NFC North: Minnesota Vikings

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Three months before the Minnesota Vikings drafted Teddy Bridgewater, they had constructed a climate in which Bridgewater -- or any young quarterback -- should be able to develop without the pressure of immediate expectations.

The Vikings committed more cash to veteran Matt Cassel when he opted out of his 2014 deal, giving him a two-year, $10 million contract that effectively set him up as the bridge to the team's next young QB. They had hired offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who had Troy Aikman, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers in the nascent stages of their careers. They even had Christian Ponder, the former first-round pick who could serve -- at least for a year -- as an emergency option in case Cassel got injured and the Vikings weren't ready to put a rookie on the field.

[+] EnlargeMatt Cassel, Teddy Bridgewater
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltBy starting Matt Cassel over Teddy Bridgewater, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has given his rookie more time to develop.
All of the levers were in place to ensure a healthy environment for Bridgewater to develop. The only question: Would the Vikings pull the right ones?

Based on how new coach Mike Zimmer and Turner handled the first three months of Bridgewater's career in Minnesota, the answer appears to be yes. Zimmer named Cassel the starting quarterback Monday for the beginning of the regular season, rewarding the veteran for playing well enough to keep the job after he'd called Cassel the team's No. 1 QB on the first day of training camp.

Zimmer said at the time the designation didn't mean anything, but in a subtle way, it did: It set up a system in which Bridgewater would have to outplay Cassel to get the job, removed whatever temptation there might have been to play the rookie right away and sent a message to an offense filled with veterans -- 29-year-old running back Adrian Peterson among them -- that immediate success wouldn't take a backseat to development.

"The team has a lot of confidence in him," Zimmer said of Cassel. "They feel good about his veteran leadership and presence. I had to think about the whole football team; it wasn’t just about the quarterbacks. I’ve said this before: It’s not always the best player at that position -- and I’m not saying Matt’s not -- but any position, it’s how everything works together and at this stage in where we are at right now, I feel like that’s the best thing to do."

How this coaching staff handles Bridgewater will play a major role in Zimmer's longevity with the Vikings probably more than how the team fares this season. The decision Zimmer announced on Monday -- and the one his actions had been pointing toward for weeks -- worked on two fronts: It curried favor with players weary of quarterback instability after last season, and it provided more time for Bridgewater to learn in a forgiving environment.

Cassel will be asked to solve a tough St. Louis Rams defense on the road in Week 1, and could possibly have to trade scoring drives with Tom Brady and Brees the next two weeks. That's a daunting task for a rookie, and by assigning it to Cassel, the Vikings can retain some control over the setting in which Bridgewater eventually debuts.

They've been in a position to do that all along, with a sturdy (but not irreplaceable) veteran and an offensive coordinator who has done this before. All the Vikings needed was a rookie coach who would be pragmatic enough to manage it correctly, and it appears that's what Zimmer has done.
The Minnesota Vikings cut 14 players on Monday morning, trimming their roster to 76 players. They'll have one more cut to make before Tuesday's 4 p.m. ET deadline, at which all teams must be down to 75 players.

Most significant move: The Vikings signed former San Diego Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Derek Cox to help with their depth at that position, and Cox -- who'd excelled in systems where he'd been able to play press coverage -- seemed like a good fit for the Vikings' defense. Despite a couple interceptions in training camp, he never was able to elevate himself on the team's depth chart, and his release creates more room for young cornerbacks such as Jabari Price to make the team.

Clarity at cornerback: With Cox and Robert Steeples among the players the Vikings released, the team is down to eight cornerbacks on the roster, and it's conceivable as many as six of those players could make the final roster. Xavier Rhodes and Captain Munnerlyn are safe, Marcus Sherels would seem almost assured of a roster spot, as well, and three of the remaining five players (Josh Robinson, Jabari Price and Kendall James) were Vikings draft picks. If one of those players gets bumped, it could be James, who hasn't shown much in camp and could get beat out by Shaun Prater, who had an interception in Saturday's game.

