Minnesota Vikings: Joe Webb

Every day we’ll take a look at one of the Minnesota Vikings heading for free agency, what he has meant to the team before and a prognosis on whether or not he’ll be back with the club in 2014.

Free agent to be: Joe Webb

Position: Wide receiver

Age: 27

Years in the league: 4

What he made last season: $658,381 (cap number); $635,250 (cash value)

What he did last season: Webb moved from quarterback to receiver, where he made the Vikings' roster as their fifth receiver out of training camp and showed what he might be capable of as a red zone target when he caught a touchdown pass from Christian Ponder in the Vikings' third preseason game. But Webb didn't see much action as anything other than a run-blocker, catching just five passes for 33 yards.

His potential market value: Webb will be an interesting case; there's a school of thought out there that he could be a dangerous quarterback in a read-option scheme, as the Vikings saw briefly on the first drive of their 2012 playoff game in Green Bay. As a receiver, he has the size and strength that might cause some teams to take a look at him, and his upbringing as a quarterback could also make teams take a look at his understanding of the game. But Webb, in all likelihood, isn't going to get a significant contract. If he's back with the Vikings or if he signs somewhere else, he'll have to fight for playing time.

Will he still fit the Vikings? It's hard to say. Webb's physical tools and the fact that receivers coach George Stewart is still around to vouch for him might play in Webb's favor. But in what is expected to be a more diverse scheme, the Vikings probably will be asking for more from their fourth and fifth receivers than they've gotten in past years. They probably won't keep a receiver almost strictly as a run-blocker, like they've done the past two years with Webb and Stephen Burton. For Webb to come back to the Vikings would likely require a leap of faith from offensive coordinator Norv Turner that Webb could fit in his system.

What happens: As well liked as Webb is in the Vikings' locker room, the guess here is he moves on to a different team, either as a change-of-pace quarterback or a receiver who could also step in as a QB for certain plays.
MINNEAPOLIS -- We're continuing on with our position-by-position outlook at the Vikings' roster. Today: the wide receivers.


2014 free agents: Jerome Simpson, Joe Webb.

The good: In his first year in the NFL, Cordarrelle Patterson looked like a star in the making. Granted, much of his best work came as a kick returner, but Patterson had moments when he showed he could be a dangerous threat as a receiver, too -- most notably his 79-yard screen pass against the Ravens on Dec. 8. Patterson could be the Vikings' next iteration of Percy Harvin, and will likely be the team's starting split end for years to come. Greg Jennings had an underwhelming first year in Minnesota, but that was due largely to the uncertainty the Vikings had at quarterback; once Matt Cassel took over as the starter at the end of the season, Jennings took off, catching a career-high 11 passes in the Vikings' Dec. 15 win over the Eagles. And Simpson emerged as a third receiver, nearly establishing career highs for catches and yards.

The bad: The Vikings will have to get more out of Jennings if he's going to live up to the $18 million in guaranteed money the Vikings gave him. He'll be 31 in September, and while a more stable quarterback situation should help, the Vikings still need to see him produce more. They will also have to decide whether or not to bring Simpson back, knowing he could be facing another NFL suspension after pleading guilty to DWI and careless driving charges stemming from a Nov. 9 arrest. And they'll want to see Patterson mature in his second year; the rookie said last month his goal for the offseason was to "stay out of trouble."

The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Jennings ($7 million), Patterson ($1.64 million), Jarius Wright ($675,027), Greg Childs ($645,146), Rodney Smith ($495,000). The Vikings would likely add another $2 million or so to their cap figure for the position if they re-signed Simpson; otherwise, they're not terribly over-committed at the position, given how young their receiver group is behind Jennings. Wright disappeared for the first half of his second season, but played well at the end of the year with Cassel. Childs is still trying to make it back from two torn patellar tendons that have kept him out since Aug. 2012.

Draft priority: Low. It's possible the Vikings could take a flier on a young receiver in case they didn't re-sign Simpson and didn't feel like Wright could be a capable third receiver, but there's talent here, and much of it is young.

Greg Jennings learns the art of blocking

December, 19, 2013
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Greg Jennings' transition from the Green Bay Packers to the Minnesota Vikings was always going to have some fits and starts, well beyond the border-hopping rivalry stuff that fans soak up (and Jennings fed with several rounds of well-publicized comments earlier this year). He went from playing with two quarterbacks -- Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers -- for all but one game of his time with the Packers, to having three in his first six games with the Vikings. On top of that, Jennings had to learn how to exist in an offensive system that revolved not around an MVP quarterback, but an MVP running back.

