NFC North: Charles Johnson

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Cordarrelle Patterson had a "heart-to-heart" talk with Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer on Thursday morning, he said, and while the second-year receiver wouldn't get into what the two men talked about, he said both of them wanted to meet, and added he walked away from the conversation feeling good about their relationship.

Patterson played just one offensive snap on Sunday against the New York Jets, a week after seeing only three against the Carolina Panthers, and fumbled the opening kickoff of the third quarter. He's effectively become the fourth wide receiver on a team that rarely puts more than three on the field at the same time, and Zimmer has said several times he wants to see more consistent practice habits from Patterson. Their talk, Patterson said, was an honest exchange about how things are going.

[+] EnlargeCordarrelle Patterson
Icon SportswireCordarrelle Patterson's touches have dried up as the season has gone on.
"Just getting that talk out of the way, it makes me have less pressure on me," Patterson said. "It feels good to sit down and talk to him."

The receiver's second year in the league has been a trying one, as the Vikings have gone from manufacturing touches for Patterson to trying to get him the ball as a traditional receiver. He hasn't mastered the nuances of the split end position, and it hasn't helped Patterson's situation that Charles Johnson has emerged in the second half of the season.

Patterson said he believes in what Zimmer and Norv Turner are doing, but I thought there was an interesting point to be gleaned from Zimmer's comments about the receiver on Wednesday. Asked what Patterson needed to do to get more involved in the offense, Zimmer said, "Consistency. It’s being in the right place, doing the right things, running the right routes, blocking the right people, lining up in the right place, that’s it."

And then, as a reporter started to ask a question about linebacker Anthony Barr, Zimmer interjected, repeating a point he'd made about Patterson the week before. "Again, I want this guy to be a great player. I really do. I want him to be a great player. I don’t know when it’ll happen and I’m hoping like crazy it does because I want him to be a great player."

When Zimmer first made the point a week ago, it came a day after Patterson said he didn't know why he had a limited role against Carolina. It seemed then like he was trying to turn down the volume on the idea that there might be a rift between Patterson and the coaching staff. On Wednesday, it felt like he was making the point as much so Patterson would hear it as he was for the sake of reporters.

Whatever happens in the season's final three weeks, there's no doubt this is a critical offseason for Patterson. He needs to devote himself to mastering the finer points of playing receiver in the NFL, and come back ready to show he wants to be a great player in the league. Short of that, he could find opportunities hard to come by again in 2015.

"He kept it real with me, and I told him how I feel," Patterson said. "Just talking to him, I believe in everything he's saying."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Grade the performance of Teddy Bridgewater on a curve, if you must, since the Minnesota Vikings rookie was facing a New York Jets defense on Sunday that's allowed the highest opposing QB Rating the league this season. But considering what Bridgewater didn't have around him by the end of Sunday's game -- Adrian Peterson, Cordarrelle Patterson, three of the Vikings' five opening-day offensive linemen and a consistent running attack -- it's difficult to call his performance on Sunday anything other than the best of his short career.

By the time he used a hard count to identify a Jets blitz and check to a screen that Jarius Wright took 87 yards for a game-winning score, Bridgewater's numbers were impressive: 19-for-27, 309 yards, two touchdowns (which should have been three) and an interception (which came on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half). But it was the rookie's command of the offense that was most impressive.

He checked to a slant on a third-and-5 in the second quarter, hitting Charles Johnson for 8 yards, and threw the ball away on the ensuing play after his hard count revealed a Jets blitz. He set the edge with a block on Wright's 23-yard reverse, and two plays later, he took the ball to the Jets' 2 after Matt Asiata's motion out of the backfield cleared a defender out of the middle. On throws that traveled at least 15 yards, Bridgewater went 4-of-7 for 122 yards and a TD, according to ESPN Stats & Information; one of those was a 27-yarder to Wright after a hard count created a free play. He was pressured on 12 of 32 dropbacks, but was sacked just three times, as he moved effectively in the pocket to buy himself time.

In short, the rookie ran the offense with the savvy of a player much older than he is.

"That’s the thing that the veterans really respect and appreciate about Teddy," coach Mike Zimmer said. "(It's) the way he prepares, the way he studies, the way he cares about his job and I think the way loves playing this game."

