NFC North: Joe Webb

Greg Jennings learns the art of blocking

December, 19, 2013
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Greg Jennings' transition from the Green Bay Packers to the Minnesota Vikings was always going to have some fits and starts, well beyond the border-hopping rivalry stuff that fans soak up (and Jennings fed with several rounds of well-publicized comments earlier this year). He went from playing with two quarterbacks -- Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers -- for all but one game of his time with the Packers, to having three in his first six games with the Vikings. On top of that, Jennings had to learn how to exist in an offensive system that revolved not around an MVP quarterback, but an MVP running back.

That meant fewer opportunities as the Vikings went through their quarterback changes. And it meant Jennings taking a more serious approach to the art of downfield blocking.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson and Greg Jennings
Tom Dahlin/Getty ImagesMoving from a team where the quarterback was the star to one where the running back is meant that Greg Jennings (15) had to work on his blocking.
"I kind of saw that the role, my mindset had to change, making sure that I was doing my job and not becoming a distraction at all," Jennings said. "Embracing the run game even more, making sure that I did my part from that aspect of what we were trying to on the offensive side of the ball. ... It didn’t get to me. I just had to shift my mindset to more of a run-blocker because that’s where we were having success at. That’s what was going to get our offense rolling."

For much of Jennings' time in Green Bay, the Packers were either so committed to the pass or so inept at the run that he wasn't asked to do much other than get open and catch passes. The most Jennings had to run-block was in his first season with Rodgers -- in 2008, when he was blocking on 33.8 percent of his offensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. His run-blocking dropped in each of the next three seasons (32.3 percent in 2009, 30.9 percent in 2010, 26.7 percent in 2011) before jumping back up to 29.1 percent in 2012. But this season, Jennings is back to blocking almost as frequently as he's ever done.

The Vikings have asked him to do it on 33.4 percent of his snaps this season, and in wide-receivers coach George Stewart, Jennings has a former offensive-line coach who stresses proper blocking technique. During his disappointing 2012 season, wide receiver Jerome Simpson won praise from the coaching staff for the way he worked to improve as a blocker, and that might have helped him earn a new contract from the Vikings this season. It also might have helped converted quarterback Joe Webb make the team out of training camp; Webb has blocked on 42.1 percent of his offensive snaps, filling the role Stephen Burton had occupied for the Vikings last season.

Jennings' productivity has increased since Matt Cassel took over as quarterback, and the Vikings are paying him primarily to do what he always did in Green Bay. But run-blocking is always going to be a reality in an offense with Adrian Peterson, and it's been one of several adjustments for Jennings in his first year in Minnesota.

He had a career-high 11 catches last week in a win over the Eagles, and has 59 catches for 733 yards this season. But Jennings will need a big finish to the season to avoid his lowest full-season yardage total since his rookie year, and his four touchdowns also match his fewest since his rookie year.

"It’s a challenge," he said of working with so many quarterbacks. "That’s why you get a lot of receivers, and a lot of people tag us as divas. Because a lot of times the work that we put in, not to get a result, it can be frustrating for anyone. For a team that’s lost as many games as we’ve lost, we put in a lot of work in practice not to get the production and have the success that we feel we deserve or that we’re putting in on Wednesday, Thursdays and Fridays, it can be frustrating. But you have to keep rolling with the punches, and right now we’re having some success and that’s where we are."

Early decision on Rodgers helps Flynn

December, 13, 2013
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If ever there was a week when Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy could have left everyone in suspense about quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ status, this seemingly would have been it.

Rodgers did more in practice this week and experienced little or no pain for the first time since his collarbone injury Nov. 4. Behind closed doors, Rodgers lobbied hard to play. But after meeting with team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie on Friday, McCarthy ruled out Rodgers again.

Flynn
Flynn
Rodgers
Rodgers
Debate all you want about whether McCarthy and McKenzie were being too conservative, but at least they didn’t play games publicly. Listing Rodgers as anything other than out if they knew he had no chance to play Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys would have been a disservice to Matt Flynn, who will make his third straight start.

By making the situation clear Friday, they removed any possibility of unneeded drama in the 48 hours leading up to kickoff.

McCarthy downplayed any value there might be in keeping his quarterback situation a secret until game day, even though he often refuses to discuss other personnel changes during the week.

“I never felt, being on the other side of that, that it really accomplished anything,” McCarthy said. “I thought the Minnesota Vikings last year, prior to the playoff game with Christian Ponder not playing in the game, that was about as well-kept a decision that I’ve ever seen, and I don’t think it really factored in the outcome of the game. Now, we had talked about it, did a little research on Joe Webb earlier, but we had time to make sure our guys were ready for that.”

