NFC North: Christian Ponder

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Three months before the Minnesota Vikings drafted Teddy Bridgewater, they had constructed a climate in which Bridgewater -- or any young quarterback -- should be able to develop without the pressure of immediate expectations.

The Vikings committed more cash to veteran Matt Cassel when he opted out of his 2014 deal, giving him a two-year, $10 million contract that effectively set him up as the bridge to the team's next young QB. They had hired offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who had Troy Aikman, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers in the nascent stages of their careers. They even had Christian Ponder, the former first-round pick who could serve -- at least for a year -- as an emergency option in case Cassel got injured and the Vikings weren't ready to put a rookie on the field.

[+] EnlargeMatt Cassel, Teddy Bridgewater
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltBy starting Matt Cassel over Teddy Bridgewater, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has given his rookie more time to develop.
All of the levers were in place to ensure a healthy environment for Bridgewater to develop. The only question: Would the Vikings pull the right ones?

Based on how new coach Mike Zimmer and Turner handled the first three months of Bridgewater's career in Minnesota, the answer appears to be yes. Zimmer named Cassel the starting quarterback Monday for the beginning of the regular season, rewarding the veteran for playing well enough to keep the job after he'd called Cassel the team's No. 1 QB on the first day of training camp.

Zimmer said at the time the designation didn't mean anything, but in a subtle way, it did: It set up a system in which Bridgewater would have to outplay Cassel to get the job, removed whatever temptation there might have been to play the rookie right away and sent a message to an offense filled with veterans -- 29-year-old running back Adrian Peterson among them -- that immediate success wouldn't take a backseat to development.

"The team has a lot of confidence in him," Zimmer said of Cassel. "They feel good about his veteran leadership and presence. I had to think about the whole football team; it wasn’t just about the quarterbacks. I’ve said this before: It’s not always the best player at that position -- and I’m not saying Matt’s not -- but any position, it’s how everything works together and at this stage in where we are at right now, I feel like that’s the best thing to do."

How this coaching staff handles Bridgewater will play a major role in Zimmer's longevity with the Vikings probably more than how the team fares this season. The decision Zimmer announced on Monday -- and the one his actions had been pointing toward for weeks -- worked on two fronts: It curried favor with players weary of quarterback instability after last season, and it provided more time for Bridgewater to learn in a forgiving environment.

Cassel will be asked to solve a tough St. Louis Rams defense on the road in Week 1, and could possibly have to trade scoring drives with Tom Brady and Brees the next two weeks. That's a daunting task for a rookie, and by assigning it to Cassel, the Vikings can retain some control over the setting in which Bridgewater eventually debuts.

They've been in a position to do that all along, with a sturdy (but not irreplaceable) veteran and an offensive coordinator who has done this before. All the Vikings needed was a rookie coach who would be pragmatic enough to manage it correctly, and it appears that's what Zimmer has done.
KANSAS CITY -- As he was flanked by reporters in the visitors' locker room at Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday night, peppered with questions about his time in Kansas City, Matt Cassel seemed less interested in rehashing what went wrong than nearly anyone else in the room.

To Chiefs fans, Cassel's time in Kansas City represents a failed experiment, which began with the team trading for the quarterback and signing him to a six-year deal in 2009 and ended, at least symbolically, with fans cheering Cassel's concussion in a home game. That experience seasoned the Vikings-Chiefs preseason game with a heavy dose of the Cassel-gets-redemption storyline, as he returned to Kansas City once again poised to claim a NFL starting quarterback job.

Matt Cassel
Ed Zurga/Associated PressMatt Cassel's return to Kansas City was a good one, as he gained further control of Minnesota's starting quarterback race.
The 32-year-old quarterback wasn't officially awarded the job on Saturday night -- though the Vikings operated as though he'd be their starter on Sept. 7 -- and even if he had, he probably wouldn't have found much reason to boast about it. He said again on Saturday night he had "no ill will" toward the Chiefs, who cut him after the 2012 season, pointing out that all three of his children were born in Kansas City and mentioning the close friends he still had in town. Still, his long touchdown to Cordarrelle Patterson in the first quarter had to carry some extra meaning, didn't it?

