NFC North: Anthony Barr

Patriots vs. Vikings preview

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
8:00
AM ET
Update: The Vikings have deactivated Adrian Peterson for Sunday’s game following Friday's indictment by a Montgomery County, Texas, grand jury on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child.

The Minnesota Vikings are coming off their biggest road win in five seasons, while the New England Patriots are trying to avoid an 0-2 start after a 13-point defeat on the road last week. Just like everyone predicted, right?

In a matchup that pits Patriots coach Bill Belichick against a couple of his old foes from the AFC -- Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner -- the Vikings will try to build on their surprising start in their home opener at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday. Zimmer's game plan in Cincinnati last year forced Patriots quarterback Tom Brady into his worst game of the season, and Zimmer will hope to recreate the performance with a Vikings defense that isn't as experienced as what he had with the Bengals.

ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss discuss this week's matchup.

Ben Goessling: Mike, the Vikings sacked Rams quarterbacks five times Sunday. After a pretty poor week for the Patriots' offensive line against the Dolphins -- a team whose defensive coordinator is a disciple of Vikings coach Mike Zimmer -- do you think protecting Brady is going to be a lingering issue this week?

Mike Reiss: Yes, Ben, there is no doubt about that. One thing I believe should help the Patriots is that while the Vikings' defensive line is solid, I don't believe it is at the same level as Miami's. Specifically, the Patriots won't be seeing the same type of speed rush from Cameron Wake off the defensive left side, which they just couldn't handle. There's only a few like Wake in the NFL. The Patriots are still figuring out their best combination up front, and that will be one of the most closely watched storylines from a New England perspective. One thing I'm sure Patriots followers would be interested to hear is how Matt Cassel, the New England backup from 2005-08, is performing.

Goessling: So far, Cassel has been solid, though he didn't have to take many chances in the Vikings' win against the Rams last week. He only attempted three passes of more than 10 yards, and he was able to hit a number of screen passes to running backs, receivers and even tight end Rhett Ellison. But Cassel hit Greg Jennings on a nice post play and threw a couple of touchdown passes off play-action. The hope is Cassel can be solid enough to keep the Vikings relevant and give them more time to develop Teddy Bridgewater; ultimately, he is the future of this team, but for now, Cassel is buying the Vikings time before they turn things over to Bridgewater. And if they're able to win enough games with Cassel, who knows? He could turn out to be the starter all season.

Belichick will get to face one of his old foes from the AFC in Turner on Sunday; how have the Patriots typically matched up against Turner teams, and how do you expect their defense will handle the Vikings on Sunday, after the Vikings showed off a number of weapons last week against the Rams?

Reiss: When the Patriots have faced a Turner-coordinated offense, Belichick has touched on the vertical nature of the passing game. He also said earlier this week that, "You have to be able to stop the running game and stop '12 personnel' [1 back, 2 tight ends]." The Patriots' biggest issues in the opener were poor fits in the run game (191 yards allowed). I wouldn't be surprised if we see Darrelle Revis shadow Cordarrelle Patterson after Revis almost exclusively played the left side in the opener.

In last year's draft, the Patriots traded the No. 29 pick to Minnesota for Patterson and received second-, third-, fourth- and seventh-round picks in return. The Patriots turned those picks into linebacker Jamie Collins, cornerback Logan Ryan, receiver Josh Boyce and used the seventh to trade for running back LeGarrette Blount (now in Pittsburgh). One year later, how do you assess that deal from a Minnesota perspective?

Goessling: I can't imagine the Vikings have any regrets about it. As much as they could have used some of those picks to address their defensive depth issues, they've got a budding star in Patterson. He's not only filled the role vacated by Percy Harvin in the Vikings' offense, he's done it without any of the questions surrounding Harvin's durability and temperament. Patterson isn't quite as strong or shifty, but he's taller, a more natural outside receiver and his ability to hit holes is as good as you'll find anywhere. He's already become a focal point in the Vikings' offense, and I imagine that will only continue. The Vikings use him in enough different ways that I think it would be hard to completely shut him down with Revis, though I'm sure Belichick will come up with something to try and fence him in.