For his part, Flynn said Rodgers’ uncertain status -- which was higher this week than at any time since the injury because of the progress he had seemingly made -- did not affect his preparation. Flynn took a few less snaps with the starters this week than he did last week in order for Rodgers to get some work during 11-on-11 drills.

“That’s not going to make that much of a difference,” Flynn said. “I feel very prepared with the game plan and what we’re trying to get accomplished. I feel good about it.”

At least one of Flynn’s offensive teammates felt it was better to know Friday than wait until Sunday.

“That’s tough to go all the way up to right before the game [without knowing],” left tackle David Bakhtiari said. “Knowing this is our guy that we’re going to play with, it’s good to get that cohesiveness.”

Vikings are 'pretty good health-wise'

November, 29, 2013
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings got running back Adrian Peterson back on the practice field on Friday for a full session to test his strained groin before Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears. They got cornerback Xavier Rhodes and wide receiver Joe Webb back from concussions, and declared both players probable for Sunday. And they saw the return of safety Harrison Smith, who was eligible to practice for the first time in six weeks on Friday and is targeting a Dec. 15 return from injured reserve.

Peterson
Peterson
All that, coach Leslie Frazier said, left the Vikings in as good an injury situation as they've been in for some time.

"We're pretty good health-wise," Frazier said. "We’re not back to full strength, but we do have a lot of guys that are going to participate who we need to be on the field against a good football team."

Peterson's status never seemed in much doubt, after he carried 32 times with the groin injury last Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, but the return of Rhodes might be just as important against Bears receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Rhodes had the best game of his rookie season on Sunday, being credited with four pass breakups before he left with a concussion. His return might allow the Vikings to get more physical with the Bears' receivers than they otherwise could.

The only players the Vikings ruled out of Sunday's game were cornerback Josh Robinson and tight end Kyle Rudolph, who are still rehabbing from a fractured sternum and fractured foot, respectively. Everyone else on their roster is probable for the game.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings held running back Adrian Peterson out of practice on Wednesday, and it wouldn't be surprising if they pulled Peterson out of a number of practices for the rest of the season, as he plays through a groin injury. But Peterson, who carried 32 times in Sunday's tie against the Green Bay Packers, figures to play against the Chicago Bears.

Peterson
Peterson
Coach Leslie Frazier talked this week about the possibility of giving Toby Gerhart more carries in the next few games, after Gerhart ran for 91 yards on eight carries against the Packers. The Vikings face the league's worst rushing defense this weekend, and there could be opportunities for both backs against the Bears.

In other Vikings injury news:
  • Safety Harrison Smith, who has been on injured reserve with a designation to return since October, isn't eligible to practice until Friday, according to NFL rules. The Vikings had initially planned for Smith -- who is hoping to come back from turf toe and play this season -- to practice on Wednesday, but Frazier said they'll try to get him on the field Friday.
  • Both wide receiver Joe Webb and cornerback Xavier Rhodes have passed the first stage of the NFL's concussion protocol; Frazier said both could get on the practice field Thursday if they passed another stage on Wednesday.
  • Cornerback Josh Robinson (fractured sternum) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (fractured foot) were still out of practice.
  • Defensive tackle Kevin Williams was limited with a quadriceps injury; he'd been playing with a knee injury this season, but was on the injury report because of his quadriceps for the first time on Wednesday.
  • Quarterback Christian Ponder was not listed on the Vikings' injury report, indicating he has recovered from the dislocated left shoulder he suffered on Nov. 7.

Locker Room Buzz: Minnesota Vikings

November, 17, 2013
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SEATTLE -- Observed in the locker room following the Minnesota Vikings' 41-20 loss to the Seattle Seahawks:

Freeman
QB carousel could spin again: Coach Leslie Frazier again was noncommittal on the Vikings' starting quarterback for next Sunday's game in Green Bay, offering the familiar response that he would get together with his coaches this week and make a decision. But after Christian Ponder threw for just 15 yards in the second half and was intercepted twice (including once for a touchdown), the Vikings could decide to start Josh Freeman for the second time this season, or give Matt Cassel another look after he relieved Ponder. Cassel threw an interception, as well, and Freeman's one game this season was an ugly 20-for-53 performance against the New York Giants, but with the Vikings now at 2-8, Frazier might decide it's time to look at Freeman. "It's four weeks (since the Giants game) to learn, digest stuff that you had a week (to learn) the first go-around," said Freeman, who signed with the Vikings on Oct. 7. "But I'm just working, trying to help my understanding of everything, how we do it, how everything's called, why it's called, what it's called, and continue to grow in this offense." Freeman said he had a hunch throughout the week he would be inactive, but didn't find out for sure until he didn't see pads in his locker on Sunday.

