Minnesota Vikings: Corey Wootton

The Minnesota Vikings took care of their main 2015 free agent priorities last preseason, signing tight end Kyle Rudolph and guard Brandon Fusco to contract extensions in August and September, respectively. Their main 2015 offseason question will revolve around the future of Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, but in terms of the team's pending free agents, the Vikings have few major items on their to-do list. Below is a quick look at the Vikings players who will become unrestricted or restricted free agents when the new league year opens at 4 p.m. ET March 10, when unrestricted free agents can sign with any team.


Christian Ponder, QB
Jerome Felton, FB (can opt out of 2015 contract)
Joe Berger, OL
Vladimir Ducasse, OG
Corey Wootton, DE
Tom Johnson, DT
Jasper Brinkley, LB
Mistral Raymond, SS (spent 2014 on injured reserve)
Cullen Loeffler, OL


Matt Asiata, RB
Mike Harris, OT
MINNEAPOLIS -- Thanks to all of you who submitted questions for this week's Minnesota Vikings mailbag. You can submit them at any point during the week on Twitter, using the hashtag #VikingsMail.

@GoesslingESPN: Good morning, everyone, and a happy New Year to all of you. We'll get started here. Jon, I don't think the Vikings' linebacker situation will be solved completely with the players who were on this year's roster. I like Audie Cole, and he's done some good things when he's played -- he had a fantastic day against the Chicago Bears in the season finale, and I thought he played well at middle linebacker at the end of 2013. But it's worth noting that he didn't get much of a look at middle linebacker this season, and I still think the Vikings need to find a long-term answer there (it feels like we've been saying that for a while, doesn't it?).

I still think it's in the Vikings' best interests to pursue a young middle linebacker, and they could take a look at Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga, who played the middle for Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati. Maualuga will be a free agent this March and only turns 28 later this month. I still think there's a window for Greenway to return at the right price, but the Vikings need to figure out their future at the weak-side linebacker spot, too, whether that's Hodges or someone else. In the end, there's still a need to upgrade that position this offseason, and I believe you'll see changes to the group before training camp.

@GoesslingESPN: Vikings assistant general manager George Paton plans to stay with the team for 2015, even though he's drawn interest in another round of general manager openings this week. Paton was believed to be a candidate for the New York Jets' opening, and he could have returned to the Chicago Bears, where he worked earlier in his career with Vikings GM Rick Spielman. He also took his name out of the running for the Miami Dolphins' GM opening last winter, and decided to stay in Minnesota after he was a finalist for the St. Louis Rams' job in 2012.

There are a couple things to consider here: First, Paton has to think about the same things that anyone has to weigh when they're looking at a different job -- is this organization going to be a good fit for me? What am I giving up if I leave my current employer? -- and as a well-respected personnel man, he's smart to be picky about his options. For the most part, GM openings only come about because something went wrong or because someone's retiring, and there'd be plenty about this winter's round of openings that would give me pause, whether it's the leadership structure in New York or the QB situation in Chicago. Second, if Paton is staying put, the Vikings are probably making it worth his while to do so. He's been Spielman's right-hand man for a long time, and he's been a key player in the Vikings' aggressive draft strategy in recent years. If he's in a stable, well-compensated position, he might not have an itch to leave.

@GoesslingESPN: I think there's a good chance Tom Johnson will be back in a Vikings uniform next season. His agent, Bardia Ghahremani, thought Johnson would surprise some people in Minnesota this season, and he was right; the 30-year-old finished with 6 1/2 sacks and proved to be a slippery pass rusher in the Vikings' nickel package. The Vikings have talked with Johnson's camp about a new contract, and though there hasn't been any substantive progress yet, I could see him getting a moderately-priced two-year deal in March. Johnson is facing three misdemeanor charges stemming from his Oct. 5 arrest outside a Minneapolis steakhouse, and will be in court on March 30, but his side has contended he was treated unfairly by Minneapolis police. I had high hopes for the Corey Wootton signing -- he had 7 1/2 sacks in 2012, and seemed healthy after hip surgery last offseason, but had just one sack in 2014. The Vikings might try to look elsewhere for another defensive end, while hoping third-round pick Scott Crichton shows more in Year 2.

