NFC North: Jerome Felton

MINNEAPOLIS -- As the Minnesota Vikings emerge from the busiest period of free agency with more than $11 million left in cap space, they can begin to turn their attention to the pursuits that will occupy the rest of that money.

They'll need roughly $6.5 million for their 2014 rookie pool, though as estimates, they'd only need about $3.2 million in salary cap space for those players, assuming many of their cap numbers aren't among the top 51 contracts on the roster. The Vikings could also look in the coming months toward a contract extension for tight end Kyle Rudolph, who will be a free agent next spring, has said several times he wants to stay with the Vikings and reiterated that this week in a pair of remarks (to the St. Paul Pioneer Press and KSTP-TV).

A league source said there have been "no talks whatsoever" between the Vikings and Rudolph's agent about a contract extension, and even though the tight end wants to get a deal done this offseason, it might behoove him to wait. After missing eight games last season with a broken foot, he'd benefit from a full season in Norv Turner's offense (which has been famously friendly to tight ends) and could command more money with big numbers in 2014. The Vikings haven't been in the mode of signing their players to extensions before the final years of their contracts, anyway; they got Brian Robison's four-year deal done last October, and waited until just before free agency to sign Everson Griffen this spring and Phil Loadholt last year.

But while it's probably too soon to assume things will heat up between the Vikings and Rudolph, it does seem like a good possibility the Vikings will reward the former second-round pick for a big season. The team cut John Carlson this spring, further cementing Rudolph's status as their top tight end, and the Vikings have few other major free agents next spring; guard Brandon Fusco could be in line for a new deal, but players like wide receiver Jerome Simpson, defensive end Corey Wootton, safety Jamarca Sanford and fullback Jerome Felton (who can opt out of his deal after next season) would be relatively affordable to keep, if the Vikings did indeed want to retain them.

With a big season, Rudolph might be able to get a deal along the lines of the one the Baltimore Ravens gave tight end Dennis Pitta last month. Pitta, who was drafted a year earlier than Rudolph and caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012 before getting hurt last season, got a five-year, $32 million deal, with $16 million guaranteed. While there's nothing developing between Rudolph and the Vikings in terms of an extension yet -- and there might not be quite as soon as the tight end might like -- he's in a good spot to produce and get rewarded for it.

Vikings re-sign Charlie Johnson

March, 15, 2014
Mar 15
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Vikings will have their entire offensive line intact for a third consecutive season. They agreed with left guard Charlie Johnson on a two-year, $5 million deal on Saturday, according to a league source.

Johnson, who turns 30 in May, had a subpar year with the Vikings in 2013; Pro Football Focus held him responsible for four sacks, and he struggled at times to pick up blitzers. He'd been a solid cog in the Vikings' line in 2012, when Adrian Peterson ran for 2,097 yards, and the Vikings evidently wanted to keep the group together by re-signing Johnson.

It seemed possible the team would try to draft a young lineman, or work second-year man Jeff Baca into the lineup. That could still happen, though Johnson's contract likely gives him the benefit of the doubt in the early part of the team's evaluation process. The Vikings had been giving players roster bonuses in lieu of big signing bonuses this week, to push most of the cap charges onto this season's books, and it seems likely they did that again with Johnson. We'll see how the contract looks when the details are available, but the guess here is the Vikings left themselves some flexibility for 2015, in case a young player overtakes Johnson.

The team had restructured the contracts of Chad Greenway, Jamarca Sanford and Jerome Felton to clear an extra $1.75 million in cap space, and had just over $16 million left in cap space, not counting the contract of wide receiver Jerome Simpson, before signing Johnson.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Coming off a frustrating season where he played much of the year with a broken left wrist and heading into a season where he was due to count $8.2 million against the Vikings' salary cap, 31-year-old linebacker Chad Greenway seemed like a possible candidate to restructure his deal with the team. Now, he has.

Greenway dropped his base salary to $5.5 million for the 2014 season, saving the Vikings $1 million in exchange for a fully guaranteed salary. The move, first reported by, is the third contract restructuring the Vikings have done in a week, following similar moves for safety Jamarca Sanford and fullback Jerome Felton. All told, the moves saved the Vikings $1.75 million under the cap, and they still have just over $16 million to play with after signing former San Diego Chargers cornerback Derek Cox, with wide receiver Jerome Simpson's contract still not on the NFL Players Association ledger.

