NFC North: Allen Reisner

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings made a pair of roster additions Tuesday, bringing back tight end Allen Reisner and claiming former San Diego Chargers linebacker Terrell Manning off waivers.

Reisner spent the 2011 and 2012 seasons with the Vikings, shuttling between the practice squad and the active roster after signing with the team as a rookie free agent. He signed with Jacksonville before the 2013 season and played five games for the Jaguars, starting three and catching five passes for 40 yards.

Manning played one game with the Chargers last season after being drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 2012. He played mostly special teams in five games with the Packers in 2012 and was let go by the team in the final round of cuts last August, after returning from a parasitic infection that caused him to lose 20 pounds during training camp. He was an outside linebacker at North Carolina State, and Packers general manager Ted Thompson thought enough of him to trade three picks in order to move up and draft Manning in the fifth round in 2012.

With competition likely coming at linebacker, Manning might have a chance to push for playing time.

NFC North Thursday practice report

September, 27, 2012
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Let's take a quick look at the Thursday practice report, which includes news of surgery for a starting defensive lineman and an addition for one starting quarterback:

Chicago Bears: Tailback Matt Forte (ankle) again participated in a limited portion of practice and appears to be no worse for the wear. Tight end Evan Rodriguez (knee) hasn't practiced the past two days. Long-snapper Patrick Mannelly missed practice Thursday because of an illness.

Detroit Lions: As we noted earlier, quarterback Matthew Stafford (strained leg muscle/hamstring/hip) returned to practice and appears on track to start Sunday at Ford Field. But defensive tackle Corey Williams won't play after having knee surgery earlier in the week. He'll be replaced by Sammie Hill and Nick Fairley. Tight end Tony Scheffler (calf) returned to practice after missing more than a week. Safety Amari Spievey (groin) was added to the injury report as a limited participant. Receiver Titus Young (knee) returned to practice.

Green Bay Packers: All players again participated in at least a portion of practice except for safety Sean Richardson.

Minnesota Vikings: Quarterback Christian Ponder (neck) was added to the injury report as a limited participant, but he is expected to start Sunday against the Lions. Linebacker Erin Henderson (concussion) has not yet been cleared to practice. Meanwhile, the Vikings waived tight end Allen Reisner to clear a roster spot for receiver Jerome Simpson.

Camp Confidential: Vikings

August, 6, 2012
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MANKATO, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings carry absolutely zero national expectations with them to training camp this summer. They parted ways with a half-dozen key members of the 2008 and 2009 NFC North champion teams, shifting into a transition period that will make it difficult to compete in a division filled with elite quarterbacks and playoff contenders.

As it turns out, the Vikings are devoid of internal expectations as well. They have in no way conceded a last-place finish in the division, but they appear realistic about their situation. Three days at Minnesota State University, Mankato, revealed an emphasis on the process rather than bottom-line results.

"This is the most focused and probably unassuming camp I've been a part of," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "And that's great. The last three or four years, we've been surrounded by hype, whether it be right or wrong or good or bad. There's been a lot of media fanfare, sometimes for good reasons but sometimes for bad. "

Greenway paused to choose his words carefully.

"There's no good way to say this, but we've sort of regained the youthful focus of having so many guys that are trying to make the team and make an impression. When you have that, you have guys just coming to work. … It's just about our work, less about what's going on outside of us and more about how we can try to get better. We haven't had perfect practices. We have maybe had some exceptional periods here and there. But we're grinding it out and having fun doing it."

"The only thing we're trying to do," cornerback Antoine Winfield said, "is come out each day and work to get better at something, whether it's technique or studying film. We're just trying to get better."

It's obvious the Vikings are more organized and have a clearer vision after a full offseason under general manager Rick Spielman and coach Leslie Frazier. Their camp is less hectic than the one they put together after the 2011 lockout, and as a result, Frazier said, "We've hit the ground running."

That's a good thing, because everyone agrees they have some catching up to do.

"Nobody is going to sit here from the inside and say we're going to be 10-6 and make the playoffs," Greenway said. "No one is going to talk like that, because we know it's about nothing but grinding it out every day. We just want to stack good days on top of each other."

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeMinnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder
Bruce Kluckhohn-US PRESSWIREVikings quarterback Christian Ponder seems more comfortable with his teammates in his second season.
1. Quarterback Christian Ponder's progress: By all accounts, including the amateur naked eye, Ponder has made strides since the end of an uneven rookie year. His throws in team drills came more often from the pocket than on the run. They were decisive and more accurate than what we saw last year, and Ponder has convinced most everyone surrounding the team that he will be better in his second season.