@GoesslingESPN: That's the big question -- or at least the one most pertinent to Mike Zimmer's support of Adrian Peterson during his season-ending news conference on Tuesday. From what I understand, the Vikings' football operation wants Peterson back, but I think the phrase "at the right price" has to be applied there, and it remains to be seen how willing Peterson will be to restructure his contract with the Vikings; in my conversation with him last month, he said he didn't think he needed to take a pay cut. Though there are ways to restructure his contract so he gets all of his money in 2015, none of them result in Peterson getting as much cash over the life of his deal as was originally promised to him.

There's definitely some work to be done if the Vikings want to mend their relationship with Peterson; they were still leery this season about the business and PR effects of a Peterson return. While time might assuage the team's concerns, Peterson could be reluctant to redo his deal if he still feels miffed by how the Vikings handled him. He said he knows players and coaches supported him -- will he need to hear more from decision-makers? There are plenty of rumors in league circles about how he could wind up in Dallas or Houston next season, and I still continue to think it's more likely he plays somewhere else than returns to the Vikings. Between the NFLPA's lawsuit over how the NFL handled Peterson's appeal, the reinstatement process and the Vikings' ultimate decision on his future, there'll be plenty to talk about as it pertains to the 2012 NFL MVP in the next few months.

That'll do it for this edition, but since you guys (figuratively) busted the mailbag this week, we'll be back with another edition on Monday. Enjoy the wild-card games, and we'll talk to you next week.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings defensive end Brian Robison played only 40 of the team's 60 defensive snaps on Sunday in Tampa Bay after logging at least 60 in five of the team's previous six games. Robison didn't offer much detail on Monday about what was bothering him, saying only he was dealing with some "bruises."

Now we know. Robison did not practice Wednesday and was listed on the Vikings' injury report with a gluteal injury (which might also explain why the normally forthcoming defensive end didn't want to talk much about it). Considering Robison was able to play two-thirds of the Vikings' snaps on Sunday, the injury seems unlikely to keep him off the field, but the Vikings will have to monitor Robison's health in their final game before their bye week.

Situations such as these are why it's particularly useful for the Vikings to have Corey Wootton, who had 7 1/2 sacks two years ago with the Bears and has proved to be a capable backup for both Robison and Everson Griffen. Wootton played 24 snaps on Sunday, registering three tackles, and if he's asked to take on a larger role on Sunday, the Vikings should be in good hands. Rookie Scott Crichton could also get more work this week after playing eight snaps when Wootton was hurt two weeks ago. He returned to the inactive list last Sunday.

Cornerback Jabari Price missed practice with a lingering hamstring injury and tight end Kyle Rudolph also sat out, though he continued to do some conditioning work on the side as he recovers from sports hernia surgery. Tight end Chase Ford (foot) and cornerback Josh Robinson (ankle) both appeared to be struggling with their injuries in the portion of practice open to the media, and both were limited in practice. Safety Antone Exum (ankle/shoulder) and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (ankle/knee) also were limited.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who bruised his foot during the Minnesota Vikings' win in Tampa Bay on Sunday, was out of a walking boot on Monday, coach Mike Zimmer said.

"He's fine," Zimmer said. "He had a bruise. He will be fine."

Guard Vlad Ducasse, who practiced in full on Thursday and Friday with a knee injury, was inactive during Sunday's game after being listed as questionable. Zimmer said part of the reason Ducasse was held out of the game was because the Vikings wanted to be careful with his injury, which leaves open the possibility that they'll stick with Joe Berger, who gave up a sack to Gerald McCoy but handled himself well otherwise on Sunday.

"[McCoy might be] the best three-technique [tackle] in the league. We had [Berger] one-on-one a lot," center John Sullivan said. "[Berger] is a battler. He's an excellent football player, and there's a level of comfort with [him between] myself and Phil [Loadholt]. He's been here so long. It felt good."

Defensive end Brian Robison only played 40 of the Vikings' 60 defensive snaps on Sunday, and said he was dealing with some "bruises" by the end of the day, but didn't seem concerned about his long-term status. Corey Wootton saw a season-high 24 snaps, playing largely in relief of Robison.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings center John Sullivan has passed the NFL's concussion protocol and is in line to play Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, coach Mike Zimmer said Thursday.

Sullivan was a limited participant in practice Thursday, but Zimmer said the center "did everything."

Guard Vlad Ducasse also returned to practice in full after injuring his knee last Sunday in Buffalo. Zimmer, however, would not say for certain whether the Vikings would use the same five offensive linemen against the Buccaneers.

