Minnesota Vikings: Phil Loadholt

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings running backs coach Kirby Wilson was a finalist for the Baltimore Ravens' offensive coordinator job last season before he left Pittsburgh to join coach Mike Zimmer's staff. Now, Wilson could get another shot at his dream of being a coordinator.

According to a league source, Wilson will interview with the Jacksonville Jaguars for their offensive coordinator position on Thursday. Wilson, who has never been an offensive coordinator, would reportedly be competing for the job against former Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman and San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman.

We've heard there has been interest in Wilson for a few jobs this winter, and the job he did with the Vikings' running backs in the absence of Adrian Peterson could put him in line for his chance. Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon, who had 47 NFL carries between them before 2014, ran for a combined 1,108 yards on 279 carries this season despite injuries that took two of the Vikings' best run blockers -- Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt -- off the field for 18 combined games. The Vikings finished the season with the league's 14th-best running game, and as we discussed last month, Wilson's work this season could be a solid addition to his coaching resume.

The call to interview in Jacksonville came three years to the day after Wilson nearly died in a house fire in Pittsburgh. Whether he gets the job or not, that's a heck of a way to mark an anniversary.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Thanks to all of you who submitted questions for this week's Minnesota Vikings mailbag. You can submit them at any point during the week on Twitter, using the hashtag #VikingsMail. We broke this week's mailbag into two parts, thanks to all of the questions you submitted. You can find Part 1 here, and we'll get started with Part 2.

@GoesslingESPN: Good morning, everyone. Hope you enjoyed the first weekend of the NFL playoffs. We'll kick things off here. There's little question the Vikings' offensive line needs to be better in 2015, after a solid unit turned into a problem spot this season. I think the Vikings will look to upgrade at left guard, and I'd expect they'll part ways with Charlie Johnson. If the salary cap jumps to $140 million, as many expect, the Vikings will have about $14.4 million in cap space before they make any adjustments, like releasing or restructuring the contracts of veteran players like Johnson, Chad Greenway or Greg Jennings (to say nothing of what could happen with Adrian Peterson's $15.4 million cap figure). In short, I expect the Vikings will have some money to spend this offseason. If a player like San Francisco guard Mike Iupati gets to the open market, the Vikings could make a push for him, though my hunch is they'll allocate a decent chunk of their free agent budget to defensive upgrades. David Yankey could be a factor in his second season, too, and someone like Iowa guard Brandon Scherff could interest the Vikings with the 11th overall pick. Left tackle is the big question, though, and I expect Matt Kalil will get another year to show he can rebound from a poor 2014 (and really, a subpar two-year stretch). He was a Pro Bowler as a rookie, but he's admitted his knee was an issue this season, and it looked at times like he was overcommitting in his pass sets or not stopping pass rushers with a forceful enough punch. I just think it's too early to commit another top pick, or significant free agent dollars, to left tackle unless you've decided Kalil isn't the answer, and I don't think the Vikings are there. I could see them finding a veteran who could step in and start at either left or right tackle, which double as a good insurance plan for Kalil.

@GoesslingESPN: I'm sure this will come up quite a bit this offseason, since Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald is due an $8 million roster bonus before next season. Cardinals general manager Steve Keim has ruled out releasing the eight-time Pro Bowler, who is from Minneapolis and works out for several weeks at the University of Minnesota each summer, and the Vikings might be able to get him for a draft pick or two if they restructured his deal. But while it's a nice idea, I'm not sure the dynamics are right to make it happen. For one, Fitzgerald will be 32 in August, and acquiring him would mean the Vikings have two 32-year-old receivers by the end of September. They could restructure Jennings' deal -- or save $9 million by cutting him after June 1 -- but as well as he played with Teddy Bridgewater down the stretch, would you want to let him go? There's no question Fitzgerald has been a more prolific receiver than Jennings during his career, while playing with an unstable quarterback situation for a good chunk of it, but I'd expect the Vikings to look more toward younger receivers if they're going to do something at the position. They like the idea of having a young group that can grow with Bridgewater, and apart from Jennings, their efforts have been concentrated on younger wideouts. You never say never, and there's no doubt Fitzgerald would be a tremendous influence in the locker room, but I have a hard time seeing it come to fruition.

