NFC North: Joe Berger

 
Welcome back to our chronological look at the 10 plays that most shaped the Minnesota Vikings' 2013 season. Today: Play No. 10.

WHEN: Dec. 8, 2013

WHERE: A 29-26 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

THE PLAY: Cordarrelle Patterson's 79-yard touchdown off a screen pass from Matt Cassel.

WHAT THEY SAID: Patterson: "The way my offensive line blocked and (fullback) Jerome (Felton) kicked his man out ... it was perfect. There was no way that I should have scored. I made a cut and (Matt) Elam slipped and it was a touchdown."

IMPACT OF THE PLAY: The play gave the Vikings a 26-22 lead with just under a minute to play, which they wound up blowing on Joe Flacco's touchdown pass in the closing seconds. But this play, and the handoffs Patterson would turn into big gains, underscored two points: Just how dynamic a talent the Vikings had on their hands, and what a disservice they had done themselves by not finding simple ways to get the ball into Patterson's hands sooner. Say what you want about Patterson's learning curve, about the speed with which he grasps the complexities of a NFL offense, but what he did on this play was pure instinct; he motioned into the right slot on third-and-10, faked a downfield route before stepping back for a screen from Matt Cassel, stepped through a lane created by running back Matt Asiata (not Felton) and Joe Berger, followed a block from John Sullivan, corkscrewed safety Matt Elam into the ground and raced the remaining 25 yards for a touchdown. The play wasn't unlike what Patterson does on kickoffs, showcasing his exemplary vision and top-end speed. It was a brilliantly simple design from offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, and it's a shame the Vikings didn't find occasions to employ Patterson in similar ways earlier in the year.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- While the Vikings are waiting to see whether running backs Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart are able to play Sunday, they'll have to figure out how to handle one of the league's hottest offenses with a secondary that is looking increasingly thin.

Cook
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes is doubtful for Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles with a sprained ankle, coach Leslie Frazier said Friday, and cornerback Chris Cook showed up on the Vikings' injury report for the first time Friday with a knee injury that limited him in practice. The oft-injured cornerback is listed as questionable, and if both he and Rhodes were to miss the game, it would leave the Vikings without their top three cornerbacks Sunday.

Frazier said he would likely start Marcus Sherels in place of Rhodes, but he would have to figure out another plan if Cook were unable to go. The Vikings have been using safety Robert Blanton at cornerback, and he would likely play there Sunday. Shaun Prater is also healthy, and the Vikings have cornerbacks Kip Edwards and Robert Steeples on their practice squad. They also worked out several cornerbacks this week, Frazier said.

"When we’re getting as thin as we are, everybody is a candidate to be moved around," Frazier said. "So you don’t rule out any possibilities at this point."

The Vikings have the league's second-worst defense this season as it is, and with so many players missing in the secondary, they could be easy prey for Eagles quarterback Nick Foles on Sunday.

In other Vikings injury news:
  • Gerhart did some work in practice Friday, though Frazier said the Vikings didn't test his quickness as much as his overall stride. They will continue to evaluate him Saturday and possibly Sunday. "To get out there and move around, I felt pretty good," Gerhart said. "We'll take it day-to-day, keep getting treatment, keep evaluating and see what happens."
  • Tight end John Carlson will miss Sunday's game with a concussion, leaving the Vikings with only Rhett Ellison and Chase Ford at the position.
  • Cornerback Josh Robinson (fractured sternum) is still out.
  • Guard Brandon Fusco (knee) did not practice Friday and is doubtful for Sunday's game, though Frazier said Fusco "has a chance" to play. The Vikings had guard Jeff Baca -- who has been inactive for all but one game this season -- working in Joe Berger's special-teams spot Friday, indicating they would likely put Berger at Fusco's right guard spot.
  • Linebackers Larry Dean (knee) and Chad Greenway (wrist) are probable for Sunday's game. Greenway, who has been playing with a broken wrist all season, said he has been able to function better now that he's playing with a pad on both sides of his wrist, rather than a full cast, and sounded optimistic Friday that he wouldn't need surgery to set the bone after the season.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith, who in October was placed on injured reserve with a designation to return after he suffered turf toe on his left foot, said he still plans to be back for the Vikings' final three games of the season.

