Minnesota Vikings: Marcus Sherels

MINNEAPOLIS -- We're concluding our position-by-position look at the Minnesota Vikings' roster this morning with a look at the team's specialists:

SPECIAL TEAMS

2015 free agents: Cullen Loeffler

The good: Kicker Blair Walsh's leg strength was again a tremendous weapon for the Vikings, as Walsh finished seventh in the league in touchback percentage on kickoffs. The Vikings also benefited from coach Mike Zimmer giving special teams coordinator Mike Priefer more freedom to be aggressive; Priefer's fake punt play went for 48 yards on Nov. 16 against Chicago, and the Vikings became the first team in 39 years to return two blocked punts for touchdowns in the same half on Nov. 30 against Carolina. Punt returner Marcus Sherels had another solid season, averaging 11 yards per return. And even though Cordarrelle Patterson's production slipped on kick returns, the threat of Patterson's explosiveness still helped the Vikings' field position. They finished the year sixth in the league in field position after kickoffs. The Dallas Morning News' Rick Gosselin, who reviews all 32 special teams units at the end of the season, ranked the Vikings 10th overall in 2014.

The bad: Walsh hit a slump at the end of the season, missing his final three kicks of 50 yards or longer and going 5-for-10 in December. Punter Jeff Locke also struggled to improve his net yardage, finishing 25th in the league with an average of 39.22 net yards per punt. He wasn't helped by a spate of touchbacks, and finished tied for ninth in the league after putting six punts in the end zone. Locke also had a punt blocked for a game-turning safety in the Vikings' 37-35 loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 16, after a rare mistake from Cullen Loeffler, the Vikings' dependable long snapper. The Vikings had a run of penalties in the middle of the season that led Priefer to pull rookies Antone Exum and Jabari Price off special teams on Nov. 2 against Washington. And Patterson's struggles as a receiver extended to kickoffs in December, when he fumbled two kicks against the Jets and muffed a third.

The money -- 2015 salary-cap numbers: Walsh ($689,483), Locke ($631,048). The Vikings will look to bring back Loeffler, the senior member of their 2015 roster who's been a trusted specialist and a mentor for the team's young kicker and punter. Loeffler made $1.135 million in 2014, and his value as a long snapper leaves little doubt the Vikings will pursue a new deal with him. Walsh will be a free agent after 2015, and the Vikings could try to get a new deal done with him before the 2015 season.

Draft priority: Low. The Vikings will likely add contributors to their special teams units in the late rounds of the draft; they've seen how valuable players at the end of the roster, like Andrew Sendejo and Adam Thielen, can be on special teams. Priefer spent much of his time at the Senior Bowl evaluating which players could help his group, and young players inevitably will contribute to the special teams units. But the Vikings likely won't be in the market for a kicker, punter or long snapper.
MINNEAPOLIS -- We're continuing our position-by-position look at the Minnesota Vikings' roster this morning, with a look at the team's secondary:

DEFENSIVE BACKS

2015 free agents: Mistral Raymond

The good: The Vikings gambled on the development of a young secondary in 2014, and got impressive returns in a couple of key spots -- perhaps none bigger than right cornerback. Xavier Rhodes played like a shutdown corner at the end of the year, traveling across the field with players like Calvin Johnson, Mike Wallace and Alshon Jeffery. He seemed to be closer to finding a balance between aggressive coverage techniques and ones that will draw a penalty, and he should only improve in 2015. The Vikings also got a full year out of Harrison Smith, who missed half of 2013 with a turf toe injury, and Smith might have been the team's best defensive player. He was the only player in the league to finish with at least three sacks and three interceptions, and ended the year tied for third in the league with five interceptions. Smith ran one back for a touchdown, played 1,015 snaps and stood out as one of the Vikings' biggest Pro Bowl snubs.

The bad: The Vikings didn't everything they hoped they'd get from Captain Munnerlyn, who called 2014 his worst year in the NFL after signing a three-year, $10.25 million deal in March. Munnerlyn started in the Vikings' defense in addition to playing slot cornerback, and it seems likely the Vikings will try to make him purely a slot corner in 2015. That plan would require them to add another corner or hope for more development from Josh Robinson, who showed improvement in 2014 but still was inconsistent with his press technique. Robinson played outside in the Vikings' nickel package, and probably had his longest day on Nov. 16 in Chicago, when Bears quarterback Jay Cutler targeted him 15 times.

