NFC North: Anthony Barr

Camp preview: Minnesota Vikings

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation's Ben Goessling examines the three biggest issues facing the Minnesota Vikings heading into training camp.

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

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

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

1. Loaded for Barr: The Vikings got first-round pick Anthony Barr on the field for the first time with their full team on Tuesday, after he graduated from UCLA over the weekend, and head coach Mike Zimmer didn't hesitate to try out some of the different ways he wants to use the linebacker. Barr was at the strong-side linebacker position the Vikings expect him to play, but he also lined up as an edge rusher on some third downs. At 6-foot-4, he's taller than defensive ends Brian Robison and Everson Griffen, and if he can rush from the line of scrimmage, the Vikings can present a number of different looks to confuse opposing offenses, especially when Griffen's versatility enters the equation.

[+] EnlargeMinnesota's Anthony Barr
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsFirst-round pick Anthony Barr participated on the field on the first day of Vikings' mandatory minicamp.
2. Robinson returns: Cornerback Josh Robinson was back on the field on Tuesday, after missing the Vikings' organized team activities with a muscle pull. He was also back at an outside cornerback position, following last year's failed experiment at slot cornerback. Robinson got plenty of snaps in the Vikings' first-team defense on Tuesday, and could wind up playing in the nickel package once Captain Munnerlyn moves inside.

3. Quarterbacks look sharp: The Vikings ran plenty of play-action and bootleg plays on Tuesday, and all three of their quarterbacks had a successful afternoon practice. Matt Cassel missed just one of the nine throws he attempted in 11-on-11 and was 5-for-5 in 7-on-7 work. Teddy Bridgewater was 15-for-17 in 11-on-11 action and 4-for-5 in 7-on-7, and Christian Ponder hit all four throws he attempted. Ponder again got fewer snaps than Cassel or Bridgewater, but he looked good in what he was asked to do. "Everyone's getting reps with the ones and twos," Ponder said. "I'm not getting as many reps as the other guys, but I'm trying to take full advantage, and we'll see what happens. I don't know how long the evaluation process is going to be. I'm hoping it goes into training camp and preseason games, but we'll see."

4. Jennings impresses: Wide receiver Greg Jennings, who missed the Vikings' open OTA last week because of a charity event, caught four balls on the first day of minicamp, and saved his best for last, reaching out for a one-handed grab over the middle on a throw from Cassel in 7-on-7.

5. Middle linebacker plan emerges? The Vikings used Jasper Brinkley, Chad Greenway and Michael Mauti at middle linebacker on Tuesday, noticeably keeping Audie Cole on the outside after Cole played the middle at the end of last season. Brinkley has gotten more first-team work than anyone else in the middle, so far, but Zimmer cautioned not to read too much into that. "We have to line them up somewhere when we go, but I don't look at this guy is the favorite or that guy is the starter," he said. "(Brinkley)'s lined up with the first team right now, but I don't know, once we get him in practice and games and the things that prepare us for games and for the season, that will determine who lines up there on Sept. 7."

6. Safeties still limited: Jamarca Sanford was able to do a little more work after missing OTAs with a muscle injury, but the Vikings were mostly using Robert Blanton, Mistral Raymond, Antone Exum and Kurt Coleman, with Blanton often pairing with Harrison Smith in 7-on-7 drills. Safety Andrew Sendejo was still limited with a back injury. Tight end Allen Reisner sat out, and running back Joe Banyard was a limited participant. Matt Kalil and Linval Joseph were again limited after knee and shoulder surgeries this offseason, but Zimmer said he expects both to be ready for training camp.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings begin the final -- and probably most significant -- event of their offseason program on Tuesday, when they convene at the team facility for a three-day minicamp. It will be the final team event before training camp begins in late July, and it will give coach Mike Zimmer his best barometer of where the Vikings stand before the end of the offseason.

As the Vikings get started, here are four things we're watching:

1. Barr gets started: Linebacker Anthony Barr, the Vikings' top pick in the 2014 draft, will finally get to practice with the full team after graduating from UCLA on Saturday. The Vikings plan to use him at strong-side linebacker, at least in their base defense, but it seems likely Zimmer will develop a number of different ways to use the rookie. He might try to keep those under wraps as long as he can, even into the preseason, but the Vikings clearly see Barr bringing a unique element to their pass rush. Zimmer said he plans to bring the Vikings' three late-arriving draft picks -- Barr, third-rounder Scott Crichton and fifth-round David Yankey -- along a little slowly at first, but the minicamp will provide Barr's first opportunity to show how much he can handle.

2. Safety shuffle:The Vikings have been rotating several safeties through their No. 1 defense alongside Harrison Smith, with Jamarca Sanford and Andrew Sendejo sitting out because of injuries, and it will be interesting to see if they get closer to settling on anything over the next few days. It would help to see Sanford and Sendejo on the field, though there's far too little at stake to rush anyone back. Still, the absence of both players has left open some valuable opportunities, and players like Kurt Coleman, Robert Blanton and rookie Antone Exum could get more chances to make an impression.