Achilles injury keeps Jennings down: Wide receiver Greg Jennings was listed as probable for Sunday's game with a strained left Achilles tendon, and when coach Leslie Frazier was asked on Friday if there would be any issues with Jennings' heel, he said, "No. He'll be ready to go." But Jennings woke up Sunday morning feeling like he wasn't going to be able to play, and he was deactivated for the game. "We went out early and ran around," Jennings said. "It didn't feel good enough to play and put out a great performance. I wasn't going to put myself or my team in that position." Jennings wasn't sure what caused the injury, saying he woke up with it on Thursday morning and calling it "the flukiest thing," but said he plans to be back for his return trip to Lambeau Field next week.

Harvin returns with a bang -- and a jab: Seahawks receiver Percy Harvin only played a limited role in his return to the field, but he made an impact against his former team after coming back from hip surgery. Harvin tipped his first catch to himself for a spectacular 17-yard gain, and once kick returner Jermaine Kearse went down, Harvin got his wish to return to his role as a return man. He brought his first kickoff back 58 yards, and the Vikings didn't kick to him again. And after the game, Harvin took a bit of a jab at the Vikings' offense when asked to compare it to Seattle's. "It's the complete opposite," Harvin said of the Seahawks' scheme. "It allows you to stretch the field." Considering Harvin had dropped hints he was unhappy with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's scheme during his time in Minnesota, it wasn't surprising to hear him say it on Sunday, but the remark was more frontal than his previous criticisms of his old team.

Simpson has one catch after sitting early: Wide receiver Jerome Simpson, who was arrested on Nov. 9 for drunken driving, did not start for the Vikings on Sunday, even with Jennings out. He served as the Vikings' fourth receiver for much of the day, with Joe Webb often seeing time ahead of Simpson in the Vikings' three-receiver sets, but Jennings' absence forced the Vikings to use Simpson in different parts of the game. Asked if he would have used Simpson less had Jennings been healthy, Frazier said, "There's no sense in me talking about that now. The decision was made. Simpson was out there on the second play. Circumstances dictated this is what we had to do." Simpson finished with one catch for one yard.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh was limited in practice on Thursday because of an injury to his left leg, but coach Leslie Frazier expects Walsh will be ready to play on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.

"He was doing some kickoffs, and just felt a little bit of a twinge, so we just shut him down," Frazier said. "I think he'll be fine, based on what Eric Sugarman, our trainer, said. We just want to be smart."

The injury is to Walsh's plant leg, which could affect his mechanics (though obviously not as much as if it was his kicking leg). Frazier said the Vikings have a short list of kickers if necessary, but "we don't want to get to it."

In other Vikings practice news:
  • Running back Adrian Peterson was away from the team on Thursday because of a personal matter, but Frazier said Peterson would be back on Friday. While Peterson was away, though, he was apparently eating a turkey sandwich in Sioux Falls, S.D.
  • Wide receiver Joe Webb also missed practice because of an illness, but should be back on Friday.
  • Cornerback Chris Cook (groin) was a limited participant, but said he's "pretty confident I'll be ready for Sunday."
  • Safety Jamarca Sanford (hamstring), who also missed the Vikings' previous game, returned to full participation.
  • Defensive tackle Kevin Williams and tight end Rhett Ellison were again limited with knee injuries.
  • Lastly, quarterback Christian Ponder was limited with a fractured rib, though Ponder said he split snaps with Matt Cassel and is healthy enough to play on Sunday. It seems likely he will be the backup this week, with Cassel starting and Josh Freeman inactive for his first game with the team.

Upon Further Review: Vikings Week 4

September, 30, 2013
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LONDON -- An examination of four hot issues following the Minnesota Vikings' 34-27 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers:

Who's the QB? That will be the Vikings' big question during and after their bye week, as they prepare for their next game against the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 13. Coach Leslie Frazier said Sunday, "If you're asking, our quarterback is Christian Ponder," even after Matt Cassel threw for 248 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Vikings' first win of the season. Players such as Greg Jennings and Adrian Peterson have stood by Ponder in his struggles, but even those two seemed relieved to be praising, instead of defending, their quarterback after Sunday's win. Frazier will have to gauge how his team would react to a return to Ponder, and Cassel's struggles the past two years in Kansas City are proof he has had his own issues. But it will be interesting to see how Frazier navigates the next two weeks and how his players will react to whatever decision he makes.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Jamie McDonald/Getty ImagesStars like Adrian Peterson have helped the NFL as a consistently popular draw in London.
Peterson emerges: The numbers would suggest Peterson hadn't played poorly in three games before Sunday -- he had still run for 281 yards in three games -- but the NFL's reigning MVP hadn't looked like himself until heading to London. With fullback Jerome Felton back, Peterson seemed more comfortable, romping for 140 yards in the Vikings' win. His 60-yard run in the first half was actually set up by quarterback-turned-receiver Joe Webb, who sealed off safety Troy Polamalu after seeing something on a previous play. "He came to me on the sideline," Peterson said. "He was telling me, 'Hey, on the 42 Lead, Troy [Polamalu], the safety, is cramming in, and he's shooting right down. So just trust me on being able to pin him in. You can get it outside.' And sure enough, the next time we caught it, it happened exactly the way he was playing."