The money -- 2015 salary-cap numbers: Munnerlyn ($4.33 million), Smith ($2.27 million), Rhodes ($2.13 million), Robinson ($1.75 million), Robert Blanton ($1.63 million), Marcus Sherels ($1.25 million), Andrew Sendejo ($1.07 million), Demarcus Van Dyke ($670,000), Shaun Prater ($660,000), Antone Exum ($538,947), Jabari Price ($525,455), Ahmad Dixon ($510,000). The Vikings will have to make a number of decisions on young players by the end of next season. They'll have to determine whether to pick up Smith's fifth-year option by May -- it seems likely they'll do so -- and a number of players who have seen significant playing time over the last two years (Robinson, Blanton, Sherels and Sendejo) will be free agents after 2015. Munnerlyn has $1 million of his 2015 base salary currently guaranteed against injury; the amount will become fully guaranteed on the third day of the new league year. He's said he needs to do a better job of playing within Mike Zimmer's system, and if he doesn't produce better in 2015, it's unlikely he'd be around at his $4.58 million cap number in 2016.

Draft priority: High. Whether it's another big cornerback, or a dynamic safety who can upgrade the back end of the Vikings' defense next to Smith, the Vikings figure to address the secondary in some way or another. Exum might get a chance to compete at safety after playing mostly special teams in 2014, but if a big-time safety like Alabama's Landon Collins is available at No. 11, the Vikings might look into such an option.
MOBILE, Ala. -- The Minnesota Vikings' year was filled with pivotal moments on special teams -- more of them good than bad -- and their performance ranked among the league's best, according to one of the NFL's special teams experts.

Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin, who published his annual ranking of the league's 32 special teams units on Friday, had the Vikings 10th in the league. That put Minnesota's special teams group at the top of the NFC North. Detroit finished 15th, Chicago was 26th and Green Bay -- which had seven kicks blocked this year and made some crucial special teams mistakes in its NFC Championship Game collapse last Sunday -- was dead last.

The Vikings finished 17th in Gosselin's rankings last year, and while they didn't get the same kind of dynamic performance in the return game they had from Cordarrelle Patterson in 2013, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer's unit did a number of other good things. The Vikings became the first team in 39 years to return two blocked punts for touchdowns in the same half against Carolina on Nov. 30, and safety Andrew Sendejo gained 48 yards on a fake punt on Nov. 16 against Chicago. The Vikings were also sixth in the league in yards per punt return, thanks to another strong year from Marcus Sherels. And kicker Blair Walsh was sixth in touchback percentage on kickoffs.

There were reasons for concern, too; Walsh struggled at the end of the year, making just 74.3 percent of his field goals for the season. Punter Jeff Locke was 22nd in net punting average, and struggled to pin opponents deep in their own territory. Only 7.9 percent of his punts were inside the 10-yard line, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and Locke wound up with six touchbacks.

But coach Mike Zimmer gave Priefer the freedom to be more aggressive on special teams this season, and the Vikings made some key plays on special teams because of it. They've got former Pro Bowlers at kicker and kick returner, and if they can get Walsh and Patterson back up to speed in 2015, they'll be in especially good shape on special teams.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings punt returner Marcus Sherels has kept a firm hold on his job and endeared himself to special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer over the past three seasons in large part because of his reliability. Sherels is sure-handed, generally makes good decisions and has been able to keep the Vikings out of bad situations on special teams.

This season, though, Sherels has made a couple decisions to fair-catch punts that would have likely rolled into the end zone for a touchback, including one in Buffalo last Sunday where he called for a fair catch and fielded the ball at the Vikings' 6, earning him a sideline conversation with an irate Priefer.

Sherels
Reviewing the punt, Priefer could understand what led Sherels to make the decision he did, but he still didn't want to see it happen again. Allow the special-teams coordinator to explain, in his typical expository style.

"It was a windy day; they’re kicking with the wind," Priefer said. "It wasn’t a plus-50 situation (where the Bills are punting in Vikings territory). He was actually aligned up at the 12-yard line. We had them, I think, at 50 yards because their punter was hitting the ball really well. When he went back to catch it, he didn’t realize where he was and you could see it on tape; he kind of hesitated about the 8-(yard line), which is his rule, and then at the last second it drifted a couple more yards.

"In hindsight, you hope he doesn’t fair-catch that -- that he grabs it and goes, because I think he had some room. The second point would be, let it go in the end zone, because the wind was blowing pretty good. It was probably, you can classify that as a poor decision and hopefully won’t make those going forward."

