NFC North: Minnesota Vikings

MANKATO, Minn. -- The test was not going to be difficult. David Yankey had taken enough U.S. history classes growing up in Roswell, Georgia, that he had little trepidation about his ability to pass an American citizenship exam. There would be a different set of emotions when he sat down to take the test this spring.

There would be pride, from having completed a journey that meant so much to his Ghanaian-born father, David, Sr. There would be a sense of community, from joining his mother and his two younger brothers as citizens of a country his family had moved to when Yankey was 8-years old. And there would be wistfulness, from imagining how happy his dad would be to see him now, a full-fledged American about to graduate from Stanford University and begin a career in the NFL.

"He loved football, and he would have loved to see that, as well," Yankey said. "But I think he would have been ecstatic to see me graduate."

[+] EnlargeMinnesota's David Yankey
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallDavid Yankey, who became a U.S. citizen earlier this year, was born outside of Sydney, Australia, to a father from Ghana and a mother from Czechoslovakia.
Yankey has made it now, becoming a U.S. citizen two weeks after the Vikings selected him in the fifth round of the NFL draft and two weeks before he graduated from Stanford. He's been called a possible steal in the draft, after some projections had him going in the second or third round, and he could eventually push Charlie Johnson for the starting left guard job. He's arrived in Minnesota, as the next stop on a rich journey that took Yankey from Australia to Georgia, then to California. His dad, though, won't be there to see what comes next. David Yankey, Sr., passed away last fall, from causes that aren't completely clear. He'd had some heart issues in the past, but had gotten himself in better shape before his unexpected death last fall.

His legacy, though, includes a son who's made his family proud.

David Yankey, Jr., was born just outside of Sydney, to a father who'd followed his brothers from Ghana to Australia for work with a foresting company and a mother who'd escaped Communist rule with her family in Czechoslovakia. They met and married in Australia, and David Yankey, Jr., grew up as the oldest of three boys, in a house crackling with linguistic diversity.

Yankey never learned any of the tribal dialects his father spoke, but his parents told him he was fluent in Slovak as a toddler. "I eventually refused to speak it, for some reason," Yankey said. "I think it was just before I could have really maintained it and kept remembering it, unfortunately."

English was the language both of his parents knew, and became the common tongue of his family. But Yankey, who lived in Australia and the Deep South, somehow didn't wind up with an accent from either place.

His family moved to the United States in 2000, when his father took a job as an IT professional. "He'd always wanted to come to the States," Yankey said. "It was always kind of a dream of his, especially growing up in Africa."

And now that he's a citizen, Yankey finds himself even more at home in the U.S. He'd always rooted for Australia during the World Cup, and nervously refrained from taking a side in the Ghana-U.S. matches during the 2006 and 2010 tournaments. But this year, after he'd become a citizen, Yankey proudly supported the U.S. team during its group stage victory over Ghana last month.

Even Minnesota has a familial feel for him. He played with offensive line coach Jeff Davidson's son, Nick, at Stanford, and Jeff Davidson's May trip to the West Coast allowed him to both visit his son and work with Yankey, who couldn't attend the Vikings' organized team activities until Stanford's classes concluded in June.

Yankey said he's happy among a veteran group of linemen, who have played together under Davidson for three seasons and combined to start 157 out of a possible 160 regular-season games the past two seasons.

"Minnesota, I think, was a really awesome place for me to end up," Yankey said. "These guys, they know so much, they do the right things, they're all pros."

His latest stop, so far, feels like a rewarding destination. And Yankey will carry with him the man who put him on his journey in the first place.

