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.
Not only did Leslie Frazier reassert his faith in Christian Ponder, the Vikings coach made sure to point out that the rest of his players aren't pointing fingers at the starting quarterback after Sunday's four-turnover performance in a 34-24 season-opening loss at Detroit.
"On Sunday, it was not all about Christian," Frazier said Wednesday as the Vikings amped up their preparation for Sunday's game at Chicago. "He had his mistakes. But the fact is the quarterback position is much more magnified. He just happens to play the position with the most scrutiny. We had other guys, trust me, that when we watched the tape, the scrutiny that needed to be had in those moments, they are well aware that they have to play better. They're not looking only at our quarterback and saying, `If he had done this or that, we would have won that ballgame.' We need to play better across the board."
Those hoping for a quick hook on Ponder can fahgedaboutit, too.
"You don't want to say that you can't get this turned and going in the right direction after just one week," Frazier said. "I just don't think that would be wise."
Frazier also pointed to the team's 4-0 playoff push to end last season -- particularly the playoff-clinching 37-34 win over the Packers -- as proof that Ponder has gotten the job done before.
"That Green Bay game at the end of the year, that was a terrific performance by Christian," Frazier said. "So we've seen him do it on repeated occasions. Consistent play is what we're looking for. We need a good week this week.
"[Ponder's] body of work is somewhat limited. [Sunday] was his second start on opening day and his first on the road [on opening day] a week ago. I have seen him make throws on the run. I have seen him make plays in the pocket, out of the pocket. All you have to do is throw in a tape from last December. There were a number of moments like that. We need consistent good quarterback play for our offense to thrive and for our team to be successful. Christian knows that as well as anybody. There are certain things we can't do. Our margin of error is small. So if we're turning the ball over, it just shrinks our opportunity to win. But I have seen him him make those plays in and out of the pocket."
Frazier, however, did point out that Ponder has to improve his play when things break down around him.
"Not every pocket is going to be clean in the NFL," Frazier said.
Ponder opened his weekly press conference today by saying what 99.9999 percent of all players coming off a loss say to the media. Here's part of the opening statement:
"Well, the good thing about football, especially the NFL, is you got to move on quickly," Ponder said. "Watching the film Monday and Sunday night, a lot of things are easily correctable. We'll get them fixed. We're too good of a team to be making those mistakes. We have to establish the run better. ... And we can't turn the ball over.
"There are things I can do better. That everybody can do better. The running back, the receivers. It's something as an offense, we correct as a whole."
Ponder also subtly dropped in a reference to last year's season-opener in which he directed a long, game-tying drive as time expired against visiting Jacksonville. The Vikings went on to win in overtime.
Asked when he felt the Lions game got away from the Vikings, Ponder said, "The feeling that it got away from us never happened. it was just a couple of bad mistakes. ... We were into it until the very end. We still had time with a couple of minutes left to score two touchdowns. We won a game with 14 seconds left where we had to drive 80 yards or whatever to get a field goal and we did that. So I don't think a game is really ever out of our reach."
In other news, Frazier said everyone is expected to practice today. That includes defensive tackle Kevin Williams, who missed the opener because of a badly strained knee, and center John Sullivan, whose left knee was chopped by Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh during an interception return. Sullivan finished the game. Suh did, too, but his wallet ultimately got lighter by 100 grand when the league fined him on Tuesday.
MANKATO -- Vikings receiver Greg Jennings met with reporters after practice today. He talked about "the talk" he had with coach Leslie Frazier, apologized via the media to former teammate and current Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and even mentioned Rodgers by name, something he hadn't been doing since switching sides in this NFC North rivalry.
Here are the highlights:
About Frazier talking to him about the comments to the Star Tribune implying that Rodgers considers himself bigger than the team:
"I was on the field. I was wondering where everybody was coming up with that. I was on the field and [Frazier] ran over to me and asked me what I said. That was really the gist of it. He said, `Keep it about our guys.' Literally, that was it. I don't really recall saying anything negative about Aaron or anyone over there, but, hey, I apologize."
About whether he called Rodgers to apologize:
"No. For what? I'm apologizing right now. If it got to him with [the media] right now, I feel if I apologize right here, he'll hear that, too. Will you make sure he hears that?"
About his relationship with the Packers:
"Seriously, those guys across that state line, I had an outstanding time with those guys. Everything I say, I'm joking. I'm messing. I'm pulling Aaron's arm. I mean if he doesn't know that or you guys don't know that, I played with the guy for seven years. I think he knows that.
"Mike [McCarthy], great coach. Again, these were guys who established my career. Guys I went to work with every single day and loved every single minute of it. But it was time. They made a business decision. I made a business decision. I wish them the best, except two games out of the year. I'll still watch those guys. A piece of me is still there. There is still some Greg over there. I put a lot of time in with those guys and no one can take that away, no matter what's done or what's said."