Secondary struggles: The Vikings won, and they survived without Chris Cook and Jamarca Sanford, but those facts probably won't dampen concerns about their defensive backs after the Vikings allowed more than 300 yards passing for the third time in four weeks. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had to throw on almost every play in the fourth quarter with Pittsburgh down 17, but he targeted second-year cornerback Josh Robinson throughout the game, and Robinson added a 48-yard pass interference penalty to the Steelers' production for the day after he grabbed Antonio Brown and put the ball at the Vikings' 1.

London calling ... again? This won't emerge as a front-burner topic for a while, but it wouldn't be surprising to see the Vikings back in London before they open their new stadium in Minneapolis in 2016. Vikings players gushed about the accommodations the team had at The Grove Hotel in Watford, England, and Frazier spoke glowingly about the experience after the Vikings won at Wembley Stadium on Sunday and lifted a little pressure off themselves before their bye week. Before the game, team officials privately weren't keen on the idea of coming to London as the home team again and taking players out of their routine for a week in addition to giving up a home game. But it will be interesting to see if the Vikings have different feelings now that they've seen a week in London is manageable. Frazier is a big believer in settings like these, which encourage team bonding, and if the London trip emerges as a turning point in the season, you can bet the Vikings will consider doing it again. With the team at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium in 2014 and 2015, the NFL is likely to ask.

WATFORD, England -- It appears Christian Ponder won’t start at quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

Cassel
Cassel
Ponder
Ponder
Ponder was not throwing or wearing a helmet in the portion of practice open to reporters on Friday morning in England, indicating he will likely miss Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers with the rib injury that has limited him in practice all week. Instead, it appears backup quarterback Matt Cassel will start for the Vikings at Wembley Stadium.

Ponder’s status has been uncertain all week; the quarterback had indicated he would be able to play with the injury, pointing out he finished the game after getting hit early last Sunday against the Cleveland Browns and saying on Thursday he felt fine throwing with extra padding on his ribs. The one unknown, Ponder said, was how he would handle contact, but without an opportunity to simulate that in practice, the quarterback’s status would be left up to the Vikings’ training staff and coach Leslie Frazier.

Even if Ponder was completely healthy, one could argue the Vikings were nearing a change at quarterback. The former first-round pick has thrown five interceptions against just two touchdown passes in three games, having an interception returned for a touchdown in a 31-30 loss to the Chicago Bears in Week 2. He could regain his starting status after the Vikings’ bye week, depending on what happens with Cassel on Sunday, but it’s also possible the Vikings would use the opportunity to move in a different direction.

The Vikings signed Cassel to a two-year, $7.4 million contract in March after he was released by the Kansas City Chiefs. Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman said at the time that Ponder was the starting quarterback and Cassel was coming in to give the Vikings a veteran option in case something happened to Ponder. They were forced to start Joe Webb after an elbow injury kept Ponder out of a wild-card playoff game in Green Bay last January, and Webb completed just 11 of 30 passes for 180 yards in the loss.

Cassel, 31, emerged in the NFL after Tom Brady tore his ACL during the first week of the 2008 season, and he led the New England Patriots to a 10-6 record that season. He reached the Pro Bowl and led the Chiefs to the playoffs in 2010, but injuries and ineffectiveness made him expendable after the Chiefs traded for Alex Smith last winter.

“We signed Matt Cassel for occasions like this, if something were to happen to Christian,” Frazier said on Thursday.

Now, it seems the coach will get his chance to see where Cassel can take the Vikings.
Most significant move: Joe Webb has officially made the Vikings' roster at two different positions. After a dismal performance in place of Christian Ponder during the Vikings' playoff game last January, Webb made the transition to wide receiver this spring and beat out Stephen Burton for the final roster spot. Burton started off well in camp, but was inconsistent in the Vikings' final two preseason games, while Webb caught a touchdown pass from Ponder that showed he might have potential as a red zone target. He'll probably also factor in on special teams, but in beating out Burton -- who was with the Vikings all of last season -- Webb rewarded the coaching staff's faith in him.