Speaking of defensive game plans, the Bengals' defense under Zimmer had a good one to frustrate Brady last season, and Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyne (a Zimmer disciple) had success against the Patriots last week, of course. We've talked a little bit about the pass rush already, but what else did Zimmer dial up in that game to force Brady into one of his worst days of the season, and do you think he can do it again this weekend?

Reiss: The main things I remember about Zimmer's plan last season was the ability to hurry Brady with the standard four rushers early (Geno Atkins was a beast inside), and then bringing out the different blitz packages on third down and more obvious passing situations. One thing, in particular, is the double A-gap blitz right up the middle. Even if you don't bring those extra two rushers on a blitz, by showing the look, it forces the offensive line to communicate and make sure they are all seeing the same thing in terms of who is coming, who isn't and who to block. The Patriots' offensive line crumbled in the third quarter against the Dolphins last week, and I'd imagine the Vikings watched that tape and are salivating at the possibilities of frustrating Brady. At the same time, I think the Patriots are better than they showed, and we could see some personnel changes in the middle with rookie center Bryan Stork in the mix.

Defensively for the Vikings, tell us more about where and how they put stress on the opposition.

Goessling: You touched on it a little bit: The big key to it is still the creativity Zimmer shows in his blitz packages. He doesn't bring extra pressure all that often, in the grand scheme of things (he only blitzed eight times last week), but he'll show enough blitz looks, and send pass-rushers from enough different spots, that he keeps you on your toes. You'll often see him show a seven- or eight-man front, only to have several players drop back into coverage. The problem is guessing which players it will be; the Vikings have some flexibility with their personnel, like linebacker Anthony Barr, defensive end Everson Griffen and safety Harrison Smith. The Vikings' secondary depth still concerns me, and we'll see whether Brady can exploit it this week, but this Vikings' defense won't be as big of a pushover as last season's unit was.

Rapid Reaction: Minnesota Vikings

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
4:03
PM ET

ST. LOUIS -- A few thoughts on the Minnesota Vikings' 34-6 win over the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome:

What it means: The Vikings, who didn't get a win on the road in 2013, started the Mike Zimmer era with a convincing -- although not altogether clean -- victory on the road. Their defense looked markedly improved from the porous unit that allowed more points than any team in the league last season, holding the Rams to just 318 yards -- many of which came after the game had been decided -- and intercepting two passes. The Vikings were penalized seven times for 60 yards on a day filled with flags from Ed Hochuli's crew, and only went 3-for-11 on third downs, but especially for the defense, it was an impressive start to the 2014 season.

Stock watch: Cornerback Josh Robinson's standing didn't seem like it could be much lower in the middle of the preseason, when Zimmer referred to the corner as "that other guy" while he was out nursing a hamstring injury. But the Vikings have praised Robinson's improvement in recent weeks, and Robinson's impressive sideline interception -- in which he undercut a Shaun Hill pass and tapped his toes just before heading out of bounds -- was perhaps the best play on a ball we've seen by a Vikings corner in several years. He also made a nice tackle on Brian Quick's third-down reception in the first quarter, keeping the Rams a yard short of a first down before Greg Zuerlein missed a 50-yard field goal. The Vikings lost Xavier Rhodes to a groin injury, and will have to monitor the second-year player's health, but they'll at least have reason to be encouraged about Robinson's development.

Vikings win sack battle: Heading into the game, there was plenty of concern about how the Vikings' offensive line would hold up against the Rams' front four, which had 53 sacks last season. The group put some pressure on Matt Cassel, especially with the help of a couple of well-timed blitzes, but it was the Vikings' pass pressure that caused the most trouble. Minnesota recorded five sacks on Rams quarterbacks, and a vicious hit from Anthony Barr caused Austin Davis to rush the throw that Harrison Smith intercepted and returned 81 yards for his third career touchdown.

Game ball: It has to go to Cordarrelle Patterson, who became the first Vikings wide receiver to rush for 100 yards, burning the Rams on a couple of jet sweeps in the first half and lining up in the backfield for a 67-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter. Patterson finished the day with 102 yards on three carries, outgaining Adrian Peterson by 27 yards on the ground.

What's next: The Vikings (1-0) will play host to the New England Patriots (0-1) in their home opener next Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who was hit in the left calf by a stray bullet in an Aug. 9 nightclub shooting in Minneapolis, returned to practice for the first time since the shooting on Monday, working out with the Minnesota Vikings as they prepare for their season opener on Sunday.