Here are some other observations about the Vikings' offense after a film review of Sunday's 30-24 win:
  • According to ESPN Stats & Information, Matt Asiata had to get 29 of his 54 yards after contact on 19 carries Sunday, as the Vikings' battered offensive line struggled with 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year Sheldon Richardson. In addition to three sacks, the defensive end stopped Asiata for 2 yards and no gain, as guard Joe Berger struggled to move the 6-foot-3 Richardson on both plays. Asiata's best run of the day was an 8-yarder, on which he gained 4 yards after contact.
  • As we mentioned, Bridgewater was under heavy pressure from a Jets defense that committed plenty of resources to the blitz; the Jets brought extra pressure on 10 of his 32 dropbacks. They sent six rushers on six plays, and seven rushers on three. Richardson's sack for a safety came when Charlie Johnson and Matt Kalil couldn't handle a stunt, and Kalil was called for holding after he fell on Jason Babin, Right tackle Mike Harris gave up pressure, too, allowing two hurries. Kalil did have a solid day as a run blocker, making a nice block on Asiata's seven-yard gain in the second quarter.
  • The Vikings continue to find a larger role for Wright, using him on the screen plays and reverses they used to designate for Patterson (who saw just one snap on offense). Bridgewater threw two other screens to Wright out of the same formation as the game-winner, handed him the ball on the aforementioned reverse and found him for 27 when his hard count drew Ben Ijalana into the neutral zone.
  • Johnson has become Bridgewater's favorite target, and his route-running shows why; he beat his man off the line on the TD, sold a downfield route before coming back to the QB on what should have been another TD pass (before Johnson fumbled) and burned Phillip Adams with a stutter-step on a 40-yard pass the receiver couldn't hold in the end zone. Johnson has dropped a couple passes in the last three weeks, but if he'd had a better grip on two balls, he would've finished his day with five catches for 143 yards and three scores.

QB snapshot: Teddy Bridgewater

December, 9, 2014
Dec 9
A quick observation of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and how he played in the Minnesota Vikings' 30-24 win in Week 14:

Earlier this month, when Bridgewater was struggling with his accuracy (particularly on several overthrows against the Green Bay Packers), Vikings coaches noticed a minor flaw in the quarterback's delivery. Bridgewater was dropping his arm as he loaded up to throw the ball, leading to higher-arcing throws that eventually sailed past receivers.

"If you're dropping it down, the trajectory is coming out a little bit higher," coach Mike Zimmer said. "I think that's why he was overthrowing some of the balls."

In the two games since the Vikings' loss to Green Bay, Bridgewater has completed 34 of his 48 passes, connecting on deep throws to Jarius Wright (on Nov. 30 against Carolina) and Charles Johnson (on Sunday against the New York Jets). Zimmer believes Bridgewater has gotten stronger now that he's had almost a full season in an NFL weight program, and he sees the rookie throwing with more velocity late in the year. As the quarterback refines his mechanics, his arm continues to look better.

"You can see a little bit more velocity coming," Zimmer said. "He's so accurate that at times it looks like he's floating it on some of the outside breaking routes. It looks like he's floating it, but the ball really jumps out of his hands. I have seen a lot lately where he's gunning it a little bit harder. [Offensive coordinator] Norv [Turner] talks about throwing it with a grunt."
MINNEAPOLIS -- In 98 career NFL games, Jerome Felton has made a living doing the kind of dirty work that makes his backfield teammates look good. Felton is the first guy into a hole, the opening act for the main event, the one who will get a sore neck so the running back behind him doesn't get touched. He had a successful college career carrying the ball at Furman, but his NFL living has come as a lead blocker, not a leading man.

So when Felton scored his first NFL touchdown on Sunday, it was somewhat fitting that it happened by accident.

Teddy Bridgewater threw a strike early in the second quarter to Charles Johnson, who separated from his man on a comeback route and looked to be on his way to his second touchdown. Johnson, though, lost the ball at the 1-yard line, and Felton -- who had chased the play downfield to throw a block for Johnson -- fell on the ball for a TD.

"it popped out right there and I was just able to dive on it," Felton said. "It’s kind of a cheap touchdown, but I’ll take it."

The fullback has expressed some frustration at his reduced role in Norv Turner's offense, which doesn't employ a pure blocking back as extensively as the Vikings did when Felton was paving the way for Adrian Peterson's 2,097-yard season, but Felton still has played at a high level when the Vikings have used him, and he could merit Pro Bowl consideration with a little larger role. He would earn a $500,000 bonus if he made it to the Pro Bowl after taking a pay cut this offseason in exchange for an option on his 2015 contract. On Sunday, he was simply happy to leave with the ball from his first NFL touchdown -- which Felton said he'd keep.

"He doesn’t get enough credit around here," Bridgewater said. "I know he just scored his first career touchdown today, but he doesn’t get enough credit. He’s the guy in there doing the dirty work, opening holes and taking on linebackers."

Not that the TD didn't come at a cost to the usual suspects; while Johnson was talking about the fumble with reporters after the game, he said, "I'm kind of upset I didn't get the touchdown." From two lockers away, backup quarterback Christian Ponder chimed in, "So is Teddy."

Felton, who's one of the most approachable and self-effacing players in the Vikings' locker room, was a good sport about things. Asked if Johnson would owe him dinner for picking up the fumble, Felton said, "I might owe him dinner for getting me my first touchdown."
MINNEAPOLIS -- The play that sent the Minnesota Vikings home victorious on Sunday has been in Teddy Bridgewater's repertoire for situations like these ever since his first NFL start.