@GoesslingESPN: As far as I've heard, everyone who was on injured reserve this season should be back in time for training camp. Loadholt tore his pectoral muscle on Nov. 23 -- the same injury Brandon Fusco sustained on Sept. 21 -- and the rehab process from that injury is long enough that Loadholt could be limited in some of the Vikings' offseason programs. But it doesn't seem like the Vikings are facing a situation where they'll have any major health concerns heading into training camp. They were fortunate this year not to have any ACL injuries (at least as far as I understand), so we shouldn't be talking about any extended recovery timetables once camp begins in late July.

@GoesslingESPN: I don't think "doghouse" is the right word for it, but it's clear the Vikings want to see Patterson show he's committed to being a top receiver this offseason. Mike Zimmer has reached out to a mentor/instructor for Patterson, Jennings has said he wants to work out with the 23-year-old and Bridgewater has talked about getting all of his receivers together to work out this offseason. As Jennings said on Dec. 28, Patterson can give off the impression he's not taking his job seriously because of how loose he is, but from what I've been told, Patterson was definitely humbled by what happened this season. He needs to put forth a more consistent effort in practice, and pay more attention to the route-running details that separate great receivers from interchangeable ones, and the Vikings are making every effort to ensure Patterson hears that message from as many voices as possible. Will he act on it? Time will tell, but I can't imagine the Vikings committing this many resources to fixing Patterson a year from now if he still hasn't shown signs of a turnaround. As Zimmer said last week, it's on Patterson to take the next step. That begins with an honest assessment and a strong work ethic this offseason.

We'll wrap it up there for the week. Thanks for the great questions, everyone. We'll have Vikings content on the blog all week -- as we will all offseason -- so check back for more, and submit your questions for next week's mailbag at any time. Enjoy your Monday.

Vikings mailbag: Who stays, who goes

December, 27, 2014
12/27/14
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Thanks to all of you who submitted questions for this week's Minnesota Vikings mailbag. You can submit them at any point during the week on Twitter, using the hashtag #VikingsMail.

@GoesslingESPN: Good morning, everyone. Hope you had a great holiday season. We'll get started here. John, you're correct in saying the Vikings' defense needs more pieces, and I think the primary focus of the offseason will be improving that group to a point where it can be a top-10 unit next season. That said, the Vikings have some questions at most levels of the offense, too. The biggest priority, to me, is identifying a No. 1 receiver. Do they have a player on their roster who can be that type of weapon? I'd start there. The offensive line is an issue, as well, but I don't think they're ready to give up on Matt Kalil, who has played better in the second half. A change at left guard, as well as a veteran backup who could fill in at tackle if Kalil or Phil Loadholt has a bad season, could be options. And then there's the running back situation: The Vikings would absolutely benefit from having Adrian Peterson in their offense, but at what price? He said earlier this month he doesn't believe he should take a pay cut, and I don't think the Vikings will agree with that. Can they come to an agreement, or will Peterson want to head elsewhere? I'm inclined to think he'll decide to play somewhere else if he has to take less money, and if that's the case, the Vikings might look at a deep running back class for a player to pair with Jerick McKinnon. Teddy Bridgewater has given the Vikings' offense hope for the future, but there are still some loose ends to tie up.

@GoesslingESPN: It's hard to predict acquisitions at this point simply because it's too early to tell which impending free agents are going to hit the open market. One player I'd keep an eye on, though, is wide receiver Greg Jennings. He turns 32 next September, is scheduled to count $11 million against the cap, and though the Vikings' quarterback instability has hurt his production the last two years, Jennings hasn't put up numbers to fit that kind of salary. The team would save $9 million by cutting him after June 1, and though I'd expect a restructuring could be in order -- he's a good route-runner and has been useful for Bridgewater in recent weeks -- the Vikings could decide to move on if they can't make the money work. That would grab headlines just two years after the team signed Jennings, but the Vikings structure their contracts a certain way to give themselves flexibility for quick changes.

