NFC North: Devin Aromashodu

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Defensive tackle Henry Melton and wide receiver Earl Bennett remained sidelined on Tuesday due to concussions, but both players watched practice from the sidelines for the first time since the Chicago Bears concluded the Bourbonnais portion of their training camp on Aug. 13.

However, Melton and Bennett have still not passed the NFL concussion protocol to return to action, and therefore both continue to be off-limits to the media, per league rules.

While veteran Nate Collins has elevated his game filling in for Melton at defensive tackle, the picture at the No. 3 wide receiver spot is cloudier with Bennett out. Wideouts Joe Anderson, Marquess Wilson, Eric Weems, Terrence Toliver and Devin Aromashodu have all been given an opportunity to run with the first and second teams in recent weeks, but quarterback Jay Cutler said on Tuesday that he has no input on which specific player would fill the void left by Bennett if his absence continues to drag on.

"They don't give me an opinion so we'll see who they throw in there," Cutler said. "We'll see who Marc (Trestman), Phil (Emery) and those guys like. Whoever is out there I trust that they can get the job done."

In other injury news, quarterback Matt Blanchard (hand), fullback Harvey Unga (rib), defensive end Cheta Ozougwu (hamstring), linebacker D.J. Williams (calf), long snapper Patrick Mannelly (rib), offensive tackle Jonathan Scott (knee) and defensive tackle Corvey Irvin (ankle) were all held out of Tuesday's practice.

The news on Blanchard is encouraging. The second-year quarterback is expected to miss about a month, but could still have a role on the team in 2013 in some capacity. Blanchard also remains eligible for the practice squad.

Free Head Exam: Minnesota Vikings

December, 10, 2012
12/10/12
1:45
PM ET

After the Minnesota Vikings' 21-14 victory over the Chicago Bears, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. As you might expect, tailback Adrian Peterson has expanded the scope of his success during a streak of seven consecutive 100-yard games. You might remember that Peterson almost exclusively was running between the tackles during the early part of the season. Whether by design or accident, it made sense for the Vikings to focus him on straight-ahead runs as his surgically-repaired knee strengthened. Over the past five games, however, Peterson has increased his percentage of runs outside of the tackles from 9.9 percent to 24.9 percent, according to ESPN's Stats & Information. He is averaging 8.6 yards per carry on such runs, including a 51-yard run to open Sunday's game, and has scored three touchdowns. Over the first eight games of the season, Peterson averaged 1.2 yards per carry on runs outside of the tackles. Meanwhile, after taking a career-high 31 carries Sunday, Peterson is on pace for 326 carries this season. That would be the second-highest total of his career.
  2. Free Head Exam
    ESPN.com
    Sunday provided an opportunity to recognize the work of the Vikings' draft class. Five of its members were in the starting lineup Sunday: Left tackle Matt Kalil, safety Harrison Smith, cornerback Josh Robinson, receiver Jarius Wright and tight end Rhett Ellison (as part of a three-tight end set). Smith's 56-yard touchdown on an interception return proved the difference in the scoring. Robinson's first-quarter interception and return set up another touchdown. Kalil did his part in limiting the Bears' defensive line to one sack and one hit of quarterback Christian Ponder. It's worth noting that the second-quarter holding penalty Kalil received while trying to block defensive end Julius Peppers was his first holding call of the season, declined or accepted. (This one was declined.) No matter how this season turns out, the Vikings should feel proud to have won at least seven games with so many rookies playing prominent roles.
  3. Owner Zygi Wilf picked an interesting week to reinforce his support for the team in a meeting with players and coaches Friday. Coach Leslie Frazier and players all said Wilf's message was unfailingly positive, but it came after consecutive losses to the Bears and Green Bay Packers which seemed to cement the Vikings' third-tier status in the division. Wilf's presence at the team meeting might have indicated that it isn't enough for this team to win more games than media prognosticators thought it would. Two days later, the Vikings scored their first victory against the Bears or Packers in Frazier's tenure. Take that for what you will.
And here is one issue that I still don't get:
Sunday provided a glimpse of what Ponder can -- and can't -- do, leaving us without a good idea if he can be a viable long-term starter after the 23rd start of his career. The deep post pass he threw to Devin Aromashodu, after avoiding blitzing linebacker Lance Briggs, was a perfect 45-yard strike and frankly would have been caught by a better receiver. On the other hand, his footwork, presence and arm strength on a late throw to an open Wright down the seam was painful to watch. So, too, was Ponder's postgame reaction, when he said in part: "I had a flat to the left that I probably should have taken." Wright was open for a 61-yard touchdown. You want your quarterback kicking himself for not making a better throw to capitalize, not wishing he had dumped it off to avoid the interception he threw because the ball fell short of an open receiver.
The Minnesota Vikings resumed practice Monday following their bye. Receiver Percy Harvin did not, raising significant doubt about whether he'll be available for the start of a critical three-game stretch against NFC North opponents.