"He's much, much improved," Frazier said. "I was telling him the other day that we and his teammates all recognize how much more confidence he seems to have. He's communicating more as far as talking to players, telling them where to be and where to line up. He's in his second year. There is still some growth yet and some progress to be made, but he's come along."

During practice, Ponder circulates among veterans and young players with ease, discussing previous plays and keeping the mood light with a goofy but ever-present grin. After overthrowing receiver Jerome Simpson, Ponder stood next to him on the sideline, put his arm around him and said with a smile: "Well, I put it high and outside, just like you wanted it!"

Speaking later with reporters, Ponder said: "This is my team. I'm able to perform so much better and feel so much more comfortable knowing that, and knowing the situation I'm going to be in. I can play and I can prepare, and it's a good feeling."

2. Tailback Adrian Peterson's recovery: Aside from a one-day setback following an allergic reaction, Peterson continued to demonstrate a fanatical determination to rejoin the team in time for its Week 1 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. During the first day of my visit, Peterson spent more than 30 minutes trying to beat prescribed times in a 50-yard dash. The next day, he ran stairs at Blakeslee Stadium.

Although no one has an exact date in mind, the sense at camp is that Peterson's off-field recovery is nearing its end. Soon it will be time to be activated from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list and add football drills to his routine.

3. Changes up the middle: An overhaul of the middle of the defense remains a work in progress. The Vikings debuted new starters at nose tackle (Letroy Guion) and middle linebacker (Jasper Brinkley), and it's expected that rookie Harrison Smith will soon take over one of the safety spots. "We knew we needed to get better up the middle," Frazier said.

Brinkley has allayed any short-term fear about his availability after injuries limited him during offseason practices. "We missed him this offseason and that was a little scary," Frazier said. "But he's come back this training camp and he's looked good. He hasn't missed a practice. Hasn't missed any drills. You can see that thump he had before his injuries, so we feel good about where he is right now."

Brinkley figures to have limited reps during the season because he has been coming off the field in nickel situations, and Guion probably will serve as a placeholder until the Vikings find a longer-term solution at nose tackle. But Smith projects as a cornerstone player whose ascension to the first team appears imminent. "Drafting Harrison is going to be a good move for us," Frazier said. "He has some range, the athleticism to really help us." Mistral Raymond appears to be the likeliest option to start alongside Smith.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeMinnesota Vikings tackle Matt Kalil
Bruce Kluckhohn-US PRESSWIRE Minnesota tackle Matt Kalil is a leader in a core of young players for the Vikings.
A favorable early schedule (at home against the Jaguars in Week 1 and at the Indianapolis Colts in Week 2) provides an opportunity for a 2-0 start, a confidence boost that could propel the Vikings to a more successful season than most have projected.

But from a big-picture perspective, the best thing you can say about the Vikings is they are following a clear long-term vision for the first time in years. They have rid themselves of players they believe no longer can contribute, pushed forward a core of young players -- a group that includes Ponder, Smith, tight end Kyle Rudolph and left tackle Matt Kalil -- and refused to overstep in their search for replacements at other positions.

What we've seen this summer isn't a finished product, but it can be viewed as a clearly identifiable step in building a winning program.

REASON FOR PESSIMISSM

No matter how much progress the Vikings make, they are in a tough division and will compete against teams whose program-building began years ago. The Green Bay Packers, under general manager Ted Thompson, have been at it for eight years. The Chicago Bears' core has been together since the mid-2000s, in most cases, and the Detroit Lions are in Year 4 under general manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz.