A few people have asked about the possibility of cutting Captain Munnerlyn just one year after the team signed him; I can't see that one happening. Yes, the Vikings would only have to eat $1.67 million if they released him, but they'd only save $2.17 million by cutting him before June 1. And think about how big of an issue that slot cornerback position was in 2013. Do the Vikings really want to address it again in 2015? It's possible, but I don't think Munnerlyn's struggles have been to the point where the team would cut him. I could see them trying to add another top-flight corner to play in the base defense and making Munnerlyn purely a slot corner, though. If you've got two big corners, Munnerlyn as your slot guy, Josh Robinson as your No. 4 corner and an upgrade at safety next to Harrison Smith, that's a pretty darn good secondary.

@GoesslingESPN: Given everything he's had to manage in his first year on the job, and considering how much the defense has improved in its initial year in his scheme, I'd have to give Zimmer a B+. Even with a rookie QB, a decimated offensive line and no Adrian Peterson, the Vikings are essentially four close losses (to Buffalo, Detroit, Green Bay and Miami) from fighting for a playoff spot this weekend. Yes, they've got to get better in those situations, and there are some in-game situations that haven't gone well for Zimmer -- he regretted not taking a timeout before the fourth-and-20 in Buffalo, and the Vikings' clock management on their final drive in Detroit wasn't good -- but he has the defense headed the right way, and players seem to have responded to him. The teams that are consistently successful in the NFL are the ones that have a solid coach-QB partnership -- Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers, Sean Payton and Drew Brees -- and the Vikings have good reason to hope they've got the makings of one in Zimmer and Bridgewater.

@GoesslingESPN: It depends on his contract -- Chad Greenway is due to count $8.8 million against the cap next season -- but right now, I'm going to say yes. He's said he wants to stay here, and with three kids at home, he doesn't have a great interest in uprooting his family. He's been smart enough with his money that he could accept a big pay cut and finish out his contract here, and I think Zimmer sees value in the leadership Greenway provides to the Vikings' younger linebackers (remember, Greenway is a year and a day older than his position coach, Adam Zimmer). The trick might be coming to an arrangement that allows Gerald Hodges to take on a larger role while still keeping Greenway involved enough to justify a salary that would likely still be several million dollars, but maybe Greenway sees some time at middle linebacker, where he practiced a little bit before this season. My hunch is, though, there's enough interest in both sides that Greenway will spend 2015 in a Vikings uniform.

@GoesslingESPN: We'll close the final mailbag of 2014 with a question from my buddy Andrew Krammer, the Vikings beat writer at 1500ESPN.com. For those of you who haven't noticed on Twitter, Andrew and I often trade good-natured barbs about Adam Thielen; I told him back in OTAs that I thought Thielen could be a sleeper pick to make the team in 2014, and there's a chance I've reminded him about that a time or two since then. :-) So what does 2015 hold for the receiver, who was unanimously selected as 1500 ESPN's "Mr. Mankato" award winner as the star of training camp? He's become an integral piece of the Vikings' special teams units, and with special teams coordinator Mike Priefer in Thielen's corner, he'll have a good shot to return next season. Thielen caught the eye of general manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer with how he'd improved as a receiver last spring, but he'll probably need to keep improving if he wants to have a role as more than a special-teams guy (and thus, more job security). There have been a few times where he's looked a little wide-eyed as a receiver this season, and he could probably benefit from another year of speed and strength training. But the Vikings love his work ethic, and he'll likely keep fighting to stay around next season. But don't worry, Andrew -- I'll leave the I-told-you-sos in 2014.

That'll do it for this week's mailbag. Thanks for the great questions, everyone. We'll keep this rolling on Saturdays in the offseason, though we might take a week off from time to time. Talk to you on Sunday from TCF Bank Stadium for the season finale.

Minnesota Vikings film review: Offense

December, 23, 2014
12/23/14
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Had the Minnesota Vikings' defense come up with a stop in the final four minutes of Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins, the end result probably would have counted as the biggest pelt on Teddy Bridgewater's wall during his rookie season.