That meant fewer opportunities as the Vikings went through their quarterback changes. And it meant Jennings taking a more serious approach to the art of downfield blocking.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson and Greg Jennings
Tom Dahlin/Getty ImagesMoving from a team where the quarterback was the star to one where the running back is meant that Greg Jennings (15) had to work on his blocking.
"I kind of saw that the role, my mindset had to change, making sure that I was doing my job and not becoming a distraction at all," Jennings said. "Embracing the run game even more, making sure that I did my part from that aspect of what we were trying to on the offensive side of the ball. ... It didn’t get to me. I just had to shift my mindset to more of a run-blocker because that’s where we were having success at. That’s what was going to get our offense rolling."

For much of Jennings' time in Green Bay, the Packers were either so committed to the pass or so inept at the run that he wasn't asked to do much other than get open and catch passes. The most Jennings had to run-block was in his first season with Rodgers -- in 2008, when he was blocking on 33.8 percent of his offensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. His run-blocking dropped in each of the next three seasons (32.3 percent in 2009, 30.9 percent in 2010, 26.7 percent in 2011) before jumping back up to 29.1 percent in 2012. But this season, Jennings is back to blocking almost as frequently as he's ever done.

The Vikings have asked him to do it on 33.4 percent of his snaps this season, and in wide-receivers coach George Stewart, Jennings has a former offensive-line coach who stresses proper blocking technique. During his disappointing 2012 season, wide receiver Jerome Simpson won praise from the coaching staff for the way he worked to improve as a blocker, and that might have helped him earn a new contract from the Vikings this season. It also might have helped converted quarterback Joe Webb make the team out of training camp; Webb has blocked on 42.1 percent of his offensive snaps, filling the role Stephen Burton had occupied for the Vikings last season.

Jennings' productivity has increased since Matt Cassel took over as quarterback, and the Vikings are paying him primarily to do what he always did in Green Bay. But run-blocking is always going to be a reality in an offense with Adrian Peterson, and it's been one of several adjustments for Jennings in his first year in Minnesota.

He had a career-high 11 catches last week in a win over the Eagles, and has 59 catches for 733 yards this season. But Jennings will need a big finish to the season to avoid his lowest full-season yardage total since his rookie year, and his four touchdowns also match his fewest since his rookie year.

"It’s a challenge," he said of working with so many quarterbacks. "That’s why you get a lot of receivers, and a lot of people tag us as divas. Because a lot of times the work that we put in, not to get a result, it can be frustrating for anyone. For a team that’s lost as many games as we’ve lost, we put in a lot of work in practice not to get the production and have the success that we feel we deserve or that we’re putting in on Wednesday, Thursdays and Fridays, it can be frustrating. But you have to keep rolling with the punches, and right now we’re having some success and that’s where we are."
MINNEAPOLIS -- We know Toby Gerhart might not be at top speed on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles because of a hamstring injury, but based on his plans for Thursday night, we're guessing his thumbs are at full strength.
The Minnesota Vikings running back will be appearing at Best Buy in Richfield, Minn., on Thursday night to square off against gamers on the PlayStation 4 version of "Madden NFL 25" as part of the Ultimate Gamers Showdown. In addition to competing against Gerhart and pro gamer Justin Chow, contestants can enter a 64-team tournament for the chance to win a $1,000 Best Buy gift card and a trip to Texas for the final round -- an eight-team tournament on AT&T Stadium's mammoth scoreboard. The first 250 fans will also receive autographed Gerhart cards.

The event begins at 5 p.m. CT on Thursday, and entry to the tournament is on a first-come, first-served basis (in-store registration is available from noon-4:30). Playing Gerhart isn't necessarily part of the tournament, but the Vikings running back will be on hand from 6:30-8, and if "Madden" isn't your thing, Best Buy will have other games set up, like "FIFA 14" and "Need for Speed: Rivals."

The Vikings had a number of players facing off in "Madden" against fans at their Taste of the Vikings event last month -- Joe Webb, Everson Griffen and Jarius Wright among them -- and if we had to guess, we'd bet that playing Gerhart will mean a heavy dose of Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers' pistol offense; Gerhart played for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh in college, and read-option schemes are typically a fun (and effective) video game pick. Unless, of course, he opts to control his own team, playing as Adrian Peterson -- and himself.

