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.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said quarterback Christian Ponder “will be here” next season but the team still plans to address the need at quarterback in the offseason.
Ponder will enter the final year of his rookie deal and expected to make $3.2 million in base salary and bonuses. All of that money is dead money however, meaning it would still count against the cap if the Vikings opted to cut Ponder.
"Christian will be here; I don’t anticipate anything -- him not being here," Spielman said on Friday.
The 12th pick in the 2011 NFL Draft hasn’t solved the Vikings’ problem at quarterback over the last three seasons. He played just nine games last year and threw for a career-low 1,648 yards after playing all 16 games in 2012.
Spielman said he’s interested to see when Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner get a chance to work with him.
“We’re not closing the door on anything and any player here,” Spielman said. “We’ve been through on personnel and our coaches and it’s a lot different when they’ve looked at our players and how they can utilize them this way or that way. I’m anxious to see when they get out there and get on the field with these guys that they’ll get a true sense of what they’re strengths and weaknesses are and how they can utilize it within their systems.”
Spielman hasn’t closed the door on bringing quarterback Matt Cassel back either, but he said the organization will bring in two quarterbacks in during the offseason. With a younger quarterback in the draft a sure lock at this point based on what Spielman and Norv Turner have said over the last two weeks, Spielman hinted he’d be open to bringing a veteran to “mentor” whoever the organization selects.
Other notes from Spielman’s 50-minute interview:
*Spielman said defensive end Michael Sam’s decision to openly announce he’s gay will not impact his draft stock with the organization. He said it’s wrong if a team does change its status on Sam because of his announcement and plans to judge him purely on football.
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer is the center of an independent review regarding claims from former punter Chris Kluwe of anti-gay remarks.
“I know that we will make sure that our culture is created where he could fit in to our locker room,” said Spielman on if the Vikings select Sam in the draft.”
* The Vikings completed their staff by hiring head strength and conditioning coach Evan Marcus and assistant strength and conditioning coach Jeff Hurd on Friday. Marcus has 22 years of coaching experience and spent the last three seasons as the University of Virginia's Director of Football Training and Player Development. This will be Hurd's 29th year coaching and was the strength and conditioning coach during Turner's tenure as the Chargers head coach from 2007-2012.
Vikings owner Zygi Wilf supported openly gay Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, who is expected to be chosen in the May NFL draft, calling Sam's decision to announce he is gay as “courageous” in a statement Monday.
“We commend Michael Sam for being very courageous with his openness on something of such a personal nature,” Wilf said. “His comments will have no impact on how the Vikings view Michael as a football player or as a person. If a player can help us win, we will warmly welcome him as part of the team and provide an accepting, respectful and supportive environment to help him succeed in the NFL.”
Sam, an All-America and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year last season, has been projected as a third to fifth-round choice by most NFL analysts. At 6-foot-2 and 255 pounds, he is considered a bit too small for defensive end and not quick enough for linebacker. NFL scouts have raved about Sam’s pass rushing ability, which has been a lacking trait in this year’s class.
The Vikings’ coaching staff has spent the day in draft meetings and will get a second chance to observe Sam at the NFL Combine next week. Sam also participated in the Senior Bowl last month.
One of the members on staff, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, is the center of an independent review regarding claims from former punter Chris Kluwe of anti-gay remarks. Kluwe had dinner with Sam on Saturday, the day before his announcement went public.
New Vikings coach Mike Zimmer retained Priefer, who was the 2012 NFL special teams coach of the year, and addressed the issure on Saturday, saying about Priefer, “good guy, great guy; great person, great family man. Just like our other coaches, he’s going to approach his job every single day. It’s extremely, extremely important to him to do a great job. He’s a team first guy all the way.”
Assistant coach added
The Vikings added former NFL center Hank Fraley to their coaching staff. He will be the assistant offensive line coach.
Fraley spent 11 seasons in the NFL with Philadelphia (2000-05), Cleveland (2006-09) and St. Louis (2010). He was assistant line coach at the University of San Diego in 2012 and spent last season as the offensive line coach at San Jose State.
Fraley played college football at Robert Morris, and is the first alum from that university to play in a Super Bowl. He was the starting center for Philadelphia in Super Bowl XXXIX.
The Vikings officially get into draft mode on Monday as they start to assemble their big board for the NFL Draft in May.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said on Saturday the team had a scheduled 7:30 a.m. meeting consisting of front office executives, pro scouts and college scouts with the NFL Combine nine days away. Spielman said the meeting gives head coach Mike Zimmer a chance to give a tutorial of his scheme and what type of players that can fit Zimmer's style.