Vikings Camp Report: Day 4

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
11:58
PM ET
MANKATO, Minn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Minnesota Vikings training camp:
  • The Vikings have a day off on Tuesday, and coach Mike Zimmer will use it to meet with his staff and decide which players need more practice snaps and which ones might get less work. It's getting harder and harder to see the team's quarterback competition as anything other than a race between Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater. Cassel and Bridgewater got most of the work in the Vikings' night practice, which was heavy on playbook installation; Cassel again took the first-team snaps, while Bridgewater worked with the second team and Ponder with the third. Cassel hit 5 of his 9 passes and found a wide open Greg Jennings on a nice throw down the right sideline. Bridgewater went 12-for-13, and Ponder went 1-for-2. All three quarterbacks had a dropped pass, which means Bridgewater and Ponder technically didn't miss a receiver all night. But when the Vikings are giving Cassel the work with the starters -- and using much of their remaining time on Bridgewater -- it doesn't say much for Ponder's chances. Bridgewater hit 4 of his 12 completions to running backs, and had to be bailed out by his receivers on a couple throws, but he did a nice job stepping up in the pocket, made a solid throw to Rodney Smith on the run and again connected with Adam Thielen. He's continued to impress.
  • Blair Walsh got his first chance to kick during training camp, and made seven of his eight field goal attempts. His lone miss was from 44 yards out, and Walsh finished the session by drilling a 52-yarder.
  • First-round pick Anthony Barr showed his speed as a pass-rusher in a sack, so to speak, of Cassel during 11-on-11 work. Barr surged through the middle of the Vikings' line on a blitz, getting to Cassel as the play was blown dead (quarterbacks, of course, aren't allowed to get hit during training camp). He's mostly worked with the second team, but has had a handful of first-team snaps. He might have to get past Audie Cole for the starting strong-side linebacker job early in the season, but Barr's size and speed has the Vikings excited about what they're seeing.
  • The Vikings did their first goal-line work on Monday night, and it was easy to see why Zimmer wanted to keep Adrian Peterson out of the session. The Vikings were practicing at "thud" tempo, where defenders initiate contact without taking ballcarriers to the ground, but the drill featured some live hitting, like when Jasper Brinkley drilled Matt Asiata for a loss on the first snap of the drill and the third-string defense hammered undrafted free agent Dominique Williams.
  • The evening practice had a special guest: Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, who is in Mankato for a summit with the team's ownership group, watched the session from the top row of Blakeslee Stadium, sitting with general manager Rick Spielman.
MANKATO, Minn. -- The process that led to Kyle Rudolph earning a new contract from the Minnesota Vikings, which culminated in a hug and words of congratulations from general manager Rick Spielman after Sunday's practice, seemed about as devoid of drama and tension as either side could have wanted.

Rudolph
Rudolph made it known at the end of last season he wanted to stay in Minnesota; the Vikings spoke highly of the big tight end and said they wanted the same thing. They hired an offensive coordinator with a history of featuring tight ends; Rudolph responded by taking a more serious look at his offseason nutrition program, dropping 15 pounds and sharpening his technique as a receiver. He said he hoped to get a contract done before the season; the Vikings met with his agents in the Twin Cities on July 15 to begin discussions on a deal.

There seemed to be little chance of the Vikings letting Rudolph get to free agency next spring, not when they had taken him in the second round of the 2011 draft, not when he was one of the only viable candidates for a contract extension before next season. But the toothy smile Rudolph flashed when talking about the contract on Monday let everyone know even an inevitable payoff was sweet.

"Being the organization that took a chance on me out of the draft, being hurt at the time and still drafting me when they did and now giving me this extension, it shows the faith that they have in me," Rudolph said. "Certain people have the opportunity to change your life, and I can't thank Rick and (assistant GM) Rob (Brzezinski) enough for that opportunity."

Now comes the hard part for Rudolph. He will have to play well enough to maximize the value of his contract, which pays him a $6.5 million signing bonus and effectively guarantees his $956,343 base salary in the final season of his rookie deal. The five-year, $36.5 million deal could be worth up to $40 million if Rudolph triggers incentives in the contract, and though another $12 million of the deal is currently guaranteed for injury only, that money will become fully guaranteed by the start of the 2016 league year, coming to Rudolph in separate chunks on the third day of the 2015 and 2016 league years.

But the tight end, as usual, seemed sensible about the contract on Monday. He said he didn't plan to buy himself anything special, adding his only plan was to fulfill a promise to his old strength coach and pay to remodel the weight room at his alma mater, Elder High School in Cincinnati.

As for the Vikings, Rudolph wants to make sure they get a good return on their investment.

"Essentially, if you look at this from a business side, I'm here for the next three years (anyway) because of the last year of my deal and opportunity to be franchised twice," he said. "So they felt like it was important to keep me here for a long time. It instills a responsibility to become one of the veteran leaders in the locker room. We have a lot of young guys on this team and it's weird for me to see that now, four years later I'm one of the veterans in the locker room who have to bring those guys along so we can win football games."
Examining the Minnesota Vikings' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
The Vikings could free up some roster space if they carried only two QBs and traded Ponder for a late-round pick at some point, but it seems likely they'll carry three into the season. Ponder could still have some value in an emergency, if the Vikings aren't ready to put Bridgewater on the field and they need someone to fill in if Cassel is injured or ineffective.