Vikings' cuts: The Vikings released 13 players -- S Brandan Bishop, T Pierce Burton, CB Cox, WRs Andy Cruse, Kamar Jorden and Erik Lora, T Kevin Murphy, DT Kheeston Randall, DEs Tyler Scott and Jake Snyder, TE Kory Sperry, CB Robert Steeples and WR Ty Walker -- and waived S Mistral Raymond with an injury designation.
Examining the Minnesota Vikings' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said last week he didn't think the Vikings would only carry two quarterbacks, effectively quashing the idea the Vikings could cut Ponder to free up a spot elsewhere. Ponder hasn't played in the last two preseason games, but 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 for an injured or ineffective Cassel.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

Asiata has played well during training camp and is listed ahead of McKinnon for the No. 2 running back spot behind Peterson at the moment. At the very least, both could have distinct roles behind Peterson, with Asiata as a downhill runner and McKinnon as a threat in the passing game.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman singled out Thielen -- who spent last season on the Vikings' practice squad -- as a player who had improved from last year during the Vikings' minicamp, and the Minnesota State product has been the darling of training camp so far. Undrafted free agent Kain Colter got an $8,000 signing bonus from the Vikings, but the 6-foot-5 Smith sneaks in ahead of him to give the group a bigger target; he showed on Saturday night what his size can do for him when he caught the game-winning touchdown from Bridgewater on a fade route.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

Even though Chase Ford is making progress in his recovery from a broken foot, he hasn't played in a preseason game, and it's getting harder to envision a scenario where he doesn't stay on the physically-unable-to-perform list to begin the season. If he is still hurt, that could open the door for Reisner, who caught a pair of touchdown passes from Bridgewater in goal-line situations on Saturday.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)

The Vikings seem set with their starting five from last season, which means Yankey will have to wait for a chance to push Johnson at left guard; everyone from Zimmer to offensive line coach Jeff Davidson seems to like the continuity the Vikings have enjoyed on the line. Richardson was not wearing a knee brace in the Vikings' second preseason game on Saturday night, and seems to be getting healthier after another player rolled up on his leg during training camp. If he's not healthy enough to be the Vikings' swing tackle, Mike Remmers or Kevin Murphy could win the last spot.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

This might be the deepest position group on the Vikings' roster, and they could all play in Zimmer's defensive line rotation. 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. Johnson has also seen time as the three-technique tackle in the Vikings' nickel rush package. If there's one player on the roster who could compel the Vikings to make room somewhere else, it might be Stephen, the seventh-round pick who has impressed Vikings coaches throughout camp and has seen time at both the three-technique and nose tackle positions.

LINEBACKERS (6)

In Cincinnati, Zimmer had linebacking groups of just six and five players, respectively, 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)

This position might have been the Vikings' biggest liability last season, and it remains possibly the most unsettled headed into the final week of the preseason. Price has been injured after a strong start to the preseason, and a quadriceps injury took Jamarca Sanford out of action again on Saturday. Sanford started the last two years for Leslie Frazier, but he's spent so little time on the field for Zimmer, it'd take someone in the front office vouching for him in order for the Vikings to keep him at this point. Short of that, the guess here is he gets cut.

SPECIALISTS (3)

The group returns unchanged from what the Vikings had on their roster last season. 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.
MINNEAPOLIS -- It's probably wise to use some degree of filter when viewing the Minnesota Vikings' third preseason game as a facsimile of the real thing, given how skeptical coach Mike Zimmer was about the idea of the third game being a dress rehearsal for the regular season. But on a night where the Vikings played their starters well into the third quarter, we can glean a relatively solid impression of where the team is going with a few roster decisions.

We'll have a more complete overview of the Vikings' roster in our latest weekly roster projection on Monday, but for now, here are three takeaways from the Vikings' win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday night:

[+] EnlargeTom Johnson
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsTom Johnson appears to have carved out a role for himself as a rotational player on the Vikings' D-line
Tom Johnson appears to have a key role on the defensive line: The former New Orleans Saints defensive tackle wasn't a high-profile pickup when the Vikings signed him this spring, but his explosiveness looked like it could help the Vikings at 3-technique tackle (outside shade on right guard). Through three preseason games, Johnson has shown he'll fit on the Vikings' roster. He's seen regular playing time as an inside pass-rusher in the Vikings' nickel package, and had two half-sacks on Saturday night. He shared a sack with Anthony Barr in the Vikings' first preseason game, and had two quarterback hits against the Chiefs. Johnson played 32 snaps in the game -- two more than Sharrif Floyd -- and appears here to stay as a rotational player on the Vikings' line.

