Minnesota Vikings: Antonio Richardson

W2W4: Minnesota Vikings

August, 16, 2014
Aug 16
12:00
PM ET
The Minnesota Vikings (1-0) and Arizona Cardinals (1-0) square off for their second preseason game on Saturday night at TCF Bank Stadium.

1. Starters to play more: Coach Mike Zimmer said quarterback Matt Cassel "has a chance" to play the entire first half on Saturday night, which would suggest the Vikings plan to give their first-team offense much more playing time than they saw last Friday against Oakland. Zimmer said this week he's never placed as much importance on the third preseason game as many seem to do, so it's possible the Vikings treat this week's game as more of a dress rehearsal than next Saturday's game against Kansas City. Adrian Peterson still won't play, but if Cassel -- who seems like the favorite to win the Vikings' quarterback job -- gets two quarters of work with the first-team offense, we'll get a good sense of how he's handling offensive coordinator Norv Turner's scheme against one of the league's best defenses.

2. Safety dance: The Vikings are still trying to sort out a crowded competition for the safety spot opposite Harrison Smith, and Zimmer said he wants to take a long look at four veterans on Saturday night: Chris Crocker, Andrew Sendejo, Jamarca Sanford and Kurt Coleman. With Robert Blanton still out because of a hamstring injury, and rookie Antone Exum having played 60 snaps last week, it stands to reason the Vikings will use the four safeties for much of the night on Saturday. It's hard to envision a scenario where all four veterans are on the roster, and Zimmer said he's hoping Saturday's game will help the Vikings establish a pecking order at the position. That pecking order could have some important consequences for a number of players.

3. Cleaning up pass protection: Zimmer wasn't happy with the Vikings' pass protection last week, after the Raiders sacked the Vikings' quarterbacks six times and Teddy Bridgewater nearly lost a fumble deep in Raiders territory. The Vikings spent plenty of time focusing on protection schemes this week in practice, and though some of the blitz pickup work from their running backs looked better, the linemen were responsible for many of the sacks anyway -- especially the three that came late in the game on Christian Ponder. Particularly from younger players like David Yankey and Antonio Richardson, the Vikings will be looking for better results this week.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Between now and the Minnesota Vikings' first training camp practice July 25, we will break down each position group.

Today, we'll take a look at the offensive line.

Returning players: Matt Kalil, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Brandon Fusco. Phil Loadholt, Joe Berger, Jeff Baca, Mike Remmers, Kevin Murphy

Gone from last season: J'Marcus Webb

New this season: David Yankey (fifth-round pick from Stanford), Vladimir Ducasse (free agent from New York Jets), Antonio Richardson (undrafted free agent from Tennessee), Matt Hall (undrafted free agent from Belhaven), Pierce Burton (undrafted free agent from Mississippi), Austin Wentworth (undrafted free agent from Oklahoma State), Zac Kerin (undrafted free agent from Toledo)

Position coach: Jeff Davidson (fourth season)

Biggest issue: The Vikings' offensive line has been one of the most reliable units on the team for the past two seasons, but after a season when Kalil and Johnson struggled at times on the left side, the group will have to adapt to an offense with a different focus than the one the Vikings have used for the past several seasons. Run blocking has been the forte of this group, and while the line has been decent in pass protection, offensive coordinator Norv Turner's scheme, which will likely have the Vikings throwing more often and further downfield than they did under Bill Musgrave, will require linemen to hold their blocks longer and let plays develop. Kalil, in particular, needs to be better after a subpar follow-up to his Pro Bowl rookie season.

Player to watch: The Vikings were thrilled to see Yankey still available in the fifth round, and the rookie could push for a starting job before too long. He's a mean, physical guard who comes from a school that's produced a number of solid offensive linemen in recent years, and while he's been a left guard -- which might be the most vulnerable position on the Vikings' line -- Yankey has played both guard and tackle spots. His versatility and size (6-foot-6, 315 pounds) could make him a versatile backup, at the very least.