More about Rodgers:
"Aaron's a phenomenal quarterback. He knows that. No one needs to tell him that. What he's done over the course of the last five years? Phenomenal. He set the bar high for quarterbacks in this league. He set the bar high for offenses in this league. Everything I say is all out of fun. I'm just saying something just to say it. They know that's not me."
MANKATO -- Listening to Desmond Bishop speak, it's no wonder the Vikings have chosen to start him out at weakside linebacker as opposed to middle linebacker when training camp practices begin on Friday.
The middle linebacker has an important leadership and directional role on most defenses, and this one in particular. He sets the defense, makes adjustments and has to have a working knowledge of where many of his teammates are supposed to be.
And while Bishop is a talented veteran, he's also a guy who didn't sign with the Vikings until June 24. He missed all the OTAs, the mini-camp and every other bit of offseason instruction. That's not a good thing when one is switching from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense.
Other than his training camp roommate, Greg Jennings, whom Bishop knows from their six years together in Green Bay, and Chad Greenway, whom Bishop texted back and forth with a little the past month, Bishop met the rest of his teammates for the first time when he checked in at Mankato on Thursday.
"Right now, I'm just trying to remember all the names that are being thrown at me," Bishop said.
Coach Leslie Frazier announced earlier that Bishop would start out at the weak-side linebacker position. It came as somewhat of a surprise to many who assumed Bishop, who played inside in the Packers' 3-4, was brought in to play middle linebacker while Erin Henderson shifts back to his weak-side job. Henderson will stay in the middle in the base defense and in the nickel. At least for now.
"Because [Bishop] is coming in so late, what we're trying to do is get him up to speed on how we do things from a defensive standpoint," Frazier said. "We think the best way of getting that done is starting him on the outside."
Frazier also said that could change if the Vikings discover that outside linebacker is a bad fit for Bishop or if "we had trouble inside."
Frazier isn't anticipating outside linebacker giving Bishop a problem.
"One of the things I liked is he's a very good blitzer," Frazier said. "He has some good athletic ability. That's what we look for in our outside backers. Guys who have the ability to win one-on-one with halfbacks and fullbacks but yet they're good in coverage as well and can take on lead blockers. He's shown he can do that."
Bishop missed all of last season because of a torn hamstring suffered in the preseason. In 2011, he had 115 tackles and five sacks.
"I think I'll be fine," Bishop said. "I put myself through some rigorous workouts the past two or three months just to see where I'm at. It's nothing like actually putting the pads on and banging around, but I feel good."
Bishop also smiled when talking about switching to the 4-3. He had experience at all three 4-3 linebacker positions before current Packers' defensive coordinator Dom Campers came in and changed Green Bay to a 3-4 in 2009.
"I just recently switched to a 3-4 and everybody was asking, `How are you going to adjust to playing in the 3-4?'" Bishop said. "It's pretty simple. I think switching back to a 4-3 won't be too hard. I think it'll be all right."
Adrian Peterson's run at the single-season rushing record last season, and the fact he led the Vikings to an unexpected playoff season, earned him the league's MVP award.
Now the NFL Network's third annual rating of the league's top 100 players -- a group chosen by NFL players -- has Peterson at No. 1 this season. Denver quarterback Peyton Manning was second.
Peterson is the first non-quarterback to top the ratings. Tom Brady was No. 1 in 2011 and Aaron Rodgers was No. 1 last year. Peterson was third in 2011 and eighth in 2012.
Two other Vikings made the top 100 -- defensive end Jared Allen at 60 and linebacker Chad Greenway at 70. Ex- Vikings receiver Percy Harvin, now with Seattle, is No. 90.