Meanwhile, it's important to view Ponder's progress in the context of division foes. Even if he is much better in 2012, Ponder likely still will be the fourth-best quarterback in the NFC North.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • New defensive coordinator Alan Williams isn't expected to make many schematic changes to the Vikings' Tampa 2 structure. "We're just going to try to take the things we've been good at in the past and do them better," Frazier said. With that said, Winfield said he has been encouraged by some minor tweaks that will allow corners "to play more aggressive and have a few more blitzes."
  • Winfield is healthy at 35 but the Vikings are protecting him with limited reps in camp. He has gotten some work as an outside cornerback, but it's expected he will serve mostly as a slot defender. "Who knows how much I'll be outside,'" he said, "but I'll definitely be inside. That's my home position."
  • It appears second-year player Brandon Fusco has won the right guard spot, even if by default. Veteran Geoff Schwartz was set to compete with Fusco for the job, but a sports hernia has put Schwartz behind and brought his availability for the start of the season into question.
  • Placekicker Blair Walsh, drafted to replace veteran Ryan Longwell, demonstrated an accurate and powerful leg early in camp. Unofficially, he missed only two of 26 kicks in team drills in the first nine days of practice, based on full-camp tracking from Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
  • Tight end John Carlson's knee sprain provided extra practice repetitions for young tight ends Allen Reisner, Mickey Shuler and Rhett Ellison. It appears that Ellison, a fourth-round draft choice from USC, has quickly captured the imagination of his teammates. "We all love that kid," Ponder said. "He's got a little bit of [retired Vikings fullback] Jim Kleinsasser in him. He's tough. We watch his blocks, some of his one-on-one drills against linebackers. He's tough, man. He's got a little crazy in him. Great kid, too, and he's doing really good. ... He's got a little angry side to him. It's pretty cool."
  • Kalil's matchups with defensive end Jared Allen generated plenty of attention. But Kalil's early-camp performance was also notable for the energy with which he chased downfield blocks. "It's definitely an emphasis for me to finish downfield," Kalil said. "[Offensive line coach Jeff] Davidson makes a good point. You never know what can happen. You can grab a fumble or be there if something bad happens. It's always good to get downfield to be there or try to make that last block. Basically, the more effort, the better."
  • Greenway is among those who are trying to recalibrate the Vikings' locker room mentality to accommodate the influx of youth. "I think the biggest difference from years past," he said, "is that the veterans are trying to do a better job of embracing the rookies and help them. We need their help now, and we need their help to win now. We need them to come along as fast as possible."
  • The loss of receiver Greg Childs (knees) on Saturday night was a blow for the team's long-term plans, but in 2012 it's been expected that Simpson, Rudolph and Percy Harvin will be Ponder's top targets. Simpson has worked hard to earn Ponder's trust, while Rudolph's huge catch radius is a comfort for any young quarterback.

NFC North at night

November, 23, 2011
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Hitting a few of Wednesday's news tidbits before heading to the airport:

Chicago Bears: We already got you up to date on the acquisition of quarterback Josh McCown. Cornerback D.J. Moore (ankle) did not practice Wednesday. Safety Brandon Meriweather (concussion) was limited.

Detroit Lions: Reserve defensive end Lawrence Jackson (thigh) is doubtful for Thursday's game. Defensive tackle Corey Williams (calf) is listed as questionable but told reporters this week he plans to play. Defensive end Willie Young (ankle) is questionable but is expected to play. The only players ruled out are running back Jahvid Best (concussion) and punter Ryan Donahue (quadriceps).

Green Bay Packers: As we noted earlier, running back James Starks (knee/ankle) is questionable and left tackle Chad Clifton (hamstring) is out. All other players should be available Thursday.

Minnesota Vikings: Tailback Adrian Peterson (ankle) was one of four players who didn't practice Wednesday. Coach Leslie Frazier said the team won't try to test Peterson in practice until Friday at the earliest. Safety Husain Abdullah (concussion), tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (hamstring) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (quadriceps) also missed practice. The Vikings might need to promote practice squad tight end Allen Reisner because of the Shiancoe and Rudolph injuries.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

How will the Green Bay Packers split carries between what amounts to their co-starting running backs? As equally as possible, according to Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Here's what running backs coach Jerry Fontenot said: "They're both going to take pretty much all situations in the game. Evenly dispersed? I can't guarantee it. But I'm certainly going try to get each one of those guys an equal amount of opportunities to carry the football, to hold onto the football and to control the clock for us."

Obviously, the Packers aren't going to telegraph their game plan a few days before Thursday's preseason game against the New Orleans Saints. The truth is that Ryan Grant carried more in the preseason as the Packers tried to gauge his return from season-ending ankle surgery. But coach Mike McCarthy is clearly enamored with second-year back James Starks. I think the Packers will look for every opportunity to get Starks involved as often as possible, whether or not he is in the game on the first play as an official starter.