Remember the screen pass Bridgewater threw to Jarius Wright during the Vikings' win over Atlanta on Sept. 28? It came barely a minute into that game, with the Falcons showing a "zero blitz" -- or a pressure with no safeties back in coverage -- on third-and-7. Bridgewater appeared to change the play at the line and flipped a pass to Wright, who looped behind blocks from Greg Jennings and tight end Chase Ford for a 52-yard gain.

The play shows up in the Vikings' offense at least once a week, out of a number of different personnel groupings. Charles Johnson took a screen 24 yards on the Vikings' first series last week, lining up alone on the left side of the Vikings' formation and following a block from Matt Kalil. Wright nearly took one for a touchdown earlier on Sunday against the New York Jets. And in overtime, with the Vikings backed up in their own territory on third-and-5, Bridgewater checked to the play to beat the Jets on one of their own pet calls.

New York had given Bridgewater trouble with zero blitzes all day, and coach Rex Ryan had another one called, with hopes of forcing a quick throw (or possibly a turnover). The Vikings had a longer pass called, but Bridgewater had an option to check to the screen. His silent count got the Jets to show their pressure, and Bridgewater changed the play to the screen.

"The check was built into the call, so if he saw something, he was going to check to that," coach Mike Zimmer said. "He did that several times today."

The Vikings set the screen up the same way they did in the Atlanta game, with Wright to the outside of Jennings and tight end Kyle Rudolph. The Jets brought seven, Wright picked up blocks from Jennings and Rudolph and took off, with nothing but space in front of him.

"As I broke free I saw Sully [center John Sullivan running down field] and I said, 'Oh, yeah, this is going a long ways,'" Wright said.

Jets coach Rex Ryan blamed himself for the loss, saying it was his call on the blitz and complimenting Bridgewater for making the check once the Jets showed their hand, but not every rookie quarterback would have as firm a grasp of pre-snap adjustments as Bridgewater seems to have. He finished 19-of-27 for 309 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. His turnover came on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half, and he would've had three TD passes if Johnson hadn't fumbled at the goal line. Bridgewater has shown marked improvement in a number of ways during the second half of the season, and the Vikings' comfort level with him at the controls of their offense is no small thing.

"That's the thing the veterans really respect and appreciate about Teddy is the way he prepares, the way he studies, the way he cares about his job, and the way he loves playing the game," Zimmer said. "The franchise is Teddy's; I know that was a good headline for you. That's what he needs to do; he needs to take it over. This is his team now."

Bridgewater demurred, saying the team belongs as much to backup guard Vlad Ducasse as it does to him. But on the field, he showed a command of the game that will get his teammates to follow him anywhere.

"That's where you see him maturing; you see he's getting a good grasp on the whole offense," Johnson said. "He's smart. He's able to see things like that and help us win on them."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Charles Johnson has started the past two games for the Minnesota Vikings at split end and was on the field for all but one snap in a win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

 He's still officially listed third on the Vikings' depth chart, but offensive coordinator Norv Turner said on Thursday what has seemed obvious: Johnson is the team's starting split end.

In response to a question about Cordarrelle Patterson's lack of playing time on Sunday, Turner listed Johnson's strong play as one of the reasons Patterson's role has changed with the Vikings. "CJ is playing at a high level," he said. "CJ is the starter at X [receiver]. That's the position Cordarrelle plays. We're going to do what we can to give him some opportunities to play there, but CJ's playing at a real high level right now."

Turner repeated what coach Mike Zimmer said earlier this week about the Vikings' limited role for Patterson on Sunday, saying it was due to the amount of practice time Patterson missed. The receiver, who was at a funeral for a family member of his daughter's mother, was not at practice on Wednesday or Thursday last week as the Vikings prepared for Carolina.

"Anyone that's in a situation where he didn't play last week would be frustrated," Turner said. "But Cordarrelle knows. He wasn't here all week. He missed Monday and Tuesday -- Monday, we have our meetings -- he missed Wednesday and Thursday, he was out of town at a funeral. It's hard to get ready; we have a totally different game plan for Carolina. And then you combine it with blocking two punts in the first half, and us not really having the ball. I expect Cordarrelle to play, and play like he has."

Patterson seemed unclear after Sunday's game about why he didn't play more and said again on Thursday that he would talk with Zimmer and Turner if he didn't feel his snaps on Sunday were where he wanted them. Of Zimmer, he said, "Me and Coach Zimmer, we got a good chemistry. Even though people don’t believe it. It’s tough love. We don’t show it, but we have our little talks, at the end of the day just talk to each other. Try to feel each other out. I have some people coming up this week, asking if me and Coach are best friends. I don’t feel like we’re best friends, but we’re cool enough to keep it real with one another."

The Vikings didn't use Patterson on offense until the second half on Sunday, and he only got three snaps on offense against the Panthers, as Jarius Wright played ahead of him in most of the Vikings' three-receiver sets. Patterson hasn't been part of many two-receiver sets since the Vikings returned from their bye, and while he's hoping for more playing time this week, he'll likely have to get it in different ways, with Johnson starting in his normal spot.