Priefer said he doesn't want to see Sherels back up to field punts that deep in his own territory, especially when he has opportunities to block a gunner and hinder a team's ability to down the ball before it goes into the end zone. "He’s actually had one of those, I think, against Atlanta (on Sept. 28), where he did a really nice job," Priefer said. "No fair catch, bluffed the catch, slowed down the gunner a little bit and gave him a little nudge and knocked him off. The ball hit at the 2 and went in the end zone for a touchback. That was a big play for us. It was obviously 18 or 20 yards of field position."

Sherels has been accused of being too cautious with punts at times over the years, but as Priefer said, Sherels is more aggressive with deciding to return punts than he was in his first years as a returner. As solid as he's been at fielding punts and staying out of trouble, he's understandably earned some leeway when he makes occasional mistakes.

" I think Marcus has done a really nice job, or he wouldn’t still be here as our punt returner for a fourth straight year," Priefer said. "He’s a quality young man, he’s going to work hard, he’s going to do everything we ask him to do."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Teddy Bridgewater was 14, the last of four kids still at home, when his mother Rose Murphy told him she had breast cancer.

Jerome Felton was going through training camp with the Minnesota Vikings last summer when he got a text message from his older sister, Maike Bachmann, saying she had something important to tell him.

[+] EnlargeDwight Lowery
Ann Heisenfelt/AP PhotoTeddy Bridgewater is one of several Vikings whose life has been affected by loved ones suffering from breast cancer.
Antone Exum's mother, Barbara, was diagnosed a week after Exum's grandmother had died from cancer. Not wanting to worry her two children with the news, she went through treatments in silence, finally telling her kids two years later that she'd beaten the disease.

Those three players, along with defensive end Everson Griffen, appeared at the team's 4th annual Breast Cancer Awareness luncheon with stories to tell about how the disease had affected them personally. Griffen, who got married over the summer, said at the event his mother-in-law has been in remission for years. Felton's sister has been in remission since January, Bridgewater's mother beat the disease in 2008 and Exum's mother has been cancer-free since he was in ninth grade.

All 32 teams take part in the NFL's breast cancer awareness initiatives each October, but the Vikings have become a team with some poignant stories about the disease now that rookies such as Bridgewater (whose mother blew the Gjallarhorn before Sunday's game) and Exum (whose mother was an honorary captain and did the coin toss for the game against the Detroit Lions) are on the team. Exum talked at length about the importance of early detection, saying his mother was able to avoid chemotherapy through two mastectomies after she was diagnosed.

"I can't speak enough about (early detection). That's what saved my mom," Exum said. "She got checked, found out she was diagnosed with cancer, but they were able to catch it at such an early stage that they didn't have to do chemo and things like that."

Exum said his mother has been texting him all week about how much fun she had at the game on Sunday, teasing him that she'd become a NFL captain before he did. Bridgewater, who goes with his mother to visit breast cancer survivors when he's at home in South Florida, was fighting a stomach bug on Tuesday, but said being part of the event was an obvious way to use his platform to raise awareness about the disease.

"It’s been a huge part of my life because my mom went through the entire process," he said. "I know how much of an impact you can have in someone’s life by being supportive of them."

Current players such as Brandon Fusco, Joe Berger and Marcus Sherels -- as well as retired Vikings such as Bob Lurtsema, Stu Voight, E.J. Henderson and Rickey Young attended the luncheon -- which recognized 10 Minnesota breast cancer survivors and their caregivers.

"It was pretty cool, just to talk with these women," Felton said. "It's a really good cause, obviously, and just to show support for them kind of gives us strength. What we do is easy compared to them."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- To the list of factors making things more difficult for the Minnesota Vikings' offense early this season -- the absence of Adrian Peterson, injuries to Kyle Rudolph and Brandon Fusco, the use of three different starting QBs in five weeks -- we add this: field position.

Patterson
The Vikings have been backed up deep in their own territory more than most teams in the NFL so far this season; they have started their average drive 76.3 yards from the goal line, according to ESPN Stats and Information, which ranks 25th in the league. Making things more difficult is the fact the Vikings have been operating at a field position deficit all year; their opponents begin drives an average of 71.3 yards from the goal line. The Vikings' field position margin of minus-4.9 yards is the sixth-worst in the league.

There are a few factors contributing to the field position deficit; the Vikings are gaining an average of just 29.3 yards per drive, so they're often not driving deep enough to pin opponents near their own goal line. And of course, perhaps the Vikings' best method of affecting opponents' field position -- kicker Blair Walsh, who has 21 touchbacks in 25 kickoffs -- is only in use at the beginning of one half and after the Vikings score.

Cordarrelle Patterson has started to see better results in the kick return game, but the Vikings are still starting an average of 4 yards further back after kickoff returns than they were last year. And last Thursday against Green Bay, Marcus Sherels -- the Vikings' normally reliable punt returner -- waved off a punt at his own 24-yard line, only to see it check up and stop at the Vikings' 14 instead of rolling into the end zone for a touchback.

