NFC North: Brandon Watts

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer still sounded optimistic on Thursday he'd have Chad Greenway on the field this Sunday in New Orleans, despite Greenway's broken left hand. But the Vikings have injuries to several starters to track on the other side of the ball.

Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson was added to Thursday's injury report after being limited in practice with a chest injury, and tight end Kyle Rudolph was again limited in practice with an abdominal injury. Right tackle Phil Loadholt was a limited participant with an ankle injury for the second straight day, though Zimmer thought Loadholt would be ready to go for Sunday's game.

"He'll be fine," Zimmer said. "He's tough."

Cornerback Xavier Rhodes (groin) and wide receiver Rodney Smith (hamstring) returned to full participation on Thursday, while defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was a limited participant after missing Wednesday's practice. Linebacker Brandon Watts also worked in a limited capacity for the second consecutive day, after returning from a knee injury.

"He's got great speed," Zimmer said of Watts. "He's a young, developing player that I think has a great future in this league. He's got some coverage ability and it's hard to find linebackers with coverage ability nowadays, the way the league is."

Linebacker Michael Mauti was a full participant with a foot injury for the second straight day, and could be in line to make his regular-season debut on Sunday. If Greenway is unable to go, Mauti or Gerald Hodges might start in his place at weakside linebacker, but Zimmer said he thinks Greenway is improving.

"He feels a lot better today," Zimmer said. "He didn't practice, but he feels a lot better. He was running around pretty good, so we'll see how he does tomorrow."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings were without linebacker Chad Greenway -- because of a broken hand and a rib injury -- at practice on Wednesday, as well as right tackle Phil Loadholt (ankle) and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (shoulder).

Tight end Kyle Rudolph and cornerback Xavier Rhodes joined those three players on a list of Vikings starters who missed practice time on Wednesday. Rudolph was limited with an abdominal injury, which showed up on the Vikings' injury report for the first time, while Rhodes was limited because of the groin injury he played with last Sunday. Coach Mike Zimmer said Rhodes will be "fine" to play on Sunday, after he played last week's game against the New England Patriots.

Linebacker Brandon Watts, who missed the Vikings' first two games with a knee injury, also practiced in a limited capacity for the first time this season. Wide receiver Rodney Smith (hamstring) was limited, and linebacker Michael Mauti (foot) was a full participant.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Coach Mike Zimmer continued to sound optimistic on Friday that cornerback Xavier Rhodes and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd -- who both did some work in practice on Friday -- would be able to play for the Minnesota Vikings in their home opener on Sunday against the New England Patriots.

Rhodes
Floyd
Rhodes was officially listed as questionable with a groin injury, as Floyd was with a shoulder injury, but Zimmer said there is a "good chance" Rhodes will play, and added Floyd is feeling "much better" after getting hit in the shoulder late in Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams.

Linebacker Brandon Watts, who missed last week's game with a knee injury, is the only player whom the Vikings declared out for the game. Wide receiver Rodney Smith is questionable with a hamstring injury; he had been a full participant in practice on Wednesday and Thursday, but was limited on Friday.

Linebacker Michael Mauti is probable to play on Sunday after missing last week's game with a foot injury. Fullback Zach Line is also probable with an ankle injury after missing last week's game, as is guard Charlie Johnson, whom Zimmer said injured his ankle in practice on Wednesday. Tackle Mike Harris and cornerback Jabari Price are both probable with shoulder injuries.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings will officially be without three players for their season opener on Sunday in St. Louis: linebacker Brandon Watts (knee), linebacker Michael Mauti (foot) and fullback Zach Line (ankle).

Defensive end Everson Griffen, who missed his second day of practice with an illness on Friday, said he'll play on Sunday, and that he'll start the game at right end. Tackle Mike Harris, who joined the team after the Vikings claimed him off waivers last Sunday, is questionable with a shoulder injury.

Wide receiver Rodney Smith (neck) and cornerback Jabari Price (shoulder) were full participants on Friday, and both are probable to play.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Hello from Arrowhead Stadium, where the Minnesota Vikings will kick off their third preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs at 7 p.m. CDT. It's going to be a muggy night -- it's currently 95 degrees outside, and won't dip into the 80s until after 9 p.m. -- so the Vikings' dress rehearsal for the season will be spent in conditions they probably won't face more than once, if at all. Alas, they'll have to manage.

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

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

We'll hopefully get some answers tonight about how the Vikings will handle the safety position, how things are shaping up at middle linebacker and whether Teddy Bridgewater has a shot to unseat Matt Cassel at quarterback. Check back later for more from Arrowhead.