Sherels survives again: Marcus Sherels has made a habit of turning in notable preseason performances to claim one of the Vikings' final roster spots. He saved his best for last on Thursday night, returning a kickoff 109 yards for a touchdown and recording an interception less than a week after his father's funeral. The performance was enough for Sherels to fight off Bobby Felder for the Vikings' final cornerback spot, and it likely means he keeps his job as the team's punt returner. His results were mediocre aside from a 77-yard touchdown last year, but special teams coordinator Mike Priefer praised Sherels' sure hands and decision-making this week. That probably helped him beat out Felder, who looked impressive as a punt returner in his own right and might claim a practice squad spot.

What's next: The Vikings will announce their practice squad tomorrow, and could look for more help on the offensive line, where they only kept eight players.

Vikings moves: Released TE Colin Anderson, RB Joe Banyard, S Brandan Bishop, OG Travis Bond, CB Brandon Burton, WR Stephen Burton, DT Everett Dawkins, S Darius Eubanks, CB Bobby Felder, TE Chase Ford, OT Brandon Keith, DT Anthony McCloud, LB Tyrone McKenzie, OT Kevin Murphy, DT Spencer Nealy, DE D'Aundre Reed, WR Rodney Smith, WR Adam Thielen, DE Collins Ukwu. Placed OG Seth Olsen on injured reserve. Placed FB Jerome Felton and OG Demarcus Love on suspended list. Placed WR Greg Childs on physically unable to perform list. Placed DT Christian Ballard on reserve/left squad list.

What to watch for: Vikings-Titans

August, 29, 2013
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The Minnesota Vikings close out the preseason at home on Thursday, playing host to the Tennessee Titans. The Vikings are expected to sit most of their starters, but a number of players will still have something to prove in advance of final roster cuts this weekend. Here are some things to watch:

Matt Cassel: The quarterback hasn't been terribly impressive this preseason, doing his best work in the Vikings' exhibition opener against Houston. Since that game, where Cassel went 12-for-19 for 212 yards, a touchdown and an interception, he has completed just 7 of 18 passes for a total of 57 yards and has been sacked twice. With Christian Ponder likely to sit out, Cassel should get plenty of time to end his preseason on a good note and remind the Vikings why they are paying him $3.7 million this season to back up Ponder.

Cornerback battle: Several position battles still have to be settled on the Vikings' roster, but the competition for the team's final cornerback spot is one of the more prominent ones. Bobby Felder, who spent last season on the practice squad, has had some impressive moments this preseason and might have a shot to unseat Marcus Sherels for a spot on the roster. Felder is bigger and more physical than Sherels, who served as the Vikings' fifth corner last season, and he's been productive enough as a punt returner that it looks like he could unseat Sherels there, too. If Josh Robinson falters in the slot, the Vikings would likely go to whomever wins this spot, so it could be important for them to get it right. Thursday will give them one final look at both players, and unless they wind up keeping six cornerbacks, Thursday's game could play a pivotal role in helping the Vikings decide whether Felder or Sherels stays.

The thin D-line: With Kevin Williams and Sharrif Floyd still sitting out because of knee injuries, and Christian Ballard still away from the team because of personal issues, the Vikings will have plenty of work for their backup defensive tackles on Thursday night. Players such as Anthony McCloud, Chase Baker and Everett Dawkins should play extensively, and if it looks like Ballard's absence will extend into the season, the Vikings might have a roster spot for one of them. None of the players have distinguished themselves during the preseason, but a longer stretch of playing time could lend some more clarity to the situation.

Desmond Bishop: He played 33 snaps on Sunday night in San Francisco, and Bishop should have plenty of time again on Thursday night to prove he should start at weak-side linebacker over Marvin Mitchell. He still had some lapses in pass coverage against the 49ers, but made nine tackles and looked more assertive against the run than he did in the previous game against the Bills, which was Bishop's first in more than a year after a torn hamstring ended his 2012 season after one game.

Final receiver spot: Here's another area where Thursday's game could have plenty to say about who sticks on the roster. Stephen Burton has had an impressive camp, and caught three passes for 67 yards in the Vikings' first preseason game, but Ponder's interception on Sunday night in San Francisco could be attributed at least partially to Burton, who stopped his route and gave Nnamdi Asomugha a clear path to the ball. (Asomugha tipped the ball, and C.J. Spillman made the pick.) In that same game, Joe Webb caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Ponder, showing what kind of a red-zone threat he could be. It seems unlikely the Vikings would keep six receivers, unless they only went with two quarterbacks, so they might have to decide between two players who spent all of last season on their roster. Another factor here could be the Vikings' impression of Webb as a run blocker; Burton has fared well there in the past, and in the Vikings' offense, a receiver's ability to block downfield for Adrian Peterson will always be important.