3. OpportuniTEs: With Norv Turner as their offensive coordinator, the Cleveland Browns lined up with two or more tight ends on 466 snaps last season -- the fourth-most in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That means plenty of work for starter Kyle Rudolph, which we knew, but it also leaves a chance for players like Rhett Ellison and Chase Ford to carve out bigger roles. The Vikings had plenty of two-tight end sets last year -- they were 12th in the league with 369 snaps of two or more TEs -- but with John Carlson gone, Ellison and Ford can move up. Ellison's previous success as a run blocker might give him the upper hand.

4. QB derby continues: Rookie Teddy Bridgewater looked good during the Vikings' organized team activities that were open to the media, but the minicamp should offer a more complete picture of where Bridgewater is at this point, especially as he compares to veteran Matt Cassel. The Vikings might wait until training camp to decide on a starter -- or at least to announce one -- but the guess here continues to be that the job is Cassel's, unless Bridgewater is good enough to beat him out. Both players can keep making their cases this week. Christian Ponder, meanwhile, needs to turn things around after a poor set of performances during OTAs; he's talked about having leverage heading into free agency next year, but he needs to convince the Vikings not to cut their losses before then.
BarrJonathan Moore/Getty ImagesRookie linebacker Anthony Barr won't be able to work with the Vikings on a full-time basis until he graduates from UCLA later this month.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Anthony Barr packs up the iPad the Minnesota Vikings gave him during their rookie camp, stakes out a spot in a UCLA campus library or in one of the football coaches' offices. He downloads the film from that day's practice, watching a team he doesn't yet feel part of and projecting where he'll fit. Several times a week, he'll plug his headphones and a microphone into his iPhone, so he can keep his hands free to run the iPad while Vikings linebackers coach Adam Zimmer talks through the film over the phone, telling Barr to imagine he is occupying the Vikings' strongside linebacker spot, rather than the player on the screen who will ostensibly be competing with Barr for playing time in training camp.

The ninth overall pick in the NFL draft can have only limited contact with his coaches and can devote only so much time to football while trying to manage the 20-credit load he's taking to finish a degree in sociology this spring. Barr had to miss several midterms in those classes in April while he was working out for teams before the draft, and he's hoping he'll be able to pass the courses without doing too much damage to his 3.0 GPA. Much of his attention, though, is on his employer 1,900 miles away.

"It kind of sucks," Barr said. "I want to be out there, but I'm not allowed to. I wish it was my decision."

This is how Barr is spending his final weeks of college, straddling the line between a degree he's trying to finish and a job he's technically not able to start, at least not completely. UCLA is on the quarters system, like three other schools in the Pac-12, and Barr won't be done with his classes until June 13. Thanks to a 1990 rule the NFL established with the help of the American Football Coaches Association, draft picks from schools on the quarters system are allowed to attend only one minicamp before their classes are done. Beyond that, they are prohibited from being on the field with their coaches, and three of the Vikings' top five picks -- Barr, Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton and Stanford guard David Yankey -- are trying to catch up from two time zones west of Minnesota.

The Vikings are doing their best to keep the players on track -- Zimmer will make his second visit to Los Angeles on Friday, and offensive line coach Jeff Davidson will return to Stanford to work on installing the Vikings' scheme with Yankey -- but the system forces teams and rookies to be resourceful under some unique constraints. Barr's friend and former teammate, linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, is going through a similar process after the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted him in the sixth round.

"We're pretty thorough with it," Barr said. "It's been nice to have [Zimmer], so I don't feel like I'm kind of in the unknown and trying to step in when I get back. It's like I'm just one of the guys."

Barr took the winter quarter off from school while he prepared for the NFL scouting combine, but figured he would stay in school and finish his degree, rather than returning to get it later. That choice put him under the NFL's rule, which attempts to keep players focused on their studies while they're still technically in college. The rule was adopted long before the lengthy offseason programs teams now use, and Barr said it has left him wishing he had more control over how he's able to manage his time, rather than the league mandating he can only spend so much time on the phone and in meetings with Zimmer. He feels as though he's mostly up to speed on what the Vikings are doing, and probably will find a little leeway in the fact that the team's veterans are learning a new defense, too, but head coach Mike Zimmer has talked about how the Vikings have big plans for how they'll use Barr, and those plans will have to wait until minicamp and training camp to be installed on the field.

Barr plans to walk in a commencement ceremony at Pauley Pavilion on June 13, and he'll be on a plane for the Twin Cities the next day, getting to town a couple of days before the Vikings begin minicamp June 17. He hasn't had a chance to look for a house yet, and doesn't know where he'll be staying during the Vikings' three-day minicamp. "Hopefully they'll put me up somewhere the week I'm there," he said.

Those concerns, though, will be secondary to the Vikings' top pick finally getting to step on the field and start a career he's been preparing for through unusual circumstances.