Continuing around the NFC North on back-to-school day for many of you:
  • Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "When Aaron Rodgers opens his garage door every morning, he sees a Ferrari and a Lamborghini; a Corvette and a Mustang; a BMW and a Porsche. His garage is his playbook. His Ferrari is Greg Jennings, and his Lamborghini is Jermichael Finley; his Corvette is Donald Driver, and his Mustang is James Jones; his BMW is Jordy Nelson, and his Porsche is Randall Cobb. His biggest problem is deciding which key chain to grab. It's the NFL's version of 'Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.'"
  • Packers defensive lineman B.J. Raji isn't lobbying for a reprise role as a fullback, writes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • Kudos to Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz for not obsessing over 87-degree weather forecasted for the team's season opener in Tampa Bay. Asked if he would try to simulate the heat by cranking the temperature in the team's indoor practice facility, Schwartz said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press: "That's foolishness. We don't pipe in crowd noise, and we don't open up the doors and make it cold, and we don't try to smoke the team out. It's just a bunch of foolishness."
  • Schwartz told Lions players they have a chance to be the best team he has ever been involved with, writes John Niyo of the Detroit News.
  • New Lions running back Keiland Williams has some similarities with injured rookie Mikel Leshoure, writes Philip Zaroo of Mlive.com.
  • Running back Marion Barber (calf) is the main injury concern for the Chicago Bears this week, writes Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Bears teammates aren't worried about the commitment of linebacker Lance Briggs, who has asked to be traded. Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune has more.
  • Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune profiles Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Letroy Guion, the likely replacement for suspended defensive tackle Kevin Williams.
  • Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press looks back at Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson's record of 296 yards against the San Diego Chargers in 2007. The Vikings open this season against the Chargers on Sunday.
  • The Vikings re-signed tight end Allen Reisner to their practice squad, notes 1500ESPN.com.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

The NFC North will hum along Monday, Labor Day or not, so why not join us for the ride? We'll start by catching up on a series of interviews that Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams conducted over the weekend in response to his two-game NFL suspension that begins this week.

Williams termed it "unbelievable" that the NFL added a two-game fine on top of the suspension, bringing his total bill to $1.4 million. Speaking to Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com, Williams added: "At the end of the day, you can say from the outside that they cut us a break [by reducing the suspension from four games to two games.] But you look close, they're not putting that out there for the public to see that we're still going to get fined four games. Who wants to work for free?"

I can see where Williams is coming from. If the NFL wanted to keep in place the four-game fine Williams was originally on the hook for, it should have based on the total on his 2008 base salary ($1 million) rather than his 2011 total ($6 million). And tacking on the additional fine allows him to play an extra two games, but he won't be paid for them. In the end, however, Williams took a chance on the terms of his discipline changing when he mounted a 2 1/2-year legal challenge.

The NFL could have been more lenient, but I'm guessing it wanted to make clear that any future challenge to its discipline program will be dealt with in a similarly hard-edged manner.

Continuing around the NFC North:
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Most of the Green Bay Packers' starting positions were set long before training camp began, and now the two positions with legitimate competition are beginning to favor at least a mid-August winner.

T.J. Lang appears to have moved ahead of rookie Derek Sherrod at left guard, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. And for at least the time being, the Packers have stopped their three-way rotation at right outside linebacker and installed Erik Walden as the player taking consistent first-team repetitions, writes Bob McGinn.

Obviously these arrangements could change at any time. Typically a first-round draft choice like Sherrod will have an advantage in a position competition, but the Packers aren't looking to make any projections when it comes to protecting quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Walden, meanwhile, probably has more playmaking ability than Frank Zombo or Brad Jones. Stay tuned.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • The Packers have pulled back the practice reps even more for left tackle Chad Clifton to protect his knees, writes Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Cornerback Pat Lee made a stunning interception during practice Wednesday, notes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz has gotten into the head of backup quarterback Caleb Hanie, and not in a good way, writes David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Bears right guard Lance Louis left practice Wednesday because he was ill, forcing center Roberto Garza to slide over and reserve Chris Spencer to play center during team drills. Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com has more.
  • Bears receiver Roy Williams is (playfully) lobbying quarterback Jay Cutler for more passes, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz stopped practice Wednesday and forced his team to run gassers to "expel" energy they had channeled into a number of practice fights, writes Tim Twentyman of the Detroit News.
  • John Niyo of the Detroit News on the NFL's $20,000 fine of Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh: "For fans in Detroit, it's all the more exhilarating. Honestly, when's the last time Detroit had a defensive star who was cheered -- and feared -- quite like this guy already is after one full season?"
  • Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham on Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, via the Detroit Free Press: "You've got one guy in the league, Nnamdi, and all he does is press. You ever see him make a tackle? He presses the wide receiver, and he's great at it. But there's more to playing DB than just pressing wide receivers."
  • Minnesota Vikings tight end Allen Reisner is one of a handful of rookie free agents with a chance to make the final roster, writes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
  • Seattle Seahawks receiver Sidney Rice told Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that the Vikings didn't demonstrate much interest in re-signing him.
  • Vikings receiver Percy Harvin might not play in Saturday's preseason game against the Seahawks because of a rib injury, notes the Star Tribune.

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NFC NORTH SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/4
Sunday, 9/7
Monday, 9/8