Harvin
Harvin's left ankle, originally sprained Nov. 4, is still "sore and pretty tender," coach Leslie Frazier told reporters Monday. Frazier said Harvin hasn't suffered a setback but "just hasn't made enough progress to put him out there yet."

It's possible that Harvin could be on the field Wednesday, but obviously he hasn't healed as fast as the Vikings hoped. Frazier originally suggested Harvin would return after the bye.

Receiver Michael Jenkins also missed practice because of a foot injury, leaving the Vikings with four healthy receivers: Jerome Simpson, Devin Aromashodu, Stephen Burton and rookie Jarius Wright.

The Vikings are in NFC playoff contention with a 6-4 record, but the most difficult portion of their schedule is about to begin. Their next thee games will be at the Chicago Bears, at the Green Bay Packers and then at home against the Bears again.

Free Head Exam: Minnesota Vikings

October, 15, 2012
10/15/12
12:00
PM ET
After the Minnesota Vikings' 38-26 loss to the Washington Redskins, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Free Head Exam
    ESPN.com
    Quarterback Christian Ponder called the interception he threw to Madieu Williams in the fourth quarter "a fluke play," saying the ball slipped out of his hand on what was supposed to be a 7-yard checkdown play. It was reminiscent of an errant pass he threw during an organized team activity (OTA) in May, one that suggested he was still in need of some polish. I think we can all agree Ponder has made significant progress since his rookie season, and perhaps we were all lulled to sleep by the remarkably efficient start to his season. But Sunday's wobbly and wild overthrow of receiver Michael Jenkins served as a reminder that he remains very much a work in progress. The way the Vikings are structured, Ponder needs to make the easy throws look easy.
  2. A quick Monday morning review of the first quarter confirms the Vikings missed a chance to put the Redskins in a serious early hole. Three trips to the red zone yielded three field goal attempts, and a 9-0 lead quickly turned into a 17-9 halftime deficit. Several of you tweeted complaints my way about a lack of potential scoring shots, and here are the numbers: In nine plays after establishing a first down in the red zone, the Vikings threw one pass into the end zone. It fell incomplete in the general vicinity of receiver Devin Aromashodu. The Vikings' top three receivers in that situation -- tight end Kyle Rudolph, receiver Percy Harvin and Jenkins -- did not see a pass thrown their way. For the most part, the Vikings have done a nice job utilizing the strengths of their personnel, but those early red-zone plays fell short Sunday.
  3. The Vikings' defense hasn't fared well against quarterbacks who can break the pocket. The Indianapolis Colts' Andrew Luck gained 21 key yards on four scrambles against them in Week 2, and the Redskins' Robert Griffin III ran roughshod over them Sunday. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 113 of Griffin's 138 rushing yards came on six unplanned scrambles. (He gained 27 yards on five designed runs.) Review of the video revealed that a Vikings defender didn't lay a hand on Griffin on five of the six scrambles. I don't blame them for being wary about blitzing him Sunday, and you saw what happened when they did: No one on the Vikings defense could chase him down after he broke through a six-man line on the way to a 76-yard touchdown run.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
What's going on with receiver Jerome Simpson? There appears to be some disconnect here. Last week, team officials didn't know until the morning of their game against the Tennessee Titans that he was experiencing back trouble that made his leg numb. Even so, medical officials cleared him to play against the Titans. More tests on Monday revealed no serious injury, and Simpson was allowed to practice Thursday and Friday. But coach Leslie Frazier told reporters that "I just didn't feel comfortable with what I was seeing in practice [from Simpson] in a couple different areas," and decided to deactivate him for the game. Simpson told reporters he was stunned by the decision. Is this a disagreement on physical condition? A motivational message? An expectation for a higher practice standard? It's difficult to tell at the moment.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

For those wondering exactly how the Green Bay Packers will replace running back Cedric Benson's carries -- not that there are any fantasy implications, of course -- here is what we can tell you: Alex Green will get the first carry Sunday night against the Houston Texans. After that, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he will go with the "hot hand" between Green, James Starks and Brandon Saine.

