Minnesota Vikings: Mike Zimmer

MINNEAPOLIS -- Between now and the Minnesota Vikings' first training camp practice July 25, we will break down each position group. Next up: the running backs.

Returning players: Adrian Peterson, Matt Asiata, Joe Banyard, Jerome Felton, Zach Line

Gone from last season: Toby Gerhart, coach James Saxon

New this season: Jerick McKinnon (third-round pick from Georgia Southern), Dominique Williams (undrafted free agent from Wagner)

Position coach: Kirby Wilson (first season), hired from Pittsburgh to replace Saxon (now the Pittsburgh Steelers' running backs coach).

Biggest issue: The Vikings plan to use their running backs differently this season, getting them more involved in the passing game than they've been in recent years. That plan has always been part of offensive coordinator Norv Turner's scheme, and it's designed to help Peterson avoid some contact at age 29. It should also give the 2012 NFL MVP more open-field chances, and McKinnon could be an intriguing weapon on offense, too. But a larger role in the passing game might also mean more protection responsibilities for the Vikings' running backs. That's never been the strongest part of Peterson's game, and McKinnon will have to learn it after spending his college career as a triple-option quarterback. Gerhart had a sizable role in pass protection as a third-down back, and he's gone to Jacksonville.

Player to watch: Peterson was effusive in his praise of McKinnon during the Vikings' minicamp, and if the rookie can pick up the nuances of the position in the NFL, he's got the physical traits to follow in the line of Turner dynamos like Darren Sproles and Brian Mitchell. He bench pressed 225 pounds 32 times at the NFL scouting combine and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds. McKinnon led all running backs in both categories, and his 40 1/2-inch vertical was the fifth-best of any player at the combine. He mostly ran between the tackles in college, and doesn't seem particularly shifty, but his open-field speed should give the Vikings good reason to get him involved in their offense.

Medical report: Peterson had groin surgery last winter, but was healthy for most of the Vikings' offseason program and said earlier this week his body feels good. Line, who was put on injured reserve with a knee injury after making the team as an undrafted free agent last season, is back and will try to fight for a roster spot.

Help wanted: With Peterson, McKinnon and Felton (a Pro Bowl fullback in 2012), the Vikings have good depth in their running back group. Barring injury, they shouldn't need to look for another option.

Quotable: "Everything that we’ve asked him to do, he’s done. Everything," coach Mike Zimmer said of Peterson. "Even one day, he came to me during one of the OTAs and said, ‘I’m going pretty hard the last couple days. I might need a little time off today.’ I said. 'Ok. Do me a favor, go out on the field, stretch and we’ll hold you back.' I went and told the running back coach after stretch to shut him down. So he went back to Kirby Wilson and said he was feeling pretty good and can he keep going. I said, 'Sure, let’s go.'

I think he likes competing. I think he likes being around the guys, and he is a good guy. I’ve had several conversations with him when I first got here, and I have the utmost respect for him."

Camp preview: Minnesota Vikings

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
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NFL Nation's Ben Goessling examines the three biggest issues facing the Minnesota Vikings heading into training camp.

Quarterback: This will be the biggest storyline surrounding the Vikings in training camp until head coach Mike Zimmer settles on a starter. Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner have pledged to hold an open competition during training camp, though the race really figures to boil down to two quarterbacks: veteran Matt Cassel and rookie Teddy Bridgewater, who both got a significantly larger share of snaps during the Vikings' OTAs and minicamp than Christian Ponder. Bridgewater was impressive in his first work with the Vikings this spring, but unless he's clearly the best of the Vikings' quarterbacks in training camp, Cassel figures to start the season as the quarterback. The Vikings re-signed Cassel so they wouldn't have to rush a young quarterback, and in the process, they created a situation in which they can afford to be patient with Bridgewater. If he's the best man for the job, it doesn't seem likely Zimmer will wait to play him. But if he's not fully ready by the end of camp, there's nothing forcing the Vikings to play the rookie.