Vikings Thursday practice report

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
3:40
PM ET
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Some observations from the Minnesota Vikings' practice Thursday afternoon:
  • Peterson
    Peterson
    The Vikings were still without running back Adrian Peterson, who missed practice again Thursday after being gone for personal reasons Wednesday. Peterson wasn't going to play in Saturday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs but is expected to travel to the game with the team. Defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who is still recovering from a bullet wound to his left calf, and linebacker Brandon Watts, who is out with a leg injury, weren't seen at practice. Cornerback Jabari Price and linebacker Gerald Hodges were on the field but were not participating.
  • Much of the Vikings' work again consisted of scout-team offensive snaps against the first-string defense, which meant another busy day for Christian Ponder. The third-string quarterback went 7-for-12, throwing one interception in 11-on-11 work. Matt Cassel hit 11 of his 15 throws and Teddy Bridgewater went 5-for-7. Cassel didn't divulge the Vikings' game plan for Saturday night but said he "expect(s) to play a lot" against the Chiefs.
  • Blair Walsh has hit 47 of 50 kicks in team periods since the Vikings started training camp, according to special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who said he wasn't concerned about a pair of Walsh misses from beyond 50 yards in the Vikings' first two preseason games. "I think he may have missed one from 50, or maybe none, in practice," Priefer said. "If it was one of those deals where he was shanking the ball, I'd be concerned. But he's hitting the ball well. There's a couple things he needs to do with his follow-through, to straighten that out. We've already gone back and looked at a couple game tapes from his rookie year and last year. It's one of those things he's just got to continue to focus on his follow-through and the other little small attributes that make him such a great kicker, compared to other kickers in this league."
  • Priefer said the Vikings used 42 different players on special teams in last Saturday's preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals as coaches try to evaluate whose special-teams contributions should help them win a roster spot. The Vikings will start to use more consistent special-teams units on Saturday against Kansas City as they prepare for the start of the regular season. They'll also try to get Cordarrelle Patterson a kickoff return or two, Priefer said.
  • The moment of the day in practice came when Chad Greenway dropped an interception and angrily kicked the ball into the trees just east of the Vikings' practice field. The ball got stuck in a tree, and several minutes later, Greenway walked into the woods with another football in his hand to perform the old throw-one-ball-into-the-tree-to-knock-the-other-one-down trick. "Didn't you guys do this as a kid?" Greenway said. Seconds later, he emerged with both footballs, proclaiming it'd only taken him one shot to dislodge the one he'd kicked into the tree.

Vikings Monday practice report

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
7:05
PM ET
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- A few observations from the Minnesota Vikings' Monday practice:
  • Safety Robert Blanton was back at practice, but the Vikings were still using Chris Crocker as their first-team safety alongside Harrison Smith. Blanton is listed atop the Vikings' depth chart, but he'll have to earn his way back into the race for a starting spot after missing time with a hamstring injury. Coach Mike Zimmer said Crocker didn't see enough action in Saturday's preseason game for the Vikings to evaluate him properly, but the Vikings seem to want to take a longer look at the 34-year-old. Zimmer said on Monday he's evaluating players like Andrew Sendejo and Kurt Coleman as much for what they do in pass coverage as what they're able to do near the line of scrimmage. That'd explain why Crocker is getting a long look, and why Blanton had put himself in the mix for a starting job before his injury. We'll see if he can reassert himself now that he's back.
  • Tight end Kyle Rudolph, who caught a 51-yard touchdown pass during the Vikings' preseason game on Saturday night, was back at it on Monday, snatching passes away from Crocker and Michael Mauti in tight coverage over the middle. At 6-foot-5, Rudolph is already an inviting target for quarterbacks, and he's shown several times already how much it helped him to drop 15 pounds in the offseason in an effort to be a bigger downfield threat in Norv Turner's offense.
  • In 11-on-11 work on Monday, quarterback Matt Cassel hit 8 of 11 passes, getting one batted down at the line of scrimmage and throwing one away downfield. Teddy Bridgewater went 8-for-10, with his only misses coming to Rodney Smith and Jarius Wright -- who sustained a left ankle injury while trying to catch Bridgewater's sideline pass in tight coverage. And Christian Ponder, who didn't play at all on Saturday night, didn't throw a pass in full-team work during Monday's practice.
  • The Vikings made one roster move on Monday, cutting linebacker Dom DeCicco, who had hip surgery last week, and claiming linebacker Justin Jackson off waivers from Detroit.

Vikings wake-up call: Day 10

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
8:00
AM ET
MANKATO, Minn. -- Setting up the day at Minnesota Vikings camp:

Today's schedule: The Vikings will hold their penultimate practice in Mankato before their first preseason game on Friday night, getting back to work on the Minnesota State practice fields at 4 p.m. ET (3 CT). They'll hold their morning walk-through from 9:30-10:30 a.m. ET (10:30-11:30 CT). Offensive coordinator Norv Turner and defensive coordinator George Edwards are scheduled to address reporters after the walk-through.

More observations from Monday's practice:
  • Offensive coordinator Norv Turner is still working to get Teddy Bridgewater to speed up his dropback and release, which was one of Turner's main coaching points during Bridgewater's private workout with the Vikings last spring. Bridgewater hit 8 of 10 throws in 11-on-11 work on Monday, but again had to be bailed out by his receivers on a couple occasions. He's going through a typical adjustment period for a rookie, and it will likely become easier for Bridgewater to feel the difference between college and the NFL once pass-rushers are actually allowed to touch him on Friday. "Right from the get-go, that is one of the big things that Norv does," coach Mike Zimmer said. "'We have got to get the ball out, you have got to get back quicker, you have to get set up, you have to get the ball out.' In some of the blitz periods, we have guys running by him, which is not going to happen in the game."
  • Linebacker Brandon Watts, who missed Friday and Saturday's practices with a strained hamstring, returned to practice on Monday.
What I'm watching: In reality, the Vikings might only have a couple spots in their lineup still up for grabs, assuming Anthony Barr is the likely starter at strongside linebacker (and it seems safe to make that leap at this point). Other than quarterback, safety might be the biggest competition, and things will get even more competitive with Chris Crocker on the roster. Crocker pointed out on Monday that he's fared well in this defense because of his cover skills, and the fact that the Vikings signed him might mean that they have concerns about the coverage ability of their safety group. The Vikings want to put their safeties in man coverage more often this year than the previous coaching staff did, and Crocker might at least provide a template for what Zimmer wants. The coach said on Monday he's more inclined to stock up on corners than safeties, so competition at the spot could be fierce.

They said it: "It was a great interception. It was poor, poor position on the receiver, but he made a great play. We have to get him to be in the right position and then make the play easy and then he does not have to make great play." --Zimmer, on the diving interception Xavier Rhodes made during Saturday night's practice.
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.

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