RUNNING BACKS (4)
Joe Banyard could push Asiata for the third running back spot, especially if he shows he can fit into the offense as a receiver. Zach Line also will be competing for a spot after a solid training camp and preseason last year.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman singled out Thielen -- who spent last year on the Vikings' practice squad -- as a player who had improved from last year during the Vikings' minicamp. He could stick as the fifth receiver, and Colter (who got an $8,000 signing bonus) might fit in as a return man if the Vikings look to get Patterson some breaks on kickoffs.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

Chase Ford's broken foot could mean he'll start the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list. It also opens up a spot for the Vikings to put Leonard on the roster; he's only 6-foot-2 and will struggle as a blocker, but his speed (a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine) could make him an intriguing weapon, especially if the Vikings look to flex him out.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

The only starting spot up for grabs might be at left guard, where Yankey could compete with Johnson. Undrafted rookie Antonio Richardson could get a long look at tackle, too, and if the Vikings don't put him on their roster, they'll likely try to sneak him onto their practice squad.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)

This might be the deepest position group on the Vikings' roster, and in Mike Zimmer's defensive line rotation, they could all play; Wootton and Crichton give the Vikings a pair of versatile backups who can play inside or outside, and Johnson and Evans figure to be the primary backups at three-technique and nose tackle, respectively. The Vikings will be counting on Floyd taking a big step forward in Year 2.

LINEBACKERS (6)

In Cincinnati, Zimmer had linebacking groups of just six and five players after training camp the past two seasons. If the position is similarly staffed this season, it could mean the Vikings will cut seventh-round pick Brandon Watts. There are plenty of questions at the position overall -- none of the three spots in the Vikings' base defense is completely solidified -- but in Barr, Hodges, Mauti and Cole, the Vikings have some young talent to work with.

DEFENSIVE BACKS (11)

The Vikings will keep one more defensive back than they did last year to add some depth at cornerback in light of all the prolific passing attacks they'll see early this year. Kurt Coleman will have to fight for one of the last safety spots; the Vikings seem to like Exum's potential as a safety, and Blanton got quite a bit of work with Smith in the Vikings' first-team defense during minicamp.

SPECIALISTS (3)

The group returns unchanged from what the Vikings had on their roster last year; Locke punted better toward the end of the season, and has already put in some work getting to know the wind patterns at TCF Bank Stadium.
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MANKATO, Minn. -- After the Minnesota Vikings named Norv Turner their offensive coordinator in January, it quickly became apparent that tight end Kyle Rudolph stood to become one of the biggest beneficiaries of the move. Rudolph had put together a solid start to his career in Minnesota, winning Pro Bowl MVP honors after his second season and catching 30 passes before breaking his foot in the Vikings' eighth game last year, but Turner's offense -- and his history of featuring tight ends in it -- stood to take Rudolph to a new level.

And that came at a good time for the tight end, too. He'd talked at the end of the 2013 season about wanting a contract extension in Minnesota, and said it several more times throughout the winter. But as recently as the beginning of this month, when Rudolph was working out with Larry Fitzgerald at the University of Minnesota, he gave some credence to the theory that it might be in his best interests to wait, put up a big year in 2014 and cash in before free agency next March.

[+] EnlargeRudolph
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsIn his three years with the Vikings, Kyle Rudolph has 109 catches for 1,055 yards and 15 touchdowns.
The Vikings clearly saw that possibility, too. Think of the five-year contract extension they gave Rudolph on Sunday night, then, as both a good-faith deposit and a mechanism to ensure some cost certainty.

Rudolph's production (109 catches, 1,055 yards and 15 touchdowns) as well as his reputation as a model citizen, had put him in line for contract extension talks. But if the Vikings had waited, and Rudolph had posted a 65- or 70-catch season, they might have been paying a higher premium to keep Rudolph off the free-agent market next spring. Instead, they got a deal done that could pay Rudolph up to $40.5 million, but presently carries a practical guarantee of just $7.46 million. He'll receive a $960,000 base salary in 2014, according to a league source, as well as a $6.5 million signing bonus.

There's another $12 million of guaranteed money, but that's currently slated to come to Rudolph in case of injury only, until it becomes fully realized at some point in the future if Rudolph is still on the roster on the third day of a given league year (or years, if the remaining guaranteed money is spread over several seasons). That's the same mechanism the New Orleans Saints used in Jimmy Graham's deal -- and Rudolph's guaranteed money is only $1.5 million less than Graham's -- but unlike Rudolph, Graham got $13 million guaranteed at the time of signing the deal.

The Vikings' deal with Rudolph (which was first reported by Fox Sports) means the tight end must still produce to unlock much of its worth. There's little reason to think he won't work to earn the money -- he's worked to get himself in better shape this offseason -- but the Vikings structured the deal in such a way that Rudolph won't get paid like one of the league's top tight ends unless he is playing like one.