"It was a great way to start the game, there's no doubt about it," Cassel said. "To come in here and get going, we were backed up on our own three, and then to be able to get going like that and hit a long play, it was great."

That's about the most Cassel will let on about what the game meant to him, and there's not much reason he should be anything but diplomatic about his exit from Kansas City. He didn't perform well enough to play out a contract that would have paid him more than $62 million, and he rightly pointed out things would have been different if he and the Chiefs had won a few more games.

"I've been in it long enough to know that if you don't win, normally, they make changes," he said. "They did, and I was really happy to see they had a lot of success."

Cassel has been able to move on, too, and it seems he'll at least begin the season with the starting job. Officially, the Vikings' quarterback competition is ongoing, but when Cassel throws 17 passes, Teddy Bridgewater throws seven in just over a quarter of work, and Christian Ponder again doesn't play, the pecking order seems clear. Cassel's performance on Saturday night might have actually been his worst of the preseason; he hit the long touchdown to Patterson -- on a play the receiver said has typically gone to Greg Jennings in practice -- lofted a pretty sideline throw to Jennings and could have had better numbers if not for a couple drops, but he forced a deep throw to Jerome Simpson for an interception and could have been picked off on an out route to Jennings.

He's got the arm to play in offensive coordinator Norv Turner's scheme, as he's demonstrated by a number of downfield throws this preseason, but he'll also get burned by taking some chances at times. He's only had two seasons -- his breakout year of 2008 and his Pro Bowl season of 2010 -- where he's averaged less than an interception per game. Still, Cassel has done a solid job of running the Vikings' offense in the preseason without Adrian Peterson, and it'd be a surprise not to see him start when the Vikings return to Missouri on Sept. 7 against the Rams.

If his continued work as the Vikings' starting quarterback on the other side of the state -- and in his former home stadium -- gave him a sense of payback on Saturday, Cassel wasn't showing it. Perhaps his experience the last time he was in this position helped him to appreciate it more than to flaunt it.

"I love Kansas City," Cassel said. "At the same time, football sometimes just doesn't always work out the way you want it to. There's a multitude of reasons behind that, and I wish we could have changed a lot of that -- mainly the outcome of just winning more ballgames."

Vikings Thursday practice report

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
3:40
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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.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- A few observations from the Minnesota Vikings' practice on Wednesday afternoon:
  • With Chad Greenway sitting out of team drills because of an injury to his right wrist, Michael Mauti got most of the work with the first team in Greenway's spot. Greenway had a brace on his wrist, but said he hoped to be back at practice on Thursday. The linebacker also will be in charge of the Vikings' huddle this season, coach Mike Zimmer confirmed on Wednesday; the job typically falls to a middle linebacker, but since Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole aren't likely to be on the field on passing downs, the Vikings gave the job of relaying defensive calls to Greenway because he figures to be on the field most of the time.
  • The Vikings continued looking at several safeties next to Harrison Smith, giving Robert Blanton, Chris Crocker and Kurt Coleman work with the first team on Wednesday. They'll continue their audition process on Saturday night in Kansas City, with Blanton -- who missed the Vikings' first two preseason games because of a hamstring injury -- receiving a fair share of the work so the Vikings can evaluate him.
  • On a day where the Vikings spent plenty of time with their scout teams on the field, Christian Ponder got much of the work at quarterback, facing the first-team defense for good chunks of the practice. Ponder threw one interception, when Harrison Smith picked off a pass underthrown into double coverage, but made some nice throws the rest of the day. "I think that Christian has improved a lot since we have had him," Zimmer said. "I still like a lot of things that he does, his athletic ability, his intelligence. I keep seeing that he doesn’t have a good arm -- that’s wrong, too. He’s got a good arm. He throws the ball beautifully, he just didn’t make as many plays during the OTAs as some of the other guys did."
  • As the Vikings get closer to special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer's suspension at the beginning of the regular season, interim special-teams coach Joe Marciano has spent his time working with Priefer and assistant special-teams coach Ryan Ficken to mold his system into the Vikings' way of doing things. "His system and Mike's system are very similar," Zimmer said. "He’s obviously in all the meetings and everything in with Mike all the time. He’s trying to learn the same terminology that Mike is using that so when we do go to St. Louis (for the season opener) it’s all the same."
  • Wide receiver Kain Colter left with trainer Eric Sugarman in the middle of practice, and appeared to have an injury to his right hand.

