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.
One quarterback has already removed himself from the 2014 NFL Draft.
Oregon announced on its official Instagram account redshirt sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota will return for his junior season. He completed 63.1 percent of his passes this season for 3,412 yards, 30 touchdowns and four interceptions.
“It is an honor to be a student at the University of Oregon and to have the opportunity to represent our institution on the football field alongside my teammates,” Mariota said in a press release. “I look forward to earning my degree next year and to the rest of my career at this great university.”
Mariota was ranked the top quarterabck (third overall) by ESPN's Scouts Inc. and Todd McShay ahead of Lousville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (fifth), but Mel Kiper Jr. had Mariota as the second best quarterback (fifth overall) behind Bridgewater.
The announcement eliminates a possible option at quarterback for the Vikings in the upcoming draft.
Without Mariota, Bridgewater, Hundley and Manziel have been widely regarded as the top quarterbacks in this class, but they all also still have eligibility remaining. Hundley is the least likely to declare for the draft out of the three quarterbacks.
If the season ended today, the Vikings would have the sixth overall pick.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier wouldn't come out and say Christian Ponder will start on Sunday at Seattle. But he did admit that's the likely scenario, barring an unforeseen change in Ponder's progress from a separated left [non-throwing] shoulder on Saturday.
"Christian is better," Frazier said after today's practice. "We gave him a little bit more today in practice, so that was encouraging. We'll see how he feels tomorrow with the extended work he got today and then we'll make a determination based on where he is tomorrow. We want to make sure that he feels comfortable as well as our medical staff as well.
"The way he moved around today, he looked pretty good. Hopefully, he'll wake up tomorrow without any residual effects, negative effects from the workload that we gave him. But you never know."
Frazier wouldn't say whether Matt Cassell or Josh Freeman would serve as the backup, although Cassel looks to be the No. 2. Frazier also said it's possible the team will keep all three quarterbacks active against Seattle.
In other news:
We'll have the official injury report up soon, but it appears Christian Ponder's left shoulder is making steady progress.
Ponder left the practice field before reporters were allowed into the team's indoor practice facility. But Josh Freeman talked to the media after spending extra time working with quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson after practice.
Asked who took the majority of snaps at quarterback with the first-team offense, Freeman said, "I’m not exactly sure who took the most. Christian probably got the majority [of first-team reps]. Glad to see he’s feeling better. I’m just continuing to whatever they give me, gobble it up and try to be as efficient as possible."
Earlier, Frazier had said the coaches still need to talk about who would start Sunday if Ponder isn't able to play. Ponder separated his non-throwing shoulder in a collision at the goal-line in last week's win over the Redskins. He left the game with 1:12 left in the third quarter and did not return.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier did not announce a starting quarterback during his press conference Monday, but he eliminated one of the three quarterbacks from the running. Frazier said the decision has come down to either Josh Freeman or Christian Ponder, which leaves Matt Cassel out of the mix.
The Vikings play at Dallas on Sunday.
“[We're] just trying to look at the whole picture and who will gives us the best chance to win from our standpoint as coaches for this Dallas ballgame,” Frazier said. “That’s what it’ll be based on. The other factors will be what the health of the other guys are, but primarily who do you think will give you the best chance in this ballgame against Dallas.”
Frazier will make the decision over the next few days as he evaluates the situation with his staff. Freeman dealt with concussion-like symptoms last week, but was cleared on Friday. Frazier said the staff will be conscious of the injury and it could still play into the decision.
Frazier will also look at Ponder’s performance against the Packers on Sunday night at the Metrodome, and said he felt Ponder looked more relaxed Sunday than he did in his previous three starts. Ponder went 14-for-21 for 145 passing yards and rushed for 38 yards with a late touchdown in the final minutes of a 44-31 loss.
“I don’t want to discount Matt, but Christian did some good things in that ballgame yesterday,” Frazier said. “Obviously there are things he could do better, but that has something to do with it. He has led us to some wins in the past. Josh, we brought him in to evaluate and if he could be a guy that could be a potential player for us in the future.”
Cassel started in the Vikings’ only victory through seven games, against the Steelers in London. He also started after the bye week against the Panthers before he was inactive against the Giants. Cassel was Ponder’s backup in the loss Sunday.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to,” Frazier said of Cassel. "He’s practiced well, prepared well. He was ready yesterday if needed be, and he’ll continue to work as hard he can. I don’t know if there’s any one thing I can point to and say why it’s Christian and Josh in this determination.”
Frazier said cornerback Chris Cook suffered a hip muscle strain and safety Jamarca Sanford a groin strain against the Packers. Both players will be listed as day-to-day. Frazier hopes to get tight end Rhett Ellison back this week. He was sidelined because of an ankle injury.
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."
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