Rudolph isn't as fast as Antonio Gates or Jordan Cameron, two other tight ends who have excelled in Turner's offense, but he's a 6-foot-6 target who has caught 11 of his 15 career touchdowns in the red zone. Playing at 258 pounds instead of 273, he could work the middle of the field more effectively and produce big chunks of yardage. That the Vikings gave him an extension now, before he has played a down for Turner, shows they think it's a distinct possibility Rudolph will take the next step. They won't be fully committed to the deal, though, unless he does. It's a show of faith, but with mechanisms to limit the Vikings' exposure. That's good business, and in the NFL, that's as fervent as faith gets.

Vikings Camp Report: Day 3

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
8:00
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MANKATO, Minn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Minnesota Vikings training camp:
  • Robert Blanton's bid for the starting safety spot next to Harrison Smith continues to pick up steam; Blanton was again working next to Smith in the first unit on Sunday, while Jamarca Sanford -- who missed most of the Vikings' offseason program with a pulled muscle -- took second-team snaps. Coach Mike Zimmer said how impressed he was with Blanton's coverage skills on Sunday afternoon and wanted to see how the Notre Dame product fared in run support. Blanton came on strong at the end of last season after injuries forced a move to slot cornerback, and the coverage skills he flashed there could translate well to the safety position. The Vikings want to be able to put their safeties in man coverage at times so they can stay in their base defense and still handle three-receiver sets. "Robert has honestly impressed me with being in the right place all the time," Zimmer said. "He has really good ball skills, and he has made a couple really, really nice plays on the ball. He has been very solid and steady, he understands the checks and really the communication in the back end of where he is supposed to be."
  • Chad Greenway got some work at middle linebacker on Sunday, and it still seems possible he ends up there. The Vikings would be able to put Greenway in charge of their defensive huddle, knowing he'll likely stay on the field in nickel situations and could provide some continuity there. Greenway will have to earn the job, though, and he made a nice play in the Vikings' first padded practice on Sunday, driving Adrian Peterson back into Matt Cassel on the way to a sack. If the Vikings moved Greenway to the middle, they'd be able to put a couple of younger, athletic linebackers on either side of him. Gerald Hodges got some work at Greenway's usual weak-side linebacker spot, while Audie Cole continued to receive snaps on the strong side. Cole played in the middle last season, but if Anthony Barr isn't ready to grab the starting job, Cole could be a good option there.
  • It was another strong day for receiver Adam Thielen, who's easily become the darling of Vikings camp so far. Thielen, who went to college at Minnesota State and is going through training camp at his alma mater, has had a good connection with Teddy Bridgewater since this spring, and it showed again on Sunday, as Bridgewater hit him on a difficult deep out connection along the right sideline. Thielen said he spent his winter working out in the Twin Cities, trying to get faster and stronger, and he looks more impressive this year than he did last year. He also has some of the best hands on the team and has continued making the kinds of catches in traffic he was making during the Vikings' minicamp.
  • The Vikings' quarterbacks worked in the same order today, with Cassel running the first team, Bridgewater the second team and Christian Ponder the third. They started practice with a handful of screen passes, again setting up Peterson for a number of impressive gains, and didn't take many shots downfield on a windy and rainy day. In 11-on-11 drills, Cassel went 10-for-13, Bridgewater went 9-for-11 and Ponder went 6-for-7.
  • An odd day of weather made the Vikings' first padded practice feel more like October than July. The team started practice under a threatening sky, and the clouds opened up while the Vikings were still stretching, sending many of the fans and media members in attendance looking for shelter. Zimmer kept the Vikings on the field, though, and continued practice during a heavier period of rain later in the afternoon. In previous years, the Vikings have moved such practices inside, but it's worth remembering that the Cincinnati Bengals -- where Zimmer was the defensive coordinator the past six seasons -- are one of the only teams in the NFL without an indoor practice facility. Especially with the Vikings playing home games outdoors this season, the threshold for moving practices inside will likely be much higher.