The quarterback did some of his very best work on Sunday against the Dolphins (who were 7-7 entering the game), completing 19 of his 26 passes for 259 yards, two touchdowns and an interception that bounced off Matt Asiata's hands. He connected with nine different receivers, hit six of his seven throws of 10 yards or longer and directed a game-tying 60-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter, before Antone Exum's fumble recovery on the ensuing kickoff put the Vikings in position to take the lead.

Bridgewater
"I thought Bridgewater played excellent," coach Mike Zimmer said. "Three weeks in a row he’s over 70 percent [completion rate]. The quarterback rating was what, 114? That brings a lot of hope."

Zimmer joked that he was coaching offense on Sunday, instead of presiding over the defense, and given the fact the Vikings put up 35 points against a solid Dolphins defense overseen by Kevin Coyle (Zimmer's protege from Cincinnati), it was a good day for many on that side of the ball. Here are some observations about the Vikings' offense after a film review of Sunday's game:
  • Bridgewater continues to improve late in the season, and one of the things he did best on Sunday was controlling the defense with his eyes. He kept his gaze fixed on the middle of the field as he dropped back in the fourth quarter, releasing the ball to Rhett Ellison as soon as he snapped his head to the right. With the Dolphins' safeties back and the defense paying little attention to Ellison, the scrappy tight end had room to run 40 yards, setting up the game-tying touchdown. And on the sideline throw he floated to Greg Jennings on third-and-13, Bridgewater moved to his right, hitched once and threw a perfect pass to the left sideline once he worked back through his progressions. Until the Vikings have a true "go-up-and-get-it" receiver, Bridgewater will have to be resourceful. He was on Sunday.
  • The Vikings committed to a power running scheme early in the game, pulling Joe Berger and John Sullivan on a number of runs. And while the ground game's production slowed in the second half, Asiata and Joe Banyard both deserve credit for how hard they ran. Asiata gained 25 of his 58 yards after contact, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and Banyard got most of his 23 yards on a run before halftime, when he ran into the back of Berger, bounced away for a 16-yard gain and held onto the ball despite a Dolphins defender's attempt to strip it. The run led the Vikings to reconsider their end-of-the-half strategy, and they went from running out the clock to fashioning a drive that led to an 18-yard Blair Walsh field goal.
  • Right tackle Mike Harris, who's filling in for the injured Phil Loadholt, had a tough assignment with Dolphins left end Cameron Wake, and though he battled, he was no match for the three-time Pro Bowler, whose second sack ended the Vikings' final drive before the Dolphins' blocked punt.
  • Ellison struggled at times in pass protection when the Vikings left him in to block -- he was helping Harris on Randy Starks' sack in the fourth quarter -- but the Vikings' utility knife was all over the field on Sunday, gaining 36 yards after the catch on his big gain, working effectively as a run blocker and chipping defensive ends before releasing on pass routes. On his first catch of the game, he helped left tackle Matt Kalil before leaking out and hauling in a 7-yard pass from Bridgewater.

Jerick McKinnon inactive for Vikings

November, 30, 2014
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Hello from TCF Bank Stadium, where it's a balmy 12 degrees and the temperature is expected to climb to a scorching 14. This should turn out to be the coldest home game the Minnesota Vikings have played since the Bud Grant era, and it will be interesting to see how quarterback Teddy Bridgewater handles his first true taste of frigid Minnesota temperatures.

One player who won't be out in the weather Sunday against the Carolina Panthers is running back Jerick McKinnon, who was listed as doubtful for the game and said Friday he wouldn't play. McKinnon, who has been dealing with a low back injury for the last two weeks, will give way to Matt Asiata, Joe Banyard and Ben Tate on Sunday. Asiata is officially listed as the starter, though Banyard will likely see some work and Tate could get carries, as well.

Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (knee/ankle) and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (knee) will both play, as will safety Harrison Smith (shoulder). Floyd was listed as questionable Friday, as was tight end Chase Ford, who is dealing with a foot injury. The Vikings' only player missing Sunday's game because of an injury, though, is McKinnon.