Vikings Tuesday practice report

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
6:35
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Some observations from the Minnesota Vikings' practice on Tuesday afternoon:
  • A day after coach Mike Zimmer hinted Josh Robinson needed to make a prompt return to the field in order to stay in competition for a roster spot, the cornerback did just that. Robinson, who hasn't played in the preseason because of a strained hamstring, did some individual work on Tuesday, and appeared closer to returning to full-team work. The Vikings seem set on moving forward with Captain Munnerlyn as a starting corner in their base defense -- not that that should have ever come as a huge surprise -- but Robinson can keep himself in the running for the third cornerback spot if he gets back in time to show something in the preseason.
  • It was a bit of a sloppy day for the Vikings' quarterbacks on Tuesday; Matt Cassel hit 12 of 20 passes, but had one intercepted by Harrison Smith after it went high off Cordarrelle Patterson's hands, and had another pass batted down at the line of scrimmage. Teddy Bridgewater, who got some work with the first team on Tuesday, hit 15 of 18 throws, and had one dropped by Allen Reisner, but also had to be bailed out by his receivers on a couple completions, like one that Jerome Simpson snared after it was behind him. Christian Ponder got just three plays, carrying the ball himself on one after Jerick McKinnon missed a handoff. He threw one pass, overshooting Kain Colter.
  • Chris Crocker continued to work with the first-team defense on Tuesday, lining up at safety next to Harrison Smith. Andrew Sendejo and Kurt Coleman got some work on the second team, and the Vikings again unveiled their three-safety look in a nickel package.
  • Blair Walsh hit 7 of 8 kicks in a field goal period, connecting from 54 yards on his final attempt of the day. Considering Walsh has missed both of his kicks over 50 yards in the preseason, it was an encouraging sign for the Vikings to see him hit from long range on Tuesday.
  • Greg Jennings probably had the best day of all the receivers, outrunning Captain Munnerlyn on a perfectly-thrown deep shot from Cassel and making a nice catch in front of Xavier Rhodes on a sideline throw from Bridgewater. Rodney Smith, who caught the game-winner from Bridgewater on Saturday, was a frequent target for the rookie; Bridgewater hit a long touchdown throw to Smith, beyond Sendejo and Derek Cox.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- You know that discussion we were having about Christian Ponder's future? Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer effectively put an end to it.

Ponder
Ponder
When asked on Tuesday how many quarterbacks he would be comfortable keeping on the roster, Zimmer said, "I don't think we'll be two quarterbacks, if that's the question you're asking."

By saying the Vikings would be unlikely to drop to two QBs, Zimmer effectively confirmed Ponder will be on the team's opening-day roster. Things can always change, of course, but despite how little the Vikings have used Ponder in camp, they still see value in keeping a third quarterback for emergencies. As we discussed earlier, retaining Ponder would give the Vikings a veteran option in case Matt Cassel were injured or ineffective and the team wasn't ready to put Teddy Bridgewater on the field yet. There's a valid line of thinking that such an insurance policy is worth a roster spot, especially when the most important task the Vikings have in the next few years probably is managing Bridgewater's development correctly.

The trick, of course, is valuing that insurance policy in comparison to other roster construction options, and the Vikings apparently put a high enough premium on it to sacrifice some flexibility elsewhere. They've always had three QBs on their opening-day roster with Rick Spielman as the GM, even as some teams changed their philosophy once the league eliminated a rule in 2011 that effectively made a third quarterback a free roster spot on game days.

So there you have it; barring some kind of change, it appears the Vikings will have three QBs on the roster this season. And it's safe to assume, at least at this point, that the third one will be Ponder.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- We discussed the reasons the Minnesota Vikings might have for parting with Christian Ponder, and why the return they could receive -- either in the form of trade compensation or additional flexibility on their roster -- might outweigh the risks of carrying only two quarterbacks.