Joseph had said last week that he would be ready for the start of the regular season, and his participation in practice on Monday would suggest he's still on track to play, as would the Vikings' decision to cut nose tackle Fred Evans and start the season with only rookie Shamar Stephen backing up Joseph.

Offensive tackle Phil Loadholt was also back at practice on Monday, nine days after bruising his ankle in a preseason game against Kansas City. Wide receivers Adam Thielen and Rodney Smith, as well as linebackers Anthony Barr and Gerald Hodges, also returned from injuries.

The Vikings were without fullback Zach Line at practice, and linebacker Michael Mauti left early. Tackle Mike Harris, whom the Vikings claimed off waivers on Sunday, was watching practice on Monday.
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.
MANKATO, Minn. -- The biggest question surrounding the Minnesota Vikings when Mike Zimmer took over as head coach in January was the team's future at quarterback. The tallest task facing Zimmer when he accepted the job on Jan. 15 might have been remaking the Vikings' defense.

Zimmer's résumé as a defensive coordinator earned him the chance to work with a group that allowed more points than any in the NFL last season, and more than all but one defense in the Vikings' 53-season history. The coach began a detailed remodeling process almost as soon as he got the job, walking scouts and front-office members through what he'd need to succeed, and the trademark of his on-field work with players over the past two months has been an exacting adherence to details. The first concrete signs of progress came in the Vikings' preseason opener last Friday night, when the first-team defense forced a pair of three-and-outs against the Oakland Raiders. When he watched the film the next day, Zimmer saw some semblance of what he'd outlined for Vikings decision-makers months ago.

"It was a little bit like I envisioned this football team to look like. We didn’t make many mistakes on defense until later on in the ball game. We competed very well; we got up in people’s face on defense," Zimmer said. "I think that we are starting to develop a physical mindset with this football team. I like how we practice and the way we practice is showing up when the lights come on and we get ready to go play. We need to continue to practice at the same tempo, we need to continue to improve on the mistakes and we've still got a long way to go."

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. If Matt Cassel (or Teddy Bridgewater) can help the Vikings move beyond the quarterback turmoil of 2013, the team has enough weapons to catch up to the prolific offenses in the NFC North. Cordarrelle Patterson could be in for a breakout season in Year 2, Greg Jennings worked well with Cassel last season and Kyle Rudolph dropped 15 pounds in an effort to adjust his game to offensive coordinator Norv Turner's downfield passing game. The Vikings, of course, still have Adrian Peterson, and they're excited about the potential of third-round pick Jerick McKinnon, who could be the change-of-pace back Turner has typically had in his offenses.

[+] EnlargeMinnesota's Anthony Barr
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsAnthony Barr should start at strongside linebacker, though the Vikings night unveil some creative packages for the rookie.
2. First-round pick Anthony Barr should start at strongside linebacker, where he'll be featured as part of a defense that should be more aggressive than recent Vikings teams. While he was the defensive coordinator in Cincinnati, Zimmer sent five or more pass-rushers just 172 times last season (the seventh-fewest in the league), according to ESPN Stats & Information, but he'll bring pressure from more places than the Vikings did under Leslie Frazier. The Bengals, for example, blitzed a defensive back on 30 more snaps than the Vikings did last season.

3. General manager Rick Spielman has picked seven players in the first round of the past three drafts, assembling a core of young talent that could help the Vikings improve as quickly as it can develop. Third-year safety Harrison Smith is back from a turf toe injury that cost him half the season, second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes is a good fit with Zimmer's press coverage scheme and Sharrif Floyd could become the Vikings' answer to Geno Atkins, the outstanding three-technique tackle Zimmer had in Cincinnati.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. The Vikings will be counting on better depth in the secondary than they had last season, which means a number of unproven players will have to fill large roles. After the Vikings' experiment with Josh Robinson at slot cornerback backfired last season, he should be more comfortable on the outside, where he could start or play in the Vikings' nickel package once Captain Munnerlyn moves inside. But Robinson hasn't been asked to play much man coverage in his career, and the Vikings will need Rhodes to be their top cover corner in Year 2. They'll also need a starting safety to emerge alongside Smith, though the signing of 34-year-old Chris Crocker could help there.