Tackle J'Marcus Webb, whom the Vikings signed this week after Phil Loadholt tore his pectoral muscle last Sunday, will be inactive Sunday, meaning Mike Harris will start at right tackle.

Here is the Vikings' full list of inactives for Sunday:
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Teddy Bridgewater played his eighth game of the season on Sunday, effectively finishing his first full half of action as an NFL quarterback. It's too early to make any sweeping conclusions about the quarterback -- and probably difficult to read too much into a season where there have been so many moving parts around Bridgewater -- but coach Mike Zimmer had some interesting comments about Bridgewater's development earlier this week.

Zimmer said during his Wednesday news conference that he "figured [Bridgewater] would be the starter at some point, but I didn't know when." The Vikings began the season with Matt Cassel as their starting quarterback, planning to bring Bridgewater along slowly and give him the job when he was ready to take it. The fact that Bridgewater inherited it during the third game of the season forced the Vikings to speed up their timetable, and they're still learning how to work with a quarterback who seems to study almost to excess at times.

Bridgewater has talked about his tendency to overthink things at times this season, and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner has said he'll see times where the rookie gets stuck on one part of his progression, rather than mentally checking off a receiver and moving on to his next option. As the Vikings are giving Bridgewater game plan information, Zimmer said, they've had to be careful how specific they get, lest Bridgewater gets too mechanized in his thinking.

"He is extremely conscientious and you almost have to be careful that you don’t say, 'Hey, this is what you’re going to get,' because if it doesn’t happen, well, [he says] 'Coach told me this,'" Zimmer said. "I try to be generic in a lot of things that I tell him, and really a lot of times it’s, 'Just be you; you’re good enough. You do things great every day in practice, you do great things at the end of the game.' Probably what I need to do is tell him we’re behind every series when we go out there and we need to score this series because he’s pretty good when he needs to be."

It will take time before playing quarterback becomes more intuitive and less academic for Bridgewater, and the Vikings seem to be looking for ways to get him to mimic the way he plays at the end of games, when things seem to come more natural to him and Bridgewater doesn't get himself in trouble by overanalyzing what he sees from defenses. The Vikings didn't expect to begin the on-field phase of Bridgewater's development as soon as they did, and it could be a while before everything clicks.

"It’s personality, I think, a little bit, too," Zimmer said. "I think each guy is different. You see quarterbacks throughout the league, some guys sit for a year or two, some guys come in and they play right away and play real good. I think it’s all a little bit of people around them, their personality, how the defense helps them. There’s a lot of factors. There’s just so many different variables with the quarterback."

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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings right tackle Phil Loadholt, who will have surgery Friday to repair a torn pectoral muscle, said he expects to be completely healthy by training camp next July and will stay in Minnesota to rehab during the rest of the season.

Loadholt
Loadholt was injured on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. He said he stuck his arm out to counter an inside move from a pass rusher "and just kind of went too far." He was placed on injured reserve Wednesday to make room for J'Marcus Webb, whom the Vikings officially signed Wednesday, and is the second Vikings starter this season to require surgery for a torn pectoral muscle. Right guard Brandon Fusco sustained the same injury in September.

"(He and I) talked about that, and I talked to the training staff and things like that," Loadholt said. "I've got a pretty good feel of what to expect over the next few months. I look forward to attacking that the same way I attack playing the game."

Fusco faced about a four-month rehab process when he was injured in September, and if the prognosis is the same for Loadholt, he might be able to resume some activity during the Vikings' offseason workouts next spring. In the meantime, he said, he'll continue to attend meetings and offer whatever help he can to Mike Harris and Webb.

"Mike's had some experience in this league," Loadholt said. "He's started games before. The main thing for him is just to make sure he's preparing himself mentally. If Mike has his mind right, he'll be ready to go."
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings made the signing of J'Marcus Webb official on Wednesday morning, announcing they'd brought back the right tackle who'd spent the 2013 season with the Vikings.