Vikings Camp Report: Day 2

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
8:00
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MANKATO, Minn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Minnesota Vikings training camp:
  • The Vikings' quarterbacks were more efficient on Saturday than they were in the team's first practice on Friday, though we didn't see Matt Cassel, Teddy Bridgewater and Christian Ponder take quite as many shots down the field. Cassel again took most of the first-team snaps, finishing the day 10-f0r-13 in 11-on-11 drills, while Bridgewater went 8-for-11 and Ponder was 6-for-7. Cassel had one pass broken up by Linval Joseph, who had also batted down a pass on Friday, but he did connect with Greg Jennings on a long throw that drew one of the day's biggest rounds of applause. Bridgewater and Adam Thielen, who seemed to click during the Vikings' OTAs and minicamp, were in sync again on Saturday. Three of Bridgewater's last four passes were targeted for Thielen, and the two connected on a long play-action pass late in practice. Bridgewater mostly worked with the Vikings' second team, and Ponder's snaps were with the third team.
  • With Munnerlyn out, the Vikings tried several different players at the slot cornerback position; rookies Jabari Price and Kendall James got some work there, as did Shaun Prater. Price got some first-team snaps and handled himself well. He said he played the slot corner position as a junior at North Carolina before moving back outside as a senior, so as the Vikings try to identify players who can handle the job in the event Munnerlyn gets hurt, Price could make his case for a roster spot that way. "It's definitely a harder job, but you can't put it on the back burner," Price said. "Other teams get those fast receivers in on third down. It's definitely a change-up for corners, but it's something that's got to be done."
  • Nearly a third of the Vikings' 24 completions in team drills went to running backs, and they put a particular emphasis on setting up screens for Adrian Peterson. Peterson caught one from Matt Cassel, did a masterful job of letting his blockers get out in front of him and raced down the left sideline for a big gain. By my count, Peterson was targeted with four passes, catching three. "There are times where he'll double-catch it a little bit, but most of the time, he's pretty darn good," Zimmer said. "People are afraid of his speed, which gives him some areas to go underneath or beat people to the perimeter. I think he'll be a good weapon. I think when I was in Atlanta (in 2007), he caught a (60)-yard swing pass (in his first NFL game) for a touchdown. Once he gets the ball in his hands, if it's in the open field, it's bad news." Zimmer was also impressed with Matt Asiata, who's making a strong case at the moment to be the No. 2 running back. "He's elusive," Zimmer said. "He's got a little bit of shift, a sneakiness about him the way he goes. He's been good."
  • For the second day in a row, the Vikings used a nickel package with three safeties, and Zimmer said he also has a three-corner, one-safety base look that he'll unveil at some point. "We're introducing them, and we'll continue to add some," Zimmer said. "We'll get to some more exotic things, I guess you'd say, later on in camp."
  • It seems like Norv Turner's offense will employ pulling guards more often than Bill Musgrave's scheme did; the Vikings had rookie David Yankey pulling on a number of plays. There will still be some zone blocking, but it doesn't seem like the Vikings will be as married to that style of offensive line play as they were with Musgrave.
MANKATO, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he's still optimistic about a quick return for wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson from a minor foot injury, and added he thought cornerback Captain Munnerlyn would return to practice from a hamstring strain in short order, as well. The prognosis for safety Andrew Sendejo -- who has been out since the Vikings' spring program with lower back and ankle injuries he sustained last season -- is less certain.

Sendejo still hasn't made much progress in his recovery, Zimmer said on Saturday afternoon. He was working out with Patterson during the Vikings' Saturday practice, but still hasn't had a down of practice time since Zimmer became the Vikings' coach in January.

"It's a concern," Zimmer said. "I haven't seen him one day, so I don't know really anything."

Patterson informed Zimmer about his foot injury the day before the Vikings reported to training camp, and was held out of the Vikings' conditioning test on Thursday. He's been improving since the start of camp, Zimmer said. "It won't be long," he said. "I'd be surprised if it was long [before he practiced]."

Munnerlyn, Zimmer said, should be back "in a couple more days."
MANKATO, Minn. -- If there's been one thing to quibble with in Adrian Peterson's game over his seven seasons in Minnesota, it might be his pass protection. Peterson has long been seen as a poor protector, to the point where the Vikings have limited his third-down snaps and designated the task of blitz pickups to other running backs on their roster.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
AP Photo/Tom GannamThe Vikings also plan to make Adrian Peterson a bigger part of the passing game in 2014.
Peterson has been in the bottom half of the league in Pro Football Focus' Pass Blocking Efficiency metric for running backs each of the last three seasons, ranking 29th among the 54 running backs who played at least 25 percent of their team's passing snaps last season. Toby Gerhart, who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars in the offseason, finished 13th last season, and while Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata can fill some of Gerhart's role, Peterson doesn't want to be excluded from the mix. He's argued for a larger role on third downs, and the Vikings plan to make him a bigger part of the passing game means he'll probably end up in more situations where he's asked to stay in and protect, or at least chip a defender on his way out of the backfield.

If the Vikings handle it the right way, offensive coordinator Norv Turner said, Peterson can actually be an effective pass blocker.

"He is an outstanding pass protector when you keep him in his element," Turner said. "We don't want him blocking defensive ends. We don't want him blocking 280-pound outside linebackers. When he's blocking the people he should be blocking, he's very good in pass protection."