Vikings are 'pretty good health-wise'

November, 29, 2013
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings got running back Adrian Peterson back on the practice field on Friday for a full session to test his strained groin before Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears. They got cornerback Xavier Rhodes and wide receiver Joe Webb back from concussions, and declared both players probable for Sunday. And they saw the return of safety Harrison Smith, who was eligible to practice for the first time in six weeks on Friday and is targeting a Dec. 15 return from injured reserve.

All that, coach Leslie Frazier said, left the Vikings in as good an injury situation as they've been in for some time.

"We're pretty good health-wise," Frazier said. "We’re not back to full strength, but we do have a lot of guys that are going to participate who we need to be on the field against a good football team."

Peterson's status never seemed in much doubt, after he carried 32 times with the groin injury last Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, but the return of Rhodes might be just as important against Bears receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Rhodes had the best game of his rookie season on Sunday, being credited with four pass breakups before he left with a concussion. His return might allow the Vikings to get more physical with the Bears' receivers than they otherwise could.

The only players the Vikings ruled out of Sunday's game were cornerback Josh Robinson and tight end Kyle Rudolph, who are still rehabbing from a fractured sternum and fractured foot, respectively. Everyone else on their roster is probable for the game.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings held running back Adrian Peterson out of practice on Wednesday, and it wouldn't be surprising if they pulled Peterson out of a number of practices for the rest of the season, as he plays through a groin injury. But Peterson, who carried 32 times in Sunday's tie against the Green Bay Packers, figures to play against the Chicago Bears.

Coach Leslie Frazier talked this week about the possibility of giving Toby Gerhart more carries in the next few games, after Gerhart ran for 91 yards on eight carries against the Packers. The Vikings face the league's worst rushing defense this weekend, and there could be opportunities for both backs against the Bears.

In other Vikings injury news:
  • Safety Harrison Smith, who has been on injured reserve with a designation to return since October, isn't eligible to practice until Friday, according to NFL rules. The Vikings had initially planned for Smith -- who is hoping to come back from turf toe and play this season -- to practice on Wednesday, but Frazier said they'll try to get him on the field Friday.
  • Both wide receiver Joe Webb and cornerback Xavier Rhodes have passed the first stage of the NFL's concussion protocol; Frazier said both could get on the practice field Thursday if they passed another stage on Wednesday.
  • Cornerback Josh Robinson (fractured sternum) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (fractured foot) were still out of practice.
  • Defensive tackle Kevin Williams was limited with a quadriceps injury; he'd been playing with a knee injury this season, but was on the injury report because of his quadriceps for the first time on Wednesday.
  • Quarterback Christian Ponder was not listed on the Vikings' injury report, indicating he has recovered from the dislocated left shoulder he suffered on Nov. 7.

Locker Room Buzz: Minnesota Vikings

November, 17, 2013
SEATTLE -- Observed in the locker room following the Minnesota Vikings' 41-20 loss to the Seattle Seahawks:

QB carousel could spin again: Coach Leslie Frazier again was noncommittal on the Vikings' starting quarterback for next Sunday's game in Green Bay, offering the familiar response that he would get together with his coaches this week and make a decision. But after Christian Ponder threw for just 15 yards in the second half and was intercepted twice (including once for a touchdown), the Vikings could decide to start Josh Freeman for the second time this season, or give Matt Cassel another look after he relieved Ponder. Cassel threw an interception, as well, and Freeman's one game this season was an ugly 20-for-53 performance against the New York Giants, but with the Vikings now at 2-8, Frazier might decide it's time to look at Freeman. "It's four weeks (since the Giants game) to learn, digest stuff that you had a week (to learn) the first go-around," said Freeman, who signed with the Vikings on Oct. 7. "But I'm just working, trying to help my understanding of everything, how we do it, how everything's called, why it's called, what it's called, and continue to grow in this offense." Freeman said he had a hunch throughout the week he would be inactive, but didn't find out for sure until he didn't see pads in his locker on Sunday.

Achilles injury keeps Jennings down: Wide receiver Greg Jennings was listed as probable for Sunday's game with a strained left Achilles tendon, and when coach Leslie Frazier was asked on Friday if there would be any issues with Jennings' heel, he said, "No. He'll be ready to go." But Jennings woke up Sunday morning feeling like he wasn't going to be able to play, and he was deactivated for the game. "We went out early and ran around," Jennings said. "It didn't feel good enough to play and put out a great performance. I wasn't going to put myself or my team in that position." Jennings wasn't sure what caused the injury, saying he woke up with it on Thursday morning and calling it "the flukiest thing," but said he plans to be back for his return trip to Lambeau Field next week.

