Chip Scoggins is a Star Tribune sports columnist. He has temporarily returned to cover the Minnesota Vikings. He had the beat from 2008-2011 after covering college football for five years. Chip has been with the Star Tribune since January 2000. He can be followed on twitter at @chipscoggins.Find Chip on Facebook.
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.
The Vikings were afraid someone would claim No. 3 QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson before they had a chance to sign him to their practice squad. And for good reason. The 49ers claimed him not long ago.
Bethel-Thompson was released to make room for Monday's signing of Josh Freeman.
The Vikings also released defensive end George Johnson and claimed defensive end Justin Trattou off waivers.
Meanwhile, Christian Ponder practiced today, but only on a limited basis as he comes back from the fractured rib that sidelined him for the Steelers game two weeks ago.
Also limited in practice today were: CB Chris Cook (groin), TE Rhett Ellison (knee), SS Jamarca Sanford (hamstring) and DT Kevin Williams (knee). Earlier today, coach Leslie Frazier said he expects Sanford and Cook to return after missing the Steelers game. Ellison, who has missed the past two games, also is expected to play.
The Vikings return to work Monday morning from their bye week. Few would have guessed under these circumstances, though.
The team signed free agent quarterback Josh Freeman to a one-year contract worth $3 million late Sunday night and he is expected to arrive in the Twin Cities sometime today. Not sure if he will make it in time to participate in practice, which starts at 10:50 a.m. central.
This move obviously brings many questions about their suddenly crowded quarterback position and hopefully we'll get some clarity when Coach Leslie Frazier meets with reporters after practice.
Freeman must get up to speed with the offense, which would make it difficult for him to start Sunday against Carolina. Matt Cassel still seems like the logical choice to start because he played well in relief of Christian Ponder against Pittsburgh in guiding the Vikings to their first victory.
The Vikings were hopeful last week that Ponder will be able to practice this week after missing the London game because of a fractured rib.
It will be interesting to see how the Vikings frame Ponder's future in their public comments. The fact that they were aggressive in pursuing Freeman indicates that Ponder's tenure is nearly over. And regardless of what is said publicly, Freeman is clearly coming here with the intention of being the starter.
The Vikings rank last in the NFL in pass defense, allowing 326 yards per game. They are tied for first in touchdown passes allowed with 10.
In Sunday's 34-27 victory against Pittsburgh in London, the Vikings two best corners were rookie Xavier Rhodes and Marcus Sherels, who made the team primarily as a punt returner.
Chris Cook did not play because of a groin injury, Josh Robinson continued to struggle and A.J. Jefferson got zero snaps on defense, playing strictly on special teams.
Their cornerback situation is a mess right now and you wonder if Leslie Frazier and his staff won't use the bye to consider personnel changes.
Many fans would welcome the return of Antoin Winfield. Short of that, one logical move would be to replace Robinson with Rhodes as the starter at left cornerback, and possibly slide Sherels into that slot/nickel role.
Rhodes has been the team's best corner through four games. But in Cook's absence, Frazier's staff has resisted moving Rhodes to the right side. Instead, they started Sherels at right cornerback against Pittsburgh with Robinson starting on the left side.
Even if Cook returns next week against Carolina, you wonder how long the coacing staff will stick with Robinson. Until this point, Frazier has said he prefers to keep Rhodes as the outside corner in the nickel package, noting that Rhodes gets plenty of snaps because the Vikings use their nickel so often.
Rhodes has played in 71 percent of the team's snaps this season. But Robinson looks lost right now. According to Pro Football Focus, he has allowed 91.9 percent of passes thrown his direction to be completed for 377 yards.
Robinson also was called for a 48-yard pass interference penalty on Pittsburgh's opening drive of the second half that gave the Steelers the ball at the 1-yard line.
"He’s had some struggles, in particular inside playing the nickel position," Frazier said. "That’s been a challenge for him with all the things we ask that position to do. He’s had some good moments and he’s had some moments I’m sure he looks back at the end of the four weeks and said, ‘Man, I can do that better,’ and we think he will. We knew going in this offseason and even in training camp that there were going to be some moments that we would have to work through and we’re experiencing some of that, but he’s doing some good things as well."
Frazier was asked if the staff will consider moving Rhodes into the starting lineup because of Robinson's struggles.
"Xavier is doing some good things," Frazier said. "He is playing a lot in our nickel package which almost equates to being a starter with the number of snaps you get. We’ll see how he continues to progress. Josh has had some ups and downs, but we think he’s going to get better. We’ll evaluate that coming out of the bye as well."
Rhodes made a mistake on Pittsburgh's final drive. He went for an interception on a pass to Jerricho Cotchery and missed, which led to a 36-yard catch and run.
"If he makes that play the game is over," Frazier said. "I like the aggressiveness. We worked on that play, he anticipated, he was there and came up a little bit short. You like to believe if we’re in that situation again, as he gains more experience, he’s going to make that play. You don’t want to stifle that aggressiveness at the corner. The fact that he had enough gumption to go try it, that’s a good thing. But if you don’t make the interception, you have to make the tackle. You can’t do both. But he’ll learn from it and fortunately we survived it. That’s part of some youth in the secondary."
Quick postgame keys to the Vikings’ 34-27 victory over the Steelers at Wembley Stadium.
The Cassel effect. Backup Matt Cassel got the start at quarterback because of Christian Ponder’s rib injury and was efficient and turnover free (although he got lucky on a fumble). Greg Jennings was engaged for the first time this season, and scored two touchdowns off Cassel passes. And Adrian Peterson got some more room, and ran for 140 yards.
Scary defense. The Vikings defense did enough to win, but did anyone feel comfortable late as the Steelers seemed on the verge of a comeback? Only a big play by Everson Griffen, with a sack on the final stand, saved the day.
Just in time victory. Only one team has started 0-4 and made the playoffs, so this was a must-win for the Vikings.
It's worth noting that one of the first things Coach Leslie Frazier said after the game is Ponder is his starting quarterback. So ... let the QB controversy begin.
Here are the video highlights and final stats.
The Vikings have a bye this week before playing Carolina at home on Oct. 13.
LONDON -- Christian Ponder said he felt better Thursday in practice, but he said he's still not sure if he'll play Sunday because of his rib injury.
"Yeah, there's definitely progress," he said. "It will be Sugs [head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman] and coach's call, but there's definitely progress."
Ponder was very limited in practice Wednesday because of soreness, but he said the pain was not as much of an issue on Thursday.
"I definitely did a lot more than we expected to," Ponder said. "We've been getting a lot of treatment and Sugs is coming up with some good treatment. Hopefully it's healing."
Coach Leslie Frazier said he will make a decision on Ponder's status after Friday's practice. Asked what he needs to do tomorrow to feel comfortable playing, Ponder said, "Keep getting more reps and then we'll down with Sugs and Coach and make a call."
Ponder wore extra padding around his waist in practice, something he did in college. Ponder said his biggest concern if he plays is taking contact to that area. He was asked if he could simulate contact in practice.
"Probably have Jared get out there and hit me a little bit," he joked. "I think we'll wait until Sunday."
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