Remaking the defense: The Vikings committed $20 million in guaranteed money to defensive end Everson Griffen and guaranteed another $16.95 million to secure the services of defensive tackle Linval Joseph and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. But until training camp, when players put on pads, cornerbacks play press coverage and there's actual contact at the line of scrimmage, it's difficult to assess where the Vikings are in their effort to rebuild a defense that allowed more points than any other unit in the league last season. Rookie linebacker Anthony Barr only had a minicamp with the team as classes at UCLA kept him out of the team's OTAs, but he'll be a prominent figure as the Vikings plan to use the 6-foot-5 linebacker in several different ways. With questions at linebacker (does Jasper Brinkley start in the middle?) and in the secondary (is Josh Robinson good enough to get significant playing time at cornerback?), the Vikings will have plenty to figure out on defense.

New roles for Peterson, Patterson: At age 29, Adrian Peterson is intent on cruising along with his career at a time when most running backs his age start to break down. In Norv Turner, Peterson has a new offensive coordinator who is intent on using him differently. Peterson will be more involved in the Vikings' passing game this season, as Turner and Zimmer seek to convert some of his carries into receptions, giving him more room to work in the open field and making him less likely to take a pounding. Turner also has big plans for second-year receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, whose emergence late last season made many wonder why the Vikings waited so long to make him a big part of the offense. Patterson, who played mostly at split end last season, moved to different spots during the Vikings' offseason program, and Turner seems interested in getting the explosive receiver the ball as much as he can; general manager Rick Spielman said at the NFL scouting combine in February that Turner already had designed about 10 plays for Patterson. If the Vikings can turn him loose in Year 2, he could emerge as one of the NFL's premier playmakers.

Vikings' biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
Over the next three seasons, as the Minnesota Vikings begin the tenure of head coach Mike Zimmer, play in two home stadiums and likely wind down the days of Adrian Peterson's prime, the key to their success will be finding some stability at a position where they haven't enjoyed much of it in the last decade.

Other than two seasons with Brett Favre, the Vikings' quarterback position has essentially been in a state of flux since Daunte Culpepper was traded to Miami following the 2005 season. Since then, the Vikings haven't had a quarterback start 16 games in back-to-back seasons. Even when Favre was at the helm, the Vikings knew they needed a long-term solution at quarterback. Now that they have Teddy Bridgewater on the roster, much of their future success will hinge on the rookie's development.

Bridgewater figures to start training camp behind Matt Cassel, though he'll get a shot to win the job before the season. Even if he sits on the bench for much of 2014, though, Bridgewater will likely be the starter by the time the Vikings open their new stadium in 2016. Assuming he claims the job sometime in the near future, the first-round pick will have to develop quickly if the Vikings want to make the most of Peterson's remaining years as one of the league's best running backs.

Peterson turned 29 in March and will likely see a larger role in the passing game as the Vikings seek to find more balance on offense than they had under coach Leslie Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. That means the quarterback, not Peterson, will likely be the focal point of the Vikings' offense, and eventually it will put the burden on Bridgewater's shoulders to carry the Vikings.

The rookie was impressive during OTAs and the Vikings' mandatory minicamp, though it's hard to accurately assess his progress in such a controlled setting. When he is ready to play, though, Bridgewater will have a clear charge: He'll be asked to create a foundation for the Vikings at the most important position in the game.
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.
In the last few weeks before the Minnesota Vikings begin training camp, we're going to take a look at a number of 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: linebacker Chad Greenway.

Why he has something to prove: Greenway took a paycut after a disappointing 2013 season with the Vikings, and he has just one year left on his contract after this season. The Vikings would have to count only a $1.7 million bonus proration against their 2015 cap if they cut Greenway after this season, and they'd save $7.1 million, meaning Greenway could be looking at another contract restructure or a release if he doesn't pick things up at age 31 this season. He was playing with a broken bone in his wrist for much of the season, which contributed to the issues Greenway had wrapping up ball carriers, but he also struggled in pass coverage and will have to adapt to a new role in Mike Zimmer's defense this fall. Greenway could still have plenty in the tank, but he'll have to show that to the Vikings to secure a spot on the 2015 roster.