All three players got work with the first team in practice Wednesday, according to Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. McCarthy: "The first carry will be Alex Green. He's a little farther ahead than James is right now and that's the way we'll go. But we have three halfbacks and we'll utilize all three of them."

That makes sense in the initial stages of replacing Benson, mostly because it's not clear if the Packers have a player they can rely on singularly to take on the full load. It will have to be a team effort, at least initially.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "Yes, the Packers' offense has sputtered, and [Aaron] Rodgers deserves some blame for that. But to suggest there is something amiss with Rodgers' game is foolish."
  • Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, who is once again the NFL's sack leader due to a scoring change by the Elias Sports Bureau, is calling for more protection for defensive players by the NFL. Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com explains.
  • The Philadelphia Eagles' high-priced secondary poses a challenge for the Detroit Lions, writes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • The production of Lions receiver Titus Young has not matched his preseason promise, writes Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.
  • The Lions' defensive line has a chance to have an impact against the Eagles' offensive line, according to Justin Rogers of Mlive.com.
  • Minnesota Vikings cornerback Chris Cook on his play this season, via the Star Tribune: "I had a lot of time off my first two years. I'm not saying it's an excuse or anything like that. But I definitely feel I can play better. And, with more reps, I feel I will."
  • Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press speaks with Vikings middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley.
  • Veteran receivers Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu will need to play bigger roles for the Vikings if receiver Jerome Simpson continues to be slowed by a back issue. Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com explains.
  • Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery won't approach coach Lovie Smith about a contract extension until after the season, writes Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Emery on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, via Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune: "He's a passionate player. He has great drive and energy. He is moving toward excellence. He does care and love his teammates and he is a big part of what we’re doing and the positive things we are doing."
  • Suddenly, writes Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times, free-agent receivers want to play for the Bears.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- I dropped by the Minnesota Vikings' practice facility Thursday and heard something I wasn't expecting: Tailback Adrian Peterson lobbying the Vikings to throw the ball downfield more often.

Peterson has always been a single-minded devotee of the power run game, but even he realizes the Vikings have little chance to run effectively Sunday if they let the San Francisco 49ers' stout defense sit on the line of scrimmage. The 49ers have stymied the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions' rushing attacks even while aligned with deep safeties and no more than seven men on the line of scrimmage. Imagine what they could do against the Vikings when stacking against the run and, presumably, disregarding the threat of a downfield pass.

Based on how the Vikings have played their first two games, the 49ers have no reason to push their safeties deep as they did against the Packers and Lions. They might as well put as many defenders as necessary at the line of scrimmage to shut down Peterson, who has struggled in two previous appearances against the 49ers. Only three other teams have held him to a lower average yards per game (44.0) in his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

"These guys are good," Peterson said. "We're looking forward to the challenge. I don't think they've faced a run-attack offense like we have, so I think that can switch things up. … I'm sure they'll come in focused on trying to stop the run. That's where we've got to be productive offensively, keep those guys honest and complete some balls down the field, and then still run the ball."

Peterson added: "That's something we want to do: get the passing game going a little more with those deep balls and spread those defensive backs out some. I feel we'll be able to do that this week."

The Vikings are fairly undermanned when it comes to downfield threats, especially as Jerome Simpson serves the third and final game of his NFL suspension. To be fair, though, they've barely tried to test the defenses they've faced.

Only three of quarterback Christian Ponder's 62 passes have traveled more than 20 yards in the air, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Two fell incomplete, and the third was a 24-yard pass to receiver Devin Aromashodu during the desperate final seconds of regulation in their eventual Week 1 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave told reporters that "we definitely want to have more chunks going forward" and blamed himself for not providing Ponder better play-calling options in that regard. It would make sense for the Vikings to push the ball downfield more often, but we'll kindly say that the matchups don't appear to be in their favor this week.

BBAO: Antoine Winfield speaks up

September, 20, 2012
9/20/12
7:30
AM ET
We're Black and Blue All Over. (We're also on Facebook and Twitter.)

Since signing with the Minnesota Vikings in 2004, cornerback Antoine Winfield has addressed the team perhaps two or three times. One of them came Monday, a day after the Vikings allowed a game-winning drive to rookie Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck in a 23-20 defeat.