"I hope I get more playing time than I did last week -- only three reps," Patterson said. "That's not always good. We'll see how this week goes."

QB snapshot: Teddy Bridgewater

December, 2, 2014
Dec 2
A quick observation of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and how he played in the Minnesota Vikings' 31-13 win in Week 13:

Whenever he's talked about a need to get rid of the ball faster as a rookie, Bridgewater has known the key to making that happen was the ability to identify coverages sooner. The way he operated on Sunday, in a victory over the Carolina Panthers, suggested he's starting to figure out some of quarterbacking's nuances.

On his 17-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings, Bridgewater walked to the line to see the Panthers playing off receivers Charles Johnson and Greg Jennings, who were lined up in a stack formation to the quarterback's left. Bridgewater could see from his pre-snap read that he'd have room to hit Jennings underneath since the Panthers were guarding against a deep pass with 23 seconds left in the half. He threw a 5-yarder out to Jennings, who had room to show why he's still one of the league's best after the catch. Jennings made Antoine Cason miss, got to the outside and beat Bene Benwikere to the end zone, gaining 12 yards after the catch on a TD that put the Vikings up 28-6.

"I made the decision before the ball was snapped," Bridgewater said. "The offensive line did a great job of allowing me to sit back there and make the throw, play pitch-and-catch with Greg. Greg was able to make a move and score a touchdown. Each week, I’m trying to make quicker decisions and continue to trust those guys each week."

Is Bridgewater getting sharper in his pre-snap reads, or just trusting what he's seeing?

"I think both," coach Mike Zimmer said. "A lot of times, especially with a young quarterback, people are always trying to give you extra disguises that they haven’t had in or haven’t showed a lot. You try to get a pre-snap read, and then post-snap you clarify what you initially thought. I think that’s part of what he’s doing, as well."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was off-target on six of his 22 throws in the first half of Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and several of those were overthrows on deep passes that could have helped the Vikings get on a roll early.

Bridgewater missed two downfield throws to Charles Johnson on the Vikings' first series, and threw too high for Jarius Wright late in the first quarter, though that was the first play of a drive that eventually led to a Vikings touchdown. The Vikings want to see Bridgewater get in a groove earlier in games, though, and coach Mike Zimmer saw a slight mechanical flaw with Bridgewater's delivery early in the game.

"He wasn't as accurate in this ballgame as he normally is," Zimmer said. "I think he might've been getting under and dropping the ball down a little bit too much and the ball was sailing on him. But he needs to be more accurate as well."

Bridgewater has typically been at his best in two-minute drill situations toward the end of games, when he's had a chance to run plays quickly and can avoid over-analyzing things while reading his progressions. The Vikings have run some no-huddle series this season, and could go to it more often to get Bridgewater in the same kind of rhythm, Zimmer said. He added Sunday probably wouldn't have been the time to do it, though.

"What I don't want to do is go no-huddle against Aaron Rodgers and get three incomplete passes and [only] 13 seconds run off the clock," Zimmer said. "Each game is different and I think tempo that we're changing up throughout different times of the game helps him as well. It doesn't necessarily have to be completely no-huddle, but I think the tempo change has helped him, yes."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Teddy Bridgewater's first NFC North game was supposed to come against the Green Bay Packers in prime time at Lambeau Field four days after he threw for 317 yards in his first NFL start. The fact the rookie missed that game with a sprained ankle, evidently, was still on his mind on Sunday, when a quarterback usually lauded for his composure came out firing rockets.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Adam Bettcher/Getty ImagesTeddy Bridgewater struggled in the first half of his first game against NFC North rival Green Bay.
"I wasn't able to play the first time we played the Green Bay Packers, and I was just trying to get a feel for this rivalry," Bridgewater said. "I think I was just very excited to be able to play the Green Bay Packers for the first time. I just have to settle down and remain poised and let the game come to me."

On a day when their defense held the league's hottest offense to 24 points and their cornerbacks won plaudits from Aaron Rodgers, the Vikings will have to wonder if they could have secured their first NFC North win of the year had Bridgewater been more accurate. In the first two quarters, he overshot Charles Johnson deep, threw too high for Jarius Wright, had an interception overturned by a holding penalty, fired a 9-yard pass that required a leaping grab from Greg Jennings, floated an interception that Micah Hyde said "felt like it was in the air for five seconds" and threw another high pass that Tramon Williams nearly intercepted. In the third, he missed Johnson on a deep throw after Sam Shields fell down, costing the Vikings a chance at a touchdown before Blair Walsh's field goal.

Bridgewater settled down in the fourth quarter, playing his best as he usually does when the Vikings tried to rally late. He hit eight of his 10 throws in the fourth quarter, for 69 yards and a touchdown, as the Vikings pulled within three of Green Bay. But the efficient, assured quarterbacking Bridgewater did at the end of the game made it easy to wonder why he couldn't play that way earlier.