Special teams, not receiver, might cement Adam Thielen's spot: Zimmer is fond of saying, "The more you can do, the more valuable you are," and wide receiver Adam Thielen has taken that to heart in the preseason. He'd earned attention during the Vikings' offseason program and training camp as a receiver, but he's done more to make an impression on special teams in preseason games than he has as a wideout. He had three punt returns for 53 yards in the Vikings' preseason opener, also registering a tackle for a 4-yard loss in that game, and showed great patience on a 75-yard punt return on Saturday. The Vikings haven't gone much deeper than three receivers with their first-team offense -- it's even been hard for Jarius Wright to find a role -- and if the Vikings wind up keeping just five receivers, Thielen's utility might put him in over Rodney Smith, who's also had a solid preseason and still could make the roster, especially if Jerome Simpson is suspended. If it's a decision between those two, however, it's hard to see the Vikings letting Thielen go. "He just keeps fighting and fighting," Zimmer said of Thielen. "He's got a lot of heart, and obviously, I like guys with a lot of heart. He seems to get better and better, and he makes plays. That's important."

Middle linebacker is still up for grabs: The closest competition in the final week could be at safety -- where Robert Blanton and Chris Crocker look like the favorites over a cast of other veterans -- or the third cornerback spot, where Josh Robinson's injuries have left plenty of playing time for Marcus Sherels in a role that's essentially a starting job, given how much time a third cornerback is on the field. But the one we've got our eye on is the battle for the middle linebacker spot, where Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole continue to battle. Brinkley started the game on Saturday, but he and Cole alternated series throughout the night, to the point where both were still playing into the fourth quarter with the Vikings' reserves. Cole got 33 snaps on Saturday, Brinkley got 27 and both players bring a different skill set; Brinkley is more forceful against the run, while Cole's size and instincts make him a better fit in pass coverage. Of any battle on the roster, this one might go down to the end of camp -- and even beyond, if the Vikings decide to tinker with their lineup during the season.
KANSAS CITY -- As he was flanked by reporters in the visitors' locker room at Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday night, peppered with questions about his time in Kansas City, Matt Cassel seemed less interested in rehashing what went wrong than nearly anyone else in the room.

To Chiefs fans, Cassel's time in Kansas City represents a failed experiment, which began with the team trading for the quarterback and signing him to a six-year deal in 2009 and ended, at least symbolically, with fans cheering Cassel's concussion in a home game. That experience seasoned the Vikings-Chiefs preseason game with a heavy dose of the Cassel-gets-redemption storyline, as he returned to Kansas City once again poised to claim a NFL starting quarterback job.

Matt Cassel
Ed Zurga/Associated PressMatt Cassel's return to Kansas City was a good one, as he gained further control of Minnesota's starting quarterback race.
The 32-year-old quarterback wasn't officially awarded the job on Saturday night -- though the Vikings operated as though he'd be their starter on Sept. 7 -- and even if he had, he probably wouldn't have found much reason to boast about it. He said again on Saturday night he had "no ill will" toward the Chiefs, who cut him after the 2012 season, pointing out that all three of his children were born in Kansas City and mentioning the close friends he still had in town. Still, his long touchdown to Cordarrelle Patterson in the first quarter had to carry some extra meaning, didn't it?

"It was a great way to start the game, there's no doubt about it," Cassel said. "To come in here and get going, we were backed up on our own three, and then to be able to get going like that and hit a long play, it was great."

That's about the most Cassel will let on about what the game meant to him, and there's not much reason he should be anything but diplomatic about his exit from Kansas City. He didn't perform well enough to play out a contract that would have paid him more than $62 million, and he rightly pointed out things would have been different if he and the Chiefs had won a few more games.

"I've been in it long enough to know that if you don't win, normally, they make changes," he said. "They did, and I was really happy to see they had a lot of success."

Cassel has been able to move on, too, and it seems he'll at least begin the season with the starting job. Officially, the Vikings' quarterback competition is ongoing, but when Cassel throws 17 passes, Teddy Bridgewater throws seven in just over a quarter of work, and Christian Ponder again doesn't play, the pecking order seems clear. Cassel's performance on Saturday night might have actually been his worst of the preseason; he hit the long touchdown to Patterson -- on a play the receiver said has typically gone to Greg Jennings in practice -- lofted a pretty sideline throw to Jennings and could have had better numbers if not for a couple drops, but he forced a deep throw to Jerome Simpson for an interception and could have been picked off on an out route to Jennings.