"I'm looking forward to showing them who I am, how much I love the game and just making a good impression on them," he said.
MINNEAPOLIS -- In her piece published on Saturday, ESPN's Ashley Fox argued that the NFL's offseason rules, which were enacted to guard players' time and give them some semblance of an offseason to recover from the rigors of the previous year, have gone too far. Teams get much less time to teach players under the current collective bargaining agreement than they did before 2011. Things like offseason quarterback schools are all but dead, and coaches aren't allowed to talk football with their players until April. And now that the draft was pushed into the first week of May, there's even less time to get rookies up to speed before training camp.

[+] EnlargeMinnesota's Mike Zimmer
AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt"We're still in the early stages of what we are learning but I do feel like as a team we're starting to work together a little bit better," Mike Zimmer said.
The pendulum swung that way with good intentions, but Fox raises an interesting point, particularly for a team such as the Vikings. Coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner came in with plans to change the Vikings' offensive and defensive systems, but at the start of the Vikings' organized team activities last week, it was obvious players are still trying to digest everything. Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has won praise from Zimmer for his ability to pick up the scheme quickly, but he was missing from two OTAs, and the Vikings won't get three of their first five picks -- UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton and Stanford guard David Yankey -- back in their building until minicamp, since all three players attend schools on the quarters system.

"It's a tremendous, tremendous value," Zimmer said of the Vikings' time at OTAs. "The things that we get a chance to work on and accomplish, being able to understand where we are supposed to be in zone coverage, how the receivers are supposed to run the routes, the timing of everything, understanding how to play blocks, how to combination blocks on offense, the calls that we make, I mean there are so many things that are so valuable. We’re still in the early stages of what we are learning but I do feel like as a team we’re starting to work together a little bit better."

While Zimmer has said the Vikings have enough time to get everything done, I'm sure he wouldn't refuse more time to work with players, especially younger ones. The CBA's salary structure has led teams toward younger rosters, which means coaches have to do more teaching than they would with a veteran roster, and young players have to absorb playbooks in less time than their predecessors had. The NFLPA fought hard for limits to offseason programs in the 2011 CBA, and union chief DeMaurice Smith told Fox that the current rules catered to the "lowest common denominator," being designed to curb the powers of the most obsessive coaches imaginable.

The current CBA doesn't expire until 2020, so the current system will stand for years. It's worth pointing out, though, just how much teams in situations like the Vikings' current setup have to learn in a shrinking offseason window.

"I probably haven't studied this much football in six or seven years," said linebacker Chad Greenway, who is adapting to a new scheme after playing his entire career in the Vikings' old Cover 2 defense. "It's been a long time. I'm always carrying that iPad and notebook around, trying to learn and ask as many questions as possible. There's a lot of things to learn, a lot of things these coaches know that come up in this scheme that hadn't come up before. They've done a good job presenting it to us, and we're trying to learn and make it right."

Vikings rookie camp primer

May, 16, 2014
May 16
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings continue their rookie camp Friday at their facility in Eden Prairie, Minn., getting their first chance to work with their 10 draft picks, 15 undrafted free agents and more than a dozen players from around the region who will receive tryouts.

Friday is the only day of media access to the Vikings' rookie camp. Here are a few things I'm particularly interested in seeing:

Bridgewater's debut: The Vikings are getting their first extended chance to coach first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater, and in light of how well the former Louisville quarterback responded to a little coaching at his private workout (according to general manager Rick Spielman), I'll be curious to see how he looks in his initial trips through the Vikings' playbook. He won't have any of the receivers he'll eventually be working with -- he'll be able to start throwing to them in the coming weeks -- but Friday will offer the first glimpse into Bridgewater's early development as a NFL quarterback.

Competition at corner: The Vikings didn't add a defensive back in the draft until the sixth round, and the three they drafted in the final two rounds (Virginia Tech safety Antone Exum, Maine cornerback Kendall James and North Carolina cornerback Jabari Price) will have to fight for roster spots. But Spielman sounded optimistic about James (who called himself an "all-around great cover corner" in a conference call with reporters), and Exum could be an intriguing fit at safety. He's big and physical enough to play the position, but the Vikings also want to be able to do some of what we've seen Seattle do with their safeties, putting them in coverage against inside receivers and allowing their linebackers to stay on the field in passing situations. Defensive backs coach Jerry Gray talked about that with Harrison Smith last month, and Spielman mentioned that as a possibility for Exum, too. "What is intriguing about him, as we sit there and talk with our coaches, is that they also want guys at the safety position that can be cover guys," Spielman said. "This was kind of a unique player for us because he is physical on support. He has played corner, but because of his size and his physicality in the run game we feel he can maybe transition to safety."

Breaking in Barr: Linebacker Anthony Barr's pass-rushing skills are what earned him headlines at UCLA, but the Vikings wouldn't have taken him ninth overall if they didn't think he could be a complete linebacker that can stay on the field for three downs. He's only been at linebacker for two years after switching from the running back position, and has shown good instincts at the position, but he'll need to get stronger and refine his technique at the NFL level. That begins this weekend, and as much as coach Mike Zimmer pays attention to details on defense, he'll likely spend plenty of time with Barr. "It’s not that he is so raw that he is not a good football player, because he is a really good football player," Zimmer said. "I don’t want anybody to think that because he is inexperienced that he is not a good football player. He will be good. I’m excited about the chance to take him and mold him into what I really envision him to be, which I think will be good."