“The more we can get on the same page and see what he’s looking for, the better job we’ll be able to do to get those types of players,” Spielman said. “It’s not that hard to identify the traits, but you have to know what traits you’re looking for.”
The big board certainly won’t remain the same over the next three months. Zimmer said he doesn’t believe in judging a player just in the film room. With opportunities to watch prospects in person at the NFL Combine and Pro Days, it’ll give Zimmer a good chance to self-evaluate players before the draft.
“Until we can get around him, talk football and we can see how he interacts with the other players, see how they throw the ball, see how they move, see how they think and react, you can’t really tell anything on those [on tape],” Zimmer said.
Zimmer will have to rely on scouts however to identify the right personnel for his scheme. When Zimmer wasn’t interviewing coaches or meeting prospects at the Senior Bowl, he spent a considerable amount of time getting to know the Vikings’ scouts to establish a relationship and see where he fits in as the new head coach.
“I’ve been more impressed with this group of guys, this staff, the management, front office, pro scouts, college scouts just how professional they are, how opinionated they are,” Zimmer said. “Sometimes when you’re opinionated you can be swayed in a certain way. These guys, ‘this is the certain way I see it, this is what I’d do.’ They don’t take offense if someone doesn’t see it the same way. It is the best group I’ve been around.”
Only 86 days until Day 1 of the NFL Draft.
A week after the BCS National Championship game, bowl season is still underway. These games, however, pertain to prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft.
The NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and East-West Shrine game will both be played on Saturday with weigh-ins and practices this week. The NFLPA Bowl (5 p.m. CT on ESPN2) will be coach by former Vikings head coach Dennis Green and Dick Vermeil while the East-West game (3 p.m. CT on NFL Network) will be coached by Romeo Crennel and Jerry Glanville.
If you’re a draft junkie and want to watch some under-the-radar NFL prospects this week, ESPNU will air NFL Collegiate Bowl practices starting on Wednesday. Here are a few names from both games in the meantime.
NFLPA Collegiate Bowl (full roster here):
South Carolina senior quarterback Connor Shaw – Consiered as a "second tier" quarterback in this class, Shaw had 2,447 passing yards, 24 touchdowns and one interceptions this season while completing 63.4 percent of his passes.
Texas senior guard Trey Hopkins – The four-year offensive lineman was a first team All-Big 12 selection this season (second team last year). He played in 49 games (41 starts) with 28 at left guard and 13 at right tackle.
Kentucky senior linebacker Avery Williamson – The four-year linebacker was a second-team All-SEC selection this season with 102 tackles (fourth in the conference).
East-West Shrine Game (full roster here):
Duke redshirt senior cornerback Ross Cockrell – He was named first-team All-ACC for a second consecutive season. He started 36 games with nine interceptions and 29 pass breakups.
Missouri senior cornerback E.J. Gaines – Selected on the first team All-SEC squad, Gaines led the Tigers with four interceptions. He also had 68 tackles. Gaines was also a first-team All-Big 12 selection in 2011.
Southern California redshirt senior defensive end Devon Kennard – After redshirting last season due to a torn chest muscle, Kennard was a second-team All-Pac 12 selection. He was seventh in the conference with nine sacks and tied for 14th with 13 tackles for loss.
Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder isn’t sure what the future holds this offseason and intends to speak to general manager Rick Spielman about the issue.
But it wouldn’t surprise him if the organization selected a quarterback in the first round.
“I think it all depends on what the new head coach wants to do,” said Ponder after the organization announced the firing of Leslie Frazier on Monday. “But it wouldn’t surprise me.
Ponder began the season as the team’s starting quarterback but played just nine games due to inconsistency and injuries. The 12th overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft intends to prepare this offseason as a starter either in Minnesota or with another team.
“This is what I’m familiar with. These guys my teammates, the ones I have a relationship and this is where I’d like to continue to be. But ultimately I want a shot to be a starter. So if that’s not here then I’ll have to find somewhere else.
Ponder, 25, wouldn’t be surprised if the organization brought him back along with Matt Cassel for competition purposes that would benefit both quarterbacks. If that was the case, he’d expect the front office to stick with one quarterback unlike this season.
“Matt’s done well and obviously he’s been the starter the past few weeks, and he’ll probably be named the starter going into the offseason if he opts in or they opt in,” Ponder said. “We’ll see. I think it could be a good competition. We have a good relationship. I think it could work out well.”
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