He's got the arm to play in offensive coordinator Norv Turner's scheme, as he's demonstrated by a number of downfield throws this preseason, but he'll also get burned by taking some chances at times. He's only had two seasons -- his breakout year of 2008 and his Pro Bowl season of 2010 -- where he's averaged less than an interception per game. Still, Cassel has done a solid job of running the Vikings' offense in the preseason without Adrian Peterson, and it'd be a surprise not to see him start when the Vikings return to Missouri on Sept. 7 against the Rams.

If his continued work as the Vikings' starting quarterback on the other side of the state -- and in his former home stadium -- gave him a sense of payback on Saturday, Cassel wasn't showing it. Perhaps his experience the last time he was in this position helped him to appreciate it more than to flaunt it.

"I love Kansas City," Cassel said. "At the same time, football sometimes just doesn't always work out the way you want it to. There's a multitude of reasons behind that, and I wish we could have changed a lot of that -- mainly the outcome of just winning more ballgames."
KANSAS CITY -- Minnesota Vikings right tackle Phil Loadholt, who briefly left Saturday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs with a lower leg injury, will have a MRI on Sunday, but coach Mike Zimmer said team doctors don't see cause for great concern.

"They don't believe it's anything real serious," Zimmer said.

Loadholt
Having Loadholt healthy going into the regular season would be of great importance to the Vikings, who are going into their third season with the same five starters on the line and made Loadholt one of the highest-paid right tackles in the game last year. Undrafted free agent Austin Wentworth was beaten on a blitz after replacing Loadholt on Saturday night, and Jaye Howard knocked the ball away from Matt Cassel for a safety, in a moment oddly reminiscent of what happened to veteran tackle J'Marcus Webb last November after he replaced an injured Loadholt in Dallas and allowed an end zone strip-sack that the Cowboys recoveed for a touchdown. The Vikings also count on Loadholt as a key piece of their running game, and the 6-foot-8 tackle's force at the point of attack would be tough to replace.

Safety Jamarca Sanford sustained a quadriceps injury on a special-teams play early in the game, costing him an important chance to earn playing time at safety and keep himself in the race for a starting spot there. "It's hard to evaluate him when he's sitting on the sideline," Zimmer said.

Sanford, who has dealt with injuries since the Vikings' offseason program, wouldn't go into much detail about his latest ailment, other than to say, "I'm good. I don't know how I'm feeling right now. I'm upset, frustrated, just with not being able to go, because you get hurt. It's part of the game."
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Hello from Arrowhead Stadium, where the Minnesota Vikings will kick off their third preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs at 7 p.m. CDT. It's going to be a muggy night -- it's currently 95 degrees outside, and won't dip into the 80s until after 9 p.m. -- so the Vikings' dress rehearsal for the season will be spent in conditions they probably won't face more than once, if at all. Alas, they'll have to manage.

There are no major surprises on the list of players who won't dress for Minnesota on Saturday night -- cornerback Jabari Price is expected to sit out, as are linebackers Gerald Hodges and Brandon Watts, tight end Chase Ford and defensive tackle Linval Joseph. Matt Asiata will again start at running back in place of Adrian Peterson, who isn't expected to play. Fred Evans starts in Joseph's place at nose tackle, and Chris Crocker will again start at safety alongside Harrison Smith.

Peterson, who was away from the team for personal reasons on Wednesday and Thursday, is dressed for the game and going through warmups with the team. He was expected to travel with the team after missing practice, and a picture the Vikings released of their Friday walk-through showed Peterson back with the team, so things appear to be going to plan.

We'll hopefully get some answers tonight about how the Vikings will handle the safety position, how things are shaping up at middle linebacker and whether Teddy Bridgewater has a shot to unseat Matt Cassel at quarterback. Check back later for more from Arrowhead.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The absence of defensive tackle Linval Joseph, after a stray bullet clipped his left calf on Aug. 9, will apparently linger into a second preseason game. Joseph doesn't figure to play Saturday night against the Kansas City Chiefs, and hasn't practiced with the team since he was shot as an innocent bystander at a Minneapolis nightclub following the Vikings' first preseason game.

"I know he’s here working every day. He’s a true pro," defensive coordinator George Edwards said. "He’s staying up on what’s going on. From that aspect of it, I haven’t been given word when he will be back."

[+] EnlargeShamar Stephen
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallSeventh-round pick Shamar Stephen has taken advantage of a big opportunity in Minnesota Vikings camp.
Joseph's absence has necessitated extra playing time for some of the Vikings' other defensive tackles, however, and one in particular -- seventh-round pick Shamar Stephen -- seems to be taking advantage of it.