Target at tight end: Tennessee State tight end AC Leonard, whom the Vikings signed as an undrafted free agent, has the athletic ability to be an interesting option in Norv Turner's offense. He's only 6-foot-2 and 252 pounds, and could get swallowed up by defensive ends, but his 40 time (4.50), high jump (34 inches) and broad jump (128 inches) were the best of any tight end at the NFL scouting combine. Leonard played all over the field in college, and though he'll need plenty of work, both on and off the field (he was arrested for misdemeanor battery in 2012 and cited for driving with a suspended license three months later), his athletic ability could keep him around for an extended look.

Garoppolo's receiver tries to catch on: You'll hear plenty of talk about former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, who signed with the Vikings as a receiver after leading the efforts for Northwestern players to unionize, but of the Vikings' three undrafted receiver additions, former Eastern Illinois receiver Erik Lora might have the best chance of sticking around. He caught 136 passes in 2012, setting a FCS record as Jimmy Garoppolo's favorite target, and scored 19 touchdowns in 2013. He's only 5-foot-10, and will have to show he can produce against better competition -- and in a more complex offense than he had in college -- but Lora might have potential as a slot receiver.
MINNEAPOLIS -- We talked a bit last week about the different dynamic UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr would bring to the Minnesota Vikings' defense, providing a bigger pass-rush presence than they have had at linebacker in some time. But then the Vikings traded up to take Teddy Bridgewater, the quarterback stole the headlines and we haven't discussed Barr much since.

I wanted to return to that this morning, with a more detailed discussion about how the Vikings might employ the rookie linebacker. Coach Mike Zimmer was coy about the subject after the Vikings drafted Barr last Thursday night -- "I don’t want to tell Green Bay, Chicago and Detroit. I want to let them try and figure that out at some point," he said -- but there are some precedents from Zimmer's past defenses about where Barr might fit.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Barr
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsExpect to see Vikings rookie Anthony Barr rushing the passer a lot, no matter where he lines up.
The most recent comparison is James Harrison, the former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker whom the Cincinnati Bengals signed to play in Zimmer's 4-3 defense a year ago. Harrison wound up doing many of the same things he did as a pass-rushing linebacker in the Steelers' 3-4 defense, and didn't see many differences in his role in the two defenses. "I'm playing 'Sam' (strongside linebacker), so I'm basically doing the same thing I do in a 3-4 defense," he told the Cincinnati Enquirer last April. "It's just that I'll switch where I'm lining up," he said. "I'll be ... stacked behind a tackle or guard or whatever it may be. And I'll do my job from there."

Harrison had a disappointing season at age 35, but he was more active as a pass-rusher in the Bengals' defense than any other linebacker -- or, for that matter, anyone the Vikings have had in years. According to Pro Football Focus, he rushed the passer on 36.4 percent of his snaps, playing run defense on 41.5 percent of them and dropping into coverage 22 percent of the time. No Vikings linebacker rushed the passer on more than 11 percent of his snaps last season in the team's old Cover-2 defense.

Zimmer also said Denver's Von Miller is a good comparison for what the Vikings would like to do with Barr; Miller rushed 46 percent of the time in the Broncos' defense last season, playing the run 40 percent of the time and dropping into coverage 13 percent of the time, according to Pro Football Focus.

"Typically, our 'Sam' linebacker blitzes a lot more than our 'Will' linebacker," Zimmer said last Thursday. "We’re thinking of ways to continually try and pressure the quarterback as many times as we can, and the position he plays is a pressure position, that’s why we felt good about him."

Barr will have to adapt to the nuances of the linebacker position in Zimmer's defense after primarily rushing the passer as a 3-4 outside linebacker at UCLA, but Zimmer didn't seem concerned with him getting a feel for a broader role. "The biggest part for me, would be that he has been in the outside linebacker rushing a large majority of the time, or he would be a cover down linebacker some, you know he goes out in space," Zimmer said. "Sometimes he lines up over the guards, but he is right on top of the guards. He will be backed up a little bit in some of our base defensive packages, so that won’t be that hard for him to learn the reads from that position opposed to outside."

The Vikings could move Barr around somewhat in sub packages, and they will undoubtedly fit their scheme to what Barr can do, but Harrison's and Miller's roles last season seem like a decent baseline for what Barr could do in Minnesota. It's also easy to see why Zimmer pushed so hard for Barr; there was no one on the Vikings' roster who was an obvious fit for the strongside spot in Zimmer's defense, whereas Barr seems like a natural fit for the role.

"The guy has played two years on defense. He’s like a fawn," Zimmer said. "He’s just learning some of these things. It’s not that he is so raw that he is not a good football player, because he is a really good football player. I don’t want anybody to think that because he is inexperienced that he is not a good football player. He will be good. I’m excited about the chance to take him and mold him into what I really envision him to be, which I think will be good."
Teddy BridgewaterAP Photo/Timothy D. EasleyAfter enduring a ton of criticism following his pro day workout, Teddy Bridgewater arrives in Minnesota with plenty to prove.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman led the study -- an exhaustive analytical comparison of the top quarterbacks in the 2014 draft class -- and the Vikings' father and son team of Turners (offensive coordinator Norv and quarterbacks coach Scott) put passers through the paces of the Vikings' offense. But new Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was also on the Vikings' quarterback caravan this spring, crisscrossing the country with a specific role in the process and a manifesto about what he wanted to see.