What he must do: Greenway will be asked to be more active in Zimmer's defense than he was in the Vikings' old Cover 2 scheme, and he's making a scheme change for the first time in his NFL career. Greenway's old strongside linebacker spot is technically the same as a weakside linebacker position in Zimmer's defense, meaning he'd be lining up where Vontaze Burfict did in Cincinnati, if Greenway stays outside. The Vikings worked him out at middle linebacker during organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp, and it's possible he could see some time there. Wherever the Vikings put him, Greenway will have to cover more ground, and probably hold up better against the pass, than he did last year. He stayed on the field during most of the Vikings' nickel work during minicamp, and it's possible he'll end up running the defense in that package if Jasper Brinkley winds up at middle linebacker on first and second down. Zimmer and defensive coordinator George Edwards have been complimentary of Greenway, and there's no doubt the veteran will have a thorough understanding of his responsibilities in the defense. The question will be whether he's able to execute them.

Projection: Greenway starts at weakside linebacker, with Anthony Barr on the strong side and Jasper Brinkley in the middle. He'll get pushed by some of the Vikings' younger linebackers, but if he eliminates some of the missed tackles, he'll keep the starting spot for the entire season. Time will tell if he plays well enough to convince the Vikings to keep him around in 2015 at his scheduled $8.8 million cap number.
In the last few weeks before the Minnesota Vikings begin training camp, we're going to take a look at a number of 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. We'll kick things off today with defensive end Everson Griffen.

Why he has something to prove: Griffen signed a five-year, $42.5 million contract in March, effectively becoming the successor to Jared Allen at the left end spot, despite starting just one game in his first four years with the Vikings. He found enough snaps in a rotational role, lining up as an inside rusher in the Vikings' nickel package and spelling both Allen and Brian Robison, that the Vikings were willing to spend big money to keep Griffen off the free-agent market. He has the quickness and athletic ability to cause serious matchup problems at defensive end, and he had eight sacks in a part-time role in 2012. But Griffen disappeared too many times early last season, and the Vikings need to see him take the next step toward becoming a consistent force on the defensive line.

What he must do: Griffen's performance this year shouldn't be solely measured by his sack numbers, since he won't have the benefit of lining up in a wide alignment and charging upfield toward the passer as often as Allen did. In Mike Zimmer's system, defensive ends are often asked to line up directly over a defensive tackle and engage blockers before heading into the backfield, so Griffen should be evaluated on how he sets the edge against the run almost as much as how he pursues the quarterback. Griffen also has to prove he can be effective as his workload likely increases; he's never played more than 717 snaps in a season, and he could be asked to log 200 or 250 more than that in 2014, based on how much Zimmer used right end Michael Johnson in Cincinnati. Griffen looked noticeably bigger this spring after staying in the Twin Cities to work out in the offseason, and he'll have to hold up under what will likely be a more taxing workload this season.

Projection: Griffen's sack totals won't be extravagant -- pencil him in for six or seven this season -- but he'll be solid enough against the run to help the Vikings improve there this season under Zimmer. He seemed energized by his new contract and the Vikings' coaching change, and he'll get his chance to take off in 2014.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Fans who were expecting to sit behind the Minnesota Vikings' bench on the south sideline at TCF Bank Stadium this fall won't be doing that after all.

The Vikings made the decision to switch from the south to the north sideline at their temporary home on the University of Minnesota campus, as they move outdoors for the first time in 33 years. General manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer had made several trips to the stadium to make preparations for the 2014 season, and the Vikings realized the north sideline will afford them more time in the warmth of the sunshine late this season, when the sun sets by 5 p.m. in Minnesota and heat is at a premium.