"I didn't think he was as accurate as he normally is early in the ballgame," coach Mike Zimmer said. "He had a couple of high throws, a couple of missed throws. He seemed to settle down in the second half -- now, he got hit a bunch of times; we didn't protect him nearly well enough. He continued to keep drives alive in the second half, so those were all good things. We have to start, he needs to play better in the first half."

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Bridgewater was off target on seven of his 37 passes on Sunday, which was tied for the third-most off-target throws he has had in a game this season. He generally hasn't been among the league's wildest quarterbacks this season -- he's 15th in the league in terms of the most off-target throws per game -- but what sticks out is how many of his struggles have come early in games. On Sunday, six of his seven off-target throws came in the first half, and for the season, Bridgewater has the league's fifth-lowest QBR through two quarters.

"One of the things I told him is, 'You can't win a game by yourself; you can't lose a game by yourself,'" Jennings said. "When you have a guy that you know is trying to do everything the right way, you're willing to be patient. There's mistakes that I will make. There's mistakes he's going to make. But at the end of the day, I can't focus on the mistakes. We have to learn how to be together, and make sure we're doing things the right way to give our team a chance to win."

Bridgewater has criticized himself for overthinking things on a number of occasions this season, and his rough start to Sunday's game seemed to be because he was too fired up. It's another thing he's working through as a rookie quarterback, but on Sunday, it cost him a chance for a better debut against the Vikings' biggest rival.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wasn't about to blame the malfunctioning game clocks at Soldier Field for the team's 21-13 loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday. But Zimmer said on Monday he did talk to the league about the issue, and added it was "disconcerting" to have rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater going through a two-minute drill without knowing exactly how much time he had left.

Bridgewater lofted a pass into the end zone on 2nd-and-3 from the Bears' 29 with about a minute left in Sunday's game, and the throw was intercepted by Bears safety Ryan Mundy. Bridgewater said after the game he "wasn't sure at all" how much time was left in the game.

"Teddy thought at that point when he threw the ball, when he threw the interception, he thought the clock was down and he tried to make a play in the end zone," Zimmer said. "That's really the only time. It being a little disconcerting for the offense in the two-minute drill was the biggest issue. Now, the Bears had the same thing. If they know it's a minute left in the game or ten seconds left, they're going to make different calls as well. So I'm not going to put it all on that, but -- you know, you've got a young quarterback running the two-minute drill and he can't find anywhere in the place where there is [displayed] how much time is left, and so that is a little bit disconcerting. We didn't deserve to win the game, regardless if we would have tied it up."

Officials announced how much time was left during several breaks in the action late in Sunday's game. But, Zimmer said, officials told him "it's virtually impossible to get the number of seconds on the clock in the two-minute drill," and added he did not think about the Vikings trying to keep track of the clock on their own late in the game.

"There's things we're going to have to discuss in the offseason [for] if that situation arises again," he said.

Zimmer, though, was adamant the clock malfunction wasn't the ultimate reason for the Vikings' loss.

"The only time the clock was really an issue was in the last two [minutes]. The Bears beat us, OK? It wasn't the clocks," Zimmer said. "The Bears beat us. They performed better than we did."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It often takes an injury or an unusually poor preseason showing for a Green Bay Packers draft pick to get cut at the end of his rookie training camp.

Take last year's class as an example. Of the 11 players picked, eight made the opening-day roster.

The three who did not – fourth-round pick JC Tretter plus seventh-rounders Charles Johnson and Kevin Dorsey – all had injury issues. Tretter missed all of camp because of a broken ankle that forced him to start the season on the physically unable to perform list, while Johnson and Dorsey battled injuries throughout the offseason. Johnson played in only two preseason games, while Dorsey played in only one. Johnson landed on the practice squad before the Cleveland Browns signed him, and Dorsey spent the season on injured reserve.

With that in mind, here's a look at where things stand for each member of general manager Ted Thompson's 2014 draft class heading into Thursday's preseason finale against the Kansas City Chiefs, plus the undrafted rookies who could be on the verge of winning a roster spot:

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S (first round): After a slow start to training camp, Clinton-Dix has found himself around the ball more often of late. He has three interceptions during practices this summer, which ties safety Sean Richardson for the camp lead. However, it looks like he won't unseat second-year pro Micah Hyde for a starting job. That means Clinton-Dix likely will play only in the dime (six defensive back) package to start the season.

Davante Adams, WR (second round): Early in camp, Adams was pushing Jarrett Boykin for the No. 3 receiver spot but inconsistent play derailed that. Meanwhile, Boykin has overcome a slow start to secure that spot. If Adams can refine his route running and shore up his hands, he could still make a push for more playing time as the year goes on.

[+] EnlargeRichard Rodgers
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsRookie Richard Rodgers is in line to be the Packers' starting tight end.
Khyri Thornton, DE (third round): Much like fifth-round defensive end Josh Boyd last season as a rookie, it's been a big adjustment for Thornton. Thompson has never cut a third-round pick coming out of his first training camp, but Thornton might have trouble getting on the field early in the season. Playing mostly against second- and third-stringers in preseason games, Thornton has just one quarterback hurry and no sacks or hits in 81 snaps, according to Boyd was inactive for six of the first eight games last season. Thornton could follow a similar path.