Among other things, Zimmer zeroed in on the persona of the quarterbacks the Vikings might draft, trying to understand on a gut level what made them work and whether he'd be able to trust them as one half of a coach-quarterback partnership that could define both of their careers.

"Will this guy lead our football team? I want to make sure that the guy we bring in has the athletic ability but I also want him to have my persona," Zimmer said at the owners' meetings in March. "Because him and I are going to be tied together, whoever we draft. I don't want him to be a completely different personality from me if I can help it. I want this guy to be a leader and a guy who wants to take a bunch a guys and make a great franchise. I want him to be the first one in the building. These are a lot of things that I talk to them about and try to figure out how smart he is. All of these quarterbacks have played great in college and all of them could be the guy. The ones that don't make it are the ones when the lights come on and things are moving and he has to react and put the ball in the right place. How do you judge that? That's the biggest thing. How do we figure that out?"

Is it any wonder, then, that the Vikings ultimately ended up with Teddy Bridgewater? That Zimmer -- who had to wait until age 57 to become a head coach and vowed at his introductory press conference to make 31 other teams realize what they missed -- would be drawn to a player who promised to play with a chip on his shoulder after spending months in the crosshairs of NFL draft critics? That a coach looking for leadership would be quick to spot Bridgewater's ability to get Miami-area recruits to play at Louisville, and that Bridgewater would tell Zimmer just before the draft that Minnesota was where he wanted to be?

"You know, he sat down in my office," Zimmer said on Thursday, after the Vikings traded up to take Bridgewater with the 32nd overall pick. "He came in there and I asked him a bunch of questions and we talked about football and we talked about a lot of different things and I asked him, “What do you think is the best situation for you?” and he said, “Coach, you are going to think I'm blowing you smoke but I think the Minnesota Vikings is for me. This is really where I want to go.” I usually can read guys pretty good and I think he was very sincere about it."

To be fair, the Vikings had Bridgewater second on their draft board, slightly behind Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel. A team source confirmed to ESPN's Bob Holtzman on Friday that the Vikings did try to trade up and get Manziel with the 22nd overall pick -- though it's questionable whether the Vikings would have been able to offer the Philadelphia Eagles enough to beat out the Cleveland Browns, whose offer included a first-round choice. And the Vikings had enough questions about both quarterbacks that they were willing to take UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr with the ninth overall pick, opening themselves up to the possibility they wouldn't get either of the top passers on their board. It's not as though the Vikings were so certain about Bridgewater that they weren't willing to risk losing him, and the 22-year-old will need some work before he's ready to assume control of the Vikings' offense. Zimmer said the Vikings wanted Bridgewater to play when "we feel like he's the best guy," but Spielman has talked about giving a young quarterback a "redshirt year," and with Matt Cassel signed for two years, the Vikings are under no pressure to rush Bridgewater.

But hearing Zimmer talk about Bridgewater -- and hearing wide receiver Greg Jennings say that he never thought Manziel would be a fit for "what we're trying to do here," it's hard not to think the Vikings ultimately got their guy. Zimmer ultimately got the Vikings job in part because of Christian Ponder's effect on predecessor Leslie Frazier's fortunes, and the Vikings' new coach came to Minnesota under no illusions about how a quarterback can steer a team one way or the other.

The Vikings took great pains to make sure they felt comfortable with the player they'd draft, and at this point, at least, it appears they found a match for their new coach. Many of the things that have been said about Zimmer -- about his hunger for work and his intestinal fortitude -- have also been said about Bridgewater, and both men come to Minnesota with smudges after having their noses rubbed in dirt. That's not a guarantee of any success, but it's not a bad place to start.

"We wouldn't have moved up just to get anybody," Zimmer said. "This was obviously a guy that we wanted, that's why we moved up to get him because this is a guy that we feel really, really strong about."
MINNEAPOLIS -- For the third straight year, the Minnesota Vikings' draft was marked by a bold first round, as the team traded back into the first round to take Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater after selecting Anthony Barr ninth overall. The rest of the Vikings' draft, however, was all about projection, which means immediate draft grades -- like the one ESPN NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. gave the Vikings on Sunday -- could be underwhelming.

Kiper gave the Vikings a B-minusInsider for their efforts over the past three days, wondering why they didn't do more to address their middle linebacker situation or add depth at receiver. I'll admit I was a tad surprised not to see the Vikings add a wideout, given how many solid receivers were available in this draft, and there are still going to be questions about the Vikings' linebacker group despite the addition of Barr. But cornerback was the Vikings' biggest defensive need on the final two days of the draft, and Kiper thought sixth-rounder Kendall James could be a good value pick. The Vikings have two young middle linebacker candidates in Audie Cole and Michael Mauti, in addition to Jasper Brinkley, and I'm not sure how much more another late-round linebacker would change the situation there. Gerald Hodges, a fourth-round pick a year ago, could also help at outside linebacker, and I liked the seventh-round pick of Georgia Tech's Brandon Watts, who seems like the kind of speedy linebacker that might fit well in Mike Zimmer's defense.