Smith
Smith is eligible to start practicing next Wednesday, at which point he'll be able to see whether he's able to return on Dec. 15 against Philadelphia. He has been running on an underwater treadmill -- "It's amazing how out of shape you can get in a few weeks," he said -- and will get a MRI on his foot in the near future. But at this point, Smith sees no reason to think he won't be back to help the Vikings finish the season.

"Even when we come in for training camp, you can be in the best shape you think you can be in and it’s still not football shape," Smith said. "So I think you've just got to play into [it] through practice.’’

In other Vikings injury news:
  • Coach Leslie Frazier said middle linebacker Erin Henderson, who has missed the last two days of practice due to a personal matter, might not make it back in time for Sunday's game. If that happens, Frazier said, second-year linebacker Audie Cole would start in Henderson's spot. Rookie Michael Mauti got eight defensive snaps last Sunday against Seattle, but Frazier said Mauti is dealing with some soreness in his left knee; he tore his left ACL in each of his last two seasons at Penn State, and jarred his knee on the turf last Sunday, Frazier said. "It scared him a little bit," Frazier said.
  • Defensive end Brian Robison was limited in practice on Thursday with a neck injury, and defensive end Jared Allen stopped practicing early because of a back injury. Both players, though, seem likely to play Sunday.
  • Center John Sullivan has still not been cleared to return from a concussion. If he's unable to practice on Friday, Frazier said the Vikings would likely rule him out for Sunday's game, putting Joe Berger in at center.

Vikings: Jennings, Peterson sit out

November, 20, 2013
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Both wide receiver Greg Jennings and running back Adrian Peterson sat out of the Minnesota Vikings' practice on Wednesday, but coach Leslie Frazier was hopeful that both would be ready for Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers.

The Vikings will try to get Jennings, who was a surprise scratch on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks with a strained right Achilles tendon, a full day of practice on Thursday, Frazier said. Though he added Jennings "had some soreness" on Wednesday morning. The coach, meanwhile, is "cautiously optimistic" Peterson will be able to play after being limited by a strained groin against the Seahawks.

"We'll see what we need to do this week. Is he able to practice today or tomorrow, or do we hold him back until Friday?," Frazier said. "We'll make that determination this afternoon when we sit down and talk with our trainers."

In other Vikings injury news:
  • The Vikings were also without center John Sullivan, who had not cleared the NFL's concussion protocol in time to practice on Wednesday. Joe Berger is preparing to start if Sullivan is not cleared before Sunday.
  • Linebacker Erin Henderson missed practice, but the team said the reason for the middle linebacker's absence was not injury-related.
  • Tight end Kyle Rudolph (fractured foot) and cornerback Josh Robinson (fractured sternum) were out of practice.
  • Tight end Rhett Ellison (ankle), defensive tackle Fred Evans (knee), defensive tackle Letroy Guion (chest) and linebacker Michael Mauti (knee) were limited.
  • Lastly, wide receiver Greg Childs returned to practice for the first time since tearing the patellar tendons in both knees last August. The Vikings have three weeks to activate the second-year player from the physically-unable-to-perform list or put him on injured reserve, but Childs was still hopeful he could see game action this season. "I’m going to work hard and I”m going to get on the field," he said. "There was never a doubt that I was ever going to play again."

Freeman and Cassel active for Vikings

November, 7, 2013
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings deactivated guard Charlie Johnson for Thursday's game against the Washington Redskins, adding him to the list of six players they had already ruled out. That means both Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman are active for the game, and the Vikings can essentially avoid divulging who their backup quarterback is, unless Christian Ponder gets injured or is benched.

Freeman
Cassel
Cassel
Here's how banged up the Vikings are: They had listed defensive tackle Letroy Guion as doubtful for Thursday's game, but put him on their active roster simply because they had already used their seven inactive spots on other players who were injured. Essentially, the Vikings have more injured players than they have inactive designations. Guion likely won't play, and Sharrif Floyd is listed as the starting nose tackle alongside Kevin Williams.

That point is worth mentioning, because the Vikings have resisted the idea of putting Floyd and Williams on the field at the same time, preferring to play Floyd at three-technique. He has rushed from the nose-tackle spot on some occasions in the nickel package, but hasn't had to play there much against the run. It'll be interesting to see how he fares against a team that likes to run up the middle, and how he'll do against the Redskins' option offense.