The way the Vikings restructured Greenway's deal is reminiscent of what they did with Kevin Williams in 2013 (except the Vikings also voided a year of Williams' contract in that case). It effectively protects Greenway from being cut, since the Vikings are on the hook for his entire $5.5 million salary. Greenway saw his play slip in 2014, though his broken wrist undoubtedly had something to do with it. He will have to adapt to new coach Mike Zimmer's defense, which asks linebackers to be more active than the Vikings' old Cover-2 system did, but the change could also rejuvenate Greenway, who seemed at times like he was trying to cover for the inexperience of other linebackers last season.

Felton's base salary drops $500,000 for next season, and Sanford's deal saved the Vikings another $250,000. According to, Felton is also able to void the final year of his deal after the 2015 Super Bowl.
MINNEAPOLIS -- When he was asked last Thursday at the NFL scouting combine about his impression of the tight end class in the 2014 draft. Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman admitted he'd paid little attention to the group.

"We have pretty good tight ends, so I wasn't really focusing on that," he said. "There's some depth at that position. I know there's some guys that have some character issues at that position. But we've got them all graded and stuff. We've kind of focused on some other areas."

[+] EnlargeNorv Turner
AP Photo/David RichardIn Norv Turner's offense last season, the Browns ran the fourth-most plays with two or more tight ends.
It's not surprising to hear Spielman say the Vikings aren't focusing on the position, considering the presence of Kyle Rudolph on their roster. The 24-year-old was on pace for career highs in catches and yards when he broke his foot against Dallas last November and missed the rest of the season. But the Vikings will have to address some depth questions at the position, especially considering how much new offensive coordinator Norv Turner has used tight ends in the past.

Rudolph will be a free agent after 2014, though he would seem in line for a contract extension. The bigger question involves John Carlson, who restructured the second season of his five-year deal last year and could have to do so again to avoid being released. Carlson has a $5 million cap hit this season, and the Vikings would still have to count $3 million of his signing bonus against the cap over the next three years if they released him. If Carlson is healthy enough to continue his career after his concussion issues cropped up at the end of the season, he could fit nicely in Turner's offense with a restructured contract.

The Vikings also have Chase Ford, who showed flashes as a pass-catching option at the end of the season, and Rhett Ellison, who has played mostly as a run-blocker. Whoever stays could find a bigger role on offense than he's had in the past; Turner has made a career out of working with prolific tight ends, from Jay Novacek to Antonio Gates and Jordan Cameron, and while he was the offensive coordinator in Cleveland last year, the Browns employed as many multiple-tight-end sets as almost any team in the league.

They lined up with two or more tight ends on 466 plays, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That was the fourth-most in the league -- for what it's worth, Mike Zimmer's old team (the Bengals) was No. 1 -- and the Browns' 7.84 yards per attempt out of those sets were the seventh-most in the league.

Rudolph could be in line for a bigger role in the offense, and if Carlson is still around, he might help the Vikings create the two-tight-end passing attack they'd intended to implement when they signed him. If the Vikings decide not to keep Carlson, they'd have to determine whether Ford can fill that role, but with more opportunities likely coming to tight ends in the passing game next season, the Vikings' decisions about their tight end depth could carry greater significance.

With Turner's emphasis on multiple-tight-end sets and his use of three or more receivers (the Browns had them on 559 snaps, or 112 more than the Vikings last season), one player who could have a tough time finding a spot in Turner's offense is fullback Jerome Felton. The Browns had two running backs on the field for just 53 snaps last year -- ninth-fewest in the league -- and ran on just 23 of those plays. Considering Turner's intent to get Adrian Peterson more involved in the passing game, a pure blocking back like Felton might have to adapt into a more diverse role or risk being phased out. He'll be a free agent after 2015, but there's just $666,000 left on Felton's signing bonus from last spring.