Medical report: Kalil had knee surgery after last season, and was limited to individual drills during the Vikings' organized team activities and minicamp. He's expected to be ready for the start of training camp, however.

Help wanted: The Vikings could look for backup help at tackle, and though they'll be helped by the fact Yankey and Ducasse can line up in a few different spots, it wouldn't be terribly surprising to see them add a veteran backup at some point, like they had in Webb last year.

Quotable: "A lot of the ways that we're doing protections have changed," Davidson said. "There's a lot of nuances that have taken on different responsibilities for everybody within the line. The communication part is very important. That's what we spent an inordinate amount of time on, during the OTAs especially. The run game, there are some changes. I would call them minor tweaks, as compared to what we've done in the pass. Protection-wise is where we've made a substantial change. Some of the adjustments we're making with the protections, that's taken a lot of time."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Of the 16 undrafted free agents the Minnesota Vikings signed last month, they reserved the biggest signing bonus for the most prominent name on the list.

Wide receiver Kain Colter, whose efforts to help college players unionize while he was the quarterback at Northwestern, got an $8,000 bonus from the Vikings after signing with the team in May, according to ESPN Stats and Information. That is the largest bonus the Vikings paid to any undrafted free agent, and it matches the top bonus the team gave out last year, to Southern Methodist fullback Zach Line.

Eight other Vikings undrafted free agents got bonuses ranging from $1,000 to $4,000, but Colter's was easily the largest. NFL teams had $80,362 to spend on signing bonuses for undrafted free agents this year, and they could spend as much or as little as they chose. The Vikings have spent just $26,000 of their budget this year, after doling out $64,500 last year. All undrafted free agents get three-year contracts with non-guaranteed base salaries of $420,000, $510,000 and $600,000 in 2014, 2015 and 2016, respectively.

Former Iowa guard Conor Boffeli, who was released by the team on May 19, got the second-biggest bonus during his short stay with the Vikings, at $4,000.

The receiver has had little interest in talking about his activism since he joined the Vikings, saying he wanted to concentrate on football now that he was in the NFL, and the bonus offers some indication the Vikings see potential in his ability to stick on the roster among their other undrafted free agents. Teddy Bridgewater connected with him on an impressive touchdown pass in a 7-on-7 drill during the team's open OTA last Thursday, and Colter could have some potential as a return man, as well.

Here is the full list of the Vikings' signing bonuses for the 16 undrafted free agents they signed, according to ESPN Stats and Information data:

WR Kain Colter: $8,000

G Conor Boffeli $4,000 (released)
DE Rakim Cox: $3,000
DE Tyler Scott: $2,500
TE AC Leonard: $2,500
G Austin Wentworth: $2,000
WR Erik Lora: $1,500
T Matt Hall: $1,500
WR Donte Foster: $1,000

QB Travis Partridge $1,000 (released)
RB Dominique Williams: $1,000
T Antonio Richardson: No bonus
C Zac Kerin: No bonus
T Pierce Burton: No bonus
DE Jake Snyder: No bonus
DT Isame Faciane: No bonus
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- A quick look at the highlights of the Minnesota Vikings' second open OTA of the offseason on Thursday:

1. Bridgewater looking sharp: Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who missed the Vikings' final two OTAs last week while he was attending a NFL rookie marketing event in Los Angeles, is back this week and was impressive in his first full-team work open to the media. He hit his first nine throws in 11-on-11 work, connecting with Adam Thielen on a long sideline pass against tight coverage on his first attempt of the day. Bridgewater also connected with Jarius Wright on a long corner throw during his two-minute drill, which ended with a rushing touchdown. "I thought Teddy did a nice job in the two-minute situation, hit a nice long ball there," coach Mike Zimmer said. "He left for those two days, he was a little rusty when he came back, and he's picked it up since then. He's kind of feeling his way a little bit around the guys, which will come in time. He'll keep progressing, getting more comfortable. I like him a lot."