Harvin returns with a bang -- and a jab: Seahawks receiver Percy Harvin only played a limited role in his return to the field, but he made an impact against his former team after coming back from hip surgery. Harvin tipped his first catch to himself for a spectacular 17-yard gain, and once kick returner Jermaine Kearse went down, Harvin got his wish to return to his role as a return man. He brought his first kickoff back 58 yards, and the Vikings didn't kick to him again. And after the game, Harvin took a bit of a jab at the Vikings' offense when asked to compare it to Seattle's. "It's the complete opposite," Harvin said of the Seahawks' scheme. "It allows you to stretch the field." Considering Harvin had dropped hints he was unhappy with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's scheme during his time in Minnesota, it wasn't surprising to hear him say it on Sunday, but the remark was more frontal than his previous criticisms of his old team.

Simpson has one catch after sitting early: Wide receiver Jerome Simpson, who was arrested on Nov. 9 for drunken driving, did not start for the Vikings on Sunday, even with Jennings out. He served as the Vikings' fourth receiver for much of the day, with Joe Webb often seeing time ahead of Simpson in the Vikings' three-receiver sets, but Jennings' absence forced the Vikings to use Simpson in different parts of the game. Asked if he would have used Simpson less had Jennings been healthy, Frazier said, "There's no sense in me talking about that now. The decision was made. Simpson was out there on the second play. Circumstances dictated this is what we had to do." Simpson finished with one catch for one yard.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Close your eyes and imagine it, Vikings fans: Robert Griffin III and Adrian Peterson in the same backfield, working opposing defenses into a tizzy and electrifying the Metrodome with a read-option attack.

Griffin and Peterson, who share an agent, had talked about the possibility before the 2012 draft, Griffin said Tuesday, and though he added he didn't have any contact with the Vikings' front office, he was told by people on the outside that if he'd fallen to No. 3 in the draft, the Vikings "weren't going to leave me there."

Now open your eyes, realize the reason the Vikings didn't have any contact with Griffin was because there was no way he was going to slip past No. 2. And if you like, thank Joe Webb for having the game of his life on Christmas Eve 2011.

The Vikings beat the Washington Redskins that day, overcoming Peterson's torn ACL and getting their third win in large part because of Webb, who spelled an injured Christian Ponder and directed three touchdown drives in a 33-26 Vikings victory. That game meant the Vikings would wind up picking third, not second, in the draft, and wouldn't have a shot to take the Heisman Trophy winner. The Redskins traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick to the St. Louis Rams in March 2012 for the No. 2 pick and the right to draft Griffin. The Vikings could have, at the very least, gotten a similar bounty for the No. 2 pick, or they could have taken Griffin.

"They try to tell you you never know what can happen," Griffin said in a conference call Tuesday. "Specifically, I was told by a few people from the outside that if I had fallen to No. 3 they weren't going to leave me on the board. But nothing as far as them wanting to move up or just dying to have me. Just kind of if I was there, they were going to take me."

We've never seen Peterson in a read-option scheme, though the Vikings showed flashes of it with Webb in their playoff game against the Packers last year. It's hard to know exactly how much of it the Vikings would have used if they had Griffin, or whether Peterson would have taken to it after lining up behind the quarterback for most of his career. But it's safe to say that with two dynamic players like that in the backfield, the Vikings could have at least had something very entertaining.

It still seems a bit hard to believe the Vikings would have behaved the same way with the No. 2 pick that they would have if Griffin had been there at No. 3. They had just drafted Ponder the year before and liked Matt Kalil, whom they ended up drafting fourth overall once they traded with the Cleveland Browns. If Griffin had slipped to third overall, it might have meant Kalil was off the board, but had the Vikings picked second, they might have been swayed by the bounty they could have reaped in a trade. But that alternative could still have left the Vikings in an attractive position.

On Tuesday, as the Vikings prepared to play Griffin a year after he ran for a 76-yard touchdown against them, coach Leslie Frazier wanted no part of thinking about what might have been.

"Next question, please. Anybody else got a question? We just want to win!" Frazier said with a laugh. "2011, 2010, 2013, a win. I'm not looking at what's happening at the draft. I just want us a win. That might be a question for Rick Spielman and [team president] Mark [Wilf] or [owner] Zygi [Wilf], but not Leslie Frazier. Every game we play, I'm going to tell you this, we're going to try to win."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh was limited in practice on Thursday because of an injury to his left leg, but coach Leslie Frazier expects Walsh will be ready to play on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.