The press box is in the southeast corner of the stadium, and there is club seating on the south side, which means the south sideline is in the shadows during late-season games. The Vikings will return to the south sideline when their new indoor stadium opens in 2016, so fans who bought tickets expecting to sit behind the bench in the new stadium won't see any change to their plans.

For now, though, the Vikings are trying to get a handle on outdoor home games for the first time since 1981, and they're hoping to gain a slight edge from the switch.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Since he was introduced as the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings on Jan. 17, Mike Zimmer has preached open competition as one of his core beliefs, and he should. It's a way for the new coach to keep his players honing their games to a fine edge, at least in theory.

If the Vikings hadn't gone into their coaching search with an open mind, Zimmer might not have landed his first head-coaching job at age 57, to the delight of people around the league who believed the longtime defensive coordinator had to wait too long for his shot. So when Zimmer -- who turned 58 earlier this month -- talks about an open battle at the quarterback position, adding that the Vikings won't be afraid to play rookie Teddy Bridgewater if he's good enough to win the job, there's every reason to believe the coach. There's also every reason for Zimmer to make sure Bridgewater has to clear a high threshold if he wants to line up as the Vikings' starter in St. Louis on Sept. 7.

Zimmer needs only to look at the situation that played a large part in his job becoming available last winter. In April 2011, four months after the Vikings removed the interim tag from coach Leslie Frazier's title, the team took Christian Ponder with the 12th overall pick. Ponder had no offseason to learn the Vikings' playbook and no time to work with his new coaches because of a lockout that stretched until August. But after six mediocre performances from a 34-year-old Donovan McNabb (in what turned out to be the final six games of his career), the Vikings handed the job to Ponder and never looked back, putting two young quarterbacks behind him in 2012 and using several solid games during a playoff push at the end of that season -- a year in which Adrian Peterson ran for 2,097 yards -- as justification to declare Ponder the uncontested starter before 2013, despite the presence of Matt Cassel on the roster.

Would things have turned out differently if Ponder had been given more time to develop? Possibly not. But by putting him in the lineup as soon as they did, the Vikings were, in effect, making a statement that Ponder was ready to take the job for good and locking themselves into a long stretch with him. They didn't have to make that pronouncement as soon as they did, but if they'd waffled on it shortly thereafter, they would have invited scrutiny for their lack of direction at quarterback (as they did with their Ponder/Cassel/Josh Freeman carousel in 2013). Quarterback instability ultimately doomed Frazier, and in effect, it doomed his predecessor, Brad Childress. After feuding with Daunte Culpepper shortly after taking the job, Childress pushed for the Vikings to select Tarvaris Jackson in the second round of the 2006 draft and vacillated on Jackson until the team signed Brett Favre, whose stormy relationship with Childress ended with the coach's ouster 10 months after the Vikings nearly reached the Super Bowl.

The bet here is that Zimmer won't make a rash decision with Bridgewater, not when the Vikings are set up so well to avoid one. In Cassel, who's signed for the next two seasons, they've got the perfect custodian for Bridgewater: a veteran who's solid enough to handle the job in the short term, but not entrenched enough to step aside without a fuss. And even Ponder, who will be a free agent after the season, has some usefulness in 2014, as an emergency option in case Cassel gets hurt (or struggles early) and Bridgewater isn't ready. The Vikings have done everything they can to construct a healthy atmosphere for Bridgewater's growth. The key to the whole thing, though, is a coach who's patient enough to let it work. Zimmer might get only one shot as a head coach, and he's got something of a cushion this season, with the Vikings moving into a temporary home while trying to remodel their defense. One poor season won't cost the coach his job, but mismanagement of the quarterback situation ultimately could. Especially with offensive coordinator Norv Turner at his side, Zimmer should have the good sense to avoid the potholes his predecessors hit.