To make room for Webb, the Vikings put right tackle Phil Loadholt on injured reserve; Loadholt will have surgery on Friday on his torn pectoral muscle and will miss the rest of the season.

Webb started for the Vikings last Nov. 7 in a win over the Washington Redskins, after Loadholt had sustained a concussion four days earlier against Dallas. Coach Mike Zimmer said on Monday that Mike Harris would "probably" take over for Loadholt at right tackle, but even if Webb doesn't start, the Vikings could use additional depth at tackle.

Minnesota Vikings film review: Offense

November, 25, 2014
11/25/14
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MINNEAPOLIS -- It's become a regular part of Teddy Bridgewater's job as a rookie quarterback to throw in the face of pressure; the Minnesota Vikings passer has faced pressure on 30 percent or more of his dropbacks in five of his eight games this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Bridgewater
There were easy throws on Sunday that Bridgewater missed in the first half of the Vikings' 24-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers -- a deep overthrow to an open Charles Johnson on the Vikings' first series, a ball he threw too high for Jarius Wright against zone coverage at the end of the first quarter -- but there were also throws that Bridgewater might have been able to hit with more time to set his feet, and bigger plays to be made with more time to throw.

He spent an average of just 2.36 seconds in the pocket on Sunday, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and again had to resort to numerous checkdowns, like an off-balance eight-yard throw to Jerick McKinnon after Jayrone Elliott got around Matt Kalil, and a screen that lost two yards later in the same series after Elliott again used a speed rush on the left tackle.

Bridgewater hit his longest TD of the year to Johnson on a play that was impressive for its simplicity -- he froze safety Morgan Burnett and fired to the back of the end zone for a 22-yard score after Johnson beat Tramon Williams -- and the Vikings found room to work on underneath crossing routes to Kyle Rudolph and Greg Jennings several times. But the day for Bridgewater, as many have been during his rookie season, was a mixed bag.

"There were a ton of plays left on the field," Bridgewater said. "Whenever you're playing a team as good as the Green Bay Packers, you want to make sure you're making all of those plays."

Here are some other observations about the Vikings' offense after a film review:
  • Kalil's day has been well-documented -- he was flagged three times for 35 yards -- but he wasn't the only one allowing pressure on Sunday; Mike Daniels bull-rushed Joe Berger on his way to a sack of Bridgewater, Phil Loadholt allowed pressure that forced Bridgewater to escape the pocket in the first quarter and McKinnon failed to pick up Micah Hyde on a blitz that turned into a third-quarter sack. Bridgewater was blitzed on 38.6 percent of his dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and the Packers mixed up their pressure effectively, with Mike Neal getting to Bridgewater on a stunt that left both Kalil and Charlie Johnson blocking Daniels and a blitz where Clay Matthews batted Bridgewater's pass after coming clean to the backfield.
  • McKinnon was the Vikings' leading rusher with 54 yards, on a day where he had to make several defenders miss in the backfield, but Joe Banyard did a nice job in his first carries, gaining eight yards in the second quarter off a solid down block from Rudolph, on a play that could have gone for much more had Banyard made one man miss. He carried five times for 26 yards, and caught three passes for 19 yards, including a one-handed grab in the second quarter.
  • The Vikings will once again have to reinvent their run-blocking scheme with Loadholt out for the year; they pulled him and John Sullivan effectively on several runs, but with both Loadholt and Brandon Fusco gone, the Vikings can't use their power running game as effectively as they'd like.
  • Cordarrelle Patterson, once again, mostly played in three-receiver sets, as Johnson got much of the work in the base offense. Patterson finished with two catches for 18 yards, but did a nice job of gaining separation from Sam Shields on a 10-yard in-breaking route in the second quarter. Time will tell how big of a role Patterson will play against Carolina, after he sustained knee and ankle injuries on a kickoff return Sunday.
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After one of the Minnesota Vikings' losses earlier this season, coach Mike Zimmer encountered a group of players joking around after the game, suggesting in so many words to the coach that they weren't terribly concerned with what had just happened on the field.