Turner said Peterson's third-down role is "yet to be determined," adding the Vikings could use Asiata or McKinnon on third downs if Peterson is logging plenty of carries on first and second down. Given the degree to which the Vikings have talked about limiting the stress on Peterson's body, it's unlikely they're going to expose him to a great deal of extra contact as a pass protector. But, as Turner said, "you'd like his presence out there" on third downs, and a Vikings offense that has Peterson on the field is simply more dangerous than one that doesn't. If the Vikings can be smart with Peterson in pass protection and find ways to give him more playing time on third downs, it opens up more options for their entire offense. It stands to reason they'll explore those options during the next few weeks.

Vikings Camp Report: Day 1

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
7:35
PM ET
MANKATO, Minn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Minnesota Vikings training camp:
  • Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson missed practice with a foot injury, but is only expected to miss a couple of days. Patterson didn't take the team's conditioning test on Thursday because of the injury, and stood near the Vikings' receivers in a bucket hat on during Friday's practice. The injury isn't though to be serious, but the start of Patterson's highly-anticipated second season will have to wait a few days. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who started training camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list, has a strained hamstring, though coach Mike Zimmer said he didn't think Munnerlyn's injury was serious.
  • The Vikings' quarterbacks got a chance to stretch the field on the first day of camp, but the session wasn't terribly impressive for any of them, as Matt Cassel, Teddy Bridgewater and Christian Ponder all misfired on a number of downfield throws. Ponder threw an interception to Robert Blanton, and Jabari Price nearly intercepted a pass from Bridgewater along the sidelines. Cassel took the majority of the first-team snaps, as coach Mike Zimmer said he would, to start camp. In 11-on-11 work, Cassel finished the day 8-for-13, while Bridgewater was 6-for-9 and Ponder was 1-for-4.
  • Wide receiver Adam Thielen, who gained some early praise from coach Mike Zimmer after his solid work during the Vikings' OTAs and minicamp, got off to a strong start on Friday, making a diving catch on a throw over the middle. Thielen has a chance to make the team as one of the Vikings' final receivers, and has impressed the Vikings with his sure hands. "He works his rear end off, he runs his routes real hard, he catches the ball good," Zimmer said. He's got an opportunity to make this football team." Thielen, who was on the Vikings' practice squad last year, is practicing in front of a supportive audience. He played college football at Minnesota State, where the Vikings hold training camp.
  • Thielen, Jarius Wright and Kain Colter all got work as punt returners behind Marcus Sherels, who had his best season as a return man last year and got a two-year deal in the offseason. The Vikings love Sherels' reliability on punts, and it was easy to see why on Friday, as Wright muffed a punt from Jeff Locke.
  • A number of Vikings players were a little grumpy on Friday morning, thanks to a fire alarm that went off in the team's dorm around 1:30 a.m. and forced players outside. Cassel said he experienced a similar situation at one other training camp, "but I didn't leave the room that time," he said. "I smelled for smoke, I swear. I opened the door. I was trying to be sneaky." Zimmer, though, quashed a rumor he had pulled the alarm to keep players on their toes. "I told them they have to be aware of every situation that might come up, but no, that was not me," Zimmer said. "Now that I think about it I wish it was. I’ll have to use it next year."
MANKATO, Minn. -- We've talked at various points about how Mike Zimmer's defense will have the benefit of unpredictability in a tough early-season stretch of the Minnesota Vikings' schedule, and how his teams have actually done fairly well against Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers in the past.

Count Vikings defensive end Brian Robison among those who believe that the Vikings needed to mix things up on defense.

Robison stopped short of saying the team's old Cover-2 scheme had become predictable, but pointed out how often the rest of the league -- especially the quarterbacks in the Vikings' division -- had seen the team in the same looks.

"There were some times we'd line up, and Aaron Rodgers is calling out our defense as we line up," Robison said. "I think the thing with Zimmer's defense is, he's going to definitely keep them off-balance. There are so many disguised looks and so many ways that we line up as a defense -- different fronts, I mean, it's just all over the board. It's a lot of stuff to learn in a short period of time, but if we can learn it and we can execute it, it's definitely going to keep offenses off-balance this season."

The Vikings certainly had problems with personnel and execution on defense last season, so it's probably overly simplistic to suggest they'll be able to solve all their problems simply by running a more unpredictable scheme this season. But consider this: Every time Rodgers has lined up against the Vikings' defense since he became the Packers' starting quarterback in 2008, he's seen the same general defensive concepts.