Joe Berger will start in place of Johnson at left guard, and Xavier Rhodes will start at right cornerback in place of Chris Cook. That's another spot where injuries are forcing the Vikings to use their first-round picks differently than they had planned.

Here is the full list of Vikings inactives:

Vikings injury report: Eight sit out

November, 5, 2013
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Vikings were missing eight players in their only full practice before Thursday's game with the Washington Redskins, and another three -- cornerbacks Chris Cook, Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson -- were limited by injuries. It seems likely that all three corners will play on Thursday, but the Vikings could be missing a number of other starters against the Redskins.

Safety Jamarca Sanford, whose groin injury is only the latest ailment he's had this season, seems like he will be hard-pressed to return for the game; defensive coordinator Alan Williams said Robert Blanton will get playing time again with Mistral Raymond alongside Andrew Sendejo, which would seem to indicate the Vikings will be without Sanford for the second straight game.

Left tackle Phil Loadholt will definitely miss Thursday's game with a concussion, coach Leslie Frazier said, which means the Vikings will start J'Marcus Webb at right tackle and break up a group (Matt Kalil, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Brandon Fusco and Loadholt) that has started every game since the beginning of the 2012 season. Johnson also sat out of practice on Tuesday with an elbow injury, while Joe Berger worked at left guard.

And the Vikings could also be thin at defensive tackle; both Letroy Guion (chest/knee) and Fred Evans (knee) sat out on Tuesday. That could leave the Vikings with just three healthy defensive tackles for Thursday, in Sharrif Floyd, Kevin Williams and Chase Baker.

“There are definitely challenges (to a short week), especially if you have injuries like we do," coach Leslie Frazier said in a conference call with Washington reporters. "Trying to get everybody on the field in a short week, in our case -- if we had a couple extra days, there are some guys who probably would be able to play on Sunday, but because we’re playing on Thursday, they’re not going to be able to make the game."

A deeper look at the Vikings roster

September, 1, 2013
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Now that the Vikings' roster is finalized, we can spend a little more time analyzing it and looking at how the 2013 team was built.

I'm going to borrow from a couple of our former divisional bloggers who are graduating to national status -- Mike Sando and Kevin Seifert -- and with good reason, because both of them offered their usual sharp analysis this morning.

[+] EnlargeJared Allen
Adam Bettcher/Getty ImagesJared Allen is one of four projected Vikings defensive starters this season who are 30 or older.
In ranking the ages of all 32 teams, Sando had the Vikings as the 15th youngest, which puts them as the second-youngest team in a NFC North division skewing toward the elderly. The Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears are the oldest and second-oldest teams in the league, respectively, and at a point where both of those clubs seem to be in flux -- the Lions are trying to rebound from a disappointing 2012 season, while the Bears have a new coach (Marc Trestman) and a quarterback in a contract year (Jay Cutler) -- the Vikings would seem to be in good standing. Only the Green Bay Packers, who have made a habit of remaining among the league's most youthful teams, are younger than the Vikings in the NFC. They rank fifth youngest overall.

But there's an interesting point to be made deeper in the numbers: The Vikings are actually older on both offense and defense than they are overall. They are 15th oldest on both offense and defense, with the league's seventh-youngest special-teams group pulling down their overall age. For a team that went wholeheartedly into draft-and-develop mode a couple years ago, though, the Vikings are hitting a crossroads.

They have four starters on defense this year -- Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Brian Robison and Chad Greenway -- who are 30 or older. Three of those players are in contract years. General manager Rick Spielman ran counter to his recent strategy this offseason by giving a five-year contract to receiver Greg Jennings, who turns 30 next month. And the biggest thing to consider, as it relates to the Vikings' age, is this: Adrian Peterson is 28, right near the tipping point of where running backs start to decline. Time will tell if Peterson can avoid the kind of slowdown that has hit many running backs around age 29 or 30, but it's safe to say the Vikings won't have a better opportunity with him than they have right now.

The second point we'll make is one Seifert shared on Twitter this morning, while he was researching the Lions roster. He said only two of the Packers' 53 players -- Ryan Pickett and John Kuhn -- have played a snap for another team. The rest of the Packers roster is draft picks and undrafted free agents. Being as the Vikings are trying to follow a similar philosophy, I thought it'd be worth looking at where they stand. I counted 13 players -- Jared Allen, Joe Berger, Desmond Bishop, John Carlson, Matt Cassel, A.J. Jefferson, Jennings, Charlie Johnson, George Johnson, Troy Kropog, Marvin Mitchell, Andrew Sendejo and Jerome Simpson -- who have played for other teams.