2. There's little set at the linebacker position, where Chad Greenway is trying to rebound from the worst season of his career, Barr is developing as a rookie and Jasper Brinkley, in his second tour with the Vikings, is trying to hold off third-year man Audie Cole for the middle-linebacker job. In a scheme that leans on active linebackers, the position is one of the most unsettled on the roster.

3. Of course, there's the quarterback position. Cassel performed respectably at the end of last season, and seems comfortable in Turner's offense, but probably hasn't been among the top half of the league's quarterbacks since 2010. If he isn't faring well at the beginning of the season -- and the Vikings get off to a rough start against a schedule that includes dates with Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers by Oct. 2 -- how soon do the Vikings turn things over to Bridgewater? Whether they're counting on a veteran whom they signed last season as a backup or a rookie, the Vikings again begin the season as the only NFC North team with uncertainty about its starting quarterback.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallIf Matt Cassel struggles, how quickly will the Vikings turn to Teddy Bridgewater?
OBSERVATION DECK

  • The Vikings have used Barr as a defensive end in pass-rushing situations and could unveil more creative packages for the rookie this week. Zimmer has plenty of flexibility with his defensive fronts, considering Everson Griffen has played defensive tackle in the nickel package and Corey Wootton and rookie Scott Crichton have rushed from the inside. The Vikings have also toyed with dropping defensive end Brian Robison -- who began his college career as a linebacker -- into coverage in their nickel package.

  • Zimmer wants safeties who can hold up in coverage, and he has unveiled a few nickel packages that feature three safeties and two corners. Considering how much time teams spend in nickel packages, safeties who can cover slot receivers and hold up against the run provide some additional flexibility. That's why Crocker -- who has played the past seven seasons for Zimmer in Atlanta or Cincinnati -- is back with him again.

  • Depth at tight end could be a concern, especially early in the season; Chase Ford looked like he could be a solid receiving option behind Rudolph until he broke his foot before the start of training camp, and the Vikings cut promising undrafted free agent AC Leonard last week. Rhett Ellison has mostly worked as a run blocker so far in his career. Especially if Ford starts on the physically unable to perform list, the Vikings will have to hope Rudolph stays healthy a year after missing half the season with a broken foot.

  • Running back Matt Asiata could carve out a role for himself in the Vikings' offense, especially now that Toby Gerhart is gone to Jacksonville and the Vikings need another running back who can hold up in pass protection. Asiata ran for 115 yards in the Vikings' final game of the 2013 season and has shown some ability as a downhill runner between the tackles.

  • With punt returner Marcus Sherels nursing a hamstring injury, second-year receiver Adam Thielen has shown he can be a solid No. 2 option, returning three punts for 53 yards in the Vikings' preseason opener. As a receiver, Thielen has been one of the big stories in Vikings camp, displaying sure hands over the middle of the field and working well with Bridgewater in front of the same fans who cheered him at Division II Minnesota State, which hosts Vikings training camp.
MANKATO, Minn. -- For a coach who has referred to himself several times during training camp as being hard to please, Mike Zimmer had relatively few objections to raise about the Minnesota Vikings' performance in their preseason opener on Friday night.

Zimmer said the Vikings' pass rush on defense and pass protection on offense needed to be better, and wasn't happy with the team's defensive backups allowing the Oakland Raiders to score late after the Vikings had built a 10-0 lead. But overall, he said, when he watched film of the game, "it was a little bit like I envision this football team to look like.

"We didn’t make many mistakes on defense until later on in the ballgame," Zimmer said. "Offensively, we took care of the ball. Both sides of the ball hustled and ran well. We competed and got up in people’s face on defense. We challenged. Their defensive backs were playing man to man. For the most part we threw the ball in the right places. And I think we’re starting to develop a physical mindset with this football team. I like how we practice and I told the team this morning the way we practice is showing up when the lights come and we get ready to go play. We need to continue to practice at the same tempo. We need to continue to improve on the mistakes and we’ve still got a long way to go.”