"Right from the get-go, we kicked the touchback, we get a three-and-out, our defense does a great job against their great offense, and the kid [Packers punter Tim Masthay] booms the ball and we don’t catch it," special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. "Not only did it help their field position, but it really got their crowd back into it. We shut their crowd down in three plays with our defense, and then we go out there and let the ball hit the ground. That’s very unlike Marcus, and he knows the mistake he made. To be quite honest, that was kind of the field position battle for the first two quarters.

"We need to do a better job with that – we’ve got to flip the field. Since I’ve been here, we’ve been the team that usually does that and wins the field position battle. We’ve got to get back to doing that this weekend."
MANKATO, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings' stretch of injuries, particularly at the safety position, might soon be coming to an end.

Coach Mike Zimmer said safeties Mistral Raymond (concussion), Jamarca Sanford (back spasms) and Andrew Sendejo (lower back/ankle) will practice on Monday night, and are expected to be available for Saturday's exhibition game against the Arizona Cardinals.

The only safety who won't be available this week is Robert Blanton, who's still dealing with a hamstring injury. Chris Crocker, whom the Vikings signed last week, will also play on Saturday, giving the Vikings their first real chance to assess the majority of the players competing for a spot next to Harrison Smith.

"It's difficult, because guys aren't practicing as much," Zimmer said. "In the ballgame the other night (last Friday), we had three safeties who weren't playing. We'll sit down and we'll try to get a much better evaluation of the guys who we think need more on tape. This will be a good test with these guys (the Cardinals). They play with four wide (receivers), and they throw the ball around pretty good."

Cornerbacks Josh Robinson and Marcus Sherels will return from hamstring injuries, and tight end Chase Ford could return from a broken foot in the next 10 days, possibly clearing the way for him to start the season on the active roster instead of the physically unable to perform list.

"He's close," Zimmer said. "He's probably 10 days, maybe, I'm guessing. We'll see how he runs."

The timetable for the return of defensive tackle Linval Joseph isn't quite as clear; Zimmer said he'd like Joseph to play before the end of the preseason, if his calf is recovered from a gunshot wound he sustained in a nightclub shooting early Saturday morning. "We still have to find out where he's at," Zimmer said. "I don't know that 'Sug' (trainer Eric Sugarman) has dealt with this kind of an injury much. There's no booklet on it."

Vikings Camp Report: Day 12

August, 10, 2014
8/10/14
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MANKATO, Minn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Minnesota Vikings training camp:
  • Coach Mike Zimmer said the Vikings came out of Friday's preseason opener relatively healthy, but the Vikings were missing several players at practice on Sunday afternoon. Defensive tackle Tom Johnson and linebacker Dom DeCicco weren't on the practice field, and safety Mistral Raymond (who suffered a concussion during Friday's game) was doing work on the side with safeties Robert Blanton and Jamarca Sanford, who missed Friday's game with hamstring and back injuries, respectively. Defensive tackle Linval Joseph, of course, was not practicing after a stray bullet struck him in the calf in a nightclub incident on Saturday morning. On a more positive note, cornerbacks Josh Robinson and Marcus Sherels returned from hamstring injuries, and tight end Chase Ford (broken foot) was once again out of a walking boot.
  • The Vikings began their practice outside, but had to move indoors for the first time during training camp thanks to a jagged bolt of lightning off to the west of their practice field. That turned Sunday's session into a glorified walk-through, and the Vikings were only able to do so much work inside the Minnesota State field house. Zimmer said he hadn't written practice schedules for this week until after Friday night's game, and the Vikings will have to resume the work of drilling their mistakes once they get back outdoors on Monday.
  • Zimmer wasn't thrilled with the way the Vikings' secondary played the run, particularly on Darren McFadden's 23-yard burst at the end of the first quarter. Safety Antone Exum had a shot at McFadden at the Raiders' 29, but came down with inside leverage and couldn't fight through McFadden's stiff arm to bring him down until the Raiders' 43. "I tell our guys all the time that long runs are typically because of the perimeter run force," Zimmer said. "We did not do a good job when the safety was coming downhill on that play, so we ended up giving him 14 more yards on that run than we should have."
  • Wide receiver Adam Thielen continued to win praise for his work on special teams, after returning three punts for 53 yards and making a tackle for a 4-yard loss on a punt at the end of the first half. Thielen was visibly upset he didn't score on his second return, which went for 26 yards, but special teams coach Mike Priefer said that was just a matter of Thielen making one more move. "He is probably disappointed that he didn’t score on the one, but that’s something that a young punt returner, that’s a mistake they are going to make," Priefer said. "He saw the seam and he just went for it full speed. He’s got to kind of dip and go to the outside or widen them and go back inside but it was a very, very well-blocked play." Priefer said Sherels is still entrenched as the Vikings' punt returner, but with Sherels fighting a hamstring injury, it's not bad for the Vikings to have another option they trust.
  • Rookie defensive tackle Shamar Stephen did well in Friday's game, Zimmer said. He wound up with five tackles in the game and showed some nice push up the middle on a couple run plays. With Joseph likely to miss some time, the seventh-round pick could see some more opportunities.