"Everything's a little in flux with the injuries, so we'll see," Zimmer said.

Linebacker Gerald Hodges (hamstring) returned to practice on a limited basis, and defensive end Corey Wootton was a full participant after the lower-back injury that kept him out of Sunday's game also limited him Wednesday. Safety Antone Exum missed practice with an ankle injury, however, and cornerback Josh Robinson left practice early after injuring his ankle in individual drills. Zimmer said he wasn't sure how the injury would affect Robinson's status for Sunday.

"He wasn't going very fast when he did it," Zimmer said.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Linebacker Chad Greenway was listed as questionable for the Minnesota Vikings' game on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner, speaking in Mike Zimmer's absence as the head coach was having a "minor procedue" on Friday, said Greenway will be a game-time decision on Sunday against Buffalo.

Greenway, however, said he'll play if it's at all possible. "If there's a way," he said, "I promise I'll be out there."

The linebacker has missed the Vikings' last three games with broken ribs, and he would wear some kind of protection if he's on the field Sunday. He was a full participant in practice for the third straight day on Friday and said he continues to feel better. He'd likely return to his starting weakside linebacker spot on Sunday with Gerald Hodges out because of a hamstring injury. If Greenway is unable to go, Audie Cole would be next in line.

Greenway broke three ribs on Sept. 21 against New Orleans, and the Vikings decided to hold him out for the following game against the Atlanta Falcons. "After the New Orleans game, we made the right call," he said. "It needed a few weeks, and it's progressing how everybody thought it would. To me, it's the most frustrating injury I've had, because what do you do? You sit around and wait for it to heal itself."

Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is also questionable for Sunday with elbow and ankle injuries. Defensive end Corey Wootton will miss Sunday's game with a low back injury, meaning rookie Scott Crichton will likely return to the active roster after being deactivated for the last five games.

Crichton said he has been on the first field goal unit this week, and he worked at left end this week,after playing right end all season. The Vikings have used Wootton to spell both Brian Robison and Everson Griffen, and they'll likely move Crichton into that spot this weekend.

"This is the opportunity I've been waiting for," he said.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- On Thursday, the Minnesota Vikings moved closer to getting Chad Greenway back on the field, as the linebacker was a full participant in practice for the second straight day. Greenway, who hasn't played since fracturing three ribs Sept. 21 against New Orleans, seems on track to return Sunday against Buffalo, and coach Mike Zimmer sounded optimistic about that possibility Thursday.

"Yesterday, we were in pads and he felt pretty good," Zimmer said. "We've done another test on this, to see where he's at healing-wise, and he looks pretty good. I'm going to have to trust him and what he says."

The Vikings were without Gerald Hodges again Thursday because of a hamstring injury, but Zimmer didn't sound apprehensive about the possibility of putting Greenway back in a full-time role if he's healthy enough to go Sunday.

"My thought is, if he can play, he can play," Zimmer said.

Linebacker Michael Mauti missed Thursday's practice with an illness, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd sat out with a lingering ankle injury after being limited Wednesday, and defensive end Corey Wootton missed his second consecutive day of practice with a low-back injury. But Zimmer wasn't concerned about any of the three being unavailable for Sunday's game.

Defensive tackle Linval Joseph was limited with an ankle injury, and cornerback Jabari Price was limited with a hamstring injury after missing Wednesday's practice altogether. Safety Harrison Smith (ankle), tight end Chase Ford (foot) and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (hip) were again full participants.
Welcome to Around the Horns, our daily look at what's happening on the Vikings beat:

In a year where unforeseen circumstances have led the Minnesota Vikings to turn to a number of rookies sooner than they'd planned, third-round pick Scott Crichton's name might be the most prominent on the team's inactive list each Sunday. Crichton played eight snaps in the first game of the season against St. Louis, registering one tackle in the Vikings' 34-7 win. Since then, he hasn't seen the field, as the Vikings have elected to dress three defensive ends on Sundays and use Corey Wootton as the only backup for Everson Griffen and Brian Robison.

That could change on Sunday, as Wootton nurses a lower back injury that kept him out of practice on Wednesday. Coach Mike Zimmer said the Oregon State product "has been close to being active" several times, adding several of the players who became key pieces of his Bengals defenses (Geno Atkins, Dre Kirkpatrick) didn't see much playing time as rookies.