The Vikings' offense, quite clearly, looks like it will be changing in 2014. And as Turner comes in, the tight ends on the roster could see a more prominent role.
MINNEAPOLIS -- In the simplistic terms, the Minnesota Vikings went from a soft-spoken father figure who rarely showed any signs of anger on the sideline to a demonstrative, fiery head coach with a strong command of four-letter vocabulary. Their switch from Leslie Frazier to Mike Zimmer could be viewed in terms of one of the most reliable cliches in coaching -- that when a team fires a coach, it always hires the opposite of what it just had -- but that makes it hard to know what to do with this:

When the Vikings fired Frazier, numerous players talked about what he'd meant to their lives, and running back Adrian Peterson -- who'd campaigned for the Vikings to keep Frazier -- was so upset he wouldn't talk to reporters about it until we caught up with him this week. Zimmer comes to Minnesota with an equally fierce adoration from the players he's coached, and retired linebacker Scott Fujita -- who was one of the game's most perceptive and thoughtful players -- penned this ode to Zimmer for Fox Sports.

[+] EnlargeMike Zimmer
AP Photo/Joe RobbinsMike Zimmer will bring a different coaching style to Minnesota than the one the Vikings had under Leslie Frazier.
That's as impassioned an homage to a coach as I've seen a player write, and in it, Fujita raises a good point: The definition of what constitutes a "players' coach" is probably too simple.

"I honestly don’t even know what a players’ coach is and in the past few days, I’ve read reports that describe Zimmer as such," he writes. "Well if being a players’ coach means that the players have a long leash, and that the coach 'takes care of his guys' and is quick to throw them a bone, then I don’t know if I’d describe Zim that way. I think the more important questions about whether someone is a players’ coach should be this: Do his guys want to play for him? When he stands in front of the room, do they respect him and respond to him? Is he able to reach his players? From personal experience, I can answer yes to each of those questions as it relates to Mike Zimmer."

The funny thing is, I'd say Frazier got the same response out of his locker room. The success of coaches like Tony Dungy -- under whom Frazier worked in Indianapolis -- has done plenty to break down the stereotype of how a football coach has to behave, and from what I've heard players say about Zimmer, he doesn't necessarily fit into the typical hard-headed disciplinarian mode, either. He'll likely be louder, more blunt and more direct with criticism, but he also seems to exude a passion for the game that players love.

Can both approaches be effective? Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, who played for Kirk Ferentz (a Bill Belichick disciple) in college, had Mike Tomlin as his first defensive coordinator and spent the last seven years with Frazier, says yes.

"I think all different styles can work," Greenway said. "You see guys from Tony Dungy to Belichick to (Bill) Parcells all win in different ways. It's more about who can get results. A change was made, and it'll be a different approach. I hope that breeds success. We'll get a new system with a little bit different style, and hopefully it leads to wins."

Both defensive end Brian Robison and fullback Jerome Felton had close friends who'd played for Zimmer and raved about him; Robison talked with Cowboys defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, who had Zimmer as his first defensive coordinator, and Felton spoke with Bengals safety Taylor Mays, who played for Zimmer the past three seasons. Both got the same report on Zimmer: Tough, profane, emotional and direct, both with criticism and praise.

Felton, who loved playing for Frazier, sounded particularly optimistic about that last trait.

"One of the most stressful parts about the NFL is wondering where you stand," Felton said. "If you can get an idea of where you stand, gives you a chance to know what you need to work on. You can just focus on football, rather than wondering, 'What’s going on? Why is this the situation happening?' When everybody asks what you want from a coach, I always talk about being an authentic person."

If there's going to be a major difference between Frazier and Zimmer -- both former Bengals defensive coordinators under Marvin Lewis -- it might be more in the scheme than anything else. The days of Frazier's Tampa-2 scheme are probably gone; Zimmer hasn't blitzed much more than Frazier in his career, according to ESPN Stats and Information, but he's been known to play more aggressive man coverage and use a number of different stunts to get his defensive linemen to the quarterback.

He coached in a 3-4 under Parcells, but has largely used a 4-3 scheme over the years, and Greenway expects the Vikings will stay with something similar to the 4-3 defense Zimmer called in Cincinnati.

"It's not that Coach Frazier and his ways can't win. It just wasn't working for us last year," Greenway said. "A new scheme, to a point, will be refreshing, and I hope, successful."

The Frazier-vs.-Zimmer comparison will be done ad nauseam in the coming weeks, but the NFL has a wider scope of coaching personalities today than it probably ever has. If Zimmer succeeds in Minnesota, it won't be because he's the opposite of what the Vikings had before. It will be because he can maximize what they have now.

"It's my first time going through a true coaching change, after Leslie taking over for Brad (Childress in the middle of 2010)," Greenway said. "It will be a lot of new things. That's not bad; it's just new and different."