The coach's call for a better pass rush seems valid from here; the first of the Vikings' two sacks came on a five-man blitz, and the team didn't record another hit on a Raiders quarterback. Zimmer was also upset with the Vikings' pass rush at the end of the game, when the team allowed Matt McGloin to escape the pocket and throw downfield.

"At the end of the ballgame we didn’t rush smart," Zimmer said. "We let the quarterback out of the pocket and had a chance to throw the ball down there. I think he scrambled out one time. We have to know where our rush lanes are. Those are all things about being a smart football [team]. When I talk about being a smart team, that’s part of being a smart football team.”

Zimmer said he should have blitzed rookie linebacker Anthony Barr, adding the Vikings will move Barr around to several different spots in the defense during practice this week. Their success, in part, will be tied to how effectively they can pressure the quarterback with four rushers -- and Zimmer didn't have a reputation as being a heavy blitzer as a defense coordinator -- but Barr's flexibility could add another wrinkle to the pass rush.

"The things I've been talking to him about in practice, he improved in the ballgame," Zimmer said. "He was overrunning a couple plays the last few days in camp, and we coached him up to, 'Hey, you've got to make sure you're taking care of this,' and then shed and be off. He got off of blocks well. In coverage, he was in good shape. He had maybe a couple blitzes; I probably should have rushed him a little bit more early in the ballgame than I did, but he'll get plenty of opportunities."

Vikings wake-up call: Day 12

August, 10, 2014
Aug 10
10:52
AM ET
MANKATO, Minn. -- Setting up the day at Minnesota Vikings training camp:

Today's schedule: After a day off on Saturday, the Vikings reconvene at Minnesota State for their final few days of work in Mankato. They'll begin a special-teams-only walk-through at 11:20 a.m. CT and come back for practice at 3 p.m. Coach Mike Zimmer will address the media, and defensive tackle Linval Joseph -- who was released from the hospital Saturday after he was struck in the leg by a stray bullet in a nightclub early Saturday morning -- is expected to discuss his situation as well.

More observations from Friday's preseason game:
  • Zimmer talked about how the Vikings would be "very, very basic" in their defense, but on the first third down they unveiled a blitz package that had Anthony Barr rushing from an inside lineman position, Harrison Smith coming off the edge and left end Brian Robison dropping into coverage. We've seen the Vikings use Barr as a lineman in pass-rushing situations already in training camp, and the fact they were blitzing him while dropping Robison early on Friday night suggests such a blitz package as a key part of their repertoire. The sack Barr split with Tom Johnson also came on third down when he rushed off the right side from a linebacker position.
  • Those hoping to see some maturation from Cordarrelle Patterson as a receiver got it on the first drive of the game Friday, when Matt Cassel connected with Patterson on his first two completions of the game -- an in-breaking route against good man coverage and a third-down back-shoulder throw that Patterson had to haul in with one hand. On the back-shoulder throw, Patterson had to fight off a jam from Raiders cornerback Tarell Brown and work back to the ball just in time. It was a precise play that would have been easier if Patterson had broken contact a split-second earlier, but the fact he came up with a couple catches early -- against good coverage from a veteran cornerback -- showed some reasons for encouragement.
  • The Vikings' two fullbacks -- Jerome Felton and Zach Line -- played just 10 and 16 snaps, respectively, as the team came out in "12" personnel (one running back, two tight ends) early and often Friday. Tight ends Kyle Rudolph, Rhett Ellison, Mike Higgins and Allen Reisner all played at least 20 snaps. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner doesn't seem to favor two-back sets as much as predecessor Bill Musgrave did, and Felton and Line will have to continue trying to carve out a role in the Vikings' offense.
What I'm watching: With Joseph expected to miss a couple weeks while he recovers from what's being described as a minor bullet wound to his calf, the Vikings will get an early look at their defensive line depth this week. Fred Evans figures to play with the first-team defense at nose tackle, but Johnson also saw some snaps in Joseph's spot later in Friday's game and undrafted free agent Isame Faciane was impressive in pass-rushing situations later in the game, batting down a pass and grading out as the Vikings' top defender, according to Pro Football Focus. Defensive tackle depth could be an issue for the Vikings, but the next week or two could provide a sense for how it stacks up.