So how does this all play out? The 2012 Seattle Seahawks might provide a good blueprint. They signed Matt Flynn to a three-year deal worth just $9 million guaranteed, giving themselves a quarterback they could play if Russell Wilson wasn't ready to start. When Wilson ultimately won the competition, the Seahawks were free to trade Flynn a year later. Only time will tell if Bridgewater turns out to be as good as Wilson has been -- the Vikings QB has looked sharp to this point, albeit only against defenses prohibited from hitting him -- but if he can take advantage of the situation, Minnesota has the mechanisms in place to make it work, just as the Seahawks did.

For Bridgewater to get on the field in September, he should have to prove he's unequivocally the best man for the job. Otherwise, with the Vikings facing a nasty early schedule, a tie should go to the veteran. It's a good, sensible construct for the rookie coach and quarterback, and with so many recent cautionary tales about the costs of quarterback foul-ups, the Vikings would be wise to take advantage of it.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Before the Minnesota Vikings had their first team meeting with new coach Mike Zimmer and his staff in April, Greg Jennings found Cordarrelle Patterson to deliver an updated version of the message he'd sent to receiver throughout his rookie season.

Jennings, who had already been in town and had sat down with Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner, quickly got a sense of how prominently Patterson would be featured in the Vikings' offense. He wanted to make sure the electric receiver knew what that required of him.

"I wanted him to know that, coming in, the expectation of you is no longer 'rookie.' It's, 'You gotta go. We saw what you can do. We're gonna showcase this,'" Jennings recalled last week. "For me, it was making sure that he understands that he has to be a professional. He has to be a pro's pro when he steps foot in this building, because we're expecting (him) to give us what we've seen you put out there."

Jennings was asked to mentor Patterson last season, as the Vikings signed him to a five-year deal in March 2013 and spent a first-round pick on Patterson a month later. That relationship will continue in 2014, but a year after Patterson put a spark into the Vikings' offense despite a role that even Jennings believed needed to be bigger, there seems to be little doubt about how much the Vikings will use Patterson this season.

That might make Patterson, not Jennings, the featured receiver in the Vikings' passing game. But there's plenty for both to gain if Patterson can take the next step in his second season.

"Greg told me a lot coming in as a rookie that I have more confidence than anyone he knows," Patterson said earlier this offseason. "I just like to set the tone for myself and my teammates."

Patterson said his work ethic wasn't good enough last year, and Jennings could see lapses as Patterson worked through the grind of a NFL season.

"We all had to learn it," Jennings said. "I had to learn it as a rookie. The best way to learn it is, not so much by someone telling you, but it's by watching someone who does it. It didn't have to be me; it could have been (Jerome) Simpson, it could have been Jarius (Wright). It could have been Rudy (tight end Kyle Rudolph). The little, 'I don't really feel like getting it done today,' it's not going to fly. There's going to be days you feel like that. But when you come out here, nobody cares about that. Once you set that bar, you have to reach that or exceed it every single day.

"As a rookie, not being given a whole lot of opportunities and then coming on strong at the end of the year, the expectation of Eight-Four went to another level. I'm going to be honest: Once I saw him make a couple plays, I'm like, 'We've got to get him the ball. He does too much well for us not to get him the ball.'"

Jennings said he recently invited Patterson and the rest of the Vikings' younger receivers over to his house for the first time -- "They're giving me a hard time, saying, 'Oh, now we just get to come over for the first time? I said, 'Man, I've got kids. I've got to feel you guys out,'" Jennings said -- and many of the receivers in the group stand to benefit from working well together in an offense that should have many more opportunities than wideouts saw in former coordinator Bill Musgrave's scheme.

Turner said last week that deep threats such as Simpson have typically averaged 18-20 yards per catch in his offense, and the spacing of Turner's attack should create room for Jennings, who did some of his best work over the middle during his time with the Green Bay Packers. There's plenty to go around, and as Jennings knows, Patterson has the ability to unlock plenty of favorable matchups for the rest of the Vikings' receivers because of how much attention he figures to command.