"He was doing some kickoffs, and just felt a little bit of a twinge, so we just shut him down," Frazier said. "I think he'll be fine, based on what Eric Sugarman, our trainer, said. We just want to be smart."

The injury is to Walsh's plant leg, which could affect his mechanics (though obviously not as much as if it was his kicking leg). Frazier said the Vikings have a short list of kickers if necessary, but "we don't want to get to it."

In other Vikings practice news:
  • Running back Adrian Peterson was away from the team on Thursday because of a personal matter, but Frazier said Peterson would be back on Friday. While Peterson was away, though, he was apparently eating a turkey sandwich in Sioux Falls, S.D.
  • Wide receiver Joe Webb also missed practice because of an illness, but should be back on Friday.
  • Cornerback Chris Cook (groin) was a limited participant, but said he's "pretty confident I'll be ready for Sunday."
  • Safety Jamarca Sanford (hamstring), who also missed the Vikings' previous game, returned to full participation.
  • Defensive tackle Kevin Williams and tight end Rhett Ellison were again limited with knee injuries.
  • Lastly, quarterback Christian Ponder was limited with a fractured rib, though Ponder said he split snaps with Matt Cassel and is healthy enough to play on Sunday. It seems likely he will be the backup this week, with Cassel starting and Josh Freeman inactive for his first game with the team.

Upon Further Review: Vikings Week 4

September, 30, 2013
LONDON -- An examination of four hot issues following the Minnesota Vikings' 34-27 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers:

Who's the QB? That will be the Vikings' big question during and after their bye week, as they prepare for their next game against the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 13. Coach Leslie Frazier said Sunday, "If you're asking, our quarterback is Christian Ponder," even after Matt Cassel threw for 248 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Vikings' first win of the season. Players such as Greg Jennings and Adrian Peterson have stood by Ponder in his struggles, but even those two seemed relieved to be praising, instead of defending, their quarterback after Sunday's win. Frazier will have to gauge how his team would react to a return to Ponder, and Cassel's struggles the past two years in Kansas City are proof he has had his own issues. But it will be interesting to see how Frazier navigates the next two weeks and how his players will react to whatever decision he makes.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Jamie McDonald/Getty ImagesStars like Adrian Peterson have helped the NFL as a consistently popular draw in London.
Peterson emerges: The numbers would suggest Peterson hadn't played poorly in three games before Sunday -- he had still run for 281 yards in three games -- but the NFL's reigning MVP hadn't looked like himself until heading to London. With fullback Jerome Felton back, Peterson seemed more comfortable, romping for 140 yards in the Vikings' win. His 60-yard run in the first half was actually set up by quarterback-turned-receiver Joe Webb, who sealed off safety Troy Polamalu after seeing something on a previous play. "He came to me on the sideline," Peterson said. "He was telling me, 'Hey, on the 42 Lead, Troy [Polamalu], the safety, is cramming in, and he's shooting right down. So just trust me on being able to pin him in. You can get it outside.' And sure enough, the next time we caught it, it happened exactly the way he was playing."

Secondary struggles: The Vikings won, and they survived without Chris Cook and Jamarca Sanford, but those facts probably won't dampen concerns about their defensive backs after the Vikings allowed more than 300 yards passing for the third time in four weeks. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had to throw on almost every play in the fourth quarter with Pittsburgh down 17, but he targeted second-year cornerback Josh Robinson throughout the game, and Robinson added a 48-yard pass interference penalty to the Steelers' production for the day after he grabbed Antonio Brown and put the ball at the Vikings' 1.

London calling ... again? This won't emerge as a front-burner topic for a while, but it wouldn't be surprising to see the Vikings back in London before they open their new stadium in Minneapolis in 2016. Vikings players gushed about the accommodations the team had at The Grove Hotel in Watford, England, and Frazier spoke glowingly about the experience after the Vikings won at Wembley Stadium on Sunday and lifted a little pressure off themselves before their bye week. Before the game, team officials privately weren't keen on the idea of coming to London as the home team again and taking players out of their routine for a week in addition to giving up a home game. But it will be interesting to see if the Vikings have different feelings now that they've seen a week in London is manageable. Frazier is a big believer in settings like these, which encourage team bonding, and if the London trip emerges as a turning point in the season, you can bet the Vikings will consider doing it again. With the team at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium in 2014 and 2015, the NFL is likely to ask.

WATFORD, England -- It appears Christian Ponder won’t start at quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

Ponder was not throwing or wearing a helmet in the portion of practice open to reporters on Friday morning in England, indicating he will likely miss Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers with the rib injury that has limited him in practice all week. Instead, it appears backup quarterback Matt Cassel will start for the Vikings at Wembley Stadium.