Now, many of those players are backups, and the Vikings have been quite successful with their high draft picks under Spielman recently. But they're also not as far into a draft-and-develop phase as the Packers have been, and Spielman has showed he's been a little more willing to use free agency than Ted Thompson has (though certainly not as willing as he used to be). It will be interesting to see what the Vikings do after this season, when at least half of the players who came from other teams could be gone. Will they fill those jobs in-house, or will they look elsewhere? With a team constructed the way the Vikings currently are, that will be only one of a few things to sort out.
Now that the Minnesota Vikings have made their final cuts, it's time to compare their actual 53-man roster with the one we projected on Friday evening.

In the end, we did pretty well.

We correctly guessed 50 of the 53 names on the final roster, missing on two offensive line spots and one in the defensive backfield. We had the correct composition of the roster -- three quarterbacks, four running backs, five wide receivers, three tight ends, eight offensive linemen, nine defensive linemen, eight linebackers, 10 defensive backs and three specialists -- but on all of our misses, we gave short shrift to players who were on the Vikings' roster last year.

We left Joe Berger and Troy Kropog -- who were on last year's active and practice squads, respectively -- in favor of free agent pickups Seth Olsen and Brandon Keith. But Olsen, who suffered a concussion on Thursday night against the Tennessee Titans, must be in worse medical shape than the Vikings initially thought; the team put him on injured reserve on Saturday. We'll hear more from coach Leslie Frazier on Monday about what happened to Olsen, but given the fact he was taken off the field on a stretcher on Thursday night, it's possible he's dealing with some serious ramifications.

Berger looked like he might be vulnerable in light of how well Jeff Baca had played at center, but the Vikings kept both players, giving themselves a pair of versatile interior linemen. Kropog, who can play guard or tackle, beat out Keith, whom we believed would make the team. Keith apparently did, too -- he responded to the news with a handful of indignant tweets on Saturday.

In the defensive backfield, we expected the Vikings to retain six cornerbacks instead of the five they ultimately kept. Safety Mistral Raymond, who was a starter at the beginning of last year but has struggled with injuries, survived the final cuts; we expected the Vikings to hang onto Bobby Felder instead. But they retained the same five safeties they had last year -- Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford, Robert Blanton, Raymond and Andrew Sendejo -- and will have to see if they can get Felder back onto their practice squad for another year.

In the end, though, we'll take 50 out of 53 -- and choosing to quit while we're ahead, we'll abstain from a prediction on the eight-man practice squad the Vikings will announce Sunday.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings center John Sullivan didn't miss a play last season in what many considered a Pro Bowl-caliber performance. Yet offseason microfracture surgery on his left knee has cost him every snap of offseason workouts so far, and he is not expected to participate in the final two days of mandatory minicamp this week.

The nature of Sullivan's surgery and his extended layoff makes it fair at least to ask if he will be ready for training camp. Coach Leslie Frazier said Tuesday that he is planning on Sullivan's full recovery by late July and added: "From what I've been told, there should not be any restrictions."

It makes perfect sense to mandate offseason rest for an established starter after significant offseason surgery. Sullivan, entering his sixth season, doesn't need organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamps as much as say, right guard Brandon Fusco, who is entering his second year as a starter.

Of course, the most notable clue on the Vikings' true assessment of Sullivan's situation can be found in their personnel moves, as we discussed when the surgery occurred in February. The Vikings clearly weren't moved to acquire a player who could replace Sullivan on a longer-term basis.

They didn't draft a center, nor did they sign a free agent who projects as a starter. To this point, all they've done is bring back veteran backup Joe Berger with a one-year deal that included a $65,000 signing bonus. Berger has worked the position in Sullivan's place but figures as a backup center/guard during the season. At this point, it appears, all is well.

Minnesota Vikings cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
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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.
Guard Geoff Schwartz visited half of the NFC North during his free agent world tour, and on Wednesday he announced he will sign with the Minnesota Vikings. Schwartz had also visited the Detroit Lions, but the Lions have brought back both starting guards and the Vikings released both of theirs earlier this month. Seems like a pretty easy decision to me.