Stephen played 42 snaps last Saturday against Arizona, getting the second-most playing time of any Vikings defender. He received first-team snaps at nose tackle and lined up in both the nose and three-technique spots. He's won praise from coach Mike Zimmer, Edwards and defensive line coach Andre Patterson, and the Vikings seem to think they could have a steal in the former Connecticut tackle.

Stephen has done a solid job at the point of attack -- to the point where Pro Football Focus ranked him the third-best run-stopping defensive tackle so far in the preseason -- and he's handled a broader assignment than he figured to have through this point with the Vikings.

"We played him at the three-technique, we played him at the nose, and for a guy who really hadn’t got a lot of reps at the three [technique],we thought he did a good job of what we were asking call-wise, technically, fundamentally," Edwards said after the Vikings' first preseason game. "He held up pretty good in there."

The Vikings could hold out several starters in their final preseason game on Thursday at Tennessee, but Joseph figures to play if he's ready. Stephen could continue building on his preseason resume, especially if the Vikings don't want to risk exposing him to waivers by trying to put him on the practice squad. Stephen, the 220th overall pick, could sneak onto the bottom half of the roster.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings were in the market for a veteran backup quarterback a year ago, believing they needed a steady alternative to Christian Ponder after their first playoff appearance in three years was short-circuited by a disastrous outing from Joe Webb. The Cleveland Browns were looking for the same thing, as new offensive coordinator Norv Turner sought stability behind young starter Brandon Weeden.

Both teams set their sights on former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel, who had needed just four years to go from the ranks of promising young starters to the discard pile. Cassel was seen at that point as an insurance policy who could lend some stability in a pinch -- and was paid as such -- but both Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner hung onto the thought that in the right system, the 31-year-old was still capable of more.

[+] EnlargeMatt Cassel
Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesMatt Cassel seems likely to open the regular season as Minnesota's starting quarterback.
"He'd had some struggles in Kansas City, but he went to the Pro Bowl one year with them," Spielman said. "He came through that whole system with Tom Brady (in New England). That kind of set him apart -- not only the abilities he had, but the experience and the knowledge."

Seventeen months later, as Cassel returns to Kansas City for the Vikings' preseason game this weekend, he has taken a circuitous -- and sometimes bizarre -- route back to the fraternity of NFL starting quarterbacks. It involved a season where Cassel led the Vikings to their first victory of the year, was named the starting quarterback for the next game -- and was deactivated a week later once the Vikings decided to start Josh Freeman two weeks after signing him. The stench of the quarterback situation clung so closely to coach Leslie Frazier that the Vikings fired him after a 5-10-1 season, hiring Mike Zimmer to replace him in January. And after the Cleveland Browns dumped coach Rob Chudzinski and his staff after just one season, Turner -- the offensive coordinator who wanted Cassel in Cleveland -- was hired to work with him in Minnesota.

That chain of events took Cassel from being an afterthought in October to the quarterback the Vikings determined they couldn't lose this spring. He will make his third start of the preseason on Saturday night in Kansas City, and though he hasn't been named the team's starter yet, all signs point to him being on the field for the regular-season opener Sept. 7 in St. Louis. He has developed a productive working relationship with rookie Teddy Bridgewater, intent on paying forward the favor Brady did for him as a young quarterback, and he has a two-year, $10 million contract after opting out of his original 2014 deal in February. As he heads back to Kansas City, Cassel does so in the middle of an impressive reboot of his career.

"We ask a lot of our quarterbacks, and he's able to handle it, plus more," said quarterbacks coach Scott Turner, who was the receivers coach in Cleveland when the Browns were pursuing Cassel in 2013. "He's done a great job of learning the system and really just kind of owning it."

Cassel might have the starting job in his grasp at the moment, but his grip on it is tenuous at best, thanks to Bridgewater's presence. The Vikings didn't trade up to select Bridgewater in the first round in order to keep him on the bench forever, and if Cassel struggles, it could expedite the process of making Bridgewater the starter. Spielman, though, said Cassel, who is now 32, has a unique understanding of his role as a mentor.

"That's what makes Matt so special," Spielman said. "Some guys would probably not be as positive about that situation, but Matt understands where he's at in his career. Even when we signed Matt here, we laid everything out. I don't like to sit there and BS people; this is the circumstance they're coming in. Matt understood everything. There was no question he was going to come in here and compete, regardless, to be our No. 1 quarterback. We're very fortunate to have a Matt Cassel, not only from the ability to play, but also, if that role does reverse, the ability to be a mentor and bring that young one along. That's a hard combination to find."