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner used an example from his not-so-distant past to illustrate those risks, and he scolded fans for booing Ponder in the Vikings' first exhibition game.

"I think he's done everything he can do, and he's working his butt off," Turner said Tuesday. "He's a guy that's going to be valuable to our team. The thing in Cleveland [last season], we had three different guys have their career-best games in three different situations, and we didn't win the game because we gave up a touchdown at the end of the game, or something kept us from winning the game that was out of the quarterback's hands. I thought that happened to Christian a number of times last year. Having three quarterbacks, if that's the way we end up going, that's extremely valuable to me."

Ponder
Ponder
Fans didn't get a chance to react to Ponder during the Vikings' second exhibition game, of course, because he didn't see the field, and he didn't throw any passes in full-team work during Monday's practice. As we discussed on Monday, there's a valid reason to keep Ponder; not many teams have a third-string quarterback who has led a team to the playoffs, and he could be useful if Matt Cassel gets hurt or is ineffective and the Vikings want to control the circumstances in which they put Teddy Bridgewater on the field. In the end, the Vikings will have to place a value on those benefits, and determine whether it exceeds the value of parting ways with Ponder and adding a roster spot.

"There are advantages to going both ways," Turner said. "We'll adjust to whatever. I think we have a pretty good quarterback situation right now."
MINNEAPOLIS -- In time, the Minnesota Vikings' 30-28 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday night -- a preseason game in which both Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater played a full half, and each fashioned a passer rating better than 125 -- could come attached with an ignominious footnote: It could be the night when Christian Ponder's chances of appearing in another home game as the Vikings' quarterback were permanently snuffed out.

Ponder
Ponder
Coach Mike Zimmer said last week that Cassel could play as much as a half in the Vikings' second home preseason game, and after the game, he added that the plan all along was to give Bridgewater the whole second half. That meant the Vikings effectively went into the game planning not to use Ponder, who was firmly entrenched as the team's starting quarterback at this time last year. This came on the heels of a training camp where Ponder never got more than a cursory look, and as the Vikings make decisions about their roster composition, it raised this question: Would the Vikings be better off parting with Ponder before the season?

There's a danger in only carrying two quarterbacks, as the Green Bay Packers found out last season, and I've long thought Ponder carried some value for the Vikings this year, in the sense that he could step in if Cassel were injured or ineffective and the Vikings didn't feel the time was yet right for Bridgewater's debut. But their use of Ponder to this point speaks to how marginalized he's become, to the point where the value of his roster spot -- or the return he'd fetch in a trade -- might exceed what he could provide as an emergency option.

The San Francisco 49ers, for example, were facing questions about their backup quarterbacks after a 34-0 defeat Sunday, to the point that coach Jim Harbaugh had to give them a vote of confidence. The 49ers shipped a sixth-round pick in 2014 and a conditional draft choice in 2015 to Jacksonville in exchange for Blaine Gabbert, who was picked two spots ahead of Ponder in the 2012 first round. They also have McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who was the Vikings' third-string quarterback until the team signed Josh Freeman last October. Could San Francisco -- or a team in similar straits -- part with a seventh-round pick for Ponder, whose mediocre career has still featured more success than Gabbert's or Bethel-Thompson's?

The fact the Vikings haven't traded Ponder to this point would suggest they haven't yet found a team willing to pay that modest price, or that they put a higher value on the quarterback than that. But even if the Vikings cut Ponder at the end of the month, it would seem there's a good chance that he'll sign with another team, which would offset some or all of the Vikings' responsibility for Ponder's $1.76 million base salary through the language in his rookie contract.

As rookies like defensive tackle Shamar Stephen and second-year undrafted free agents like receivers Adam Thielen and Rodney Smith make their push for roster spots, the Vikings might find themselves in need of a little extra flexibility. They could get it by parting with a quarterback who's never looked like more of an afterthought in Minnesota.