They said it: "Well, the backup quarterback is always the favorite guy, right? They should be excited about Teddy. They are going to be cheering for him for a long, long time." -- Zimmer, on fans chanting Teddy Bridgewater's name before he had thrown a pass on Friday night.

W2W4: Minnesota Vikings

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
12:00
PM ET
The Minnesota Vikings (0-0) and the Oakland Raiders (0-0) open the preseason Friday night at TCF Bank Stadium.

1. Bridgewater's debut: The Vikings will get their first look at quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in a game situation, and they should have plenty of time to see where the rookie is at. Coach Mike Zimmer said Bridgewater will get some first-team work, and it's possible the quarterback could play up to two quarters, especially if starter Matt Cassel comes out after a couple series. The Vikings' game plan should be relatively simple on Friday night, and Bridgewater shouldn't have much trouble running the offense and making adjustments at the line of scrimmage, but he'll get to face a live defense for the first time in the better part of a year. If he handles all of it well, he'll make a strong opening case for the Vikings' starting job.

2. Barr starts at linebacker: First-round pick Anthony Barr will get the start at strong-side linebacker for the Vikings, after an impressive first two weeks of training camp. It's unlikely the Vikings will show many of their diverse plans for the linebacker -- they've put him on the defensive line, blitzed him from the linebacker position and dropped him into coverage during training camp -- but he'll have his first chance to compete against players he hasn't seen in practice every day, and the Vikings will get to see how well Barr can react on the fly.

3. Secondary in flux: The Vikings have a number of questions in their defensive backfield, and injuries haven't helped them get any answers. Safety Robert Blanton is unlikely to play because of a hamstring injury, while safety Jamarca Sanford's status is uncertain because of a back spasm. Cornerback Josh Robinson has dealt with a hamstring injury, as well, and 34-year-old safety Chris Crocker -- who might end up being the Vikings' starter next to Harrison Smith -- just came out of retirement this week. Second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes is still adjusting to the Vikings' new defense, as well, so it wouldn't be surprising to see some rough moments from the secondary on Friday night. The game, however, provides an initial litmus test for a position group that had a major hand in the Vikings allowing more points than any team in the NFL last season.

Vikings Camp Report: Day 9

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
8:05
PM ET
MANKATO, Minn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Minnesota Vikings training camp:
  • The Vikings quickly put safety Chris Crocker to work after signing him on Monday afternoon; the 34-year-old was in team drills right away, mostly working with the second team. Crocker said he's been working out, but will need a little time to re-acclimate himself to running with the extra weight of pads. Still, his familiarity with coach Mike Zimmer's defense meant the Vikings had no qualms about throwing him into their full-team work on Monday.
  • Linebacker Michael Mauti got some first-team work at strongside linebacker on Monday, and has been largely playing outside after working out at middle linebacker last season. Mauti said he's around 240 pounds, playing at a little lighter weight than last year because of all the running linebackers have to do in Zimmer's scheme (and have had to do in practice). He's now nearly two years removed from his last knee surgery, and said he feels great. Anthony Barr looks like the probable starter at strongside linebacker, but Mauti is trying to make a roster bid based on his versatility. "The more you can do, absolutely (it helps)," he said.
  • The Vikings' quarterbacks weren't asked to throw as much in full-team drills as they have been in recent days. Matt Cassel hit 6 of 9 passes in 11-on-11 work, while Teddy Bridgewater went 8-for-10, rebounding from a tough night on Saturday and finishing his day with some first-team snaps. He targeted his final three throws for Greg Jennings, hitting two of them. Christian Ponder worked with the third team, connecting on 4 of 7 passes, including a drop and two spikes in a two-minute drill.
  • In a practice-it-in-case-of-emergency moment, all three quarterbacks also got some work on pooch punts. Bridgewater was the best of the three there, hitting a couple punts with decent hang time.
  • Tight end Chase Ford, who is on the physically unable to perform list with a broken foot, seems to be recovering quickly; he was out of a walking boot and moving around without a noticeable limp on Monday, as he watched practice in athletic shoes. Safety Andrew Sendejo was back from the PUP list and went through his first practice, as well, as Zimmer tried to get a handle on his crowded safety situation. Tackle Antonio Richardson, however, left with a leg injury late in practice after his leg got rolled on a running play.