Vikings: Xavier Rhodes practices again

December, 26, 2013
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- In addition to getting Adrian Peterson back on the practice field, the Vikings saw cornerback Xavier Rhodes practice for the second time this week on Thursday, giving coach Leslie Frazier hope the rookie could play in the season finale against the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

Before he missed the Vikings' past two games with a sprained ankle, Rhodes had been turning into one of the Vikings' best cover corners, and the team especially suffered without him in Cincinnati last weekend, when Chris Cook gave up two touchdown passes in a 42-14 loss. If the Vikings were to get Rhodes back on the field, it could help them against Calvin Johnson and give them one more chance to see the rookie against top competition this year. Cook has typically covered Johnson in Vikings-Lions matchups, but if Rhodes is healthy enough to start, he could see time lined up against Johnson.

The Vikings are also trying to get cornerback Shaun Prater back from a sprained ankle, and coach Leslie Frazier said his starters would depend on "how healthy they are."

"They should all be out there tomorrow," Frazier said. "We'll figure out how healthy they all actually are."

Frazier also said running back Toby Gerhart looks like a long shot to play Sunday; Gerhart was not on the practice field again on Thursday with a strained hamstring.

Here is the Vikings' full injury report:

Vikings: If Peterson's out, who runs?

December, 10, 2013
MINNEAPOLIS -- Ordinarily, Monday night's news that Adrian Peterson will likely miss Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles wouldn't short circuit the Minnesota Vikings' offense. They have a capable No. 2 running back in Toby Gerhart, who ran for more than 500 yards in 2011 when Peterson tore his ACL on Christmas Eve and helped the Vikings to the brink of victory with a 41-yard touchdown run on Sunday in Baltimore.

But Gerhart strained his hamstring on that touchdown run and could be challenged to make it back for Sunday's game. Coach Leslie Frazier said on Monday that the Vikings would continue to be a run-first team, even if Peterson and Gerhart are both out or limited by injuries, but the situation could put the ball in the hands of some unfamiliar names.

Third-string running back Matt Asiata would be the first candidate to get more carries. Asiata beat out Joe Banyard for the final running back spot in training camp, partially because of his contributions on special teams, but he also played well in the Vikings' preseason finale against the Houston Texans. Asiata carried eight times for 32 yards and a touchdown that night, starting the game at running back and showing some power between the tackles. Banyard, who is still on the practice squad, could also be a candidate for some work against the Eagles; he posted 116 rushing and receiving yards in the final preseason game against the Texans.

The other name to keep an eye on might be fullback Jerome Felton, who's fond of reminding Peterson how much he carried the ball as a running back in college. He left Furman with the school's touchdown record, and has logged 42 NFL carries -- though he's never taken a handoff with the Vikings.

"Obviously [we have] Matt Asiata. Joe Banyard, he’s on the practice squad right now, so I don’t know if they’ll bring him up or what," Felton said. "Myself, I’ve had experience running the ball in this league, and if I’m called upon I’ll be ready.”

We also saw receiver Cordarrelle Patterson take a handoff 32 yards for a touchdown on Dec. 1 against the Chicago Bears, so he could see a few carries against the Eagles. It's interesting to hear Frazier say the Vikings won't change from their run-first philosophy, even if their personnel is as limited as it appears it could be this week. But the Vikings also have a decision to make at quarterback with Christian Ponder cleared to return from a concussion; Matt Cassel threw for 265 yards in the snow on Sunday, but Frazier wouldn't announce a starter on Monday.

They haven't been the kind of team to lean heavily on their passing game, and with all the uncertainty the Vikings have at quarterback, they might not start this week. The alternatives, though, appear to be hoping Gerhart heals quickly or turning to an unusual set of options.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- While Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson had reason to believe he'd avoided a serious foot injury on Monday, coach Leslie Frazier was dealing with plenty of other injury news, not all of it good.

The team placed tight end Kyle Rudolph on injured reserve with a fractured foot, ending his season five weeks after he got hurt against the Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 3. John Carlson, who has 32 catches this season and had done a solid job as Rudolph's replacement, sustained a concussion on Sunday in Baltimore.