"I put a stop to it pretty quickly," Zimmer said.

Zimmer hasn't seen much of that since. He also hasn't seen as many wins as he'd like, but in a year when the Vikings are now missing four of their Week 1 offensive starters -- including Adrian Peterson -- it's difficult to expect a big surge in the Vikings' victory total. What the Vikings have done, Zimmer said, is adopt the kind of mentality he'd hoped to instill in the team during his first season.

"I think that's part of it, is learning about what I expect and what I want to do and where I want to go from here," Zimmer said. "They're taking the losses hard."

The Vikings have little of consequence to play for in their final five games -- they are three games out of the final wild-card spot and behind five teams in the NFC -- but Zimmer has another five weeks to build the culture he's tried to create in his first year with the Vikings. He said last month he wanted players "to understand it's not OK to lose," and while it's difficult to measure something as subjective as passion with any certainty, the coach feels at this point like he's making progress.

"I do think they're developing a lot of the mindset: the way we work, the way we work in the weight room, intangible things a lot of you don't see," Zimmer said. "We're on time, we act like professionals in a lot of different ways. We need it to show up more on Sundays with wins and that's really where we're at. But I don't have a problem with the football team and the way they do things. We just need to win."

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In a tumultuous third season in the NFL, Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil has encountered problems in a number of different forms. In Sunday's 24-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers, those problems came largely through penalties.

Kalil was flagged three times for 35 yards -- twice for holding and once for a face mask personal foul. His face mask penalty came on a first down from the Packers' 23, on a drive that wound up leading to a Blair Walsh field goal. His first holding penalty was on the first play of the second half, after the Vikings had started their drive with good field position and Jerick McKinnon ran for seven yards to the Packers' 46. Instead of a second-and-3, the Vikings had a first-and-18, and they wound up punting the ball away.

"Honestly, it was hard for me to see [how he did]," coach Mike Zimmer said. "The times when I was watching, though, he seemed to be doing OK, but my eyes are looking at their coverage and the blitzes they're doing and Teddy [Bridgewater]. It's real hard for me to say without focusing in and having a real honest opinion."

The left tackle got beat by linebacker Jayrone Elliott on the play after his facemask, when Bridgewater threw to McKinnon for a 2-yard loss on a screen, and was part of a Vikings line that allowed Bridgewater to be pressured on 34.1 percent of his dropbacks on Sunday. He blew past four reporters in the locker room on Sunday, and by Sunday evening, his Twitter account, which Kalil said last week he hadn't checked in months, had disappeared.

Considering Kalil's coaches have expressed concern in the past about the left tackle beating himself up too much, it's tough to imagine his confidence level is terribly high right now. The Vikings haven't tried alternatives to the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft, and considering the health of their offensive line -- Mike Harris had to take over at right tackle after Phil Loadholt injured his shoulder on Sunday -- they don't have many options other than to keep putting Kalil out there and hoping he'll turn a corner. He got a day off on Friday with what Zimmer termed a "minor aggravation" to his surgically-repaired knee, and perhaps we'll find out in time the injury is bothering Kalil more than he's let on.

He's been penalized eight times this season now, though, and that total is tied for the seventh highest in the NFL. On Sunday, Kalil's penalties were his biggest black mark, and a couple of them came at costly moments for the Vikings' chances to win the game.

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Observed and heard in the locker room following the Minnesota Vikings' 24-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium:

Patterson
Patterson doesn't want to drop kickoff duties: Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson was slow to get up after he was dragged down on his 42-yard kickoff return in the third quarter and sustained knee and ankle injuries on the play. But Patterson said he thought he'd be fine and added he didn't want to give up kickoff-return duties because of the injury risk. "Of course it's always risk-reward every time you get back there on a kickoff return," Patterson said. "But it's my job. Being back there, I have to take full advantage of it."

Tate active but absent in debut: Running back Ben Tate was active for his first game in a Vikings uniform but was one of two players on the Vikings' active roster not to see the field on Sunday (Christian Ponder was the other). Joe Banyard got his first NFL carries instead, running five times for 26 yards in Matt Asiata's absence. "I think Banyard had the hot hand at the time," coach Mike Zimmer said.

