield broken the second metacarpal in his right hand in the first quarter last weekend and played the rest of the game with the injury; the fracture wasn’t diagnosed until Monday morning. And while the 14th-year corner will need to play with a wrap and a protective pad on his right hand, that shouldn’t limit him much.
“He showed me today that he can grip with it,” Frazier said. “We feel like he’ll be able to tackle and do what he has to do.”
Those listed as probable on the Vikings’ injury report are: Adrian Peterson (abdomen), Jared Allen (shoulder), Chris Kluwe (knee), Phil Loadholt (knee), Marcus Sherels (quadriceps), Marvin Mitchell (illness).
Several key injury updates for you this afternoon from Winter Park …
Vikings defensive end Brian Robison returned to practice Friday, fighting to push through the discomfort of his Grade 3 shoulder sprain. Robison lined up with the first-team defense in the early parts of practice open to the media and seemed to move around well enough that the Vikings still think he has a chance to start Sunday in Houston.
“He feels better,” head coach Leslie Frazier said. “We’ll talk a little but more about how we want to proceed with him, but he did enough in practice today to create some encouragement amongst our staff and his teammates as well.”
The Vikings will wait to see how Robison feels Saturday after practicing and then undergoing additional treatment Friday for the injury to his acromioclavicular joint.
“We’ve got to see how he feels from some of the things we took him through today,” Frazier said. “So what he has to say will make a difference. We saw some things today that makes us think he may have a chance [to play]. But he has to feel it both mentally and physically.
Left tackle Matt Kalil returned to practice Friday after missing the previous two days due to illness. Kalil was sick enough to stay home from the team facility on Wednesday and Thursday. But to help him study for Sunday’s big test against Houston, offensive line coach Jeff Davidson went to Kalil’s house to help deliver some of the concepts and nuances of the game plan.
“It was kind of funny,” Kalil said. “I don’t think he’s ever been over to my house. But he wanted to make sure I was prepared and just give me the same coaching he’s had in that meeting room since I wasn’t able to be in there.”
Kalil, a California native, admitted he lost a little bit of weight due to the illness and was still fighting to feel 100 percent again.
“My Cali body isn’t used to this cold weather. So it’s something I’ve got to get used to,” he said
Kalil had praise for Houston’s defense, calling end J.J. Watt “a force to be reckoned with” and also complimenting outside linebacker Brooks Reed, a former foe of his from their days in the Pac-12.
Still, while Kalil knows the Texans defense is tough, he also pointed out that their defense isn’t overly complex.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a good week for me to be sick. But they’re pretty simplistic with what they do. … They’re good at running their line games and they’re great at rushing the passer.”
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