Observation deck: Vikings-49ers

August, 26, 2013
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If Christian Ponder's preseason is done, at least he saved his best work for his closing act.

Ponder went 7-of-9 for 48 yards on his final drive during the Minnesota Vikings' 34-14 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night, directing a 12-play, 78-yard drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Joe Webb on a fade route. It was as assertive and accurate as Ponder has looked all preseason, and though most of his completions were underneath the 49ers' coverage, he converted two third downs (one on a 7-yard scramble, the other on his touchdown to Webb), and the scoring pass was Ponder's second of the night. It helped him finish with his best stat line of the preseason -- 17-of-23 for 116 yards, two touchdowns and an interception -- but it also dressed things up after another ragged start for Ponder.

On the Vikings' first play, he threw too far out in front of Greg Jennings, who was in single coverage against a safety, on a deep ball off play action. He threw incomplete to John Carlson on second down, and fumbled on third down after Ahmad Brooks beat Phil Loadholt and sacked Ponder. It took the Vikings four series to get a first down, and on their first sustained drive of the night, Ponder floated a couple of high passes -- one caught by Jennings, the other caught by Stephen Burton out of bounds -- instead of driving the ball downfield.

He finished the night with an average of 5 yards per pass, not unlike much of the work he did last season, and while the night again came with a significant caveat -- Adrian Peterson was on the field for just two plays -- Ponder had opportunities to connect on a few big throws that he didn't hit. He'll likely sit out the Vikings' final preseason game Thursday night, which means fans will head into the regular season relying more on faith than concrete evidence that Ponder is progressing.

Here's a rundown of the rest of the night:
  • It wasn't a good night for the Vikings' secondary. Chris Cook left the game with a groin injury (no small thing, considering all the trouble Cook has had staying on the field) and Josh Robinson spent much of the night dealing with the attention 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick paid to him. Kaepernick targeted Robinson four times on a 84-yard touchdown drive, hitting rookie Quinton Patton for a 19-yard gain in the slot against Robinson and connecting with Patton on a 5-yard touchdown after two completions to Marlon Moore against Robinson. If Cook is out for any length of time, the Vikings' big gamble in the secondary could become even riskier with Robinson and rookie Xavier Rhodes starting.
  • Defensive tackle Kevin Williams left the game with a knee injury after a chop block in the second quarter and will have a MRI on Monday. Early indications are that the injury isn't serious, but defensive end Jared Allen was ticked about the low hit; interviewed on TV he called it a dirty play. Sharrif Floyd also is out for the rest of the preseason after a chop block caused him to have a minor knee operation, and Christian Ballard is still away from the team because of personal issues. The Vikings' lack of depth at defensive tackle, at the moment, looks a bit unnerving.
  • The Vikings' offensive line had another uncharacteristically bad night. Loadholt offered little resistance to Brooks on Ponder's fumble, and was later flagged for holding. And left tackle Matt Kalil had a pair of unnecessary-roughness penalties, earning one after he joined a shoving match between Brandon Fusco and a 49ers player. Coach Leslie Frazier had to sit Kalil down for a play to cool him off, and after Kalil sustained a knee injury in a poor performance in the Vikings' second preseason game, tonight wasn't a good follow-up.
  • On Ponder's interception, Burton stopped early on a crossing route and was a step shy of catching the pass. Burton's had a strong preseason, but Ponder's interception might have been a completion had Burton finished his route.
  • Webb, the former quarterback who is competing with Burton for one of the final receiver spots, provided another reminder of why he might fit in as a pass-catcher. He did a nice job on his touchdown, going up for a jump ball and pulling down Ponder's pass in the corner of the end zone. With his size, strength and leaping ability, Webb could be a nice weapon in the red zone.
  • As promised, Desmond Bishop got plenty of work, playing with the Vikings' first-team defense in the first half and remaining in the game with the No. 2 defense in the second half. He gave up a catch to Moore when Kaepernick stepped out of the pocket and drew Bishop toward the line of scrimmage, but Bishop stopped Kendall Hunter for a loss and made a nice open-field tackle of D.J. Harper in the fourth quarter. Though he's still struggling somewhat in pass coverage, Bishop can help the Vikings' run defense, and he looked more assertive Sunday than he did against Buffalo.
  • Before he left with his injury, Cook made an impressive tackle of Chad Hall, coming across the field to drag down the receiver after a four-yard screen pass.
  • Chad Greenway sold the 49ers on the idea that he was rushing before dropping back into coverage on his second-quarter interception of Colt McCoy. The turnover set up the Vikings' first touchdown, when Ponder hit Zach Line -- who turned a screen pass into a 61-yard touchdown in the Vikings' first preseason game -- for a 1-yard score.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

As we navigate another summer of drama regarding a former Green Bay Packers player now in a Minnesota Vikings uniform, it's worth noting that in most cases, time heals all (or most) wounds.