Richard Rodgers, TE (third round): Without much fanfare, Rodgers appears to have won the starting job over veteran Andrew Quarless and up-and-comer Brandon Bostick (who went down with a foot injury in the second preseason game). However, Bostick almost certainly would have been the tight end in two-minute situations and likely will be when he returns next month. Rodgers' blocking has to catch up to his pass-catching ability.

Carl Bradford, LB (fourth round): It doesn't matter how the Packers spin the last-minute decision to switch Bradford from outside to inside linebacker this week, that's a tell-tale sign that they're concerned he may never be able to be a productive pass-rusher off the edge. Thompson has not cut a fourth-round rookie since receiver Cory Rodgers in 2006, but Bradford has been just as disappointing. If he makes it, it's solely because they're not ready to give up on him yet.

Corey Linsley, C (fifth round): This was supposed to be a redshirt season for him, but the knee injury to Tretter last week means Linsley might be the most important rookie on the team when the Packers open the regular season in Seattle. His responsibility as the starting center, even if it's only until Tretter returns, is far greater than what any other member of this draft class faces. Physically, he looks the part, but his mental errors have hampered him.

Jared Abbrederis, WR (fifth round): The former Wisconsin standout almost certainly would have made a strong push for the No. 5 or 6 receiver spot if not for a torn ACL in the first week of camp. He also would have had a chance at the kick return job but instead will spend his rookie season on injured reserve.

Demetri Goodson, CB (sixth round): The former college basketball player at Gonzaga who then played three years of football at Baylor has struggled mightily in coverage despite obvious athleticism. He sustained a concussion in last Friday's preseason game against the Raiders, leaving his status his doubt.

Jeff Janis, WR (seventh round): Still raw and unschooled in the complexities of the Packers’ offense, Janis' speed can't be ignored, which is why Thompson likely will keep him on the roster. After his impressive 34-yard, catch-and-run touchdown in the second preseason game, it's likely a team would claim him before the Packers could sneak him through to the practice squad.

Undrafted rookies with a chance: Defensive tackle Mike Pennel of Colorado State-Pueblo is a virtual lock to make the roster after B.J. Raji's season-ending injury, while outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott (who is tied for the NFL preseason lead in sacks with four) might be only one more good showing away from joining him on the 53.
A roundup of what's happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Mel Kiper Jr. liked the Packers draft right away last April and with a full season to watch the rookies, the ESPN NFL draft analyst saw nothing to change in his mind.

In an ESPN Insider piece Insider, Kiper gave the Packers' 2013 draft class the same grade -- a B-plus -- after the season that he gave it right after the draft.

We can't give away everything Kiper wrote -- that's what Insider subscriptions are for -- but here are some snippets:
“At the time, I wrote, ‘I love what Green Bay got out of this draft, particularly at two spots -- defensive end and running back.'”

Of course, he was talking about first-round pick Datone Jones, the defensive end from UCLA, and running backs Eddie Lacy (second round) and Johnathan Franklin (fourth round).
“After one season, I still love what the Packers got at running back, as Lacy has been everything they could have hoped for and completely changes the manner in which this offense can threaten you. But we'll need to see more from Jones, who was OK but not great and isn't yet a first-team player. But the draft was crucial elsewhere.”

Kiper went on to praise fourth-round pick David Bakhtiari, who started every game at left tackle, and fifth-round pick Micah Hyde, who played as the nickel defensive back and primary punt returner.
“Name another rookie who played a whole season at left tackle. Fifth-rounder Hyde also was good in a return role. Not a bad start for this draft class, and you have to believe Jones can and will give them more.”

In all, the Packers have retained 10 of their 11 draft picks. Only seventh-round receiver Charles Johnson is gone. He was signed off the practice squad by the Cleveland Browns in October. Another seventh-round receiver, Kevin Dorsey, spent the entire season on injured reserve.

In case you missed it on
  • The Packers haven't officially announced the move, but running backs coach Alex Van Pelt will become the new quarterbacks coach. He will replace Ben McAdoo, who left to become the New York Giants offensive coordinator. It was a natural move for Van Pelt, who played the position in the NFL and has previously coached quarterbacks in the league.
  • We continued our position outlook series with the focus on the tight ends, where there are plenty of questions.
  • In our “Next Big Thing” feature, we looked at the most pressing concerns for the offseason.
  • Finally, Ian O'Connor authored a fantastic piece on legendary former Packers coach Vince Lombardi by talking to those who knew him when he was a young high school coach and teacher in New Jersey.
Best of the rest:
  • At, Jason Wilde wrote about Van Pelt's path to becoming the Packers quarterbacks coach.
  • In the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Pete Dougherty talked to an NFL scout who said that of the two new coaches in the NFC North, the Packers should be more worried about what Mike Zimmer will do for the Minnesota Vikings than Jim Caldwell with the Detroit Lions.
  • In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tyler Dunne looked at some of the receivers at the Senior Bowl that might interest Green Bay, including one who has ties to Packers receiver James Jones.