Cassel is 17-for-22 with a touchdown pass in the preseason, and seems more confident in his role with the Vikings -- to the point where Zimmer has mentioned the need to remind Cassel that while his suggestions are welcome, they don't represent final decisions. In whatever role he's playing, though, the Vikings seem grateful to have him.

"Matt wants to start and play; so does Teddy, and so does Christian," Scott Turner said. "Matt's doing everything he can to prepare himself to be the best player he can possibly be, and that's as far as it goes. I think he understands that Teddy's here, and we think he's going to be a very good player in this league someday. He's not looking into the what-ifs down the road, and I think you've got to commend him for that."

Vikings Thursday practice report

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
3:40
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Some observations from the Minnesota Vikings' practice Thursday afternoon:
  • Peterson
    Peterson
    The Vikings were still without running back Adrian Peterson, who missed practice again Thursday after being gone for personal reasons Wednesday. Peterson wasn't going to play in Saturday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs but is expected to travel to the game with the team. Defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who is still recovering from a bullet wound to his left calf, and linebacker Brandon Watts, who is out with a leg injury, weren't seen at practice. Cornerback Jabari Price and linebacker Gerald Hodges were on the field but were not participating.
  • Much of the Vikings' work again consisted of scout-team offensive snaps against the first-string defense, which meant another busy day for Christian Ponder. The third-string quarterback went 7-for-12, throwing one interception in 11-on-11 work. Matt Cassel hit 11 of his 15 throws and Teddy Bridgewater went 5-for-7. Cassel didn't divulge the Vikings' game plan for Saturday night but said he "expect(s) to play a lot" against the Chiefs.
  • Blair Walsh has hit 47 of 50 kicks in team periods since the Vikings started training camp, according to special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who said he wasn't concerned about a pair of Walsh misses from beyond 50 yards in the Vikings' first two preseason games. "I think he may have missed one from 50, or maybe none, in practice," Priefer said. "If it was one of those deals where he was shanking the ball, I'd be concerned. But he's hitting the ball well. There's a couple things he needs to do with his follow-through, to straighten that out. We've already gone back and looked at a couple game tapes from his rookie year and last year. It's one of those things he's just got to continue to focus on his follow-through and the other little small attributes that make him such a great kicker, compared to other kickers in this league."
  • Priefer said the Vikings used 42 different players on special teams in last Saturday's preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals as coaches try to evaluate whose special-teams contributions should help them win a roster spot. The Vikings will start to use more consistent special-teams units on Saturday against Kansas City as they prepare for the start of the regular season. They'll also try to get Cordarrelle Patterson a kickoff return or two, Priefer said.
  • The moment of the day in practice came when Chad Greenway dropped an interception and angrily kicked the ball into the trees just east of the Vikings' practice field. The ball got stuck in a tree, and several minutes later, Greenway walked into the woods with another football in his hand to perform the old throw-one-ball-into-the-tree-to-knock-the-other-one-down trick. "Didn't you guys do this as a kid?" Greenway said. Seconds later, he emerged with both footballs, proclaiming it'd only taken him one shot to dislodge the one he'd kicked into the tree.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- A few observations from the Minnesota Vikings' practice on Wednesday afternoon:
  • With Chad Greenway sitting out of team drills because of an injury to his right wrist, Michael Mauti got most of the work with the first team in Greenway's spot. Greenway had a brace on his wrist, but said he hoped to be back at practice on Thursday. The linebacker also will be in charge of the Vikings' huddle this season, coach Mike Zimmer confirmed on Wednesday; the job typically falls to a middle linebacker, but since Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole aren't likely to be on the field on passing downs, the Vikings gave the job of relaying defensive calls to Greenway because he figures to be on the field most of the time.
  • The Vikings continued looking at several safeties next to Harrison Smith, giving Robert Blanton, Chris Crocker and Kurt Coleman work with the first team on Wednesday. They'll continue their audition process on Saturday night in Kansas City, with Blanton -- who missed the Vikings' first two preseason games because of a hamstring injury -- receiving a fair share of the work so the Vikings can evaluate him.
  • On a day where the Vikings spent plenty of time with their scout teams on the field, Christian Ponder got much of the work at quarterback, facing the first-team defense for good chunks of the practice. Ponder threw one interception, when Harrison Smith picked off a pass underthrown into double coverage, but made some nice throws the rest of the day. "I think that Christian has improved a lot since we have had him," Zimmer said. "I still like a lot of things that he does, his athletic ability, his intelligence. I keep seeing that he doesn’t have a good arm -- that’s wrong, too. He’s got a good arm. He throws the ball beautifully, he just didn’t make as many plays during the OTAs as some of the other guys did."
  • As the Vikings get closer to special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer's suspension at the beginning of the regular season, interim special-teams coach Joe Marciano has spent his time working with Priefer and assistant special-teams coach Ryan Ficken to mold his system into the Vikings' way of doing things. "His system and Mike's system are very similar," Zimmer said. "He’s obviously in all the meetings and everything in with Mike all the time. He’s trying to learn the same terminology that Mike is using that so when we do go to St. Louis (for the season opener) it’s all the same."
  • Wide receiver Kain Colter left with trainer Eric Sugarman in the middle of practice, and appeared to have an injury to his right hand.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It appears another member of the Minnesota Vikings' four Super Bowl teams could be on his way to Canton.