Vikings Camp Report: Day 11

August, 6, 2014
8/06/14
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MANKATO, Minn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Minnesota Vikings training camp:
  • In the team's final practice before Friday's preseason opener, coach Mike Zimmer let the Vikings work without pads, and the team finished about 45 minutes early. The afternoon session had the feel of a dress rehearsal, with no 7-on-7 periods and some extra full-team work. The Vikings' starters will likely play a few series on Friday night, and rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater could play as many as two quarters, with some of his work coming with the Vikings' first-team offense.
  • Bridgewater was intercepted for the fourth time in training camp when he threw a high screen pass that bounced off the fingers of running back Dominique Williams and landed in the arms of cornerback Kendall James. Bridgewater finished the day 6-for-10 in full-team drills, and Matt Cassel was 5-for-6. Third-string quarterback Christian Ponder, who figures to get plenty of playing time once the starters are out on Friday night, had one of his busier days of camp, throwing a total of 13 passes and completing nine. Ponder waited a beat too long on a downfield throw to Erik Lora, but fared better against the Vikings' first-team defense than he did on Tuesday.
  • Zimmer again spent plenty of time coaching cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who appeared out of position on a downfield pass. The coach said on Wednesday he's had to adjust his approach to Rhodes somewhat, trying to go a bit softer on him than he did early in practice. "That's about every player; you try to figure out what buttons to push," Zimmer said. "He's better when he's playing off (the receiver); that was one of his weaknesses early on. He's done that a lot better. He understands the coverages much better. He understands the alignments and where he's supposed to be. The press technique, we've still got some work to do, but he has great recovery speed. He's improved in about every area."
  • Safety Jamarca Sanford and cornerback Marcus Sherels didn't practice Wednesday, in addition to injured safety Robert Blanton and tight end Chase Ford. Sherels watched practice next to Blanton from the sideline, while Sanford sat out with a back spasm. His status for Friday's game is unclear.
  • The Vikings received a visit on Wednesday morning from Hall of Fame defensive end Alan Page, who addressed the team about what it takes to be great in the NFL. "He said he went to Notre Dame, and I was the only guy who clapped," said tight end -- and Notre Dame product -- Kyle Rudolph. "We've got to get these other guys up on their history." And in the afternoon, Minnesota Timberwolves president and coach Flip Saunders was on the sideline, chatting with general manager Rick Spielman. The Timberwolves have regularly held training camp at Minnesota State, where the basketball area is named after owner (and Minnesota State graduate) Glen Taylor. We know what you're thinking, and no, we didn't see Saunders on his phone, trying to complete a deal for Kevin Love.

Vikings wake-up call: Day 10

August, 5, 2014
8/05/14
8:00
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MANKATO, Minn. -- Setting up the day at Minnesota Vikings camp:

Today's schedule: The Vikings will hold their penultimate practice in Mankato before their first preseason game on Friday night, getting back to work on the Minnesota State practice fields at 4 p.m. ET (3 CT). They'll hold their morning walk-through from 9:30-10:30 a.m. ET (10:30-11:30 CT). Offensive coordinator Norv Turner and defensive coordinator George Edwards are scheduled to address reporters after the walk-through.