Packers lose chance to groom rookie WR

October, 12, 2013
BALTIMORE -- The Green Bay Packers never got a long look at rookie receiver Charles Johnson.

The seventh-round pick from Grand Valley State battled multiple injuries in the offseason and during training camp that prevented him from making a serious bid for a roster spot, but they had hoped to develop him on their practice squad.

Instead, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Johnson left the practice squad on Saturday, when the Cleveland Browns signed him to their active roster.

The Packers have only four receivers on their roster – Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Jarrett Boykin – for Sunday's game at the Baltimore Ravens. They started the season with five but cut Jeremy Ross after he fumbled a kickoff in Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

They have one other receiver, rookie Myles White, on their practice squad.
Newton/PetersonGetty ImagesCam Newton looks to take advantage of a spotty Vikings secondary, but the Panthers may have their hands full with Adrian Peterson.
Both the Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers have reason to feel they should be better than 1-3 through their first four games of the season. One of those teams will get to stoke its flickering playoff hopes Sunday at Mall of America Field, while the other will fall even further out of the picture.

The Vikings have yet to announce whether Christian Ponder or Matt Cassel will start, and it might not be long before Josh Freeman takes over the quarterback job. But while the quarterback position might be the most intriguing question facing the Vikings at the moment, it probably isn't the most pressing one. That would be in the secondary, where the Vikings are hoping Chris Cook and Jamarca Sanford return from injuries to help a team that's given up an average of 326 passing yards a game and allowed decisive touchdowns on a pair of last-minute drives.

That could be good news for a Panthers team that's so far had more problems on offense than defense. Carolina has scored just 74 points, turning the ball over nine times and throwing for more than 220 yards just once this season. Third-year quarterback Cam Newton -- who came into the league with Ponder in 2011 -- has continued to struggle. Even though the Panthers have allowed the third-fewest points in the league, outscoring opponents through four games, they are trying to keep their season alive, just like the Vikings are. Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and Panthers reporter David Newton broke down this week's matchup:

Ben Goessling: David, I have a feeling the Panthers are as steamed about their record through four games as the Vikings are. Both of these teams lost in the waning seconds in Week 2, and neither has gotten good enough quarterback play to help their playoff aspirations after late-season surges in 2012. At first glance, though, this matchup would seem to favor the Panthers, who have done an excellent job of stopping the run and might force the Vikings to lean on their passing game more than they'd like to at home. How do you think this defense matches up against Adrian Peterson, and how much trouble can it give whomever starts for the Vikings at quarterback?

David Newton: This matchup definitely seems to favor the Carolina defense that has played well enough to win every game. Yeah, Arizona scored 22 points. But that's a bit misleading since two came on a safety late in the third quarter and the last came on a real short field with just over two minutes left after Cam Newton's fourth turnover. The Panthers actually improved from 10th to third in total defense, holding Arizona to 250 total yards. Stopping Adrian Peterson will be the challenge, but Carolina has done a good job all season of making opponents pass with a stout front seven that is allowing only 92.3 yards a game. The key in my opinion will be how much pressure the front four can put on whomever the Vikings play at quarterback. Arizona went with three-step drops and quick passes to somewhat negate that and frustrate pass-rushers Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson. But what has made Carolina successful against the rush and the pass is that it has been able to stop both without using a lot of blitz packages that sometimes opens big holes for big-time backs like Peterson.

While we're on defense, the Vikings haven't really faced a quarterback that can run and throw like Newton this year, and they are ranked 30th on defense. How do you see that matchup?

Goessling: I don't particularly like it for the Vikings. They probably struggled the most in Week 1 against the Detroit Lions, when they were facing a team with a dynamic passing game and a shifty running back (Reggie Bush) who did a lot of his damage thanks to missed tackles on the first and second levels of the Vikings' defense. The Vikings also haven't faced much of the read-option in the last two years, and when they did see it -- particularly against Robert Griffin III last year -- they struggled with it. I could see Cam Newton giving the Vikings problems with his feet, and Ben Roethlisberger also showed how you can burn the Vikings' young secondary by keeping plays alive. If Newton can avoid turnovers (and the Vikings have caused 12 of them this season), he could direct the Panthers' offense to a big day.

Here's the question the Vikings are probably asking themselves, though: How erratic will Newton be? He's part of that 2011 quarterback class (like Ponder) that has struggled quite a bit in the NFL, and as you mentioned, his turnovers cost the Panthers against Arizona. Will he be able to take advantage of the Vikings defense, or will they have their chances to create a few takeaways off of him?