Tight end wasn't the only position where the Vikings found themselves without much depth. Running back Toby Gerhart strained his hamstring on his 41-yard touchdown run on Sunday, and could be out or limited against the Philadelphia Eagles. If Peterson and Gerhart can't go, the Vikings would be left with third-string halfback Matt Asiata, fullback Jerome Felton or practice squad running back Joe Banyard.

The Vikings also lost cornerback Xavier Rhodes to a sprained right ankle; Rhodes was on crutches for the second straight day on Monday. The team is still trying to decide whether to activate safety Harrison Smith from injured reserve, though Smith seemed optimistic last week he could return from turf toe, and cornerback Josh Robinson is still out because of a fractured sternum. Depending on how many players the Vikings have missing from their secondary, they could add a defensive back from their practice squad or sign one this week.

Right guard Brandon Fusco also strained his knee on Sunday, and the Vikings decided to keep wide receiver Greg Childs on the physically unable to perform list for the rest of the season. Childs had torn the patellar tendons in both knees during training camp in 2012, and while he "did a good job in his returns, did some things we were glad to see," Frazier said, the Vikings decided not to risk bringing him back for the final three games of the season.

In one piece of good injury news for the Vikings, quarterback Christian Ponder has passed the NFL's concussion protocol and is ready to return this week. Frazier said the Vikings' coaching staff would make a decision on a starting quarterback for Sunday's game later this week. Matt Cassel started in relief of Ponder on Sunday, throwing for 265 yards in the loss to the Ravens.

Upon Further Review: Vikings Week 14

December, 9, 2013
BALTIMORE -- A review of four hot issues following the Minnesota Vikings' 29-26 loss to the Baltimore Ravens:

Peterson's health: For the Vikings, this is probably the issue: Running back Adrian Peterson will have a MRI on his sprained foot on Monday, and while he was optimistic about his prognosis on Sunday -- he said X-rays were negative, and added he would push to play Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles -- Monday's tests might have the final say about whether Peterson plays again this season. He said the pain was in the middle of his foot, which would be in the region of the dreaded Lisfranc injury, and turf toe could also still be in play. We'll find out more after his exam on Monday.

Toby time? In Peterson's absence, running back Toby Gerhart continued to show what a capable replacement he can be, romping 41 yards for one of the Vikings' would-be game-winning touchdowns in the fourth quarter and posting 89 yards on 15 carries. It is the third time in four weeks that Gerhart has posted at least 60 yards, and it was the first time this season he has carried the ball more than 10 times in a game. He is averaging 6.2 yards per carry this season, and could be making a case for more of a shared workload in the final games of the season (though it will be hard to convince Peterson to carry the ball less, if he's healthy). Gerhart will be a free agent after the season, and it's looking increasingly likely that he's going to make himself some money.

Henderson marginalized: The Vikings moved Erin Henderson to outside linebacker this week, putting him back on the field after he'd missed the last two games in the wake of his Nov. 19 drunken-driving arrest and a subsequent personal issue that kept him away from the team for several days. But with Audie Cole starting at middle linebacker, and once again playing every snap, Henderson saw how little the Vikings use their third linebacker in their current defense. He played just six snaps in the loss, one more than Marvin Mitchell saw on defense. When Henderson was the Vikings' weakside linebacker last year, he still played in the middle in the nickel package, keeping his snap counts high. But without the nickel snaps, Henderson didn't get a chance to do much. Cole was in coverage on Marlon Brown's two big catches on the Ravens' last drive -- including his game-winning touchdown -- but the linebacker nearly tipped Joe Flacco's pass away before Brown could catch it in the back of the end zone, and coach Leslie Frazier credited Flacco for a good throw more than he pointed to a coverage breakdown.

Fines coming? Peterson was critical of both referees and Ravens fans after the game, pointing out a number of calls he disagreed with and calling the Ravens' fans the "worst in the NFL" after they were throwing snowballs on the field in the fourth quarter, and it stands to reason he might hear from the league this week. Fullback Jerome Felton was also critical of the referees, saying there were four questionable calls that all went against the Vikings, but other players were more diplomatic, particularly when discussing two dubious pass interference calls in the fourth quarter. "I'm not going to say anything to get on Roger Goodell's list," defensive end Brian Robison deadpanned.
BALTIMORE -- As the Minnesota Vikings stewed over their 29-26 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday afternoon, with nowhere to go after a catering truck hit the plane that was scheduled to take them back to the Twin Cities, many players struggled to find the right emotions for the most dramatic loss in a season that's been full of eventful endings.