Winfield recently endured the loss of his brother, who was murdered earlier this month, but he told reporters Wednesday that his 10-minute speech was about football. Winfield wouldn't reveal the specifics but said: "I only stand up and say stuff when it's coming from the heart and I think it needs to be said. … I'm only playing this game because I want to win a championship. It's not about the money anymore. I still love to play. I think I'm still productive, I still play at a high level. That's why I'm here."

Players, coaches and even general manager Rick Spielman were in the room for Winfield's talk.

At 1-1, the Vikings haven't exactly performed below the modest expectations most people have for them. Perhaps that was part of Winfield's point, and it's possible he wanted to get some thoughts on the record before this season got away. Regardless, it's worth noting when a longtime and highly respected veteran stands up and gives a speech to the team at the start of Week 3.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Vikings safety Harrison Smith on the speech, via the Star Tribune: "He let us know exactly what he sees in this team and what he wants from us. It was good to hear him calling it like he sees it and allowing us to better understand what we need to be doing and what we need to be correcting. There's not one guy on this team who doesn't respect Antoine and look to him for how he does things. So when he tells us what he sees, we're going to listen with the understanding that he knows best."
  • Vikings receiver Devin Aromashodu on the lack of downfield plays so far, via Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com: "There may be some out there. But we can only go with what's being called. If the opportunity's given, we try to go and make the play."
  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune on Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler: "Cutler's last blowup matters much less than his next one will in the context of the 2012 season. And, rest assured, Cutler will blow up again. If neither fatherhood nor the Bears surrounding Cutler with everything he wanted in the offseason failed to change an educated, articulate 29-year-old, I doubt anything can. A man has to consider his behavior wrong before he changes it and I am not convinced the Vanderbilt grad can spell w-r-o-n-g. Nobody will know if Cutler truly learned from his mistake in Green Bay until the next sign of trouble. "
  • Bears fans want to believe in Cutler, but it's tough, writes Jon Greenberg of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Bears coach Lovie Smith spoke with cornerback D.J. Moore about his public criticism of Cutler, writes Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh responded Wednesday to comments from San Francisco 49ers left tackle Joe Staley, who said the Lions' defensive line was overrated. Suh, via the Detroit Free Press: "I find it very interesting and laughable sometimes, but it's not my concern. I don't go against him. The times that I guess I have I've never had an issue with him. If he has an issue with me, he knows where to find me. … People are going to say what they want to say. Especially, I mean, you get a win, feel like you can talk, great for you. That doesn't really mean [anything] to me."
  • Lions cornerback Chris Houston said he will be "ready to go" this week against the Tennessee Titans, notes Justin Rogers of Mlive.com.
  • The Lions have been waiting for years to get running back Mikel Leshoure on the field, writes Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.
  • Yelling at teammates is part of football, writes Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said that "player safety was compromised at times" in some games during Week 2 because of replacement officials. Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com has more.

Christian Ponder: 85 pct. on early downs

September, 13, 2012
9/13/12
12:15
PM ET
As we discussed the offseason development of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, we noted the Vikings wanted to improve their early-down completion percentage. Ponder had one of the worst first-down completion percentages in the NFL as a rookie (50.9), leading to the sort of unmanageable third-down situations that can overwhelm any young quarterback.

Specifically, the Vikings set a lofty goal of completing 75 percent of their first- and second-down passes. It's a feat that has never been accomplished in the post-merger era, as far as we know, so it's worth noting Ponder exceeded that goal in the Vikings' 26-23 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The chart has the full breakdown of Ponder's performance on all three downs. All told, he completed 17 of 20 passes on first or second down, or 85 percent.

The success is attributable to Ponder's accuracy as well as offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's sensible play-calling. With downfield receiver Jerome Simpson serving a suspension, the Vikings didn't wander too far past the line of scrimmage. In fact, only two of Ponder's attempts traveled longer than 20 yards in the air. He completed one of them, a 24-yard pass to Devin Aromashodu in a hectic last-minute drive.