As we discussed yesterday, the Vikings bet on upside with their approach to this draft, and the return on their 10 picks will probably take several years to realize (especially since their top pick, Barr, has only played linebacker for two years). But as Kiper wrote, the grade on the Vikings' draft could look much higher in a year or two, and the ability of this group to improve the Vikings' defense will matter much more than the immediate reaction to what the team did this weekend.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings made four picks on the first two days of the NFL draft. Their first one was a running back who posted 13.5 sacks in just his second year as a defensive end, and their last one was a cornerback-turned-triple-option-quarterback who will try his hand at running back in the NFL. Their third pick of the draft added a versatile, energetic pass rusher to a defensive line that already has several of those, and their second pick staked the future of their franchise on a 22-year-old quarterback who slid from the top of the first round to the bottom of it.

If the Vikings had entered the 2014 draft merely with the idea of patching holes on their roster after a 5-10-1 season, this wouldn't necessarily have been the way to go about it. But what has been clear in the first two days of the draft is that the Vikings are after something else: a group full of young, athletically-gifted players who only need a coaching staff to unlock the potential. This draft has been a bet on the ability of Mike Zimmer's coaching staff to develop talent, as much as defensive end Everson Griffen's contract represented a $20 million wager on the same idea, and the Vikings seem plenty confident in what their new coaches will be able to get out of the group.

"That kind of really excites me anyway," Zimmer said. "I love taking guys with talent and coaching that, because those kind of guys you can take them a lot further. The guys who don’t have as much talent and are good you can make them better players. But these kind of guys [like first-round pick Anthony Barr], you know, he played two years at running back and then moved over to linebacker and had a really good year the year before and then a good year again this year. He is still learning a lot of different things and we will be able to teach him a lot."

The shift has been particularly evident on defense, where Zimmer has had the biggest impact and where the Vikings plan to shift to a more aggressive style of play. But it hasn't been confined to that side of the ball. Third-round pick Jerick McKinnon, the Georgia Southern quarterback, wowed teams at the NFL scouting combine with a 4.41 40-yard dash, a 40 1/2-inch vertical and 32 bench press repetitions at 225 pounds (or more than twice as many as Barr did). Then he performed what Spielman called one of the longest and most interesting workouts he'd ever seen, working as a running back, a punt returner and a cornerback at Georgia Southern. Spielman said offensive coordinator Norv Turner compared the 5-foot-9 McKinnon to dynamos like Brian Mitchell and Darren Sproles, and while the Vikings certainly aren't looking for someone to supplant Adrian Peterson, McKinnon could give them something they haven't had in a long time.

The Vikings' draft strategy so far has been full of gambles -- and as impressive as Teddy Bridgewater's college resume is, taking a quarterback in the first round always carries considerable risk. But on the first two days of the draft, the Vikings haven't been confined by position or convention, and the payoff could be a roster full of unique players.

"I get really intrigued if they are great kids and hard workers, but if they have athletic ability and if they're great athletes, that just intrigues me," Spielman said. "And I know it intrigues the coaches, because they love to work with guys like that."

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Since he became the Minnesota Vikings' head coach in January, Mike Zimmer has been working to remake the team's defense in his image. He needed a run-stuffing nose tackle; the Vikings signed one in Linval Joseph. Zimmer needed an upgrade at slot cornerback; the Vikings paid Captain Munnerlyn to fill that role.

But as much as the Vikings had done for the first and last layers of Zimmer's defense, they were still missing a key ingredient in the middle of the sandwich: a speedy, disruptive linebacker who could blitz from the strongside position and hunt down running backs. Zimmer wanted one badly enough in his final year in Cincinnati that the Bengals signed former 3-4 linebacker James Harrison at age 35, put him on the strong side of their 4-3 defense and asked him to perform many of the same functions he did in Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense.

In Minnesota, Zimmer now has a younger and bigger linebacker to do that job. His name is Anthony Barr, and after the Vikings took him with the ninth pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night, Barr became the clearest sign that a major shift is coming to Minnesota's defense.

He is 6-foot-4, 255 pounds -- essentially the same size as defensive ends Everson Griffen and Brian Robison -- and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds. Barr has spent two years at linebacker, after he asked UCLA coach Jim Mora about switching from running back to linebacker two years ago, and he had 13 1/2 sacks in the Bruins' 3-4 defense last year. Many had projected Barr would fit best with a 3-4 team, but in Minnesota he'll be one of the keys to a defense predicated on active linebackers.

"Typically, our 'Sam' linebacker blitzes a lot more than our 'Will' linebacker, for instance," Zimmer said. "We're thinking of ways to continually try to pressure the quarterback as many times as we can, and the position he plays is a pressure position. That's why we felt good about him."