Ponder’s status has been uncertain all week; the quarterback had indicated he would be able to play with the injury, pointing out he finished the game after getting hit early last Sunday against the Cleveland Browns and saying on Thursday he felt fine throwing with extra padding on his ribs. The one unknown, Ponder said, was how he would handle contact, but without an opportunity to simulate that in practice, the quarterback’s status would be left up to the Vikings’ training staff and coach Leslie Frazier.

Even if Ponder was completely healthy, one could argue the Vikings were nearing a change at quarterback. The former first-round pick has thrown five interceptions against just two touchdown passes in three games, having an interception returned for a touchdown in a 31-30 loss to the Chicago Bears in Week 2. He could regain his starting status after the Vikings’ bye week, depending on what happens with Cassel on Sunday, but it’s also possible the Vikings would use the opportunity to move in a different direction.

The Vikings signed Cassel to a two-year, $7.4 million contract in March after he was released by the Kansas City Chiefs. Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman said at the time that Ponder was the starting quarterback and Cassel was coming in to give the Vikings a veteran option in case something happened to Ponder. They were forced to start Joe Webb after an elbow injury kept Ponder out of a wild-card playoff game in Green Bay last January, and Webb completed just 11 of 30 passes for 180 yards in the loss.

Cassel, 31, emerged in the NFL after Tom Brady tore his ACL during the first week of the 2008 season, and he led the New England Patriots to a 10-6 record that season. He reached the Pro Bowl and led the Chiefs to the playoffs in 2010, but injuries and ineffectiveness made him expendable after the Chiefs traded for Alex Smith last winter.

“We signed Matt Cassel for occasions like this, if something were to happen to Christian,” Frazier said on Thursday.

Now, it seems the coach will get his chance to see where Cassel can take the Vikings.
Welcome to Around the Horns, our daily look at what's happening on the Vikings beat:

When Adrian Peterson was making his run at Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record last December, the former Rams running back was complimentary of Peterson but not necessarily supportive of his pursuit. Dickerson said he didn't want Peterson to break the record, and though he didn't watch much of the Vikings' final game against the Green Bay Packers, he caught enough of the final few minutes to breathe a sigh of relief when Peterson fell 8 yards short.

Now that Peterson is gearing up for another shot at the record, talking about how he wants to run for 2,500 yards, Dickerson is saying the same things.

He praised Peterson again in an interview with Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times, but said he wants to keep his record, adding how tough it will be for Peterson to take another shot at 2,105 yards.

"He's going to see a lot of eight- and nine-man fronts," Dickerson said. "Because they're going to dare [quarterback Christian] Ponder to throw the football. They're going to stack the line of scrimmage. If I'm a defensive coordinator, my thing would be, 'OK, I want you to hit him all the way to the ground. Punish him.' That's what they do.

"The kind of runner Adrian is, he won't back down from that. But that's how you try to get to a back, frustrate him with the fronts, and just constantly hit him, hit him, hit him."

Dickerson also shared a funny anecdote about when he broke the single-season rushing mark. Part of him expected adidas, his shoe company, would get him a car. It didn't.

"You know what they gave me? Take a wild guess. How about a carrot cake with candles? That was embarrassing," he told Farmer. "The linemen, they were all standing around and were like, 'A cake? A cake? Man, there's no keys in that cake?' I'm like, 'Man, I'm allergic to nuts. I can't eat this cake.'"

Here are today's other Vikings stories of note:
Most significant move: Joe Webb has officially made the Vikings' roster at two different positions. After a dismal performance in place of Christian Ponder during the Vikings' playoff game last January, Webb made the transition to wide receiver this spring and beat out Stephen Burton for the final roster spot. Burton started off well in camp, but was inconsistent in the Vikings' final two preseason games, while Webb caught a touchdown pass from Ponder that showed he might have potential as a red zone target. He'll probably also factor in on special teams, but in beating out Burton -- who was with the Vikings all of last season -- Webb rewarded the coaching staff's faith in him.

Sherels survives again: Marcus Sherels has made a habit of turning in notable preseason performances to claim one of the Vikings' final roster spots. He saved his best for last on Thursday night, returning a kickoff 109 yards for a touchdown and recording an interception less than a week after his father's funeral. The performance was enough for Sherels to fight off Bobby Felder for the Vikings' final cornerback spot, and it likely means he keeps his job as the team's punt returner. His results were mediocre aside from a 77-yard touchdown last year, but special teams coordinator Mike Priefer praised Sherels' sure hands and decision-making this week. That probably helped him beat out Felder, who looked impressive as a punt returner in his own right and might claim a practice squad spot.