More observations from Monday's practice:
  • Offensive coordinator Norv Turner is still working to get Teddy Bridgewater to speed up his dropback and release, which was one of Turner's main coaching points during Bridgewater's private workout with the Vikings last spring. Bridgewater hit 8 of 10 throws in 11-on-11 work on Monday, but again had to be bailed out by his receivers on a couple occasions. He's going through a typical adjustment period for a rookie, and it will likely become easier for Bridgewater to feel the difference between college and the NFL once pass-rushers are actually allowed to touch him on Friday. "Right from the get-go, that is one of the big things that Norv does," coach Mike Zimmer said. "'We have got to get the ball out, you have got to get back quicker, you have to get set up, you have to get the ball out.' In some of the blitz periods, we have guys running by him, which is not going to happen in the game."
  • Linebacker Brandon Watts, who missed Friday and Saturday's practices with a strained hamstring, returned to practice on Monday.
What I'm watching: In reality, the Vikings might only have a couple spots in their lineup still up for grabs, assuming Anthony Barr is the likely starter at strongside linebacker (and it seems safe to make that leap at this point). Other than quarterback, safety might be the biggest competition, and things will get even more competitive with Chris Crocker on the roster. Crocker pointed out on Monday that he's fared well in this defense because of his cover skills, and the fact that the Vikings signed him might mean that they have concerns about the coverage ability of their safety group. The Vikings want to put their safeties in man coverage more often this year than the previous coaching staff did, and Crocker might at least provide a template for what Zimmer wants. The coach said on Monday he's more inclined to stock up on corners than safeties, so competition at the spot could be fierce.

They said it: "It was a great interception. It was poor, poor position on the receiver, but he made a great play. We have to get him to be in the right position and then make the play easy and then he does not have to make great play." --Zimmer, on the diving interception Xavier Rhodes made during Saturday night's practice.

Vikings wake-up call: Day 5

July, 30, 2014
7/30/14
9:00
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MANKATO, Minn. -- Setting up the day at Minnesota Vikings training camp:

Today's schedule: After a day off, the Vikings are back on their normal schedule today at Minnesota State. They will hold a morning walk-through from 10:30-11:30, and their afternoon practice will run from 3:30-5:10. Coach Mike Zimmer is scheduled to talk to reporters after the morning walk-through.

More observations from Monday's practice:
  • Sanford
    Safety Jamarca Sanford was back to getting some first-team snaps, after he had mostly been working out with the second team in the first part of camp. Zimmer has spoken highly of Robert Blanton, who has made the most of his time with the first team while Sanford sat out the Vikings' spring program with a pulled muscle, and at the moment, Blanton would seem to have the inside track on a job next to his former Notre Dame teammate, Harrison Smith. But Sanford, who has been the starter the past two seasons, appears healthy enough to make a bid for the job. We'll see how much more time he gets this week with the first team.
  • For all the times Marcus Sherels is forgotten because of his small stature, the cornerback keeps coming back to assert himself in training camp, year after year. He had a textbook pass breakup during individual drills, and after an outstanding season as the Vikings' punt returner in 2013, he appears to be well ahead of any challengers for that job. "He has gotten better every year," special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. "Every year we have taken a little bit, I don’t want to say more chances, but we have been a little bit more aggressive with him every year and we are going to continue to do so this year."
  • Undrafted free agent Kain Colter is fighting for one of the Vikings' receiver spots after playing quarterback in college, and he showed his athletic ability early in Monday night's practice, leaping to make a one-handed catch in the back of the end zone during a red-zone drill.
Munnerlyn
What I'm watching: The Vikings activated Captain Munnerlyn from the physically-unable-to-perform list, and should get him back on the practice field on Wednesday. I'm curious to see how they will work him into their defense; he has been adamant that he will start at cornerback in the base defense, rather than just playing in the slot in the nickel package, but Josh Robinson looks more comfortable now that he is on the outside again. The Vikings might have to ease Munnerlyn into practice once they do get him back, but how they use him in the next week or so will give us an idea of whether he is going to be playing in their base defense as well as their sub packages. The guess here is Munnerlyn will wind up with the starting spot.

They said it: "Everson is a very difficult person to replace. He is such a great athlete. I think Scott has the size; he is not quite the athlete that Everson is, but he is a bigger guy. We will be able to utilize him in lot of different phases. I am excited about working with him, and again, Everson is a very tough person to replace athletically, but I think Scott will be doing some of the things that Everson did when he was playing special teams." -- Priefer, on the possibility of using rookie defensive end Scott Crichton to replace Everson Griffen on special teams now that Griffen is starting at right end.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings' interest in former Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers, as reported by 1500ESPN.com, requires a bit of conjecture about how Flowers would fit into the Vikings' defense. After five impressive seasons with the Chiefs, Flowers struggled in 2013 as part of defensive coordinator Bob Sutton's new scheme, which emphasized press-man coverage, and even though he made the Pro Bowl for the first time, his release seemed like a foregone conclusion after he chafed at being moved to nickel back in Kansas City's defense and skipped the team's offseason workouts. That's not the ideal résumé for a team that will employ plenty of press coverage, like the Vikings plan to do.