[+] EnlargeMarlon Brown
Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsMarlon Brown's late touchdown won the game for the Ravens.
Were they to be upset with themselves about allowing a last-minute touchdown for the fourth time this year, or angry with officials for what they felt like were a series of short-sighted calls? Were they supposed to be grateful for the chance to participate in one of the wildest finishes in NFL history, or bitter that they had come out on the losing end of it?

The overriding emotion, after a game that featured a NFL-record six lead changes in the fourth quarter, seemed to be numbness.

"That was the first time I had ever been part of something like that," said wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, whose 79-yard touchdown in the final minute put the Vikings ahead by four. "I had always wanted to play in the snow, and I got my opportunity today. It was a tough game. The way we fought on offense, defense and special teams, the way we stepped up in this game, we expected to win. And, at the end, it wasn't what we expected it to be."

So many things happened on a snowy Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium that it was hard for the Vikings to process all of it. They had reason to be encouraged by how their offense responded after losing running back Adrian Peterson to a sprained foot, by Patterson's continued emergence as a game-breaking receiver and by their secondary's resoluteness through most of the second half. But for the seventh time this year, their fate hung in their inability to stop a team in the last minute. They are now 2-4-1 in those games, and on Sunday, they allowed not one, but two Ravens touchdown drives at the end of the game, with a Jacoby Jones kickoff return sandwiched between them.

Several players -- Peterson and fullback Jerome Felton among them -- aired their displeasure with referee Pete Morelli's officiating crew, while others bit their tongues. "I'm not going to say anything to get on Roger Goodell's list," defensive end Brian Robison said. Coach Leslie Frazier said he was "bewildered," in particular, by two late pass interference calls -- one on safety Robert Blanton, the other on linebacker Chad Greenway -- that gave the Ravens 55 yards on their final two offensive series and wiped out an Andrew Sendejo interception that would have ended the game.

But in the end, all the Vikings' two quick-strike touchdowns served to do was set up their defense for another collapse.

"It was really emotional," defensive end Jared Allen said. "You try not to get too high or too low. We thought the game was over four times. But, we have to play all four quarters. Three times in the last two minutes, we had to stop them, and we didn't."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Even though the numbers would suggest Adrian Peterson has done his best work over the past two seasons when he's following a fullback, the reigning NFL MVP said on Thursday he still hasn't come around completely to the idea of two-back sets.

But, he admitted, the thing he often doesn't like about them might be the thing that helps him the most.

Peterson likes to be alone in the backfield because it allows him to hit the line of scrimmage with a full head of steam, but that can occasionally work against him when he's not patient enough to let a play develop.

"I'm just so quick to shoot the gun sometimes. Plays when you have two pullers or three pullers in front of you, you have to be more patient," he said. "I haven't had a lot of time over my career being patient. So that's why sometimes, I don't like the fullback in front of me. When I work on myself and try to be more patient, you see what happens last week."

Peterson averaged 7.15 yards per carry in two- or three-back sets last year, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and was at a pedestrian 4.05 yards per carry when he was the only running back in the backfield. This year, he hasn't found the same success running behind a fullback; he's at 4.27 yards per carry in two-back sets, and 5.20 in a one-back set.

But last Sunday, when Peterson established season highs in both carries and yards, he did much of his work behind another running back. He got 21 of his 35 carries with two or more running backs in the backfield, and ran for 139 of his 211 yards -- averaging 6.62 yards a carry with at least one other back.

"Based off last week, I wouldn't say it was difficult," he said. "You've got Jerome [Felton] pulling around, you've got [John] Carlson pulling around, and I'm doing my job, being more patient, allowing those guys to get in front of me. You see how effective it can be in the run game. It worked out well."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Vikings emerged from the fog of their 2010 season in early January 2011, when they removed the interim tag from coach Leslie Frazier's title and got to work reconfiguring an aging roster that had slogged through one of the most tumultuous years in team history.

That process took another leap forward in early 2012 with another job change: The Vikings made vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman their general manager, giving him full control over personnel decisions. Spielman and Frazier went looking for players they termed a "Viking fit" -- which typically meant players who were young, hungry, committed to the team and able to stay out of trouble.