What's next: The Vikings will announce their practice squad tomorrow, and could look for more help on the offensive line, where they only kept eight players.

Vikings moves: Released TE Colin Anderson, RB Joe Banyard, S Brandan Bishop, OG Travis Bond, CB Brandon Burton, WR Stephen Burton, DT Everett Dawkins, S Darius Eubanks, CB Bobby Felder, TE Chase Ford, OT Brandon Keith, DT Anthony McCloud, LB Tyrone McKenzie, OT Kevin Murphy, DT Spencer Nealy, DE D'Aundre Reed, WR Rodney Smith, WR Adam Thielen, DE Collins Ukwu. Placed OG Seth Olsen on injured reserve. Placed FB Jerome Felton and OG Demarcus Love on suspended list. Placed WR Greg Childs on physically unable to perform list. Placed DT Christian Ballard on reserve/left squad list.

What to watch for: Vikings-Titans

August, 29, 2013
The Minnesota Vikings close out the preseason at home on Thursday, playing host to the Tennessee Titans. The Vikings are expected to sit most of their starters, but a number of players will still have something to prove in advance of final roster cuts this weekend. Here are some things to watch:

Matt Cassel: The quarterback hasn't been terribly impressive this preseason, doing his best work in the Vikings' exhibition opener against Houston. Since that game, where Cassel went 12-for-19 for 212 yards, a touchdown and an interception, he has completed just 7 of 18 passes for a total of 57 yards and has been sacked twice. With Christian Ponder likely to sit out, Cassel should get plenty of time to end his preseason on a good note and remind the Vikings why they are paying him $3.7 million this season to back up Ponder.

Cornerback battle: Several position battles still have to be settled on the Vikings' roster, but the competition for the team's final cornerback spot is one of the more prominent ones. Bobby Felder, who spent last season on the practice squad, has had some impressive moments this preseason and might have a shot to unseat Marcus Sherels for a spot on the roster. Felder is bigger and more physical than Sherels, who served as the Vikings' fifth corner last season, and he's been productive enough as a punt returner that it looks like he could unseat Sherels there, too. If Josh Robinson falters in the slot, the Vikings would likely go to whomever wins this spot, so it could be important for them to get it right. Thursday will give them one final look at both players, and unless they wind up keeping six cornerbacks, Thursday's game could play a pivotal role in helping the Vikings decide whether Felder or Sherels stays.

The thin D-line: With Kevin Williams and Sharrif Floyd still sitting out because of knee injuries, and Christian Ballard still away from the team because of personal issues, the Vikings will have plenty of work for their backup defensive tackles on Thursday night. Players such as Anthony McCloud, Chase Baker and Everett Dawkins should play extensively, and if it looks like Ballard's absence will extend into the season, the Vikings might have a roster spot for one of them. None of the players have distinguished themselves during the preseason, but a longer stretch of playing time could lend some more clarity to the situation.

Desmond Bishop: He played 33 snaps on Sunday night in San Francisco, and Bishop should have plenty of time again on Thursday night to prove he should start at weak-side linebacker over Marvin Mitchell. He still had some lapses in pass coverage against the 49ers, but made nine tackles and looked more assertive against the run than he did in the previous game against the Bills, which was Bishop's first in more than a year after a torn hamstring ended his 2012 season after one game.

Final receiver spot: Here's another area where Thursday's game could have plenty to say about who sticks on the roster. Stephen Burton has had an impressive camp, and caught three passes for 67 yards in the Vikings' first preseason game, but Ponder's interception on Sunday night in San Francisco could be attributed at least partially to Burton, who stopped his route and gave Nnamdi Asomugha a clear path to the ball. (Asomugha tipped the ball, and C.J. Spillman made the pick.) In that same game, Joe Webb caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Ponder, showing what kind of a red-zone threat he could be. It seems unlikely the Vikings would keep six receivers, unless they only went with two quarterbacks, so they might have to decide between two players who spent all of last season on their roster. Another factor here could be the Vikings' impression of Webb as a run blocker; Burton has fared well there in the past, and in the Vikings' offense, a receiver's ability to block downfield for Adrian Peterson will always be important.

Observation deck: Vikings-49ers

August, 26, 2013

If Christian Ponder's preseason is done, at least he saved his best work for his closing act.