Newton: Let me clarify first. Newton's turnovers in the fourth quarter did lead to the widening of the margin at Arizona, but he played well early and the Panthers would have been -- should have been -- up by two scores at halftime if Steve Smith hadn't dropped a 4-yard touchdown pass and Brandon LaFell a first-down pass at the Arizona 15. But Newton has been inconsistent with his throws, particularly if pressured. When given time like he had against the Giants he was able to pick apart the defense. Teams that have pressured Newton, particularly with five-man fronts, have forced him into mistakes. Looking at the numbers, it appears the Vikings haven't done a great job of pressuring quarterbacks. That to me is where this game will be won or lost for Minnesota.

While we're on quarterbacks, what's been wrong with Ponder this year? And if Josh Freeman is the answer, why not go ahead and give him a shot this week?

Goessling: Ponder's issues have been the same ones we've seen from him during his entire run in Minnesota. It just seems like he's apprehensive about pulling the trigger unless he's got a perfect throwing lane or a receiver who's a step clear of his defender. That throws off his timing, or he gives up and takes off, when a more confident quarterback might be able to hit a receiver for a 15-yard gain in tight coverage. Essentially, he's just not confident enough to make the tough throws, and his interceptions have come when he's flinched and either thrown a pass too early or failed to put enough on the ball. That might be why the Vikings seem ready to move on -- Ponder's issues are about more than his physical attributes, and that's a hard thing to fix.

As for Freeman, the Vikings want to give him time to learn the offense, and while I'm guessing we'll see him in a week or two, particularly if the Vikings lose, my hunch is Matt Cassel will get a chance to build on his Week 4 win this Sunday.

To wrap this up, what do you think is the biggest key to a Panthers victory?

Newton: I almost laugh when you say key to victory because this team simply doesn't know how to win -- at least on a consistent basis when it matters. This is the third straight 1-3 start and they haven't had a winning record since 2008. But as coach Ron Rivera keeps saying, they are close. But they were close last week and blew countless opportunities to take command in the first half and wound up looking dismal. It seems almost every week it's a breakdown in another area, or multiple areas. If I had to pick one key, though, it would be for the offensive line to give Newton protection. When he has time, the Panthers score points. If they score points, the defense will take care of itself.

How about for the Vikings?

Goessling: I agree that getting to Newton is a big part of the equation; they need to force him into turnovers and keep him from putting their defense on its heels. This is a team that plays its best when it gets an early lead, can run Adrian Peterson and turn its defensive line loose. If the Vikings do that, they might be able to cover up their issues in the secondary and sneak out with a victory.


Taking the blame for Vince Young

September, 1, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- After the Green Bay Packers released veteran quarterback Vince Young on Saturday, it was worth discussing -- as we did here -- whether more time in the system would have made a significant difference in his bid to be the team’s backup.

Packers general manager Ted Thompson, the man who waited until Aug. 5 to sign the 30-year-old quarterback, thinks that perhaps it might have done just that.

[+] EnlargeTed Thompson
AP Photo/Morry Gash"I probably should have had him in here earlier," Packers GM Ted Thompson said about Vince Young.
In discussing his roster moves on Sunday, Thompson placed the blame on himself for not acting sooner to bring in the former first-round draft pick.

“Quite frankly, it probably wasn’t fair to Vince,” Thompson said. “We threw a lot on his plate, and the fault is probably mine. I probably should have had him in here earlier.”

Thompson praised Young for being a good teammate and a humble guy.

“If there was fault, it was probably mine,” Thompson said.

The decision to release Young left B.J. Coleman, who spent all of last season on the practice squad, as the only quarterback behind Aaron Rodgers. Coleman’s shaky play early in training camp was one of the reasons Thompson turned to Young in the first place.

The Packers no doubt are exploring all of their options at quarterback, but the list of those available was far from impressive. They were expected to add a quarterback to the practice squad -- Scott Tolzien, the former University of Wisconsin starter who was released by San Francisco last week.

“We’re actively pursuing everything there is in the National Football League at every position,” Thompson said. “I’m not just making this up. At every position, we’re looking to see if we can get better.”

If the Packers stick with Coleman, it wouldn’t be the first time in recent years that they went into the season with an inexperienced backup. They did so last season with Graham Harrell, who like Coleman had previously been on the practice squad. And they did so in 2008 with rookie Matt Flynn.

When asked if Coleman, who completed just 41.2 percent of his passes this preseason, would be an adequate fill-in if something happened to Rodgers, Thompson said: “Well, we think he has a good chance to do that. Again, there’s a lot of things that he hasn’t seen yet. He’s played in preseason games but never played in a regular-season game. We’re getting ready to tee it off, so we’re getting ready to play.”

Note: The Packers have not announced their practice-squad signings yet. But in addition to Tolzien, they are expected to add receivers Charles Johnson and Myles White, tight end Jake Stoneburner and cornerback James Nixon, according to multiple media reports. Those four all were released by the Packers on Saturday. The Packers had hoped to bring back center Patrick Lewis to the practice squad, but he was claimed off waivers by Cleveland. Four others released by the Packers on Saturday were claimed off waivers: running back Alex Green (by the New York Jets), tight end D.J. Williams (Jacksonville), linebacker Dezman Moses (Kansas City) and linebacker Terrell Manning (San Diego).