Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.
Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.
Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.
After the defense appeared to win the day yesterday, the offense struck back this afternoon.
The passing offense was much crisper today, and you could count on two hands the number of passes that hit the grass in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. First-stringer Matt Cassel fared the best of the quarterback bunch, completing 17 of his 19 attempts, with one of those passes getting swatted down at the line. Sure, there was some dinking and dunking, but Cassel did complete a few difficult throws downfield against Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer’s defense.
While the players are still playing without pads on and there is no live tacking, this practice was conducted with a faster pace and a little more intensity than yesterday’s training camp kickoff.
SETTING THE SCENE: After a soggy morning walkthrough, the clouds headed for the hills, creating a picturesque afternoon in Mankato with blue skies and temperatures in the mid-70s. Players were in helmets and shells for the second straight day. The practice lasted just under two hours.
YOUR DAILY QUARTERBACK SMORGASBORD: Cassel wasn’t the only one who completed most of his passes. Bridgewater completed 10 of his 13 attempts during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills and Ponder missed on just two of his 10 throws, including one after he executed a nice pump fake but couldn’t quite connect with Kain Colter, who was unable to make a tricky twisting catch. Bridgewater made a couple of nice throws, including a perfectly-placed lob outside the numbers to wide receiver Adam Thielen for a big gain. Bridgewater overshot a few throws like that during the first two days of camp, but that completion garnered him a loud cheer from the bleachers.
SLIGHT END?: Pretty much every player will tell you this time of year that they are in the best shape of their life, but it is noteworthy that the team as a whole has slimmed down since Zimmer brought stricter standards to the team cafeteria. One of those players who has shed some weight is tight end Kyle Rudolph, who did it in the hopes it will help him get open more often in coordinator Norv Turner’s tight-end-friendly offense. Today, he certainly looked pretty good running routes, changing directions well for someone who is 6-foot-6. But will the weight loss affect his run blocking? We’ll find out soon. The pads get strapped on tomorrow.
ROCKY RHODES: It wasn’t the best day for second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes. During one stretch, Rhodes, who mans the right sideline, was beat to the inside for a chunk play by wide receiver Greg Jennings, who ran a deep post route. Quarterbacks picked on him a couple of more times for completions along the sideline, leading to some extra coaching from Zimmer.
DAY OF THE SWING PASS: Of all those completed passes today, I’d estimate that at least a third of them went to Vikings running backs. Maybe even half. After practice, Zimmer praised Adrian Peterson’s route-running. Sure, Peterson didn’t have the best day catching the ball yesterday. But he caught one in the open field today and was off to the races. After watching that, you can understand why Zimmer and the coaches are so excited about his potential in the passing game.
EARLY RETURNS: With wide-out Cordarrelle Patterson sidelined, the Vikings got a closer look at a group of potential kick returners that included Colter, Thielen, Jarius Wright, Jerick McKinnon, Josh Robinson and Marcus Sherels. I’d tell you who looked the best, but no one is allowed to touch these guys. For what it’s worth, coordinator Mike Priefer seemed to bark more praise toward McKinnon and Sherels.
INJURY REPORT: Zimmer said that Patterson (foot) and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (hammy) are getting closer to practicing, though he would not offer a timetable. Patterson could be spotted on the far field jogging and doing straddle exercises without a limp. As for safety Andrew Sendejo (lower back and ankle), Zimmer was not as optimistic. Sendejo has been dealing with the back injury since last season, and Zimmer pointed out that he has yet to see him practice. The safety position is a crowded one, so Sendejo will lose more and more ground every day he sits out.
It’s turning out to be a soggy day here in Mankato.
The skies opened up a little bit during the morning walkthrough, and the Vikings scurried through the rest of the walkthrough before seeking shelter. We’ll see if Mike Zimmer wants to set the tone by practicing outside -- assuming it keeps raining -- or if he wants to play it safe and practice inside. They will be in shells, after all.
After the walkthrough, defensive coordinator George Edwards and offensive coordinator Norv Turner both stopped inside the media tent. Both are good talkers who often give insightful answers. And they both delivered when asked about competitions at a couple of critical areas.
Edwards opened his news conference by talking about how he is looking forward to finding out the answers to some of the many unanswered questions that met the Vikings in Mankato. A couple of those questions are who will start at linebacker and where will they even be playing?