It worked splendidly in 2011 and 2012, as the Vikings built their roster primarily with players they'd vetted through the draft process. They took some risks here and there, signing receiver Jerome Simpson last April shortly after he was suspended three games for a drug-related arrest and hanging onto fullback Jerome Felton when he was arrested for drunken driving last May, but the Vikings believed they could fold players into their culture and get them to clean up as they helped the team. In some cases, such as those of Felton and cornerback Chris Cook, that approach has worked. The Vikings -- who led the league with 33 arrests from 2000-11 -- went 16 months without one from July 2012 to November 2013, and they jumped from 3-13 to 10-6 during a charmed 2012 season, reaching the playoffs for the first time in three years.

That approach officially hit rough water this week, when the Vikings released defensive back A.J. Jefferson on Monday, hours after he was arrested on a domestic assault charge. Then, news surfaced on Wednesday that linebacker Erin Henderson had been arrested eight days earlier for drunken driving and possession of a controlled substance. The arrests, following Simpson's drunken-driving arrest earlier this month, gave the Vikings three since Nov. 7, when Frazier sent a jubilant locker room off on a three-day break following a Thursday night win over the Washington Redskins. And the news sent the coach to the podium on Wednesday, reading a hastily prepared statement from Spielman the Vikings had released three minutes before Frazier's news conference, while the general manager did not appear in public to discuss the arrests or the remarks he'd made through the team.

Headlines about NFL players behaving badly are far too common these days, and the problem stretches far beyond the Vikings. But when the Vikings have rebuilt their organization on a build-from-within process and Frazier's ability to get players pulling the same direction, it stings to have three incidents occur in such a short period of time. It leads Spielman to admit the Vikings might have to review their player development program, as he did in Wednesday's statement, and it forces Frazier to stand at a podium and attempt to explain why the Vikings have taken such different approaches to discipline with each player. None of it wears particularly well, especially when paired with the team's 2-8-1 record, and none of it helps the causes of an embattled coaching staff and front office.

Frazier has often likened a coach's role in player conduct to that of a parent, giving a child the information to make good choices, praying he does but knowing he ultimately has the ability to do what he wants. Neither he nor anyone else with the Vikings can mandate everything their players do outside the building. But for a team that had purportedly rebuilt itself on the premise it was beyond so many off-the-field troubles, it's been an awfully ominous month.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings defensive backs Chris Cook and Jamarca Sanford practiced in full for the second straight day on Thursday, offering another indication that both players will be available to see plenty of action against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

Cook (hip strain) and Sanford (groin) both missed the Vikings' last two games.

"They've had two good days of practice, so if they can make it through tomorrow, I don't know if we'll have to limit their reps," coach Leslie Frazier said. "We'll see. We have to be careful, because they're both coming off muscle pulls and playing in the secondary. We may have to take them out a series here or there, but we'll see."

In other Vikings injury news:
  • Wide receiver Greg Jennings was limited with an injury to his Achilles tendon, the first time he's been listed on the team's injury report with that ailment. Jennings was not on the Vikings' injury report on Wednesday, and it remains to be seen whether the injury will affect him on Sunday.
  • Running back Adrian Peterson did not practice, but Frazier said he was merely giving Peterson a day off, as he's done several times this season.
  • Defensive tackle Fred Evans, who has missed the Vikings' last two games with a knee injury, was back as a limited participant on Thursday. "He gave it a try," Frazier said. "Whether he'll be ready for Sunday, I'm not sure. This was his first day back. We'll see how he does tomorrow."
  • Linebacker Erin Henderson (illness) returned to practice on Thursday, and fullback Jerome Felton (back) was a full participant after being limited Wednesday.
  • Running back Matt Asiata (shoulder), tight end Rhett Ellison (ankle), defensive tackle Letroy Guion (chest) and guard Charlie Johnson (elbow/toe) were limited. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams said on Thursday the Vikings might use Kevin Williams at nose tackle for a few snaps if Guion -- who missed the Vikings' previous game -- is still hurting on Sunday.
  • Lastly, quarterback Christian Ponder was limited after dislocating his left shoulder on Nov. 7 against the Washington Redskins, but Ponder continued to sound optimistic that he would play Sunday. He would wear a harness on his shoulder, but has been able to throw more than he expected in practice.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings got some good news in their first full practice since last Thursday's game: defensive backs Chris Cook and Jamarca Sanford, who missed the team's previous two games with a strained hip muscle and groin, respectively, both were full participants on Wednesday.