Loadholt to have MRI: Right tackle Phil Loadholt will have an MRI on his shoulder after getting injured in the fourth quarter, Zimmer said. Mike Harris took over for Loadholt, who didn't want to discuss his injury after the game.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Minnesota Vikings will have another change in their offensive line this week, and it could be one that lasts for a while.

Despite guard Vlad Ducasse being a full participant in practice Thursday and Friday, the Vikings put him on their inactive list Sunday with a knee injury. That means Joe Berger will start at right guard, after stepping in for John Sullivan at center last week. If Ducasse is healthy, the move might have more to do with performance than health.

Berger has been with the Vikings since 2011 and talked Friday about the benefit of the continuity he's enjoyed with offensive line coach Jeff Davidson and veterans like Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt. Especially if Sullivan stays healthy enough that the Vikings don't need to use Berger at center, they could stick with Berger at right guard with Brandon Fusco out.

Linebacker Gerald Hodges is also inactive for the Vikings with a hamstring injury; Hodges was listed as doubtful Friday and will miss his second straight game. Cornerback Josh Robinson, however, is active after missing time with a sprained ankle late in the week. Robinson said he'd be able to play, and he was apparently correct.

Here is the Vikings' full list of inactives Sunday:
MINNEAPOLIS -- By the end of Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills, the Minnesota Vikings had a rookie quarterback playing behind a line down to its last healthy active players and still missing a tight end who is nearly as valuable in pass protection as he is as a receiving threat.

Considering all that, and the fact the Vikings were facing one of the game's best defensive lines, perhaps it's fair to apply some perspective to the Bills' six-sack performance, as Vikings coach Mike Zimmer seemed to do after the game.

"My concern level isn't real high (with the offensive line)," Zimmer said. "I'm proud of the way the guys went in there and continue to fight. We lost those two guys on the same play early in the ballgame. We ran the ball well in the second half and we gave up some opportunities in there. We played good enough defensively that we should've won that last drive."

Perhaps, but the Vikings might have also been able to avoid losing on a last-second touchdown altogether if their first drive of the fourth quarter hadn't sputtered at the Bills' 14 and they'd been able to score a touchdown instead of kick a field goal. Teddy Bridgewater was sacked on back-to-back plays on the drive, and the Vikings ran a read-option handoff on third down, choosing to play it safe and take the points.

Bridgewater put the first sack on himself, saying he had a run-pass option and chose to throw, but Jerry Hughes beat Matt Kalil on a quick inside move. Then, Marcell Dareus got to Bridgewater after looping around Jarius Wynn on a stunt, sliding by Phil Loadholt and dropping the quarterback for a nine-yard loss.

"We didn't do well enough. We lost," Loadholt said. "That's what I say every time. Everybody always asks, 'How did the line play, how did the line play?' When we lose, we didn't play well enough. When we win, it doesn't really matter. It doesn't really matter. We didn't win, so we didn't do well enough and we need to play better."

The numbers would suggest the Vikings protected Bridgewater a little better Sunday than they did the previous week against Detroit, despite losing center John Sullivan and right guard Vlad Ducasse to injuries on the same play. The quarterback was only pressured on 25.8 percent of his dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information, after facing pressure 36.2 percent of the time against the Lions. And the Bills had to bring extra rushers to get to Bridgewater, blitzing on 12 of his 31 dropbacks.

But questions persist about the Vikings' pass protection. And whether or not too much blame is being fixed on the offensive line, a unit that was supposed to be a strength -- and was being paid like one -- hasn't played up to par. Correcting the problem could get more difficult if Sullivan isn't available to direct protections this week, though the Vikings will be facing a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that has just nine sacks on the season. Still, it will take a clean afternoon of protecting Bridgewater to turn down some of the volume about the Vikings' offensive line.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It would appear Chad Greenway has a good chance to get back on the field this Sunday after a three-game absence.

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

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

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

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