“We’re rotating a lot of different guys in a lot of different areas,” Edwards said. “We still haven’t said that this guy is at this position or this guy’s the MIKE or this guy’s playing the SAM outside linebacker. So right now, this will be a process as we keep going through camp. … We like the competition. We like the guys that we’ve got. And we know it will work itself out in the end.”
Edwards said the coaching staff has an idea of which linebackers will play which linebacker position, but he said the competition at the MIKE -- aka middle linebacker -- will be more complicated because whoever mans the position will be asked to do a lot of different things, from run blitzing to dropping into coverage to cover backs or tight ends. The mental aspect is also significant.
“We think we’ve got a good group of MIKE linebackers,” he said. “We just want to see who will come to the top, competition-wise, and win out the position. Going into camp, that’s what you want as a coach. You want things to be unsettled so guys go out there and work hard every day.”
Things appear to be settled, at least for now, along the offensive line. The Vikings return a group of five linemen -- from left to right, Matt Kalil, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt -- who have been together since the 2012 season. Turner acknowledged that continuity can be beneficial on the offensive line, but that doesn’t mean he is averse to making changes.
“Playing together helps, but obviously in this league you have to plug young players in,” he said. “So if a young player steps up and is capable, then that’s not going to be a deterrent to keep him from playing. But again, those five guys, I’m very confident that they can play at a high level.”
As Edwards said several times during his podium session, we’ll learn more about the players in all camp competitions starting tomorrow, when the Vikings are full pads for the first time this summer.
Hopefully it will stop raining by then.
Every day On most days, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening that day.
After an interesting first day to Mike Zimmer’s training camp that included a fire alarm waking up the players in the middle of the night and an injury keeping one of the team’s top young players out of practice, the Vikings will be back at it again today at Minnesota State Mankato.
Yesterday’s afternoon practice itself was pretty uneventful, with the players practicing in shells and Zimmer easing his players into training camp. We’ll be looking for the intensity to pick up today. We’ll also be looking to see if Cordarrelle Patterson is back at practice after sitting out yesterday.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
--- Despite the absence of hitting, it was an eventful first day to Camp Zimmer.
--- Linval Joseph is healthy and ready to roll, and Zimmer sounds pretty excited about it.
--- Patterson missed practice with a foot injury and is considered day-to-day.
--- The Vikings made a couple of minor roster moves and put three players on the PUP list.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
AROUND THE NFC NORTH
--- Jared Allen is already making his presence known on the Bears defense.
--- The Packers are turning to youth on their defensive line.
--- The Lions are not optimistic about getting a deal done with Ndamukong Suh.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
The Vikings will hold their morning walkthrough at 10:30 a.m. Afterwards, we will hear from coordinators Norv Turner and George Edwards. The team will practice in shells starting at 3 p.m.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
The Vikings, who have been coming down to Mankato every summer since 1964, are one of just 14 NFL teams to hold their training camp away from their practice facility. According to MMQB.com, 27 NFL teams held their camp away from home back in 2000. The Vikings, by the way, are locked into holding training camp at Minnesota State Mankato for one more summer.
Mike Zimmer has promised that the Vikings would be fast and physical, but they eased into training camp this afternoon. There will be no live contact in the first couple of days of camp, so Zimmer said earlier that those practices will have more of an OTA feel. He ended up being right.
Practice started with position drills followed by some 1-on-1 work. After that, Zimmer sprinkled in some 11-on-11 team drills and a brief blitz period. There was also a lot of special teams work.
Usually at the start of training camp, the defense gets the better of the offense as the offense finds its rhythm. Today, the defense had its moments, contesting passes as Zimmer has said he hoped to see, so they’d probably get the slight edge, partially due to several errant passes from the offense.
SETTING THE SCENE: Practice was outdoors. The practice lasted around two hours. Players were in helmets and shells. The weather here was overcast and the temperature was reasonable.
BATTLE OF THE ‘BACKERS: Top pick Anthony Barr, who missed most of the spring due to an NFL rule that kept him at UCLA, started his first NFL training camp with the second-team defense. Running with the first team were Chad Greenway, Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole. It will probably only be a matter of time until Barr is with the starters, but Zimmer is going to make him earn it.