If nothing else, a move away from the Cover-2 base defense will give quarterbacks something else to think about this year. That'll be especially true early in the season, when Brady, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Rodgers will have minimal tape of the Vikings' new defense under Zimmer. If the Vikings can master the wrinkles of a new scheme, it can't hurt them as they try to survive a slate of matchups with prolific QBs in the season's first month.
MANKATO, Minn. -- According to the summary the Minnesota Vikings released last week of an independent investigation into former punter Chris Kluwe's allegations, long snapper Cullen Loeffler was the only member of the team to corroborate Kluwe's claim that special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer made a homophobic remark during the 2012 season. But if Kluwe contends he was released in part because of his support for same-sex marriage, Loeffler said he never felt in danger of losing his job for telling investigators he remembered Priefer making the statement.

Loeffler
"I was never worried about my job, never worried about the Vikings' support," Loeffler said. "They’ve been very supportive throughout the process. Just wanted me to cooperate, which I did."

Loeffler, who told investigators that he and Kluwe both laughed off Priefer's comment about "putting all the gays on an island and nuking it," said again on Thursday he remembered thinking the remark was a joke. He said he hasn't talked to Kluwe since the former punter published his allegations in a Deadspin piece on Jan. 2, and said he was glad the investigation had come to a close.

According to the summary, Loeffler met with Vikings executive director of player development/legal Les Pico after Kluwe asked him to sign an affidavit confirming the remarks in May 2013. Kluwe told investigators that Loeffler was concerned he would be "blacklisted" from the NFL if he was associated with a controversy involving Priefer. The summary said Pico told Loeffler he felt a need to alert general manager Rick Spielman and vice president of legal affairs Kevin Warren about the situation, even though Kluwe wanted it to remain private and avoid any risk of jeopardizing Loeffler's job status.

Asked about his conversations with Pico on Thursday, Loeffler said, "At the time I wasn’t really sure what was going to come out of it. Really everything that I’ve said is in the report. If you want to address that question you can address it from the report."

Pico has declined comment since the summary was published, referring questions to his attorneys.
MANKATO, Minn. -- After weathering instability at quarterback for the better part of his seven seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, Adrian Peterson might be one of the more interested stakeholders in the Vikings' three-man quarterback competition during training camp. And as the Vikings reported to Minnesota State University on Thursday, Peterson had a simple message for coach Mike Zimmer: Pick a QB and stick with him.

Peterson
Peterson
"I felt like it was going to be very important for us [to stick with one quarterback]" he said Thursday. "Like I said, I feel like the coaching staff and the guys up top will evaluate and do what’s best for us. It feels good to know you have a couple guys to lean on, as well. It’s not a secret. The quarterback position really hasn’t played well, but that’s why you bring guys in, you improve as an individual and you try to take steps forward. From what I’ve been able to see from Christian [Ponder] and Matt [Cassel], those guys have done that and that’s the approach that they’re taking. That’s all you can really ask.”

The Vikings used three different starting quarterbacks during a tumultuous 2013 season, eventually settling on Cassel at the end of the season. Zimmer said on Thursday that Cassel enters camp as the No. 1 QB in his mind, but said on-field performance will determine the Vikings' eventual starter. Peterson also put Cassel at the head of the race, for now.

"I feel like we have three good quarterbacks right now," Peterson said. "Basing everything off OTAs and the minicamps, of course Matt Cassel is our guy. With Christian Ponder and [Teddy] Bridgewater, right there, I’m behind them, but those guys are looking good as well. I have confidence in our organization from the top to the bottom, the head coach. We’re going to do what’s best for our team and the best player will play at any position. I’m just excited to get started tomorrow.”

It's already been a busy month for the running back; he proposed to his girlfriend, Ashley Brown, on July 4 -- "an exciting and explosive night," Peterson called it -- and the two were married in a small ceremony on July 19.

"It was kind of funny because we were talking about going to the court and getting married and just did something more intimate at the house," Peterson said. "I only [had] like, 20 people and just the texts I’ve been getting from family members and my brothers, some of my brothers didn’t make it. It was supposed to be something small and do something later, but plans don’t always work out. I’m sure I’ll hear something from [teammates].”

As for a honeymoon? Peterson said that happened at the Starkey Hearing Foundation gala in St. Paul last Sunday.

"Met Forest Whitaker, Hillary Clinton," Peterson said. "John Legend performed, so it wasn’t bad at all.”
MANKATO, Minn. -- Though Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer maintains the team will have an open competition at quarterback during training camp, he does have an incumbent in his mind for now.

Cassel
Cassel
Zimmer said veteran Matt Cassel -- who started the final four games of the 2013 season -- heads into camp as the No. 1 quarterback. Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater got more snaps than Christian Ponder during the Vikings' organized team activities and minicamp, and while Zimmer said all three quarterbacks will get similar work at the beginning of camp, the Vikings will eventually start tailoring the practice work toward specific quarterbacks.