Think about how different that sounds from the way the Vikings have operated in the past. In Leslie Frazier's Cover 2 scheme, the responsibility for rushing the passer rested largely with the defensive ends, while linebackers were asked to drop into coverage and take away zones in the middle of the field. It asked linebackers to be reliable defenders, not agents of chaos. In Zimmer's defense, those expectations will change.

That's why the coach pushed for Barr, whom general manager Rick Spielman said was the second-best pass-rusher in the draft behind Jadeveon Clowney, and that's why it shouldn't come as a surprise the Vikings want to feature him. Putting Barr at strongside linebacker also doesn't mean the Vikings are phasing out Chad Greenway; Zimmer pointed out that Greenway's position would actually be weakside linebacker in his defense, and added he envisions both players on the field at the same time. Spielman talked in March about how Zimmer had some different ideas for Greenway, and while the coach didn't elaborate on those ideas Thursday, he said, "Chad can play anywhere."

For the strongside linebacker position in his defense, though, Zimmer needed a specific kind of player. He got his man in Barr, and his remodel of the Vikings' defense took a significant step forward.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The pick: After trading down one spot with the Cleveland Browns for the second time in three years, the Minnesota Vikings filled one of their biggest holes on defense by selecting UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr with the ninth overall pick.

My take: The Vikings needed an impact linebacker, and Barr certainly has the potential to fill that role. He's certainly raw (he played only 27 games at linebacker in college) and will need work to turn into the kind of disruptive force the Vikings are hoping to get at the position. But it's tough to argue with his physique -- he's 6-foot-4 and ran a 4.44 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine. His 15 repetitions in the bench press at the combine were the worst among linebackers, but he'll get stronger as he enters the league. It was important for the Vikings to get speed and athleticism in their linebacking group, and they've got it now.

Trading with Browns again: The Vikings acquired the 145th overall pick in the draft to move back one spot, trading with the Browns two years after they slipped back from No. 3 to No. 4 and took Matt Kalil. This time, the Browns moved up to get Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert after trading from No. 4 to No. 9. The Vikings now have nine picks in the draft; Spielman usually likes to have 10, but he's got extra flexibility now if he wants to make a move back up.

What's next: The Vikings have three picks on the second day of the draft -- Nos. 40, 72 and 96. They've traded back into the first round the past two years, though, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see Rick Spielman make a deal later on Thursday night.
The board has been put together and in a little over 24 hours, the Detroit Lions will be able to see exactly how the NFL draft they have planned for over the past five-plus months will actually shake out.

In explaining his team’s draft process Monday, general manager Martin Mayhew said because the Lions are at the No. 10 spot, they have their initial draft board, will remove the quarterbacks and then have their essential Top 10 to work with Thursday evening.

Other than the obvious that Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins is somewhere on their board, here is one man’s guess of what their Top 10 board could look like come Thursday -- pulling quarterbacks off, of course, since the Lions are not searching for one. Remember, this is just a guess. Detroit has not tipped much of anything off as to what their board would look like.

1.Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson: The Lions have made no secret about their love for the player who caught 101 passes last season and is considered the top receiver in the draft. The Lions brought him in for a visit, brought his teammate, Martavis Bryant, in for a visit and also brought in his brother, Jaylen Watkins, a defensive back from Florida. They ate with Sammy at his pro day, and Mayhew believes he is a good fit for the organization. The question is whether Detroit could really go and get him as he will be long gone by No. 10.

2.Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: There’s no way Clowney is lower than third on any team’s draft board, and if he is, that team is likely kidding itself. Clowney is a transcendent talent who is the most physically gifted player in this draft and perhaps in the past four or five drafts. For Detroit to get him, it would likely have to trade all the way up to No. 1, but if he somehow fell to No. 3, then it might be worth it to pursue.

3.Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo: The second-best defensive player in the draft also fits a position of need for the Lions. While Watkins is often the talk of most trade-up scenarios, it is Mack who could be the player Detroit could end up targeting in that type of scenario. He is an instant playmaker who is a three-down linebacker and would give the linebacking corps an immediate upgrade in talent and depth.

4.Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M: Many of the other rumors surrounding Detroit involve a lesser trade-up scenario for Evans, who was Johnny Manziel’s main target with the Aggies. The Lions would likely only have to go up to No. 7 to grab him, so it would cost less in return than Watkins. Lining him up with Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate would give the Lions one of the scarier passing games in the NFC.

5.Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn: He is the top tackle in the draft and almost certainly not going to be available for Detroit. If he somehow slipped to the Lions, they would find a way to make it work on the line, most likely moving 2013 left tackle Riley Reiff inside to guard.

6.Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M: Matthews could be available, in theory, depending on how the top of the draft goes, what trades are made and the number of quarterbacks selected. He or Taylor Lewan are often considered the highest rated tackles in the draft behind Robinson.

7.Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State: After the top six is where it gets tricky -- and this is likely where the Lions’ pick will come from. Dennard lacks the ideal size defensive coordinator Teryl Austin would like in a cornerback, but he could be the best cover corner in the draft and likely will be the first cornerback off the board Thursday night. Part of why I didn’t consider him in the NFL Nation mock is he wasn’t available as Minnesota took him at No. 9.