Look no further than place-kicker Ryan Longwell, who retired Tuesday as a member of the Packers -- eight years after signing with the Vikings with some admittedly hard feelings. Longwell told reporters in Green Bay: "I know a lot of us have migrated that way, and most of us migrate back."

Quarterback Brett Favre will one day do the same, and Longwell believes that even receiver Greg Jennings will eventually be a member in good standing of the Packers family.

"Everything takes time," Longwell said, "and everything will happen. I have no doubt that Greg is loved here and will be loved here eventually, and Brett, I think that thing is pretty close. I think they’re in a good spot, everybody, and I think time heals everything and everything will be made right when the time is right."

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "Longwell is the best kicker in franchise history, based on field goal accuracy, so it seemed only natural for him to return home. And it was apparent the Packers organization, which gave him his first NFL kicking job, and the city of Green Bay still hold a special place in his heart."
  • Packers cornerback Davon House wasn't happy with his performance in last Friday's preseason opener, writes Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com.
  • Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sizes up the Packers' roster.
  • Should Packers receiver Randall Cobb have practiced Tuesday? Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com takes a look.
  • Vikings coach Leslie Frazier took his team to a movie Monday night. Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press tells you which one.
  • The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority has put the Vikings' stadium deal on hold while it conducts due diligence into Wilf family finances after the team's owners were found guilty in a civil case in New Jersey. More from Richard Meryhew of the Star Tribune.
  • Joe Webb gives the Vikings versatility as a receiver/quarterback, despite what the team says, argues Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com.
  • Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus suggests the Vikings move longtime "under" tackle Kevin Williams to nose tackle. Monson: "A move to NT for Williams would help disguise his lost step, allow quicker DTs on the roster to play in their natural position, and fill the void that Minnesota hasn’t been able to patch since Pat Williams retired all in one act."
  • Getting to the bottom of the Vikings' seeming two-toned purple uniforms.
  • Robert Klemko of MMQB.com investigates what has happened to former Detroit Lions receiver Titus Young.
  • Chemistry between Lions running back Reggie Bush and quarterback Matthew Stafford is improving, according to Carlos Monarrez and Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • It doesn't look like the Lions will play Louis Delmas in the preseason. More from Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.
  • The Lions continue to give veteran Jake Scott first-team reps at right guard, writes Kyle Meinke of Mlive.com.
  • My take on Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh's comments on growing up.
  • Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune: "There is no telling yet what the Bears will become on offense this season, but any questions about everyone buying into Marc Trestman's new program were answered sufficiently in nearly three weeks of training camp."
  • Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times: "Say what you will, watch what you want, but this Bears season is about Jay Cutler. And for reasons I'll explain that make me -- and, I'm guessing, you -- very nervous."
  • It sure doesn't look like J'Marcus Webb is going to get his right tackle job back, writes Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com, and he might not even make the team.
The dynamic duo of Dan Wiederer and Mark Craig discussed an issue in this video that I had marked down on my list for this week: Whether the Minnesota Vikings will be able to find a roster spot for receiver project Joe Webb. Even after Webb caught two passes in Friday night's preseason opener, resolution on that question is far from clear.

I won't claim that the Vikings have the NFL's deepest group of receivers, but if we were stacking them in order at the moment, it would be difficult to place Webb higher than No. 6 on a team that might only keep five.

Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson and Jarius Wright are all locks for the roster. It's difficult to imagine the Vikings releasing Jerome Simpson after they gave him a $500,000 signing bonus and another $250,000 workout bonus in the offseason. That's four receivers, and on Friday night at least, third-year player Stephen Burton outperformed Webb.

Burton turned an intermediate catch into a 56-yard play while also providing a key block on fullback Zach Line's 61-yard touchdown reception. Burton was a raw receiver when the Vikings drafted him in 2011, but he has a two-year lead over Webb on the development scale.

Webb has three more weeks of practice and preseason games to state his case, but if there are no dramatic changes between now and the final cutdown day, the Vikings will have to determine whether his capacity for development merits a roster re-balancing that would in essence take a spot away from another position.