Vikings wake-up call: Day 7

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
9:45
AM ET
MANKATO, Minn. -- Setting up the day at Minnesota Vikings camp:

Today's schedule: The Vikings have their normal routine of a 10:30-11:30 walk-through and a 3 p.m.-5:10 p.m. practice at Minnesota State University. Defensive coordinator George Edwards and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer are scheduled to talk to reporters after the morning walk-through.

More observations from Thursday's practice:
  • The Vikings have been doing extensive work with Xavier Rhodes, their talented second-year corner who still seems to be learning to trust his instincts in coverage. Rhodes is expected to be the Vikings' top cover corner this year, and while coach Mike Zimmer's defense typically doesn't ask corners to travel across the field with one receiver, Rhodes will undoubtedly see his share of difficult matchups this season. On Thursday, he drove on a route early in practice, but dropped an interception for the second consecutive day. Later, in a seven-on-seven red zone drill, he showed good technique against Jerome Simpson, playing with inside leverage that forced Matt Cassel to make a difficult throw to the back corner of the end zone, but Rhodes turned a split-second late for the ball and tried to swat it, rather than hitting Simpson's hands as he leaped to catch it. Defensive backs coach Jerry Gray explained to Rhodes afterward that he'd played the right technique in coverage, but he just needed to force the ball out, rather than trying to recover by batting it away. It was a vivid snapshot in what's been a camp full of learning for Rhodes.
  • Zimmer continued to mix and match players in his first-team defense, giving Tom Johnson some work with the top unit at 3-technique tackle and rotating Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond and rookie Antone Exum in the safety spot opposite Harrison Smith with Robert Blanton out because of a hamstring injury. Zimmer said he will release the Vikings' first formal depth chart sometime next week, and at certain positions it's probably dangerous to assume too much about a pecking order, when the Vikings are trying to get a look at a handful of different players in a variety of roles. ""Really, it's just about figuring out what guys can do," Zimmer said. "The more you can do, the more value you have to this football team."
  • The Vikings are experimenting with first-round draft pick Anthony Barr in a number of different ways. He's played linebacker in their dime package, has rushed from a defensive end position in the nickel, in addition to his normal work at linebacker in the base defense. He'll have to be able to hold up in coverage as a linebacker, but Zimmer's had no complaints there so far. "Coverage is great. He moves well. He’s got a good idea," Zimmer said. "Somebody was telling me that he takes copious notes in the meetings. He’s got pages and pages of them as we talk, so he’s very, very into trying to learn what we’re trying to do and teach. He’s got a lot of raw, athletic ability that helps in the coverage aspect of things. There’s times when he may pull off of somebody a little bit too soon that he’s got to do better at. But for the most part, I’ve been very pleased with that."
They said it: "I would say the sky's the limit, but there's no ceiling to his potential. There really isn't. If he's willing to put in the time, the potential is there. He has everything he needs. He's starting to mature as a player, as an individual, so his success is going to shoot straight through the roof. I'm excited. I told him this, and maybe it was a little premature, but I told him, 'At some point, I'm going to tell my kids I played with Cordarrelle Patterson.'" --Wide receiver Greg Jennings on Patterson.