Vikings Camp Report: Day 14

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
7:40
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MANKATO, Minn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Minnesota Vikings training camp:
  • After throwing three interceptions during Monday's practice, Teddy Bridgewater was picked off twice more on Wednesday afternoon, by Mistral Raymond and Gerald Hodges. Bridgewater finished the day 12-for-17 in full-team drills, including a pass he threw away and a deep ball Adam Thielen dropped with a step on the defensive back covering him. Matt Cassel, who was again listed at the top of the Vikings' depth chart on Wednesday and appears to be solidly at the front of the Vikings' quarterback race, hit 12 of his 14 throws, with his only incompletions coming on drops from Kyle Rudolph and Matt Asiata. Christian Ponder went 6-for-8, with Shaun Prater breaking up one pass.
  • Linebacker Dom DeCicco will have surgery on his hip on Thursday. He was one of three players not to practice on Wednesday, joining Robert Blanton (hamstring) and Chase Ford (broken foot). Blanton started doing some drills on the side, as he tries to get back in time to compete for the Vikings' starting safety spot alongside Harrison Smith. Ford was also doing some running on Wednesday. Josh Robinson, who has been battling a hamstring injury, also visited the trainer's tent early in practice.
  • Cassel connected with Greg Jennings on the play of the day, hitting a long throw down the sideline to the receiver, who was covered well by Marcus Sherels. The quarterback and the receiver connected on both of the passes Cassel targeted for Jennings.
  • Defensive tackle Shamar Stephen, who has won praise from coach Mike Zimmer, defensive coordinator George Edwards and defensive line coach Andre Patterson, got some first-team snaps at nose tackle on Wednesday. He'll get a chance to make his case with Linval Joseph still out because of a gunshot wound, and it seems like Stephen has a good shot at a roster spot; Patterson said on Wednesday the former Connecticut tackle is much better than his seventh-round draft status would indicate.
  • Running back Chuck Foreman, who played on three Vikings Super Bowl teams in the 1970s and still has the third-most rushing yards in franchise history, was spotted on the sidelines watching Vikings practice on Wednesday.

Vikings Camp Report: Day 11

August, 6, 2014
Aug 6
6:45
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MANKATO, Minn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Minnesota Vikings training camp:
  • In the team's final practice before Friday's preseason opener, coach Mike Zimmer let the Vikings work without pads, and the team finished about 45 minutes early. The afternoon session had the feel of a dress rehearsal, with no 7-on-7 periods and some extra full-team work. The Vikings' starters will likely play a few series on Friday night, and rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater could play as many as two quarters, with some of his work coming with the Vikings' first-team offense.
  • Bridgewater was intercepted for the fourth time in training camp when he threw a high screen pass that bounced off the fingers of running back Dominique Williams and landed in the arms of cornerback Kendall James. Bridgewater finished the day 6-for-10 in full-team drills, and Matt Cassel was 5-for-6. Third-string quarterback Christian Ponder, who figures to get plenty of playing time once the starters are out on Friday night, had one of his busier days of camp, throwing a total of 13 passes and completing nine. Ponder waited a beat too long on a downfield throw to Erik Lora, but fared better against the Vikings' first-team defense than he did on Tuesday.
  • Zimmer again spent plenty of time coaching cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who appeared out of position on a downfield pass. The coach said on Wednesday he's had to adjust his approach to Rhodes somewhat, trying to go a bit softer on him than he did early in practice. "That's about every player; you try to figure out what buttons to push," Zimmer said. "He's better when he's playing off (the receiver); that was one of his weaknesses early on. He's done that a lot better. He understands the coverages much better. He understands the alignments and where he's supposed to be. The press technique, we've still got some work to do, but he has great recovery speed. He's improved in about every area."
  • Safety Jamarca Sanford and cornerback Marcus Sherels didn't practice Wednesday, in addition to injured safety Robert Blanton and tight end Chase Ford. Sherels watched practice next to Blanton from the sideline. Sanford wasn't seen on the field.
  • The Vikings received a visit on Wednesday morning from Hall of Fame defensive end Alan Page, who addressed the team about what it takes to be great in the NFL. "He said he went to Notre Dame, and I was the only guy who clapped," said tight end -- and Notre Dame product -- Kyle Rudolph. "We've got to get these other guys up on their history." And in the afternoon, Minnesota Timberwolves president and coach Flip Saunders was on the sideline, chatting with general manager Rick Spielman. The Timberwolves have regularly held training camp at Minnesota State, where the basketball area is named after owner (and Minnesota State graduate) Glen Taylor. We know what you're thinking, and no, we didn't see Saunders on his phone, trying to complete a deal for Kevin Love.