Former Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff, who made six Pro Bowls and was named to the All-Pro first team five times, was named the lone nominee for the 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame class by the Hall of Fame Senior Committee, which met in Canton, Ohio, on Wednesday. Tingelhoff, who played for the Vikings from 1962-78 and shifted from linebacker to center after signing with the team as an undrafted free agent, started 240 consecutive games, which was the second-longest streak in the NFL behind former teammate Jim Marshall at the time of Tingelhoff's retirement.

He is automatically a finalist for enshrinement, and while he will need 80 percent of the vote when the full nominating committee meets in Glendale, Arizona, before Super Bowl 49, Tingelhoff's nomination from the Senior Committee gives him a strong chance to reach the Hall.

"He was very happy -- not as happy as his wife was, but this is a great day in Vikings history," said former Vikings trainer Fred Zamberletti, who called Tingelhoff to give him the news while the former center was vacationing in South Dakota. "I felt he should have been in there before."

Tingelhoff, whose No. 53 was retired by the Vikings, would be the 13th Hall of Famer who spent a significant part of his career in Minnesota and the 19th who played, coached or worked for the Vikings overall. Coach Bud Grant's Super Bowl teams from the 1970s are responsible for seven of those Hall of Famers, including the coach himself. Tingelhoff, whose perseverance and pain tolerance made him an icon of Grant's teams, would be the eighth.

"We went to training camps that were very hard and brutal. He would be the only center there," Zamberletti said. "We'd line up for full contact at 2 in the afternoon, and go full scrimmage for two-and-a-half hours. Tingelhoff would be the only center; we'd bring in other centers to back him up, and they were always hurt.

"He was a good leader. He led by example. He was everything you'd ever want in a player. He can get lost in the shadows because of those (four) Super Bowl losses. (But) at that time, (Vince) Lombardi recognized Tingelhoff. When you've got him saying nice things about you, that meant a lot."
MINNEAPOLIS -- As elementary as the Minnesota Vikings' game plans have been for their first two preseason contests, the Vikings' wins over the Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals have already seen coach Mike Zimmer and defensive coordinator George Edwards unveil a handful of different defensive looks.

[+] EnlargeMike Zimmer
AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt"Once I feel like we have the fundamentals down and the techniques down, then you can worry about tricking somebody else or disguising," Mike Zimmer said.
Anthony Barr has played linebacker, rushed the quarterback standing up and moved into a defensive end position on passing downs. Everson Griffen has played left end and right end. Brian Robison has rushed from the left end spot and moved inside. The Vikings have dropped several different linemen into coverage, they've shown a three-safety package in their nickel defense and they've been unafraid to blitz safeties such as Harrison Smith.

There's probably more coming from a coach who sent a defensive back on a blitz 75 times while he was the Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator last seasom, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That figure was the 10th highest in the league, and it was nearly double the number of times (41) the Vikings blitzed a cornerback or safety. But as effective -- and as entertaining -- as different looks can be, Zimmer says he won't overdo it to the point he runs the risk of diluting a player's focus.

"It's a little bit of, 'What can the guy do and still be effective?'" Zimmer said. "Once I feel like we have the fundamentals down and the techniques down, then you can worry about tricking somebody else or disguising. You don't always have guys like Griffen, Barr, Robison that can do a number of different things. Those three guys can stand up and drop, play outside linebacker and rush."