"It’s not exactly even -- one-third, one-third, one-third," Zimmer said. "It’s a little bit more and then some drills it’s going to be a little bit less. You’ll figure it out by watching practice."

Cassel, who signed a new two-year, $10 million contract after opting out of his original deal in February, starts camp with the benefit of the doubt, but Zimmer said again the Vikings wouldn't be afraid to start Bridgewater as a rookie if he's ready.

"They’re going to determine who the starter is on the practice field about how they go about their business, how they perform in the preseason games," Zimmer said. "I understand the quarterback’s a big situation. Part of the question about answering who the quarterback’s going to be is, what kind of defense do we have? What are we going to ask the quarterback to do? How can we use the quarterback in different ways. I think a lot of that has a factor on who the quarterback will end up being."
MINNEAPOLIS -- For at least one more year, Adrian Peterson has one-upped LeSean McCoy. Or at least the virtual version of him has.

Peterson is the top-rated running back in 'Madden NFL 15,' with an overall rating of 98. EA Sports released its running back ratings for this year's version of the game on Wednesday, and Peterson edged McCoy and Kansas City's Jamaal Charles by a point, a year after carrying a 99 rating and gracing the cover of the next-generation console version of 'Madden NFL 25.' Chicago's Matt Forte and Seattle's Marshawn Lynch are the next-best running backs in the game, with overall ratings of 95 each.

Peterson
Peterson
We got a chance to talk with Donny Moore, who carries the title of "Madden NFL Live Content Producer and Ratings Czar" -- and who might have one of the only jobs in the world we'd think is cooler than ours -- about the process of rating players for the game. Essentially, Moore and his team spend countless hours dissecting proprietary NFL film, reading updates on players and digesting advanced stats in a meticulous (and in the days of week-to-week online updates, continual) effort to make the game as realistic as possible. Their job is to distill all of that information into a player profile, rating each player in the NFL across more than three dozen categories to make his digital doppelganger behave like the real thing.

"The ratings pipe right back into the gameplay," Moore said. "We get so many requests and expectations for game play; it's got to be fun, but it's got to be authentic."

Peterson, Moore said, slipped a point for several reasons: His yards per carry dropped from an otherworldly 6.0 in 2012 to 4.5 last season, he fumbled five times (his most since 2009) and he was hampered by injuries for much of last season. Still, there's no one in the game with the combination of speed and power that Peterson has.

"Everybody says, 'What? How is he the top guy? He certainly didn’t have the 2,000-yard season (in 2013), but the overall rating is still a calculation of their attributes," Moore said. "He's a 97 across the board in the three physical categories that matter the most. I don’t think there’s anyone that has that collection of ratings. He's a 93 (in) trucking, 95 (in) elusiveness. When he’s out in the open, he’s not going to be caught. In contact situations, he'll still succeed better than any running back."

Moore said the most time-consuming part of his job is creating rookies for 'Madden,' since the game developers don't rely much on the corresponding characters in EA's college football games (which were discontinued after last season). The college game was more favorable to players, Moore said, than 'Madden' aims to be, so rookie creation means starting almost from scratch.

Vikings rookie running back Jerick McKinnon, Moore said, was "pretty fun to create," in large part because of McKinnon's eye-popping numbers at the NFL scouting combine. The Georgia Southern product bench pressed 225 pounds 32 times, ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash, flashed a 40 1/2-inch vertical and an 11-foot broad jump. "It's easy to rate his physical attributes very well because of how he timed (at the combine)," Moore said. "How he rates on his trucking or his elusiveness remains to be seen, but between his speed, his agility, his acceleration and his jumping, that's pretty nice for a guy from Georgia Southern."

One more Vikings-related note on this year's game, which will be released on August 26: Teddy Bridgewater -- an avid 'Madden' player who reacted with mock indignation to his rating in this year's game -- is the second-best quarterback on the Vikings' roster, a point behind Matt Cassel. Moore said Cassel, Bridgewater and Christian Ponder are "all bunched up in the high 70s," and while Bridgewater was slated to be the top rookie QB in the game when Moore started putting his ratings together, his stock slipped because of his now-famous pro day, just like it did in real life.

"I had to knock his throw power down a point or two," Moore said. "I had him at an 89, and now it's an 87. I think he has the top short accuracy of all the rookie quarterbacks, and his overall accuracy is pretty stellar. His deep accuracy needs to improve. His speed rating is in the low 80s, which puts him in the Aaron Rodgers category (for quarterbacks).

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