Vikings Camp Report: Day 6

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
7:40
PM ET
MANKATO, Minn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Minnesota Vikings training camp:
  • For the first time in Vikings training camp, we've seen an interception in full-team drills. Actually, there were two of them on Thursday, both coming off rookie Teddy Bridgewater. First, Audie Cole made what might have been the play of the day, jumping in front of a pass to the flat and picking it off with what would have been a clear lane to the end zone. Then, Derek Cox snatched away a short pass intended for Adam Thielen in a 2-minute drill. Matt Cassel was nearly picked off, as well, when Xavier Rhodes made a nice play to drive on a sideline throw intended for Jerome Simpson. He got his hands on the pass, but couldn't bring down the interception.
  • Captain Munnerlyn returned to team drills on Thursday, and got some work in the Vikings' base defense opposite Xavier Rhodes. The Vikings will need to see if Munnerlyn can play in their base defense, as opposed to only the nickel package, but they were treating him like a member of their top base defense on Thursday. Cornerback Josh Robinson had also returned from a minor hamstring injury that caused him to leave early on Wednesday. Tight end AC Leonard, who left Wednesday's practice with a headache, did not return on Thursday.
  • Adrian Peterson got most of the day off, with Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon getting most of the first-team work at running back. Asiata, to me, looks quicker through the holes than he was last year, when he averaged 3.8 yards on 44 carries. He could get some carries in relief of Peterson this year, and he's big enough to be a forceful downhill runner if he can do a better job of getting through the line with some speed this season.
  • Cordarrelle Patterson got his first work of camp on kick returns, after sitting out the first four practices with a minor foot injury. The Vikings have worked a number of other return men in his place -- Marcus Sherels, Thielen, Jarius Wright and McKinnon among them -- as they try to figure out who can take over if Patterson has a bigger role in the offense. But once he got back in his familiar position on Thursday, Patterson gave a brief reminder of what made him an All-Pro return man last year: He hit a hole on the left side of the Vikings' wall and surged down the sideline for a nice return.
  • Referee Carl Cheffers and his crew were in town for their first day of work with the Vikings on Thursday. They met with the media to outline rule changes this season and were scheduled to meet with the Vikings on Thursday night before doing some more work with the team on the practice field the rest of the week. In his presentation to the media, Cheffers spent a good deal of time covering the NFL's 2014 officiating points of emphasis: Cracking down on illegal hands to the face and taking a stricter view of contact between cornerbacks and receivers. He also covered the league's new replay policy, which will involved NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino in reviews. Officials will now be able to talk to the league office in New York, as well as other members of the officiating crew, via a "Janet Jackson headset," as Cheffers called it. Referees will still wear stadium microphones on their lapels, and both microphones will need battery packs. Of course, they'll carry a flag and a bean bag, and -- as everyone does in 2014 -- they'll carry a pager.

Vikings Camp Report: Day 5

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
8:35
PM ET
MANKATO, Minn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Minnesota Vikings training camp:
  • It was just for a series, but Teddy Bridgewater saw first-team snaps for the first time in training camp. He threw on three of his four plays with the first-team offense, handing off to Adrian Peterson once, and spent the rest of the day working with the second team. Bridgewater finished the day 12-for-15 in full-team work, though many of his passes were checkdowns to the running backs, and coach Mike Zimmer wasn't as happy with his accuracy as he's been on other days. Matt Cassel was 8-for-13, getting a pass batted down at the line of scrimmage and another one nearly intercepted by Xavier Rhodes. Christian Ponder threw just one pass in 11-on-11 work, completing it to Joe Banyard.
  • Linebacker Anthony Barr also saw his first action with the Vikings' top defensive unit, working much of the day at linebacker. He hurried Bridgewater on one blitz, and was used as a pass rusher in sub packages, but Zimmer's report on him wasn't exactly glowing. "The only time I noticed him, he was late on a blitz," Zimmer said. "We talked about that."
  • Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd had one of his more impressive days in camp, batting down a pass from Bridgewater and rushing off the edge to hurry Cassel on a throw to Cordarrelle Patterson. Cassel had to step up in the pocket and lofted a pass too close to the sideline for Patterson to catch with both feet in bounds.
  • With Robert Blanton out because of a hamstring injury, competition for the safety spot opposite Harrison Smith is wide open. Mistral Raymond got most of the work with the first team, and Kurt Coleman also saw some snaps with the top defense. Blanton could miss several weeks, which would give others a chance to win the spot. It's telling, though, that safety Jamarca Sanford hasn't gotten a chance to work with the first team; Zimmer on Wednesday cited the injury that Sanford had during OTAs and minicamp, but the safety has been participating in practice since the start of training camp. Whatever the reason, it seems Sanford is behind several players at the moment.
  • The Vikings ran a large number of screen passes on Wednesday as they worked on installing their offense, and running back Jerick McKinnon was particularly impressive; he caught four passes from Bridgewater, and surged down the right sideline on one pass after cornerback Kendall James took a bad angle on him. McKinnon ran a 4.41 40 at the NFL scouting combine and has looked smooth as a receiver during training camp. He'll be fun to watch if he gets a chance to work in the open field during the preseason.

Vikings Camp Report: Day 3

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

Camp preview: Minnesota Vikings

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
AM ET
» 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.

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