"If I'm having success, it's going to open up the door for success for other guys," Jennings said. "If Cordarrelle's having success, it's going to open up the door for a lot of other guys, as well."
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're going to get right into it, with what I expect will be the biggest storyline of training camp. Jordan, in the scenario you laid out, I've got to think Matt Cassel gets the nod over Teddy Bridgewater; his experience has to put him over the edge in the event the two quarterbacks' performances are similar. To me, there's no reason to put Bridgewater on the field Sept. 7 against the St. Louis Rams unless he's made it clear he's the better choice. Otherwise, start the year with Cassel, see if he can get you through a rough early stretch of the schedule and give Bridgewater the extra time to get ready. I think it's very possible Bridgewater wins the job; I just don't see a reason to force him in there unless he's made it clear he's the best choice. @GoesslingESPN: Next week, the Vikings should get the findings of an independent investigation into former punter Chris Kluwe's allegations against special teams coordinator Mike Priefer. The investigation dragged on longer than anyone had planned -- in large part, from what I've heard, because some people were reluctant to participate at first -- but in some ways, it worked out perfectly for the Vikings. The team will get the findings with many players out of the building, away from the media and in the safe haven of their summer vacations. If the Vikings decide to make the report public (likely after consultation with the NFL), they might choose to release it somewhere around the Fourth of July, when attention on the NFL might be at a relative low point. Funny how that stuff works out, isn't it? If the report shows corroborating evidence of Kluwe's allegations that Priefer made homophobic remarks, and if the Vikings decide to discipline Priefer, the situation could become a problem in the weeks before training camp, but short of that, I don't see it being a big distraction. @GoesslingESPN: We only got to see Barr for three days during the Vikings' mandatory minicamp, of course -- he was finishing school during the Vikings' organized team activities -- but it was clear early that the team plans to move him around quite a bit. He was lined up at strong-side linebacker, saw time with Chad Greenway in the first-team nickel defense and lined up as an edge rusher on a few occasions, which at one point led the Vikings to drop Brian Robison into coverage while Barr rushed from the left end spot. The rookie has impressive edge rush speed and looked like he already had a functional swim move. He'll have to develop a number of moves and strategies to beat offensive tackles, but he could open up new wrinkles for the Vikings' defense, particularly when you consider that Everson Griffen has dropped into coverage before and Robison started his college career as a linebacker. Especially in the first few weeks of the season, unpredictability could be an effective weapon for the Vikings' defense. @GoesslingESPN: This is traditionally the slowest time of the year in the NFL, largely because it's the one concentrated chunk of time where coaches and executives get away for a little vacation. Coaches are still able to contact players, and Mike Zimmer said this week the Vikings' coaches will send players short messages, reminding them to keep working out and getting ready for training camp. But many players return home, to be with their families and take advantage of the last few weeks of down time before they're scheduled to report for training camp on July 24. Zimmer said he plans to take vacation time, too, returning to his ranch in northern Kentucky, making a trip down to Dallas and heading to Naples, Florida, to see his parents. He said Thursday he'd miss the players -- though he didn't plan to tell them that. The biggest concern for coaches this time of year is that players stay out of trouble and stay in shape, ready to get to work once training camp begins. But in what's become a year-round job, the time between minicamp and training camp provides a brief respite for many of the people involved in running a football team. We'll wrap up this edition of the mailbag there. Thanks for all the great questions -- we got quite a stockpile of them this week, so I might tackle a few more of them in another edition of the mailbag early next week. Talk to you then! 
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- A year ago at this time, the Minnesota Vikings were teaching Josh Robinson to play the slot cornerback position for the first time, convinced -- or at least attempting to convince themselves -- that the second-year corner could replace Pro Bowler Antoine Winfield at the position.

Robinson, who'd spent his whole career playing outside, where he could use the sideline as a second defender in man coverage, was essentially trying to learn a different position. And there was never a point when it felt natural to him.

"I remember [former defensive backs] coach Joe Woods told me last year, 'You'll start feeling things.' I never felt nothing," Robinson said. "People were in the end zone, and I'm like, 'Man, this is stupid.'"

Asked if he'd ever want to try it again, Robinson said, "No. Not even a little bit."