Zimmer said the Vikings are getting to the point at which their understanding of defensive fundamentals is strong enough that he can mix in different ideas, but he still knows there's a danger in mixing in too many different ideas. To borrow a musical metaphor, it's no good for a drummer to show off all sorts of complicated fills and complex beats if he can't keep the rest of the band in the groove.

"You don't want to hurt other guys by trying to fit some other guy in something he's not comfortable with," Zimmer said. "There's a cause and effect with everybody."

The Vikings will have plenty of chances to get creative with their personnel this season, simply because of how many versatile players they have in their front seven, but Zimmer's defense is built on sound fundamentals and good communication across the defense more than it is energized by anything exotic. If the Vikings can't handle the basics this season, we probably won't see as much variety in Zimmer's defensive looks.

Vikings Tuesday practice report

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
6:35
PM ET
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Some observations from the Minnesota Vikings' practice on Tuesday afternoon:
  • A day after coach Mike Zimmer hinted Josh Robinson needed to make a prompt return to the field in order to stay in competition for a roster spot, the cornerback did just that. Robinson, who hasn't played in the preseason because of a strained hamstring, did some individual work on Tuesday, and appeared closer to returning to full-team work. The Vikings seem set on moving forward with Captain Munnerlyn as a starting corner in their base defense -- not that that should have ever come as a huge surprise -- but Robinson can keep himself in the running for the third cornerback spot if he gets back in time to show something in the preseason.
  • It was a bit of a sloppy day for the Vikings' quarterbacks on Tuesday; Matt Cassel hit 12 of 20 passes, but had one intercepted by Harrison Smith after it went high off Cordarrelle Patterson's hands, and had another pass batted down at the line of scrimmage. Teddy Bridgewater, who got some work with the first team on Tuesday, hit 15 of 18 throws, and had one dropped by Allen Reisner, but also had to be bailed out by his receivers on a couple completions, like one that Jerome Simpson snared after it was behind him. Christian Ponder got just three plays, carrying the ball himself on one after Jerick McKinnon missed a handoff. He threw one pass, overshooting Kain Colter.
  • Chris Crocker continued to work with the first-team defense on Tuesday, lining up at safety next to Harrison Smith. Andrew Sendejo and Kurt Coleman got some work on the second team, and the Vikings again unveiled their three-safety look in a nickel package.
  • Blair Walsh hit 7 of 8 kicks in a field goal period, connecting from 54 yards on his final attempt of the day. Considering Walsh has missed both of his kicks over 50 yards in the preseason, it was an encouraging sign for the Vikings to see him hit from long range on Tuesday.
  • Greg Jennings probably had the best day of all the receivers, outrunning Captain Munnerlyn on a perfectly-thrown deep shot from Cassel and making a nice catch in front of Xavier Rhodes on a sideline throw from Bridgewater. Rodney Smith, who caught the game-winner from Bridgewater on Saturday, was a frequent target for the rookie; Bridgewater hit a long touchdown throw to Smith, beyond Sendejo and Derek Cox.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It appears Adrian Peterson's streak of preseasons without a carry will hit three this year.

Peterson
Peterson
Coach Mike Zimmer said the running back is unlikely to play again on Saturday night in Kansas City, adding "I really don't see the need" for Peterson to play at all in the preseason. The Vikings have shifted Peterson's role in their offense, making him a bigger part of the passing game than he's been in the past, but he's gotten enough work in practices, Zimmer said, that he doesn't necessarily need to get any game action before the Vikings kick off the regular season Sept. 7 against the St. Louis Rams.

"We’re grabbing at the ball pretty good. We’re not tackling him or anything," Zimmer said. "He’s doing a great job with the protections and the routes and obviously he runs really good. The only concern you have is he might not have been hit enough. But our guys are grabbing at the ball a lot. They’re punching at the ball as he’s running in there. I talked to him about those things.”

Peterson didn't sound terribly distraught about sitting out the exhibition season, either. He said it didn't matter to him if he played on Saturday, adding he feels comfortable enough in the Vikings' offense to miss the game. "I'm wired up (for the season)," he said. "I'm ready to go."

The Vikings first held Peterson out of preseason action in 2012, after he was returning from knee surgery, and the plan worked so well -- before Peterson's 2,097-yard season -- that former coach Leslie Frazier decided to keep the ball out of Peterson's hands before last season, too, playing him for one series in the team's third preseason game but not giving him the ball. Now, as Peterson enters his eighth season, he should be as fresh as the Vikings can get him.

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