Vikings Camp Report: Day 9

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
8:05
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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 Camp Report: Day 7

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
8:20
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MANKATO, Minn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Minnesota Vikings training camp:
  • The Vikings had a hard, physical practice on Thursday, and Friday's high of 87 degrees made it the hottest day of training camp so far. Coach Mike Zimmer said he anticipated the team's practice level might drop off a bit on Friday afternoon, and he was correct. Asked to describe the day, Zimmer said, "Sloppy. I didn't think we were as precise as we've been on both sides of the ball. The effort was good, but we've got a lot of things in, so some of the stuff runs together for them. We're making way too many mistakes, though, for my liking, so we've got to keep working it, getting this stuff right."
  • Anthony Barr has continued to impress in practice, to the point where Zimmer said on Friday the rookie has a "strong" chance to start at linebacker. "I probably would have said that after the first minicamp," Zimmer said. "His alignments are just a tiny little bit off, so if he'll fix that, he's got good power when he punches, he did a couple nice things in that move-the-ball (drill). He's blitzing well. He's still got to learn some of the rush things in this league. But for the most part, he's advancing as well as expected."
  • The sloppy play certainly extended to the quarterbacks on Friday: Matt Cassel threw an interception to Kurt Coleman early in 11-on-11 work and had another pass batted down by Linval Joseph. Teddy Bridgewater went 10-for-17 (though one of his incompletions was called back for defensive holding) and was intercepted for the second straight day by Derek Cox, who stepped in front of a pass intended for Adam Thielen and returned it for a touchdown. "We gave them a lot of different looks on defense today, too," Zimmer said. "That's part of the evaluation. It's not to line up there in the same look every time, and they know where they're going before the ball (is snapped). It's great for a young quarterback like this to see some of the things we do on defense, because that's what people are going to do to him, early in the year anyway, if he's the guy. For me, if I'm the defensive coordinator, I'm going to give you a bunch of different looks." Christian Ponder went 5-for-5.
  • Zimmer unveiled a new toy on Friday: a siren he set to sound after five seconds at the end of every play near the conclusion of practice. He had used the tactic in Cincinnati to remind players they needed to go hard for at least that long on every play. "We can't block this guy and stop," Zimmer said. "Let's block him, keep blocking him, stay on him, stay on him, stay on him. Basically, finish."
  • Considering the overall feel of the day, it's appropriate that one of the Vikings' hydraulic camera cranes crashed into the chain-link fence at the back of their practice fields, leaving a sizable dent in the fence. After some effort, the Vikings were able to get the crane moved and in position to film the team's next drill. "Sloppy off the field, too," Zimmer deadpanned.

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.
MANKATO, Minn. -- The Vikings will be back on the practice field on Wednesday afternoon, following a day off on Tuesday, and coach Mike Zimmer said the team would likely adjust its practice plan to provide more snaps for players who need the extra work. At the quarterback position, that likely means the Vikings will pare down the snaps for one of their three passers, as offensive coordinator Norv Turner said on Wednesday morning.

"You can't work three [quarterbacks] for a long time, so the reps will get divided up differently," Turner said.

Based on what we've seen so far, it seems likely Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater will continue to get more work than Christian Ponder, as the Vikings try to settle on a starting quarterback to begin the season. Turner said on Wednesday preseason games will factor "heavily" into the final decision, but added he doesn't need to see full-contact situations to see how well Bridgewater handles pressure.

"He doesn’t look at the line; he feels it," Turner said. "He keeps his eyes up the field, makes throws with people around him and throws in real tight quarters where he doesn’t have real much room to work. That’s not a big concern. I think that’s one of the best things he does right now.”