SIMPSON SIZZLES: Wide receiver Jerome Simpson had a pretty solid first day, despite one bobbled pass that nearly led to an interception in team drills. In individual drills -- yes, I know, they are just 1-on-1s -- Simpson once ran a crisp deep out route, slamming on the brakes to leave his defender in the dust before making a nice, lunging grab near the sideline. On another play, he got behind the defense but Teddy Bridgewater barely overshot him. Simpson brings that vertical dimension to Norv Turner’s vertical offense, and could thrive if he can become more consistent.
LET’S TALK QUARTERBACKS: OK, maybe I should have gotten to the quarterbacks sooner, but there wasn’t a whole lot to report from this afternoon. Matt Cassel, who was throwing to the starters, completed six of his 10 attempts in team drills, though a couple of those incompletions were the result of blatant drops. Bridgewater, who was with the second-stringers, was 5-for-8. Christian Ponder was just 1-for-2, and he threw a few errant passes during individual drills.
CORDARRELLE A NO-GO: Second-year receiver Cordarrelle Patterson wore a bucket hat instead of a helmet today. Patterson was held out of practice after injuring his foot. The team says that he is day-to-day and no, Patterson wasn’t the guy who failed the conditioning test yesterday.
SAFETY DANCE: Robert Blanton continued to line up next to Harrison Smith with the starting defense, but I can report that 2012 and 2013 starter Jamarca Sanford has returned from injury.
DROPPING THE BALL: When it was time to practice punts, only Jarius Wright and Kain Colter went back to catch them, and Wright struggled at doing so. He let one Jeff Locke punt toward the left sideline drop in front of him and muffed another punt, which was recovered by the coverage team.
NOT CATCHING ON: The Vikings have said they hope to get Adrian Peterson more involved in the passing game, but this afternoon his terrifyingly-strong hands failed him on a few occasions.
INJURY REPORT: Beyond Patterson and the PUP guys -- CB Captain Munnerlyn (strained hammy), S Andrew Sendejo (lower back and ankle) and TE Chase Ford (foot) -- everyone else practiced.
Mike Zimmer tried to curb his enthusiasm this morning, having just seen Vikings nose tackle Linval Joseph in a walkthrough setting only. But Zimmer couldn’t help but gush about the big guy.
“He came in in tremendous-looking physical shape,” the Vikings head coach said. “He weighed 317, benches 500 pounds. And watching him out there in the walkthrough -- which doesn’t mean anything -- he looked like how a nose tackle is supposed to look. … I have high, high expectations of him, but they’re reserved a little bit because I’ve [only] seen him do a walkthrough.”
For the first time since joining the Vikings as a free agent in March, Joseph was on the practice field without restrictions. He had offseason surgery on his right shoulder after his 2013 season with the Giants ended and was only able to participate on a limited basis during spring workouts.
But now that doctors have cleared him for the team’s first camp practice here at Minnesota State Mankato this afternoon, Joseph is fired up -- in a subdued manner -- and ready to roll.
“I feel good coming in,” the 25-year-old said. “I battled back from my injury and I’m just ready to go and help this team win games and take us to the promised land.”
Joseph admitted it was frustrating this spring standing off to the side while watching his new teammates practice. He tried to make the most of it by taking mental reps to learn the plays, but there is no substitute for lining up against center John Sullivan and learning the playbook while butting helmets. He will get to do that today and start to acclimate himself in Zimmer’s defense.
“I’m going to do whatever they want me to do,” Joseph said. “My job right now is to stop the run and make plays and try to get sacks -- do it all.”
Zimmer said the nose tackle position is critical in his defense, which explains why he was about as giddy as Mike Zimmer can probably get during a long news conference after a walkthrough.
In Cincinnati, Zimmer had unheralded nose tackle Domata Peko to eat up double teams and allow linebackers like Vontaze Burfict to roam and make plays. The Vikings paid Joseph big bucks this spring so that he can be that guy for Zimmer here in Minnesota.
“That helps the middle linebackers not get blocked very much,” Zimmer said. “So they do a lot of dirty work that a lot of people don’t see, but it helps to give the linebackers an opportunity to stay healthy and make tackles.”
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