As much fun as it is to watch downfield passing, there is every reason to think the Vikings will continue this approach Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. Although the Colts might not have pass rusher Dwight Freeney (ankle) in their lineup, the Vikings would be well served to manage their offense efficiently at least until Simpson returns.
We spent so much time this offseason discussing Percy Harvin's playing time as the Minnesota Vikings' erstwhile No. 1 receiver that I feel compelled to bring you a relatively important development from Sunday's season-opening victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Harvin played nearly 80 percent of the Vikings' snaps (47 of 59), according to tracking at Pro Football Focus (PFF). That's a significant uptick from his 2011 deployment, when he played 58.4 percent of their snaps even while producing a career season in a newly versatile role as a receiver/running back.

[+] EnlargePercy Harvin
Andy King/Getty ImagesPercy Harvin caught six passes for 84 yards and rushed five times for 20 yards on Sunday.
Admittedly, the Vikings are depleted from a personnel sense given Jerome Simpson's three-game NFL suspension and the loss of rookie Greg Childs (knees). Fellow rookie Jarius Wright was deactivated for the game because of an ankle injury, so the Vikings essentially used only three receivers with second-year player Stephen Burton mixed in occasionally.

According to PFF, here's how the Vikings dispersed playing time among their top pass catchers during their 59 offensive plays:

Tight end Kyle Rudolph: 59
Harvin: 47
Receiver Michael Jenkins: 47
Receiver Devin Aromashodu: 25
Tight end John Carlson: 18

Harvin, for one, responded with 192 combined net yards (84 receiving, 20 rushing and 88 on three kickoff returns). That qualified as a franchise record for a season opener, according to the team.

"We're always trying to find ways to get him the ball, and we'll continue to do that and give it to him in different ways," coach Leslie Frazier said. "He's such a factor with the ball in his hands, even if you have to do it on those smoke screens that we ran in this game. Whatever you have to do to get the ball in his hands to give him a chance to make plays, we've all seen the results of it."

I suppose there could be some concern about wearing Harvin down over the long term. But as we discussed in the offseason, Harvin is too young in football terms to be on a pitch count. He turned 24 in May and should be in his athletic and conditioning prime. The Vikings simply aren't deep enough to compete with one of their best players resting on two out of every five plays, as Harvin did last season. I'm sure he wouldn't want it any other way.

Minnesota Vikings cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
11:28
PM ET
Most significant move: Following the lead of other teams around the NFL, the Vikings decided to go young at quarterback. The plan all along was to have Christian Ponder as the starter, but the surprise was letting veteran backup Sage Rosenfels go, leaving Joe Webb and McLeod Bethel-Thompson on the roster. Webb is making the transition from wide receiver to quarterback. Thompson is only 23 and hasn’t thrown a pass in the regular season. Webb has three starts and 152 pass attempts during his NFL career. The Bears and Colts found out last year it can be tough to go young at quarterback. The Bears lost Jay Cutler and their season was over. The Colts were without Peyton Manning and the season was lost with Curtis Painter.

Onward and upward: Starting wide receiver Jerome Simpson went on the three-game suspension list, so Leslie Frazier has to make sure he doesn’t have to look for receiver help during his absence. Veteran possession receiver Michael Jenkins was retained after a contract reduction and should fill the void. Keeping Devin Aromashodu gives Ponder a solid option in the slot. Percy Harvin is the team’s No. 1 receiver, but is sure to draw double coverage. The concern is what happens if there is an injury. Jarius Wright, the team’s fourth-round pick, is raw. Stephen Burton, a seventh-round pick from last year, is the fifth option.

What's next: Protecting Ponder is the key to the season. Right guard Geoff Schwartz has fought off a lot of injuries during camp. The backup corps of Brandon Fusco, Joe Berger and Patrick Brown isn’t the most distinguished. The significant improvement is having rookie Matt Kalil at left tackle and moving Charlie Johnson from left tackle to left guard. John Sullivan, a journeyman, needs to have a career year to make it all work. The Vikings also need a big year from right tackle Phil Loadholt.

Say farewell to the 2012 preseason

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
10:46
PM ET
I didn't have all four NFC North preseason games playing simultaneously in front of me Thursday night. But I'll be darned if the very first thing that happened Thursday night wasn't Green Bay Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji's ankle injury on the first play from scrimmage at Lambeau Field.

The injury is not believed to be serious, but it underscored the worst fears of the most meaningless night of live-action games on the NFL calendar. A review of the highs and lows from Thursday night is below. And good riddance to you, Mr. Preseason you. ...