Cassel
Cassel
Ponder
Ponder
2. Cassel connects, Ponder struggles: Matt Cassel got the majority of the first-team snaps at quarterback, though Bridgewater had some in his two-minute drill. Cassel, by my count, was 8-for-9 in the Vikings' first 11-on-11 period, and hit four of his eight throws during the two-minute drill (though Kyle Rudolph was arguing for interference on one of the incompletions). Cassel found Wright for a touchdown on a red zone throw, and threw another touchdown on a broken play, though the play wouldn't have developed that way had a defense actually been coming after Cassel. Christian Ponder, however, didn't get to throw much, and wasn't impressive in the work he did have. He threw an ugly interception over the middle to Derek Cox during his two-minute drill. Ponder mentioned to reporters on Wednesday that he thought the Vikings not picking up his 2015 option might give him some "leverage," since he could decide where he wanted to be next. If that logic seems hard to follow, Ponder didn't do anything on Thursday to help further his case.

3. Ragged red zone: Zimmer said he was disappointed with the Vikings' red zone defense on Thursday, after the team spent much of its practice session working on red zone situations, and it was easy to see some of his concerns. Bridgewater's two-minute drill ended with a touchdown after newcomer Julian Posey was called for pass interference on Jerome Simpson off a red zone throw, and both Cassel and Ponder hit some open throws near the goal line. "I was least impressed with the defensive red zone this morning. It wasn’t very good. We’ve got to get a lot better there. And then offensively we did a really nice job."

4. Thielen shines: With Greg Jennings gone, Thielen got plenty of opportunities at receiver, and the second-year player made the most of them. He hauled in Bridgewater's sideline throw, and seemed to have a good rapport with the rookie quarterback all day, connecting on a crossing route between two levels of coverage during 11-on-11 work. The Minnesota State product could be fighting for one of the final receiver spots on the Vikings' roster after spending 2013 on the practice squad as an undrafted free agent.

5. McKinnon working as receiver: Running back Jerick McKinnon figures to see plenty of action as a receiver out of the backfield this year, and got a chance to work on his pass-catching skills on Thursday. The third-round pick, who was primarily an option quarterback at Georgia Southern, caught six passes and looked smooth. He'd caught only 10 passes in college, but running backs coach Kirby Wilson has said McKinnon looks like a natural as a receiver.

6. Richardson at tackle: With Matt Kalil out again, undrafted free agent Antonio Richardson got some work at left tackle, splitting time with Kevin Murphy. Richardson had been projected as a possible second-day draft pick, but concerns about his work ethic left him available as an undrafted free agent.

7. Back injury keeps Griffen out: Defensive end Everson Griffen missed practice with a back strain, though Zimmer said he was mostly sitting out for precautionary reasons. Brian Robison slid over to right end, with Corey Wootton working in Robison's typical left end spot. Safety Jamarca Sanford and cornerback Josh Robinson, who were each limited because of muscle pulls last week, were again sitting out.

8. Peterson, Jennings gone: The Vikings' first-team offense was without perhaps its two most prominent players -- Adrian Peterson and Jennings. The running back wasn't at Thursday's OTA, and Jennings was gone for a charity appearance.

9. Burns in the house: Former Vikings coach Jerry Burns, who had the head job from 1986-91 after serving as Bud Grant's offensive coordinator, was on hand to watch practice on Thursday. “I knew he was coming out here today," Zimmer said. "I talked to the team about him this morning because a lot of these younger guys don’t know who some of these guys are that we talk about – he’s in the Ring of Honor, head coach at Iowa and so on and so forth, head coach here, six Super Bowls (four with the Vikings and two as an assistant on Vince Lombardi's staff in Green Bay), a lot of those things. But he talked a little bit about what he believes in the football team and the philosophy. He was very good. He’s a good guy, funny guy.”

10. Happy birthday, coach: Zimmer turned 58 on Thursday, and said the "best gift I could have is[to] have good practices." Was Thursday's good enough? "Mmmm ... no," he said. "We've got a ways to go."
Thanks to all of you who submitted questions for our weekly Minnesota Vikings mailbag. You can send them to me on Twitter any time during the week at @GoesslingESPN, using the hashtag #VikingsMail. There were plenty of good questions after the draft this week. We covered the first handful of them on Saturday, and we'll look at another set of them this morning.