Schwartz was a full-time starter for the Carolina Panthers in 2010, but a hip injury caused him to miss the 2011 season. The Panthers didn't offer him a restricted free-agent tenure, but a likely scenario has him competing for the Vikings' starting right guard job with veteran Joe Berger.

Most of us have presumed the Vikings will move left tackle Charlie Johnson to left guard if they draft USC left tackle Matt Kalil. If it all falls into place that way, the Vikings' 2012 offensive line would be:
Alas, we're due for at least another month of suspense before we know if the Johnson-Kalil moves comes to fruition. Stay tuned -- if you dare.

BBAO: 'Aaron Rodgers Day' on 12-12-12

February, 22, 2012
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

Mark you calendars now. Wisconsin leaders, having nothing more important to take care of, have answered a grassroots effort and will make Dec. 12 "Aaron Rodgers Day" throughout the Badger State. Rodgers won the NFL's Most Valuable Player Award earlier this month.

Yes, that's 12-12-12 for those counting at home.

Fortunately, Rodgers hasn't contracted the number-changing bug that infected Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson earlier this winter. Rodgers, in fact, said via Twitter: "Very flattered and honored that 12/12/12 is in the works. Thank u to the efforts of Jennifer Brilowski and our many incredible fans."

Brilowski is a Stevens Point, Wis., resident who started a Facebook campaign to have the holiday declared. It passed the Wisconsin state assembly Tuesday.

Continuing around the NFC North:

NFC North at night

December, 21, 2011
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Taking a look at Wednesday's newsbits in the NFC North:

Chicago Bears: A high number of prominent players didn't practice Wednesday. The list included running back Marion Barber (calf), linebacker Lance Briggs (ankle), tight end Kellen Davis (back), receiver Devin Hester (ankle), defensive tackle Henry Melton (shin) and defensive end Julius Peppers (not injury related). Melton doesn't appear to have a great chance to play Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers.

Detroit Lions: Safety Louis Delmas (knee), defensive tackle Corey Williams (hip), right tackle Gosder Cherilus and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (neck) didn't practice. It doesn't appear that Delmas will be ready for Saturday's game against the San Diego Chargers.

Green Bay Packers: Left tackle Chad Clifton finally returned to practice Wednesday but it's almost impossible to imagine him playing Sunday against the Bears. Instead, T.J. Lang is likely to start at right tackle with Evan Dietrich-Smith at Lang's left guard spot. The healthy backups will be Ray Dominguez and newcomer Herb Taylor. Running back James Starks practice an could be on track to play Sunday. Running back Brandon Saine (concussion) also practiced, as did linebacker Desmond Bishop (calf). Defensive end Ryan Pickett (concussion) did not.

Minnesota Vikings: Cornerback Asher Allen and guard Steve Hutchinson both sat out practice Wednesday because of concussions. Joe Berger would start for Hutchinson if he can't play Saturday against the Washington Redskins.

NFC North Friday injury report

November, 18, 2011
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Getting inside the Friday injury report:

Chicago Bears: Nickel back D.J. Moore (ankle) is doubtful for Sunday's game and isn't expected to play against the San Diego Chargers. Corey Graham will be the nickel back. All other players should be available.

Detroit Lions: Punter Ryan Donahue (quadriceps) was ruled out, confirming that newcomer Ben Graham will punt Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. Safety Amari Spievey (toe) is probable and expected to play. The Lions could be thin on the defensive line, based on the availability of defensive ends Willie Young (ankle) and Lawrence Jackson (thigh). Both are listed as questionable.

Green Bay Packers: The only injury issue this week has been defensive end Mike Neal (knee), who made it through portions of all three practices. The Packers are listing him as questionable for Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, an encouraging sign. Even if he doesn't play this week, it appears Neal hasn't had any setbacks to prevent an imminent return.

Minnesota Vikings: Guard Anthony Herrera (knee) and safety Husain Abdullah (concussion ) were ruled out for Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders. Joe Berger will again start at right guard, and it's expected the Vikings will use a three-man rotation at safety between Jamarca Sanford, Tyrell Johnson and rookie Mistral Raymond. Meanwhile, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (hamstring) is questionable, as is linebacker Erin Henderson (hamstring). Kyle Rudolph and Kenny Onatolu, respectively, could see additional playing time Sunday.

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NFC NORTH SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/4
Sunday, 9/7
Monday, 9/8