Chicago Bears 28, Cleveland Browns 20

Final preseason record: 3-1
Of interest: The Raji injury made the Bears look awfully smart for sitting all 22 starters for this game. And in some cases, second-team players rested as well. … Third-string quarterback Josh McCown started and looked sharp enough to quell any questions about whether the Bears should hold a roster spot for him, at least in my opinion. He played the entire game, completing 20 of 29 passes. ... In a Super Bowl-or-bust year, why take a roster risk at quarterback? … Tailback Lorenzo Booker (81 yards on 15 carries) was having a more productive night than the player he's competing with for the No. 3 running back job, Armando Allen, before he departed because of a head injury and Allen ripped off a 49-yard run. … Receiver Dane Sanzenbacher put a nice exclamation point on his bid for a roster spot with a 30-yard touchdown reception.

Detroit Lions 38, Buffalo Bills 32
Final preseason record: 2-2
Of interest: The Lions played many of their starters for the first series and were up 28-10 at halftime of this affair. That included a crisp seven-play drive by the first-team offense, ending in Matthew Stafford's 24-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson. Stafford finished the preseason with 26 completions in 37 attempts for 360 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a 116.9 passer rating. … Johnson had nine receptions for 178 yards and two scores in the preseason. … Tailback Mikel Leshoure gave the Lions something to look forward to when his two-game suspension ends, rushing for 43 yards, catching a 33-yard pass and scoring on a 2-yard run. … Quarterback Kellen Moore, fighting for a roster spot, rebounded from a number of early drops to complete 17 of 30 passes and also score the game-winner on a 1-yard run.

Green Bay Packers 24, Kansas City Chiefs 3
Final preseason record: 2-2
Of interest: Coach Mike McCarthy said after the game that he did not have "a high level of concern" for Raji's ankle injury. … Thank you, Graham Harrell, for ending the drama -- real or imagined -- around the Packers' decision to name you their No. 2 quarterback. In about two full quarters of play, Harrell compiled a perfect 158.3 passer rating: 13 completions in 15 attempts for 223 yards and two touchdowns. His 27-yard pass to tight end Jermichael Finley was crisp, his 54-yard completion to Tori Gurley had plenty of arm and overall everyone should feel much better about the Packers' depth behind starter Aaron Rodgers. … Running back Alex Green displayed his open-field running skills by turning a short pass into a 17-yard scoring play. … Cedric Benson's first-play fumble, recovered by the Packers, will make a few people nervous.

Houston Texans 28, Minnesota Vikings 23
Final preseason record: 1-3
Of interest: The Vikings sat almost all of their starters, and the biggest point to take from this game is the continued inconsistency of backup quarterback Joe Webb. The Vikings managed only three points with him on the field. Third-stringer Sage Rosenfels missed receiver Devin Aromashodu on one deep pass but hit him on another for a 59-yard touchdown. … Rookie receiver Jarius Wright was having a huge night (six receptions for 122 yards) before departing with a foot injury. Among his catches was a 59-yard touchdown from McLeod Bethel-Thompson. … Running backs Matt Asiata (43 yards on seven carries) and Jordan Todman (76-yard touchdown run) competed hard for the No. 3 running back job.
In which we look ahead to the remainder of Week 3 in the NFC North's preseason schedule:

Chicago Bears
Opponent: New York Giants
Location: MetLife Stadium
Day/Time: Friday/8 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: After an intense week of discussion about linebacker Brian Urlacher's future, there is more reason than ever to scrutinize Nick Roach's play at middle linebacker. Whereas we once considered it a lock that Urlacher will be ready to start the season, there now seems at least a chance that Roach will open the year at middle linebacker. It's not his best position. … Punter Adam Podlesh has a hip flexor, so rookie Ryan Quigley will handle all of the punting duties Friday night. His performance will determine whether the Bears need to consider other options if Podlesh isn't ready to start the season. … The game will be televised nationally on CBS.
Focal point: What else, if not for the Bears' offensive line? The Giants aren't expected to play All-Pro defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul because of back spasms, but they should still give the Bears' line its best test yet. The Bears would like to make a final decision on their starting left tackle, where J'Marcus Webb is trying to hold off Chris Williams, as well as at left guard. Chris Spencer and Chilo Rachal are competing for that job.