@GoesslingESPN: Good morning, everyone. We'll get started here for the day, with a topic that's getting plenty of attention after coach Mike Zimmer said on Friday that Teddy Bridgewater will get some first-team reps before the season. To be clear, the fact that Bridgewater will get some first-team snaps doesn't mean he's in line to be the opening day starter, nor does it mean he should be. There's no reason to rush him along, with Matt Cassel signed for two years and having offered a few snapshots of his ability to lead the Vikings' offense. To me, the only way Bridgewater should start in Week 1 is if he's so much better than Cassel before the season that it's a clear choice. If anything, the Vikings' trade back into the first round to select Bridgewater should engender more patience, not less; the Vikings now have a fifth-year option on his contract that they wouldn't have had if he'd still been there for them in the second round. I also wouldn't rule out Bridgewater starting later in the year if he doesn't start Week 1, especially if the Vikings get off to a poor start against their tough opening schedule. Essentially, I'd do this: If Bridgewater is good enough to beat out Cassel for the job, give it to him. If he's not, don't force him onto the field just to get his feet wet and showcase the future to the fans. There will be plenty of time for that, and the great benefit of the Vikings re-signing Cassel is the flexibility it bought them. They should use it wisely.

@GoesslingESPN: I wouldn't say the safety competition is exclusively between Jamarca Sanford and Antone Exum; there are plenty of other players, like Andrew Sendejo, Kurt Coleman, Robert Blanton and Mistral Raymond, who will be fighting for playing time at safety. The thing I think the Vikings like about Exum is that he should theoretically have good cover skills as a safety, having played cornerback in college. General manager Rick Spielman has talked about the new coaching staff's desire to have safeties who can cover receivers, and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray has held up Seattle's safeties (Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor) as a model of the versatility that safeties who can cover receivers buy for their teams. That said, I can't see the Vikings having three safeties on the field unless one of them is good enough to moonlight as a cover corner. Exum might be able to do that, and Blanton played slot cornerback some last season, but the Vikings doing that would likely mean something went wrong with their group of cornerbacks.

@GoesslingESPN: The possibility of NFL discipline for wide receiver Jerome Simpson is one reason why I thought the Vikings might take a receiver in the middle rounds of the draft. The fact that they didn't means that they'll have to hope the league doesn't come down on Simpson for his drunken-driving arrest last November, or that someone else on their roster can emerge. Jarius Wright has shown flashes of being a contributor as a slot receiver, and he might be less at risk of getting lost in Norv Turner's offense than he did at times in Bill Musgrave's, but the Vikings could really use another receiver that can line up outside and allow Greg Jennings to work in the slot, where he saw much of his success in Green Bay. I wouldn't discount Adam Thielen, who spent last season on the Vikings' practice squad and offers some of the size they need at 6-foot-3. Even if Simpson isn't disciplined, the Vikings could benefit from another receiver emerging, since Jennings will be 31 in September and Cordarrelle Patterson, for all his talent, is still only three years removed from junior college.

@GoesslingESPN: We'll close here for the week, since this question will be a natural follow-up from the previous one. That's because Erik Lora, who was Jimmy Garoppolo's favorite target at Eastern Illinois, could have a chance to fight for a roster spot at slot receiver. Antonio Richardson, the Tennessee tackle who went undrafted after being projected to go on the second day of the draft, could be a nice pickup if the Vikings can figure out how to manage his health (there were concerns before draft that Richardson would only play several years because of arthritic knees). Tight end AC Leonard is intriguing because of his speed (a 4.5 40) and the fact he can play a number of different spots, but he'd have to learn to play in-line and handle blockers effective (he's just 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds). All three have potential, and some significant question marks, but it's becoming more common for teams to find solid contributors in the ranks of undrafted free agents. The Vikings will have to hope they've got a couple this year.

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