Crichton, who didn't join the Vikings until he finished school in June and struggled in the preseason, said he's spent time talking with the Vikings' three veteran ends -- Everson Griffen, Brian Robison and Wootton -- about what they've done to be effective in the NFL, but "the main thing is just watching them, how they do things. It's worked for them, so I feel like it'll work for me, too."

He left school a year early in large part to support his parents; his mother, Malama, worked two jobs while Scott was growing up, while his father Lucky had to have his leg amputated after a cut became infected. Scouts regarded Crichton as raw, and the Vikings drafted him knowing he'd have to spend time developing in the NFL. His time to get back on the field might not be far off.

"They probably don't see enough [to put me on the field yet]," Crichton said. "I've just got to do everything right from this point on, and keep my head up. I know my time will come."

In case you missed it on ESPN.com:
Best of the rest:
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings got one defensive starter back at practice on Wednesday, but as they go through the week preparing for Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills, they'll have to monitor the health of a few members of their defensive line.

Nose tackle Linval Joseph, who had one of his best games of the season on Sunday, was limited in practice with an ankle injury on Wednesday. Tackle Sharrif Floyd missed part of practice with ankle and elbow injuries. Defensive end Corey Wootton sat out with a low back injury, and rookie Scott Crichton saw more time during the open portion of practice because of Wootton's absence.

Linebacker Chad Greenway was a full participant in practice for the first time since breaking three ribs on Sept. 21 against New Orleans, which indicates he's on track to return Sunday from a three-game absence. Meanwhile, linebacker Gerald Hodges sat out Wednesday with a hamstring injury. A hamstring injury also kept defensive back Jabari Price out.

Safety Harrison Smith and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson were full participants as they deal with ankle and hip injuries, respectively. Smith, who sprained his ankle on Oct. 2 against Green Bay, said he's feeling much better than he was at this point last week, adding he's taking a few snaps off in practice to keep himself fresh.

"I'm doing everything I'd normally do, but every now and then, when I feel like something's going to get fatigued, I take a play off here or there," Smith said.

Tight end Chase Ford was also a full participant while dealing with a foot injury.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It would appear Chad Greenway has a good chance to get back on the field this Sunday after a three-game absence.

Greenway was with the Minnesota Vikings at the start of their practice Wednesday afternoon, after doing some limited work on Friday for the first time since he broke three ribs on Sept. 21 in New Orleans. As the veteran returned, linebacker Gerald Hodges -- who started the last three games in Greenway's place -- was sitting out of practice after injuring his hamstring Sunday, so Greenway could have an open path back to his spot as the starting weakside linebacker.

Coach Mike Zimmer said on Wednesday afternoon he would "possibly" consider making changes to the starting five on the Vikings' offensive line after the team gave up eight sacks on Sunday, but the Vikings had the same five starting linemen from Sunday's game -- Matt Kalil, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Vlad Ducasse and Phil Loadholt -- working together during the open portion of Wednesday's practice.

Cornerback Jabari Price and defensive end Corey Wootton also appeared to not be practicing, and tight end Kyle Rudolph, of course, remains out with a sports hernia.
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 defensive line.

Returning players: Brian Robison, Everson Griffen, Sharrif Floyd, Fred Evans, Chase Baker, Spencer Nealy, Justin Trattou

Gone from last season: Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Letroy Guion

New this season: Linval Joseph (free agent from New York Giants), Tom Johnson (free agent from New Orleans), Corey Wootton (free agent from Chicago), Kheeston Randall (free agent from Cincinnati), Scott Crichton (third-round pick from Oregon State), Shamar Stephen (seventh-round pick from Connecticut), Rakim Cox (undrafted free agent from Villanova), Isame Faciane (undrafted free agent from Florida International), Tyler Scott (undrafted free agent from Northwestern), Jake Snyder (undrafted free agent from Virginia)

Position coach: Andre Patterson (first season)

Biggest issue: There might not be any position group on the roster that went through a bigger change this offseason than the defensive line, and after the Vikings spent considerable resources to put together a line that can play coach Mike Zimmer's system, it will be incumbent upon players to execute it. Zimmer wants his linemen to engage blockers first and stay disciplined against the run, which means Robison and Griffen, in particular, will see a change in the way their position is coached. The Vikings' old system often gave defensive ends -- particularly Allen -- the freedom to take an aggressive pass-rushing stance and charge upfield, rather than working off blockers first .Zimmer's ends typically play with a more balanced stance, and don't get to set up in a wide alignment as often as pass-rushers like Allen did in the past. Reconstructing the Vikings' line play might be one of the more important steps in Zimmer's effort to rebuild the defense.