Bridgewater hit 53.5 percent of his throws under pressure last season at Louisville, and was the best of any quarterback in this year's draft class under pressure, according to ESPN Stats & Information. His quick release has helped him get the ball out in tight situations, and he's done a nice job of stepping up in the pocket as it closes.

The Vikings will work heavily on playbook installation again in practice on Wednesday, and while Turner said the current collective bargaining agreement -- which affords teams more meeting and walk-through time instead of lengthy practice sessions -- actually makes it easier to teach quarterbacks what to do. There's less time, however, to teach them exactly how to do it.

"You have to make the most of the work you get on the field, like we did on Monday night," Turner said. "I think from a quarterback position, getting them up to speed in terms of what to do, this system is outstanding for that. You don't get as many team reps, so when we're throwing routes against air, we're throwing balls to their backs, we're working with the tight ends, we've got to mentally create a game environment for them, so you're simulating the reps they would get if they were practicing in the morning."

Vikings Camp Report: Day 2

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
8:00
PM ET
MANKATO, Minn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Minnesota Vikings training camp:
  • The Vikings' quarterbacks were more efficient on Saturday than they were in the team's first practice on Friday, though we didn't see Matt Cassel, Teddy Bridgewater and Christian Ponder take quite as many shots down the field. Cassel again took most of the first-team snaps, finishing the day 10-f0r-13 in 11-on-11 drills, while Bridgewater went 8-for-11 and Ponder was 6-for-7. Cassel had one pass broken up by Linval Joseph, who had also batted down a pass on Friday, but he did connect with Greg Jennings on a long throw that drew one of the day's biggest rounds of applause. Bridgewater and Adam Thielen, who seemed to click during the Vikings' OTAs and minicamp, were in sync again on Saturday. Three of Bridgewater's last four passes were targeted for Thielen, and the two connected on a long play-action pass late in practice. Bridgewater mostly worked with the Vikings' second team, and Ponder's snaps were with the third team.
  • With Munnerlyn out, the Vikings tried several different players at the slot cornerback position; rookies Jabari Price and Kendall James got some work there, as did Shaun Prater. Price got some first-team snaps and handled himself well. He said he played the slot corner position as a junior at North Carolina before moving back outside as a senior, so as the Vikings try to identify players who can handle the job in the event Munnerlyn gets hurt, Price could make his case for a roster spot that way. "It's definitely a harder job, but you can't put it on the back burner," Price said. "Other teams get those fast receivers in on third down. It's definitely a change-up for corners, but it's something that's got to be done."
  • Nearly a third of the Vikings' 24 completions in team drills went to running backs, and they put a particular emphasis on setting up screens for Adrian Peterson. Peterson caught one from Matt Cassel, did a masterful job of letting his blockers get out in front of him and raced down the left sideline for a big gain. By my count, Peterson was targeted with four passes, catching three. "There are times where he'll double-catch it a little bit, but most of the time, he's pretty darn good," Zimmer said. "People are afraid of his speed, which gives him some areas to go underneath or beat people to the perimeter. I think he'll be a good weapon. I think when I was in Atlanta (in 2007), he caught a (60)-yard swing pass (in his first NFL game) for a touchdown. Once he gets the ball in his hands, if it's in the open field, it's bad news." Zimmer was also impressed with Matt Asiata, who's making a strong case at the moment to be the No. 2 running back. "He's elusive," Zimmer said. "He's got a little bit of shift, a sneakiness about him the way he goes. He's been good."
  • For the second day in a row, the Vikings used a nickel package with three safeties, and Zimmer said he also has a three-corner, one-safety base look that he'll unveil at some point. "We're introducing them, and we'll continue to add some," Zimmer said. "We'll get to some more exotic things, I guess you'd say, later on in camp."
  • It seems like Norv Turner's offense will employ pulling guards more often than Bill Musgrave's scheme did; the Vikings had rookie David Yankey pulling on a number of plays. There will still be some zone blocking, but it doesn't seem like the Vikings will be as married to that style of offensive line play as they were with Musgrave.

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