But the Vikings' cornerback depth might still be the biggest question mark on their roster, which means they're not in a position to rule out any options that could help their secondary, especially with just five weeks to go before training camp. The Vikings' defense will be based in man coverage with some zone principles, so it's possible Zimmer and his staff could find a fit for Flowers, who also was hampered by a knee injury last season and should be healthier in 2014.

The alternative, of course, is hoping that Derek Cox -- who's also trying to remake his career after a bad scheme fit in San Diego -- can play well on a one-year contract, Josh Robinson can figure things out in Year 3, Marcus Sherels can continue to overachieve or a serviceable corner can emerge from a group containing Shaun Prater, Robert Steeples, Julian Posey and rookies Kendall James and Jabari Price.

If the Vikings are willing to spend a decent chunk of their remaining $7.7 million in cap space to see if they can work Flowers into their defense, they'll likely be motivated by the knowledge that cornerback depth is vital in a division loaded with prolific quarterbacks, and the need to make sure they have enough of it a year after allowing the most points in the NFL. They should be better in 2014, with Xavier Rhodes starting Year 2 in a scheme that fits his skills nicely and Captain Munnerlyn on the roster to man the slot position. But it's good to have options, and if the Vikings wind up with Flowers, it'll be because they're more willing to gamble on their ability to work a talented player into their scheme than they're willing to assume they're all set in the secondary.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- A quick look at the highlights of the Minnesota Vikings' third open OTA of the offseason on Wednesday afternoon:

1. Yankey returns: Fifth-round pick David Yankey, who finished his last final exam at Stanford and caught a red-eye flight to join the Vikings on Wednesday, became the first of the team's three draft picks on the quarters system to rejoin the Vikings. UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr and Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton will both be with the team for its mandatory minicamp next week, but Yankey was able to return in time to get some extra work with offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, who stayed on the field well after the end of practice to run his rookie linemen through additional drills.

Sherels
2. Sherels in the nickel: Cornerback Marcus Sherels saw some work in the Vikings' first-team nickel package, playing left cornerback while Captain Munnerlyn moved inside. Kendall James and Shaun Prater also saw some time at slot cornerback on second- and third-team defense, where Munnerlyn would normally play. Josh Robinson was still out nursing an injury on Wednesday, and Derek Cox, who had an interception during last week's open OTA, didn't see much time on Wednesday.

Rhodes
3. Rhodes steps up: Xavier Rhodes had an impressive interception during an 11-on-11 drill, stepping in front of a Matt Cassel throw on a quick hitch route. Defensive backs coach Jerry Gray yelled, "It's about time!" when Rhodes showed the instincts to jump the route, and for as solid as Rhodes was in press coverage toward the end of last season, he's still learning when he can take some chances and bite on a route. It's part of the development process for any young cornerback, but Rhodes had eight interceptions in three years at Florida State, so there is reason to think he can create some turnovers as he figures things out in the NFL. "I'm impressed," coach Mike Zimmer said. "He wants to be very good. He's got great acceleration, learning the techniques and staying on point better."

4. Struggle for QBs: After both Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater looked sharp in last week's open OTA, each of them had a rougher day on Wednesday. Cassel had his final throw batted down in 11-on-11 work, and Bridgewater was intercepted by Dom DeCicco on a pass over the middle. The rookie also was sacked a couple times during a blitz drill, and missed three of his four throws. The Vikings' defense was using a number of different looks on Wednesday, though, and it seemed clear that the offense was trying to digest a number of new concepts while facing a more nuanced defense. Days like Wednesday are part of the growing pains in a new system. Christian Ponder didn't get as much work as Cassel or Bridgewater, but he actually made some nice throws, hitting Jarius Wright on a throw over the middle in a receiver-vs.-cornerback drill and connecting with Kain Colter on a long pass off a broken play during a two-minute drill.

5. Safety rotation: With Jamarca Sanford and Andrew Sendejo still out with injuries, the Vikings rotated through a number of safeties on Wednesday, with Robert Blanton getting much of the first-team work alongside Harrison Smith.

6. Hodges in nickel: Linebacker Gerald Hodges joined Chad Greenway in the Vikings' top nickel package for a handful of snaps, as the team waits to work in Barr once he returns from school next week. The Vikings are trying a number of different players in various spots (rookie Brandon Watts also got some nickel snaps), but the nickel package could represent an opportunity for Hodges, who has the quickness to play in passing situations.

7. A healthier team: One of Zimmer's first initiatives was to get high-fat items out of the team's cafeteria and to change the Vikings' weight program, and he said on Wednesday it's been working. The Vikings, Zimmer said, have lost 170 pounds of fat and gained 70 pounds of muscle during their offseason program.