Minnesota Vikings
Opponent:
San Diego Chargers
Location:
Metrodome
Day/Time:
Friday/8 p.m. ET
Personnel notes:
Tailback Adrian Peterson won't play but will participate fully in pregame warmups, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen. … Cornerback Chris Cook (concussion) and nose tackle Letroy Guion (knee) aren't expected to play. … The Vikings will continue to search for possibilities to replace receiver Jerome Simpson during his three-game suspension. Look for second-year player Stephen Burton, along with veterans Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu, to all get long looks. … Rookie cornerback Josh Robinson has impressed the Vikings in training camp and could get a chance to work with the first team Friday night. … Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst will start for the Chargers, who don't want to risk starter Philip Rivers behind an injury-riddled offensive line. Tight end Antonio Gates will also sit out.
Focal point:
This might be middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley's final chance to secure the starting job. The Vikings haven't been thrilled with his tentative preseason performances, coming after a hip injury cost him the 2011 season. Another poor outing could put the team on a search for replacements.

Detroit Lions
Opponent: Oakland Raiders
Location: Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum
Day/Time: Saturday/7 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: Tailback Mikel Leshoure is expected to make his NFL debut, nearly 17 months after he was drafted and nearly 20 months from his last live game. Leshoure last played for Illinois on Dec. 29, 2010. He missed last season because of a ruptured Achilles and a portion of training camp this summer because of a hamstring strain. The Lions want to get him some preseason work because he'll has been suspended for the first two weeks of the regular season. ... New special teams ace Kassim Osgood isn't expected to play. ... Rookie Kellen Moore's chances of making the team increased with the release of R.J. Archer, but he still must earn a roster spot even though he is one of only three quarterbacks on the roster. The Lions could keep only two on their final 53-man roster.
Focal point: It would be nice to see defensive tackle Nick Fairley have a signature, breakout game to reinforce projections that he will be a significant factor this season. But in reality, a game with impact would suffice.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Sometimes you can get a sneak peak at roster decisions by examining player contracts. So it's reasonable to assume that Minnesota Vikings receiver Michael Jenkins -- who has struggled at times in training camp -- is more likely to make the final roster now that he has agreed to a pay cut that slashed his 2012 salary from $2.5 million to $1 million.

Jenkins agreed to the new deal last week, according to Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com. That came after the Vikings lost rookie receiver Greg Childs (knees) for the season, and during a camp in which Jenkins has looked slow to recover from a 2011 knee injury. Of Jenkins' camp, Pelissero writes: "He moved like he had a flat tire as he has for much of camp, almost appearing to coast at a time he's in no position to do so."

At this point, the Vikings don't have a ton of options. With Jerome Simpson set to serve a three-game suspension to start the season, the Vikings have hoped Jenkins would form a receiver rotation with Percy Harvin and Devin Aromashodu. Jenkins' camp performance would put him on the bubble, but usually a veteran who accepts a training camp pay cut makes the team after the change is complete.

Continuing around the NFC North:

NFC North links: Viking applauds Goodell

March, 30, 2012
3/30/12
9:30
AM ET
Chicago Bears

Bears GM Phil Emery is already putting his stamp on the team, writes the Chicago Sun-Times' Sean Jensen.

How will the Bears utilize Devin Hester in 2012? Lester A. Wiltfong Jr. at Windy City Gridiron examines the possibilities.

Detroit Lions

The Lions aren’t interested in trading for Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel, reports NFL.com's Jason La Canfora.

Lions GM Martin Mayhew will attend this weekend's Super Regional Combine at Ford Field, which is expected to include more than 100 draft prospects, reports Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. "Some of them [the prospects] have played at good schools and played good football and been productive, so I'm excited about who that crop of guys is, or who those players are. Looking forward to getting over there," Mayhew said.

Look for the Lions to pick a developmental quarterback late in the draft, writes Tim Twentyman for the team's website.

Green Bay Packers

Coach Mike McCarthy will shake up his normal training camp practice schedule after the new collective bargaining agreement banned true two-a-day practices, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Is automatic replay review for turnovers a good rule change? Packers.com's Mike Spofford and Vic Ketchman debate.

Minnesota Vikings

Matt Kalil, Morris Claiborne, and other top draft prospects are scheduled to attend the team's annual Top 30 event at the Winter Park practice facility, reports Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Linebacker Chad Greenway told 1500ESPN.com that he thought Roger Goodell made the right move by coming down hard on the Saints for their bounty program. "I think you need to have them learn their lesson, and have it be a lesson to everybody else in the NFL that this is just not going to be happening," Greenway said. "Even though it may have been the culture 30 years ago, it's not the culture anymore, and the game has changed a lot."