According to Pro Football Focus, Robinson gave up the third-highest passer rating (127.2) in the league while playing in the slot last year. It contributed to a miserable season that saw Robinson targeted repeatedly in coverage during the first half of the season, before he missed the final six weeks of the year with a fractured sternum.

But Robinson was as relieved as anyone to see the Vikings sign Captain Munnerlyn in free agency, and with Munnerlyn set to play the slot, Robinson could find his way back to an outside spot in the Vikings' nickel package.

"He's still got some technique work he's got to work on, but I thought he did a great job out there [on Thursday]," coach Mike Zimmer said. "He's still a young guy that's learning."

Robinson said he's still learning the way the Vikings want their corners to play press coverage, and it remains to be seen how easily he'll adapt to that once the Vikings are practicing with pads in training camp. But he's happy, for now, to be back in a more familiar spot.

"When I finally heard I'd be outside, I was ecstatic," Robinson said. "[Slot cornerback] is a thing you've really got to feel, get a feel for it and you can really do it and excel in it. And Captain has proven that."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he has a date in mind for when he wants to name a starting quarterback, but perhaps unsurprisingly, he wasn't in the mood to share that date with the assembled media covering the final day of the mandatory minicamp on Thursday.

We know this much, though: If rookie Teddy Bridgewater proves to be the best man for the job, Zimmer won't keep him on the bench.

"We, as the Vikings, are not afraid to do anything," Zimmer said, "We’re going to make sure that we’re diligent in getting this team prepared the best we can. We’re hoping we can continue to compete for jobs and get the best guys out there ready to go.

"The one thing we never want to do is hold back progress here. We want to keep progressing, whether it’s playing younger guys or getting better out on the field.

Bridgewater received more snaps than any other quarterback during the Vikings' three-day minicamp, though Matt Cassel got most of the first-team work. The rookie finished 50-for-57 in 11-on-11 work during the minicamp; all three quarterbacks were relatively accurate during the minicamp, and it's dangerous to put too much emphasis on performances in non-padded practices, but Bridgewater at least looked up to the task at this point, throwing a better deep ball than many expected and showing he had a solid command of the offense so far.

"It's amazing that I've been able to learn so much in the six weeks that I've been here," Bridgewater said on Wednesday. "I've just been gaining that confidence every day. Just feeling really comfortable right now and knowing that I still have room for improvement and a long way to go to be where I want to be. I'm feeling confident and comfortable right now, but I still have more to learn."

The plan for Bridgewater will become more clear once the team reconvenes for training camp on July 24, but Zimmer -- who came from a Bengals team that started Andy Dalton as a rookie -- doesn't seem daunted by the idea of starting his head coaching career with a rookie at quarterback.

"I don’t know if it’s a risk," Zimmer said about playing a young QB. "I think with that position you have to weigh a lot of different factors: how the defense is, where you’re at in the progression of things, maybe more so at that position than when you’re talking about a safety that handles different things."
MINNEAPOLIS -- When the Minnesota Vikings re-convene for the start of their mandatory mini-camp on Tuesday, they'll have their roster together at last. That means the three draft picks they've so far only been able to work with on a remote basis -- first-rounder Anthony Barr, third-rounder Scott Crichton and fifth-rounder David Yankey -- will finally be at the team facility, ready to jump in with a group that's been going through organized team activities without them for the last three weeks.

Barr, Crichton and Yankey were on the quarters system at UCLA, Oregon State and Stanford, respectively, meaning they didn't finish school until last week. The Vikings were only able to communicate with them over the phone and in a handful of on-campus visits (where they weren't allowed to coach the players on the field), and while they tried to get as innovative as they could, they weren't going to be able to be anywhere near as productive with the three players as if they'd been allowed to spend the five weeks since the NFL draft in Minnesota.