Ponder went 7-of-9 for 48 yards on his final drive during the Minnesota Vikings' 34-14 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night, directing a 12-play, 78-yard drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Joe Webb on a fade route. It was as assertive and accurate as Ponder has looked all preseason, and though most of his completions were underneath the 49ers' coverage, he converted two third downs (one on a 7-yard scramble, the other on his touchdown to Webb), and the scoring pass was Ponder's second of the night. It helped him finish with his best stat line of the preseason -- 17-of-23 for 116 yards, two touchdowns and an interception -- but it also dressed things up after another ragged start for Ponder.

On the Vikings' first play, he threw too far out in front of Greg Jennings, who was in single coverage against a safety, on a deep ball off play action. He threw incomplete to John Carlson on second down, and fumbled on third down after Ahmad Brooks beat Phil Loadholt and sacked Ponder. It took the Vikings four series to get a first down, and on their first sustained drive of the night, Ponder floated a couple of high passes -- one caught by Jennings, the other caught by Stephen Burton out of bounds -- instead of driving the ball downfield.

He finished the night with an average of 5 yards per pass, not unlike much of the work he did last season, and while the night again came with a significant caveat -- Adrian Peterson was on the field for just two plays -- Ponder had opportunities to connect on a few big throws that he didn't hit. He'll likely sit out the Vikings' final preseason game Thursday night, which means fans will head into the regular season relying more on faith than concrete evidence that Ponder is progressing.

Here's a rundown of the rest of the night:
  • It wasn't a good night for the Vikings' secondary. Chris Cook left the game with a groin injury (no small thing, considering all the trouble Cook has had staying on the field) and Josh Robinson spent much of the night dealing with the attention 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick paid to him. Kaepernick targeted Robinson four times on a 84-yard touchdown drive, hitting rookie Quinton Patton for a 19-yard gain in the slot against Robinson and connecting with Patton on a 5-yard touchdown after two completions to Marlon Moore against Robinson. If Cook is out for any length of time, the Vikings' big gamble in the secondary could become even riskier with Robinson and rookie Xavier Rhodes starting.
  • Defensive tackle Kevin Williams left the game with a knee injury after a chop block in the second quarter and will have a MRI on Monday. Early indications are that the injury isn't serious, but defensive end Jared Allen was ticked about the low hit; interviewed on TV he called it a dirty play. Sharrif Floyd also is out for the rest of the preseason after a chop block caused him to have a minor knee operation, and Christian Ballard is still away from the team because of personal issues. The Vikings' lack of depth at defensive tackle, at the moment, looks a bit unnerving.
  • The Vikings' offensive line had another uncharacteristically bad night. Loadholt offered little resistance to Brooks on Ponder's fumble, and was later flagged for holding. And left tackle Matt Kalil had a pair of unnecessary-roughness penalties, earning one after he joined a shoving match between Brandon Fusco and a 49ers player. Coach Leslie Frazier had to sit Kalil down for a play to cool him off, and after Kalil sustained a knee injury in a poor performance in the Vikings' second preseason game, tonight wasn't a good follow-up.
  • On Ponder's interception, Burton stopped early on a crossing route and was a step shy of catching the pass. Burton's had a strong preseason, but Ponder's interception might have been a completion had Burton finished his route.
  • Webb, the former quarterback who is competing with Burton for one of the final receiver spots, provided another reminder of why he might fit in as a pass-catcher. He did a nice job on his touchdown, going up for a jump ball and pulling down Ponder's pass in the corner of the end zone. With his size, strength and leaping ability, Webb could be a nice weapon in the red zone.
  • As promised, Desmond Bishop got plenty of work, playing with the Vikings' first-team defense in the first half and remaining in the game with the No. 2 defense in the second half. He gave up a catch to Moore when Kaepernick stepped out of the pocket and drew Bishop toward the line of scrimmage, but Bishop stopped Kendall Hunter for a loss and made a nice open-field tackle of D.J. Harper in the fourth quarter. Though he's still struggling somewhat in pass coverage, Bishop can help the Vikings' run defense, and he looked more assertive Sunday than he did against Buffalo.
  • Before he left with his injury, Cook made an impressive tackle of Chad Hall, coming across the field to drag down the receiver after a four-yard screen pass.
  • Chad Greenway sold the 49ers on the idea that he was rushing before dropping back into coverage on his second-quarter interception of Colt McCoy. The turnover set up the Vikings' first touchdown, when Ponder hit Zach Line -- who turned a screen pass into a 61-yard touchdown in the Vikings' first preseason game -- for a 1-yard score.