Player to watch: It's an important year for Floyd, who will take on a more significant role at defensive tackle after an underwhelming rookie season. The 23-year-old lost weight over the winter, and will likely play more this season after staying on the field for just 39.6 percent of the Vikings' defensive snaps last season. The Vikings want to see him turn into the kind of three-technique defensive end that Zimmer had in Geno Atkins while he was in Cincinnati, and it's an important year for Floyd to prove he can turn into a key piece of the defensive line.

Medical report: Joseph was limited by shoulder surgery during the Vikings' organized team activities and minicamp, but should be ready for the start of camp. Wootton had hip surgery last winter, and after playing hurt last season in Chicago, he believes he will have more pass-rushing productivity now that he has regained some of his explosiveness.

Help wanted: There is some reason to be concerned with the interior line depth, but they have a solid group of ends and will get some flexibility from a few players that can work inside or outside, like Griffen, Wootton and Crichton. As common as injuries are on the defensive line, though, the Vikings are likely always on the lookout for another body (as they were when they tried to bring Williams back this spring).

Quotable: "That group, I think, is a good group," defensive coordinator George Edwards said. "There was a lot of holes there when we first came in here. We’ve added some new players to that position. One thing you always like to see is guys working together and trying to help each other, and you see that group right now coaching each other when we’re not around, helping each other, trying to talk about pointers, trying to talk about the message that we’re trying to get accomplished, what we’re trying to do schematically, defensively the fundamentals and techniques of it."
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.

@GoesslingESPN: Good morning, everyone. We'll get started here. I still think the biggest concern on the Vikings' roster at this point is the secondary, in light of how many players the Vikings are counting on to improve and how much depth teams need at that position to survive, but I think your point about the defensive line is valid. Right now, the Vikings are planning for Sharrif Floyd to have a significant workload in Year 2, and we've yet to see if he can be the kind of force at three-technique tackle that Mike Zimmer got used to having in Geno Atkins. Floyd lost weight this spring, and Zimmer said he's been happy with what he's seen so far, but OTAs and minicamp are a long way from meaningful games. Linval Joseph is supposed to be ready for the start of training camp, and it seemed like the Vikings were holding him back largely as a precaution this spring. He's been a durable player during his career, but as physically demanding as the defensive tackle position is, the Vikings have some depth questions there. It's probably part of the reason they were willing to look at bringing Kevin Williams back after not communicating with him since the start of free agency.

@GoesslingESPN: We'll stick with the defensive tackle theme here, and look at the depth question in a little more detail. Tom Johnson will be the backup three-technique tackle, with Joseph ready for training camp. Fred Evans will be the primary backup at nose tackle, and guys like Shamar Stephen and Chase Baker could factor into those positions, too. Johnson could be a sneaky pickup for the Vikings as a rotational player; he was somewhat miscast in three-man fronts with the Saints last season, but he's been an effective pass-rusher from a tackle spot in a 4-3 defense. We could also see Corey Wootton play inside at times. In the end, though, there's going to be plenty of responsibility on Floyd at three-technique.

@GoesslingESPN: Boy, I can't see it. Johnson turned 33 Friday, with three years left on a contract that includes cap hits of more than $15 million each season. The Vikings just don't have the cap space to make that work, without restructuring Johnson's contract for the second time in less than a year. They already have a 30-year-old receiver in Greg Jennings, and Cordarrelle Patterson will command a larger role in their offense this year. And what would Houston want in return? It just doesn't seem like a good fit.

@GoesslingESPN: His name hasn't been prevalent because he hasn't been on the field; he missed most of the Vikings' offseason program with an injury, though he's expected to be ready for training camp. Sanford took a paycut this winter, but I still like him when he's healthy; he's been solid in coverage the past two seasons, and he played through a number of nagging injuries last season. If you're going to fault him for anything from last season, it would be several dropped interceptions. But at this point, my bet would still be on Sanford to start opposite Harrison Smith at the beginning of the season.