Now, the Vikings should have complete access to the three rookies. Yankey took a red-eye flight to the Twin Cities after finishing his finals last Tuesday, arriving in time to participate in the Vikings' last two OTAs last week. Barr was scheduled to take his last final on Friday, graduate the same day and fly to Minnesota on Saturday. But now that those two players and Crichton are full-time professionals, coach Mike Zimmer said, the Vikings will have to check their desire to get them working too quickly.

"We're going to try to kind of ease those guys into it a little bit, so we don't confuse them," Zimmer said at the Vikings' charity golf tournament last Thursday.

Yankey's experience in a pro-style offense at Stanford should help him make the transition to the NFL, and while he figures to be behind Charlie Johnson at left guard for now, he might push the veteran for that spot eventually. Crichton will be part of the Vikings' defensive line rotation, and will probably line up at both defensive end and tackle; he'd had some experience in college rushing from the inside, and could find a niche there in the Vikings' nickel defense if the team looks to keep Everson Griffen outside on third downs.

Most of the attention, though, will be on Barr, who'll be trying to win the strong-side linebacker job after the Vikings took him ninth overall. The Vikings have big plans for him in their defense, and how quickly they can expand his role will depend on how much they can throw at him next week and in training camp. Barr said earlier this month he thought his remote work with linebackers coach Adam Zimmer had gone about as well as it could, adding, "I'm not behind at all."

There's bound to be an adjustment period once he gets on the field, but Barr's relative inexperience at the position hasn't seemed to worry the running back-turned-linebacker or his new coach. "I know that’s a big thing with everybody -- he’s only played two years [at linebacker]," Zimmer said last month. "The things he’s done defensively, he’s done pretty well."

Now the Vikings will get three days to work with Barr in their full defense before the start of training camp. There's bound to be some eagerness to turn him loose, as well as Crichton and Yankey, but Zimmer is preaching patience for now.

"In college football -- and I’m not trying to knock them -- but there’s one quarterback, two quarterbacks a year that are really good and here you’re playing against really good ones," Zimmer said last month. "Same with receivers and offensive lineman – now you’re playing a bunch of elite. It’s like when they play in the all-star games.So I think the big thing is the competition level raises quite a bit, the speed of the game and then having to learn terminology and how fast they can catch on."
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.
MAPLE GROVE, Minn. -- The interception Xavier Rhodes made during the Minnesota Vikings' organized team activity on Wednesday afternoon was, in a way, low-hanging fruit for a NFL defensive back; Matt Cassel had thrown a hitch route near the sideline, giving Rhodes ample time to diagnose the play and step in front of the ball, snatching the ball away with a clear path to the end zone.

It's a play Rhodes had made plenty in college, but there was something more to it at the NFL level -- some reason why it excited defensive backs coach Jerry Gray to the point where he yelled, "It's about time!" as Rhodes stepped in front of the pass.

Speaking about it a day later at the Vikings Children's Fund golf tournament on Thursday, Rhodes knew exactly what the difference was: He'd gotten to a point where he could trust himself enough to jump a throw from a NFL quarterback, confident he'd read the play correctly and would be able to beat the receiver to the ball. As effectively as Rhodes played press coverage late last season, he didn't come away with an interception as a rookie. He thinks he's got the instincts to change that now.

"You get to a point where you're at the top level, and you just don't trust yourself," Rhodes said. "You're going against someone as good as you. It's just a matter of time until you really trust and believe in yourself."

Rhodes is a better fit in the Vikings' new system, which will ask him to play more press man coverage, than he was in their old Cover 2 scheme. After getting eased into the Vikings' nickel package last year, he'll likely line up at right cornerback this season, and could turn out to be the team's top cover corner.

If he's learned when to break on passes and turn several of the nine pass breakups he had last year into interceptions, all the better.

"He has got great acceleration, he's learning the techniques much better, he's staying on point much better," coach Mike Zimmer said. "The thing I'm impressed with, the things that we talk about (that) he needs to improve, the next day he's working on it. We'll go in the meeting room here in a minute and we'll talk about the next process to where he is going, but I'm excited about him. He's doing well."