Here is the NFL Network's list of the top 100 players:
1. Adrian Peterson – Minnesota Vikings, RB
2. Peyton Manning – Denver Broncos, QB
3. Calvin Johnson – Detroit Lions, WR
4. Tom Brady – New England Patriots, QB
5. J.J Watt – Houston Texans, DE
6. Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers, QB
7. Aldon Smith – San Francisco 49ers, LB
8. Arian Foster – Houston Texans, R
9. Von Miller – Denver Broncos, LB
10. Patrick Willis – San Francisco 49ers, LB
11. Drew Brees – New Orleans Saints, QB
12. DeMarcus Ware – Dallas Cowboys, DE
13. Ray Rice – Baltimore Ravens, RB
14. Andre Johnson – Houston Texans, WR
15. Robert Griffin III – Washington Redskins, QB
16. AJ Green – Cincinnati Bengals, WR
17. Matt Ryan – Atlanta Falcons, QB
18. Ed Reed – Houston Texans/Baltimore Ravens, S
19. Joe Flacco – Baltimore Ravens, QB
20. Jamaal Charles – Kansas City Chiefs, RB
21. Reggie Wayne – Indianapolis Colts, WR
22. Larry Fitzgerald – Arizona Cardinals, WR
23. Andrew Luck – Indianapolis Colts, QB
24. Marshawn Lynch – Seattle Seahawks, RB
25. Rob Gronkowski – New England Patriots, TE
26. Julio Jones – Atlanta Falcons, WR
27. Brandon Marshall – Chicago Bears, WR
28. Joe Thomas – Cleveland Browns, OT
29. Justin Smith – San Francisco 49ers, DT
30. Vince Wilfork – New England Patriots, DT
31. Clay Matthews – Green Bay Packers, LB
32. Frank Gore – San Francisco 49ers, RB
33. Patrick Peterson – Arizona Cardinals, CB/PR
34. Charles Tillman – Chicago Bears, CB
35. Dez Bryant – Dallas Cowboys, WR/PR
36. Geno Atkins – Cincinnati Bengals, DT
37. NaVorro Bowman – San Francisco 49ers, LB
38. Vernon Davis – San Francisco 49ers, TE
39. Roddy White – Atlanta Falcons, WR
40. Ndamukong Suh – Detroit Lions, DT
41. Jason Witten – Dallas Cowboys, TE
42. Haloti Ngata – Baltimore Ravens, DT
43. Eli Manning – New York Giants, QB
44. Wes Welker – Denver Broncos/New England Patriots, WR
45. LeSean McCoy – Philadelphia Eagles, RB
46. Cam Newton – Carolina Panthers, QB
47. Tony Gonzalez – Atlanta Falcons, TE
48. Duane Brown – Houston Texans, OT
49. Justin Houston – Kansas City Chiefs, LB
50. Richard Sherman – Seattle Seahawks, CB
51. Russell Wilson – Seattle Seahawks, QB
52. Vincent Jackson – Tampa Bay Buccaneers, WR
53. Champ Bailey – Denver Broncos, CB
54. Julius Peppers – Chicago Bears, DE
55. Jason Pierre-Paul – New York Giants, DE
56. Terrell Suggs – Baltimore Ravens, LB
57. Doug Martin – Tampa Bay Buccaneers, RB
58. Victor Cruz – New York Giants, WR
59. Derrick Johnson – Kansas City Chiefs, LB
60. Jared Allen – Minnesota Vikings, DE
61. Ben Roethlisberger – Pittsburgh Steelers, QB
62. Chris Johnson – Tennessee Titans, RB
63. Stephen Tulloch – Detroit Lions, LB
64. Alfred Morris – Washington Redskins, RB
65. Dwayne Bowe – Kansas City Chiefs, WR
66. Earl Thomas – Seattle Seahawks, S
67. Darrelle Revis – Tampa Bay Buccaneers/New York Jets, CB
68. Demaryius Thomas – Denver Broncos, WR
69. Tim Jennings – Chicago Bears, CB
70. Chad Greenway – Minnesota Vikings, LB
71. Trent Richardson – Cleveland Browns, RB
72. Mario Williams – Buffalo Bills, DE
73. Antonio Gates – San Diego Chargers, TE
74. Robert Mathis – Indianapolis Colts, LB
75. Brandon Flowers – Kansas City Chiefs, CB
76. Matthew Stafford – Detroit Lions, QB
77. Aaron Hernandez – TE
78. Joe Staley – San Francisco 49ers, OT
79. Luke Kuechly – Carolina Panthers, LB
80. Dwight Freeney – San Diego Chargers/Indianapolis Colts, DE
81. Colin Kaepernick – San Francisco 49ers, QB
82. Logan Mankins – New England Patriots, G
83. Lance Briggs – Chicago Bears, LB
84. Steve Smith – Carolina Panthers, WR
85. Charles Woodson – Oakland Raiders/Green Bay Packers, CB
86. London Fletcher – Washington Redskins, LB
87. Bernard Pollard – Tennessee Titans/Baltimore Ravens, S
88. Jacoby Jones – Baltimore Ravens, WR
89. Cameron Wake – Miami Dolphins, DE
90. Percy Harvin – Seattle Seahawks/Minnesota Vikings, WR
91. Troy Polamalu – Pittsburgh Steelers, S
92. Gerald McCoy – Tampa Bay Buccaneers, DT
93. Anquan Boldin – San Francisco 49ers/Baltimore Ravens, WR
94. Daryl Washington – Arizona Cardinals, LB
95. Max Unger – Seattle Seahawks, G/C
96. Dashon Goldson – Tampa Bay Buccaneers/San Francisco 49ers, S
97. Heath Miller – Pittsburgh Steelers, TE
98. Maurice Jones-Drew – Jacksonville Jaguars, RB
99. Trent Williams – Washington Redskins, T
100. Dennis Pitta – Baltimore Ravens, TE
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