Coach Leslie Frazier said he expects both players will be ready for Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, which means the Vikings should once again have three of their four starters back in their secondary.

That extra depth could be especially important. The Seahawks could get Percy Harvin back from a hip injury, just in time to put some stress on his old team, and the Vikings will need Sanford's help in run support against Marshawn Lynch. Safety Mistral Raymond, who figures to get fewer snaps if Sanford is back, has missed a handful of tackles in the Vikings' previous two games.

In other Vikings injury news:
  • Quarterback Christian Ponder (shoulder) was officially limited, but he took first-team snaps in the portion of practice open to reporters. Quarterback Josh Freeman said Ponder "probably got the majority" of snaps with the Vikings' No. 1 offense, and it still seems likely Ponder will start on Sunday.
  • Defensive tackle Fred Evans (knee) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (foot) were out of practice, as was linebacker Erin Henderson (illness).
  • Running back Matt Asiata (shoulder), tight end Rhett Ellison (ankle) and fullback Jerome Felton (back) were limited in practice. This is Felton's first appearance on the injury report with a back injury this season.
  • Defensive tackle Letroy Guion (chest), left guard Charlie Johnson (elbow), right tackle Phil Loadholt (concussion) and linebacker Chad Greenway (wrist) were full participants.

Christian Ponder and the shotgun

November, 12, 2013
MINNEAPOLIS -- Christian Ponder has talked about it, the keener observers among you have mentioned it and the Minnesota Vikings' coaches appear to be listening to it: Ponder is more comfortable when he plays out of the shotgun.

And lately, as the Vikings have made more of an effort to put Ponder in the shotgun, increase the tempo of their offense and keep defenses from loading the box, something else has happened: Ponder is playing better.

Since he returned to the lineup on Oct. 26 against Green Bay, Ponder has the fifth-best Total QBR in the league when not under center, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He's connected on 35 of his 51 attempts from the shotgun, throwing for 289 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, which is good for a QBR of 74.8, What's more, Ponder has been markedly better in the shotgun (and in five plays in the pistol!) than he has under center all season. His QBR there is 72.7; under center, it's an abysmal 35.2.

[+] EnlargeChristian Ponder
Tom Dahlin/Getty ImagesChristian Ponder has had more success of late working out of the shotgun formation.
So what's the difference? One of Ponder's most obvious flaws as a quarterback is the speed with which he seems to give up on his progressions and leave the pocket. Well, if he's starting from the shotgun, he doesn't have to spend time reading the defense while dropping back and might feel more secure with a little extra space. He's also not seeing loaded fronts nearly as often -- largely because there's little threat of the Vikings running the ball from the shotgun -- and Ponder's numbers are better because of it. In fact, Ponder only sees seven or more defenders in the box 22 percent of the time when he's in the shotgun. When he's dropped back from under center, he's seen seven-man fronts a whopping 79 percent of the time.

Now, here's the rub: The Vikings are still built around an elite running back in Adrian Peterson. Come to that, they're built around an elite running back who has done most of his work behind, not alongside, a quarterback. Peterson has carried just 19 times this season from the shotgun or pistol, and that's already a career high. In fact, he had a combined 19 carries in the shotgun/pistol the past two seasons. He's stated he prefers to run in a one-man backfield, and Peterson's stats on shotgun/pistol handoffs this season -- 19 carries for 101 yards and a touchdown -- are encouraging. But he still does his best work when he can hit the line with a full head of steam, and the Vikings just paid Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton $7.5 million to block for Peterson over the next three years. They can't make all of these things work together at once, and in the end, they've got an elite running back, not an elite quarterback.

But what if the Vikings can figure out how to run effectively from the shotgun? Right now, they seem fairly predictable when they move Ponder out from under center, but might they have a solution for a couple of their problems by backing up and spreading out the defense? There are some members of the Vikings' organization who have grumbled about offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's tendency to bunch players up on the line of scrimmage, effectively attracting more defenders and choking off space for Peterson. But in the past few weeks, Musgrave has started to open up their offense and trust Ponder to work from a formation he says he enjoys.

For the time being, that decision might provide a spark to the Vikings' offense, especially if they can make it work for both their MVP running back and their fledgling quarterback.