8. Sullivan away for wedding -- and Birk returns: Center John Sullivan, who is getting married this weekend, was gone on Wednesday, but will return for mini-camp next week. His predecessor, former Vikings center Matt Birk, returned to take in practice on Wednesday. Birk, who lost 75 pounds after he retired from the Baltimore Ravens, has been touting his steps to better health since his career ended after Super Bowl XLVII.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Vikings begin their three-day voluntary minicamp on Tuesday, and as players head back to work at the team facility in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, getting on the field with coach Mike Zimmer for the first time, we're continuing our look at the team's salary cap picture with a breakdown of the Vikings' defense.

Defensive line


Percentage of salary-cap space: 22.26

Total cap charge: $27.86 million

NFL average: $21.65 million

Biggest cap hit: Everson Griffen, $8.2 million

Biggest bargain: Corey Wootton, $1.7 million

[+] EnlargeEverson Griffen
AP Photo/Damian StrohmeyerEverson Griffen recorded 5.5 sacks this past season for the Vikings.
Thoughts: This position represents the biggest investment on the Vikings' roster, with the team banking on young players like Everson Griffen, Sharrif Floyd and Linval Joseph to succeed Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and -- in some senses, since the Vikings haven't found a solid nose tackle since his time with Minnesota ended in 2011 -- Pat Williams. There are some potential key contributors on the lower end of the salary structure, though, like Wootton, who had seven sacks in 2012, and Tom Johnson, who could provide some value in a three-technique tackle rotation with Rhodes. He's making just $845,000, but if he gets around 20 snaps a game, he could make a meaningful contribution to the line.

Linebacker

Percentage of salary-cap space: 9.28

Total cap charge: $11.60 million

NFL average: $15.64 million

Biggest cap hit: Chad Greenway, $7.2 million

Biggest bargain: Audie Cole, $570,000
Thoughts: The Vikings have plenty to figure out at the position, where only Greenway seems like a lock as a starter right now. There will be competition at both middle linebacker (between Cole, Michael Mauti and Jasper Brinkley) and weak-side linebacker (between Gerald Hodges, Terrell Manning and possibly Mauti and Cole, who have both played outside before). Greenway will have plenty to prove this season, as well, after the Vikings asked him to restructure his deal following a disappointing and injury-plagued 2013 season. He'll be a free agent after 2015, and with an $8.8 million cap hit for 2015, he could be a candidate for another restructuring -- or a release, if the Vikings feel they can go younger. It also wouldn't be surprising to see the Vikings address this position high in the draft.

Safety


Percentage of salary-cap space: 6.34

Total cap charge: $7.93 million

NFL average: $8.19 million

Biggest cap hit: Jamarca Sanford, $2.5 million

Biggest bargain: Andrew Sendejo, $866,666

Thoughts: There will be competition at the spot opposite Harrison Smith, where Sanford, Sendejo and Kurt Coleman could all compete for playing time. Mistral Raymond and Robert Blanton are still on the roster, too, so the Vikings will have no shortage of options. Smith should be recovered from turf toe after missing half of last season, and if he's on the field for 16 games, the Vikings could see him continue to turn into a star. He's got great range, plays with an edge and seems to have an innate feel for the position.

Cornerback

Percentage of salary-cap space: 7.34

Total cap charge: $9.18 million

NFL average: $12.29 million

Biggest cap hit: Captain Munnerlyn, $3.33 million

Biggest bargain: Marcus Sherels, $1 million


Thoughts: It's likely the Vikings will add another cornerback in the draft, but they should be better here in 2014 than they were in 2013, after adding Munnerlyn in free agency to solve their problem at slot cornerback. Xavier Rhodes looks like he could be a fixture at one cornerback spot, and if the Vikings can add another one and make Josh Robinson a dime cornerback, they should be in good shape. The undersized Sherels acquitted himself well when injuries forced him into action last season. He always gives a full effort, and has become a good punt returner.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Of the many young players on the Minnesota Vikings' roster who earned playing time and performance bonuses from the NFL for their work last season, right guard Brandon Fusco topped the list.

Fusco earned an extra $237,060.74 for his work last season, giving him the biggest share of the Vikings' $3.46 million total distribution, according to figures released by the NFL management council. The total amount is negotiated in the collective bargaining agreement between owners and players, and while every player gets at least a small bonus, the system is designed to reward low-salaried players who see the most playing time.

For a team like the Vikings, that meant a number of players saw big boosts to their paycheck; Fusco made just $594,167 last season, and he started 15 games.

See the NFL's full list of performance-based pay distributions here.

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