8.Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama: Some will think this is high for Clinton-Dix, who I took in the NFL Nation mock draft Tuesday. Former general manager and ESPN analyst Bill Polian panned the pick and said cornerback was the more glaring need. That is a fair assessment, but safety is also a position of need for the Lions and Clinton-Dix is the best safety at a somewhat thin position compared to the rest of the groups in the draft. As I mentioned Tuesday and Wednesday, I believe the Lions will try to trade down.

9.Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh: Not necessarily a position of need for Detroit, but he could very well be the best player available for the Lions at No. 10, and as I mentioned Wednesday, the player I believe the Lions should take at No. 10 if he’s available. Drafting Donald would offer Detroit flexibility on the defensive line, and he has experience in both a 3-4 and 4-3 scheme, which can help in Austin’s defense as he tries to turn it multiple. Plus, he can learn from Ndamukong Suh for a season before potentially stepping into a starting role if Suh or Nick Fairley departs Detroit in 2015.

10.Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech: There are a lot of interesting connections for Fuller with Detroit. Both of his brothers have played for the Lions at some point in their careers. Vincent Fuller was a cornerback for Detroit in 2011 and Corey Fuller was drafted by the Lions last season and is on the roster for 2014. Kyle Fuller has outstanding ball skills, but isn’t as strong in coverage as Dennard.

Next six: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan; Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU; Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame; Anthony Barr, DE/LB, UCLA; Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State; Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Let's get this out of the way from the top: We know Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson does not draft for need -- or so he says.

But in the months leading up to this week's draft, Thompson and his scouts have spent hundreds of hours not only discussing the prospects who will be available to them but also their current roster and its strengths and weaknesses.

With that in mind, let's break the 12 position groups that make up the roster into four parts based on the following categories of draft needs.

We will define them this way:

Part 1: Negligible -- positions where there is little or no need.

Part 2: Non-essential -- positions where there is a need but it is not paramount to fill.

Part 3: Secondary -- positions where there is a need but not at the critical level.

Part 4: Pressing -- positions where it is imperative that help be found.

On Monday, we looked at the negligible needs, Nos. 10-12.

Next up are the nonessential needs.

7. Quarterback: It's too early to start thinking about a replacement for Aaron Rodgers, who turned 30 last December and is under contract through 2019, but they need to find the next Matt Flynn -- a long-term backup who can be counted on to win games just in case. Flynn is back under a one-year deal, but coach Mike McCarthy has said he would like to develop a young quarterback. Is that Scott Tolzien? Perhaps, but don't be surprised if they bring in a mid-to-late-round quarterback.

Possible players of interest: AJ McCarron, Alabama; Tom Savage, Pittsburgh; David Fales, San Jose State; Keith Wenning, Ball State; Brock Jensen, North Dakota State.

8. Cornerback: The Packers committed to Sam Shields this offseason with a four-year, $39 million contract just as free agency opened, but veteran Tramon Williams is in the final year of his contract. Casey Hayward is expected to be back from the hamstring injury that ruined his 2013 season, and there's depth with Micah Hyde, Davon House and James Nixon, although Hyde may move to safety. If the right corner fell to the Packers, Thompson might jump at the chance.

Possible players of interest: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State; Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech; Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State; Keith McGill, Utah; Stan Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska.

9. Outside linebacker: Like defensive end, this is another position where there's plenty of talent depending on who lines up where. Beyond Pro Bowler Clay Matthews, there's Julius Peppers (who will play a combination DL-OLB), former first-round pick Nick Perry, former second-round pick Mike Neal and second-year players Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer.

Possible players of interest: Anthony Barr, UCLA; Kyle Van Noy, BYU; Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech; Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The list of prospects the Minnesota Vikings are bringing to the Twin Cities for their top-30 prospects event next week is starting to take shape.

Louisville linebacker Preston Brown will join his teammate, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, in Minnesota next week. ESPN's Josina Anderson reported earlier this week that Bridgewater will visit the Vikings next week, and a league source said Brown will also meet with the team. UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr had also told Fox Sports he will visit the Vikings, and Towson running back Terrance West will be part of the event, as the Baltimore Sun first reported this week.

The Vikings typically allocate many of their 30 pre-draft visits to the two-day event, which allows coaches and team executives to meet with players 3 1/2 weeks before the draft. The event isn't necessarily a perfect indicator of how interested the Vikings are in certain players; for example, they brought USC tackle Matt Kalil to the event in 2012, but didn't extend an invitation to Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith. Twenty-three days later, the Vikings took both players in the first round.

Quarterbacks such as Central Florida's Blake Bortles, LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Fresno State's Derek Carr aren't expected to be at the event; the Vikings met with all of them, as well as Alabama's AJ McCarron and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel after their on-campus pro days. Those meetings, or private workouts like the ones the Vikings had with San Jose State quarterback David Fales, can often be as helpful as the Vikings' event next week. But as the draft gets closer, the Vikings will use many of their visits to spend time with a wide range of prospects who could be taken anywhere from the first round to the middle of the draft.




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