The chart below provides a detailed report of how the Vikings used their receivers Friday night.
Reviewing Friday's action at the Metrodome:

Houston Texans 27, Minnesota Vikings 13



Preseason record: 0-1

Of interest: Similar to fellow rookie Ziggy Ansah in Detroit, Vikings receiver Cordarrelle Patterson made an immediate splash. He returned the opening kickoff 50 yards and would have scored had kicker Randy Bullock not tripped him up. Patterson went on to catch a team-high four passes for 54 yards as the Vikings targeted him eight times on 27 snaps (a bit more than half of the game). Patterson's open-field aggressiveness was notable for his power as much as his speed. … Quarterback Christian Ponder and most of the first-team offense played only one series, which was a bit odd given the way it went. Ponder threw two passes, one of them a 15-yard strike to receiver Jerome Simpson and the other a mistimed crossing route that went off Simpson's hands and was intercepted. The pass looked off, but it's possible Simpson wasn't in the right place. Regardless, it was surprising to see Ponder get only two snaps. You either play or you don't, right? … Backup Matt Cassel had nice numbers (12-of-19 for 212 yards), but he looked unsettled behind the Vikings' second-team offensive line and had his yardage total padded by two nice open-field plays by receivers. Stephen Burton's pivot turned an intermediate reception into a 56-yard gain, and rookie fullback Zach Line broke two tackles to turn a short pass into a 61-yard touchdown play. … Rookie defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd showed up with a nice tackle behind the line but departed with a minor knee injury after playing 15 snaps. … Receiver Joe Webb had two catches and was targeted three times in 23 snaps.

Local coverage: Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune: "A reminder: No one was all that worried about Friday’s final result. The preseason opener, after all, is most valuable for assessing the bottom half of the roster and the lesser-known commodities. Which is why Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen, Chad Greenway, Kevin Williams and Brian Robison were among the starters not in pads when the night began." … There is no quarterback controversy in Minnesota -- yet. That was Bob Sansevere's takeaway from the game in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. … Burton continued to burnish his case for a roster spot, according to Ben Goessling of the Pioneer Press. … Coach Leslie Frazier on Floyd's injury, via 1500ESPN.com: "He should be fine. We could have put him back in the game, but decided [with] where we were at this time of the year we didn't [need to]."

Up next: Friday at Buffalo Bills

Previewing preseason Week 1

August, 9, 2013
8/09/13
12:00
PM ET
In which we look ahead to Week 1 of the 2013 preseason. All four NFC North teams will take the field Friday night. Rob Demovsky will have a preview of the Green Bay Packers' game against the Arizona Cardinals, and our friends at ESPNChicago.com handled pregame coverage of the Chicago Bears' matchup at the Carolina Panthers.


Detroit Lions
Opponent: New York Jets
Location: Ford Field
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Personnel notes: Starters will probably play a couple of series, but some are expected to sit out. Atop that list is safety Louis Delmas (knee), whose limited work in training camp suggests the Lions wouldn't risk him in a preseason game. Fans at Ford Field will have their first chance to see tailback Reggie Bush in the Lions' offense, and everyone is looking forward to seeing place-kicker Havard Rugland -- aka "Kickalicious" -- see his first action in a live game. Rugland didn't look out of place in training camp practices earlier this week. Also, it will be fun to watch the Lions try out a number of candidates for their kickoff and punt return roles. Rookie Steven Miller is inexperienced but fast, quick and has the look of a playmaker.

Focal point: Three days at Lions training camp revealed that they could face some intriguing bottom-of-the-roster decisions. The Lions are deep at tight end and running back, especially, and it makes you wonder whether they can afford to keep a No. 3 quarterback. Part of that decision includes the level of competence that Kellen Moore and Thaddeus Lewis demonstrate in preseason games.

Minnesota Vikings
Opponent: Houston Texans
Location: Metrodome
Time: 8 p.m. ET

Personnel notes: A number of front-line players aren't expected to be in uniform, including defensive end Jared Allen (ankle). Cornerback Xavier Rhodes and linebacker Desmond Bishop were also nursing relatively minor injuries this week and could miss the game. Coach Leslie Frazier has said that tailback Adrian Peterson will get some work in the preseason, but it's not clear if that will come Friday or at some other point. The rest of the starters could play as much as a quarter.

Focal point: We'll get our first real look at Joe Webb on the other side of his transition from quarterback to receiver/all-purpose playmaker. In training camp, Webb demonstrated excellent hands and catching radius but seemed to be laboring under the raw amount of running a receiver does in an NFL training camp. We all know he was an excellent open-field runner for a quarterback, but he won't have the advantage of surprising defenses anymore. Preseason games are important in this kind of situation. Webb must demonstrate enough playmaking capacity for the Vikings to use one of their 53 roster spots on him. Otherwise, it's difficult to carry a "developmental" player who is in the final year of his contract.

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