NFC North free-agency primer

March, 8, 2012
3/08/12
12:00
PM ET
AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Chicago Bears

Key free agents: Tight end Kellen Davis, running back Matt Forte (franchise), cornerback Corey Graham, quarterback Caleb Hanie, defensive end Israel Idonije, cornerback Tim Jennings, quarterback Josh McCown, safety Brandon Meriweather and receiver Roy Williams.

Where they stand: The Bears will have the most salary-cap space among NFC North teams, upwards of $30 million, and have plenty of potential uses for it. Quarterback Jay Cutler needs more targets in the downfield passing game, whether it's at the receiver or tight end position. And new general manager Phil Emery must start restocking a defense led by four players more than 30 years old: Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, defensive end Julius Peppers and cornerback Charles Tillman.

What to expect: It's widely believed the Bears will be in the running for free-agent receiver Vincent Jackson. But Jackson's price tag could be steep and no one knows if Emery will prove to be a big spender. It seems likely he will re-sign Davis, and Emery should also save some of his cap space to extend Forte's contract. Secondary receiver targets could include Marques Colston. Bears fans are hoping the team will pursue defensive end Mario Williams, but it's hard to imagine the Bears budgeting for Williams two years after breaking their bank on Peppers.

Detroit Lions

Key free agents: Defensive end Cliff Avril (franchise), left tackle Jeff Backus, safety Chris Harris, quarterback Shaun Hill, linebacker DeAndre Levy (restricted), running back Maurice Morris, running back Kevin Smith, quarterback Drew Stanton, linebacker Stephen Tulloch and cornerback Eric Wright.

Where they stand: The Lions are tight against the salary cap after franchising Avril and aren't likely to be big spenders on the free-agent market. They could relieve the situation by reaching long-term agreements with Avril and/or receiver Calvin Johnson, who has a $22 million cap figure for 2012. Tulloch made a big impact last season after signing a one-year deal, but so far the Lions' attention has turned elsewhere.

What to expect: The Lions' best-case scenario is to keep their 2011 core together without mortgaging their future relative to the salary cap. That would mean getting Tulloch re-signed to preserve the linebacker group they upgraded last season by signing him and veteran Justin Durant, moves that allowed Levy to play on the outside. Hill seems likely to re-sign as Matthew Stafford's backup, while Stanton might test the free-agent waters to see if he has a chance to do better than third on a team's depth chart.

Green Bay Packers

Key free agents: Cornerback Jarrett Bush, quarterback Matt Flynn, running back Ryan Grant and center Scott Wells.

Where they stand: The Packers took care of a big challenge by signing tight end Jermichael Finley to a two-year contract last month. They will let Flynn depart for a possible starting job elsewhere and it appears Grant will test the free-agent market. Discussions with Wells haven't led to an agreement, but the Packers often go to the final moments before reaching a deal. There are no obvious internal replacements for Wells, making his return a priority.

What to expect: The Packers will have some flexibility with the salary cap, but general manager Ted Thompson's aversion to veteran free agency is well known. It's been three years since he signed a veteran unrestricted free agent in the offseason. The Packers have needs at defensive line, outside linebacker and possibly at center if Wells leaves. But let's put it this way: Thompson's strong preference is to find depth and future replacements in the draft, not on other teams' rosters.

Minnesota Vikings

Key free agents: Safety Husain Abdullah, receiver Devin Aromashodu, receiver Greg Camarillo, defensive lineman Fred Evans, defensive lineman Letroy Guion, linebacker E.J. Henderson, linebacker Erin Henderson, safety Tyrell Johnson, quarterback Sage Rosenfels, cornerback Benny Sapp and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.

Where they stand: The Vikings seem poised for a major roster overhaul in their first offseason since Rick Spielman was promoted to general manager. Players like Shiancoe, E.J. Henderson, Camarillo and Johnson all seem poised to move on. There aren't many positions on the team that appear secure.

What to expect: If the Vikings don't plan to draft USC left tackle Matt Kalil at No. 3 overall next month, the first clue will be if they pursue a free-agent left tackle. That seems unlikely. But they'll need to combine their draft with at least a few veteran free agents if they intend to compete for a playoff spot in 2012. Cornerback could be a point of focus, where Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan are among those available. Another could be receiver. The Vikings had major interest in Jackson two years ago.

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