@GoesslingESPN: I inquired about this with the NFL this week, and a spokesman said they have nothing to report at this point. The league has been in the habit of slipping in suspension news on lazy Friday summer afternoons the past couple weeks (see: Spencer Nealy's four-game ban this week), but if there is going to be a suspension for Simpson, they're apparently not ready to talk about it yet. And there's a chance Simpson wouldn't be suspended since his three-game suspension in 2012 was for a drug-related arrest, and this one would be for an alcohol offense. Previous arrests can be treated as "aggravating circumstances" in the NFL's personal conduct rulings, and Simpson does face tougher probation terms after his arrest violated his initial probation, but the league could decide merely to fine Simpson, not suspend him.

We'll wrap it up there for the week. Thanks for all the great questions, everyone. Enjoy your weekend.

In the last few weeks before the Minnesota Vikings begin training camp, we're going to take a look at several players on their roster with something to prove this season, excluding rookies. We will focus primarily on veterans or players being asked to assume a larger role this season. Today: defensive end Corey Wootton.

Why he has something to prove: Wootton had an impressive 2012 season with the Chicago Bears, posting seven sacks while starting just seven games, but a nagging hip injury kept him from building on his breakout 2012 performance in 2013. Wootton started 15 games for the Bears, but had just 3 1/2 sacks as his hip injury slowed his first step, and the Bears let him walk in free agency. He had surgery following the season, and he's expecting to be 100 percent for the start of training camp. Playing on a one-year, incentive-laden deal that could pay him up to $2 million, the 27-year-old will have plenty at stake with the Vikings in 2014.

What he must do: The 6-foot-6 Wootton could be a good fit in the system of head coach Mike Zimmer, who had a couple of tall, long-armed defensive ends in Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson in Cincinnati. Wootton will probably play a rotational basis, with Brian Robison and Everson Griffen likely to start at the two defensive end positions, but that kind of a role could suit Wootton; he played inside and outside with the Bears, and he'd be able to stay fresh in a limited role, which is how he did much of his best work with the Bears in 2012. Four of Wootton's seven sacks that season came in games where he played 38 snaps or less. He'll find ways onto the field as the Vikings move Griffen, Robison and Anthony Barr around, and if he's healthy and rested, his quick first step could help him be a disruptive player.

Projection: Wootton has a solid year as a rotational player in Zimmer's defense and puts himself in position to head back into free agency in search of a starting job in 2015. He'll only be 28 next spring, and if he's productive, it's difficult to imagine the Vikings keeping him when they've already got so much money committed to Robison and Griffen. But the guess here is that Wootton will make enough contributions in 2014 that he'll create a solid market for himself.
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."

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."
MINNEAPOLIS -- With Teddy Bridgewater gone from the Vikings' final organized team activity of the week while he attends an NFL photo shoot in Los Angeles, the team's quarterback scene on Thursday looked the same as it did at the end of last season. Matt Cassel got most of the first-team snaps during Thursday's practice, with Christian Ponder backing him up and struggling with some of the throws he did make.

Both Cassel and Ponder threw an interception during 11-on-11 drills on Thursday, but Ponder had another screen pass that was nearly picked off by defensive end Corey Wootton, and he overthrew receivers on several downfield passes. Coach Mike Zimmer has talked about his desire for competition at quarterback, and Ponder will get his chances to win the job before the season, but in reality, there probably aren't many scenarios that would have the fourth-year quarterback on the field unless he's shown evidence of a major turnaround.

Cassel was given a two-year deal this offseason, ostensibly to be the quarterback of the present while Bridgewater gets ready for the future. The Vikings traded up to take Bridgewater earlier this month, and they didn't pick up Ponder's fifth-year option, meaning he'll be a free agent after this year. He'll be on the roster, and we've heard your concerns about him receiving first-team snaps during OTAs, but there's probably not much cause for hand-wringing here.

Quite often, the actions of NFL teams speak louder (and more directly) than their words, and nothing the Vikings have done would suggest a plan other than having Cassel start until Bridgewater is ready. There's a reason to have Ponder on the team -- if Cassel were to get hurt or was ineffective, and the Vikings didn't feel Bridgewater was ready, they'd have an option other than forcing the rookie onto the field -- but there's probably not much reason for fans to fret about him playing unless he's earned it. If he does? More power to him. He'll have had to show he's improved from his disappointing first three seasons in the league, and he'll have made the most of his chance in a system that doesn't seem to assure him of anything. But the Vikings' moves, to this point, would suggest we're a long ways from that happening.