NFC North: Vlad Ducasse

The Minnesota Vikings took care of their main 2015 free agent priorities last preseason, signing tight end Kyle Rudolph and guard Brandon Fusco to contract extensions in August and September, respectively. Their main 2015 offseason question will revolve around the future of Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, but in terms of the team's pending free agents, the Vikings have few major items on their to-do list. Below is a quick look at the Vikings players who will become unrestricted or restricted free agents when the new league year opens at 4 p.m. ET March 10, when unrestricted free agents can sign with any team.

Unrestricted:

Christian Ponder, QB
Jerome Felton, FB (can opt out of 2015 contract)
Joe Berger, OL
Vladimir Ducasse, OG
Corey Wootton, DE
Tom Johnson, DT
Jasper Brinkley, LB
Mistral Raymond, SS (spent 2014 on injured reserve)
Cullen Loeffler, OL

Restricted:

Matt Asiata, RB
Mike Harris, OT
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings will be without three defensive starters and an offensive lineman on Sunday in Detroit, and Cordarrelle Patterson's status is uncertain.

Barr
The Vikings listed linebacker Anthony Barr (knee), safety Robert Blanton (ankle/knee), defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (knee) and guard Charlie Johnson (ankle) as out for Sunday's game against the Lions. Patterson, who showed up on the injury report for the first time on Friday, is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury.

Patterson was returning kickoffs during the open portion of practice, which means he could have tweaked his hamstring later in the session once it was closed to reporters. He played only one offensive snap last week against the New York Jets and lost a fumble on the opening kickoff in the second half.

The loss of Barr and Floyd, in particular, might hinder the Vikings as they face the 9-4 Lions on Sunday afternoon. Detroit's offense thrives when Matthew Stafford has time to throw downfield to Calvin Johnson, and though the Lions beat the Vikings with quick passes in Week 6, Johnson wasn't on the field for that game. Stafford has been sacked 39 times this year; the Vikings can hope for another big day from Everson Griffen, but having Barr and Floyd would certainly help them generate a pass rush.

With Blanton out, Andrew Sendejo figures to start at safety next to Harrison Smith. Vlad Ducasse will likely start at left guard with Johnson sidelined, meaning the Vikings will have just two of their five preferred linemen (Matt Kalil and John Sullivan) on the field against a Lions pass rush that took Teddy Bridgewater down eight times on Oct. 12.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Minnesota Vikings will have another change in their offensive line this week, and it could be one that lasts for a while.

Despite guard Vlad Ducasse being a full participant in practice Thursday and Friday, the Vikings put him on their inactive list Sunday with a knee injury. That means Joe Berger will start at right guard, after stepping in for John Sullivan at center last week. If Ducasse is healthy, the move might have more to do with performance than health.

Berger has been with the Vikings since 2011 and talked Friday about the benefit of the continuity he's enjoyed with offensive line coach Jeff Davidson and veterans like Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt. Especially if Sullivan stays healthy enough that the Vikings don't need to use Berger at center, they could stick with Berger at right guard with Brandon Fusco out.

Linebacker Gerald Hodges is also inactive for the Vikings with a hamstring injury; Hodges was listed as doubtful Friday and will miss his second straight game. Cornerback Josh Robinson, however, is active after missing time with a sprained ankle late in the week. Robinson said he'd be able to play, and he was apparently correct.

Here is the Vikings' full list of inactives Sunday:

Josh Robinson (ankle) misses practice

October, 24, 2014
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings could be without cornerback Josh Robinson on Sunday, after Robinson injured his ankle during individual drills on Thursday.

Robinson did not practice on Friday, indicating his availability for Sunday is in some doubt. The cornerback said after practice, however, that he's feeling better after rolling his ankle on Thursday, and he sounded optimistic he could still play Sunday.

Robinson
"We were just going through the motions and not really trying to go full speed or anything like that [when the injury occurred]," Robinson said. "That should help as far as recovery time."

Asked about Robinson's availability for Sunday, coach Mike Zimmer said, "I don't know. We'll find out a little bit more tomorrow."

If Robinson were unable to play, rookie Jabari Price would likely be next in line.

With John Sullivan ready to return from a concussion this week, the Vikings won't need Joe Berger to start at center on Sunday, but it seems possible Berger could find his way into the lineup at right guard instead. He saw some first-team snaps at the spot this week, while Vlad Ducasse worked his way back from a knee injury. Berger and Zimmer were coy about the plan for the offensive line, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see Berger in the lineup on Sunday.

"I may or may not know that," Berger said when asked whether he has been told if he'll start on Sunday. "If you guys don't know that, I'm going to let the coach tell you."

Don't expect any fine offensive displays Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

That's because the Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers both are struggling on offense. The Vikings (2-5) and Bucs (1-5) are starting young quarterbacks and ranked near the bottom of the league in most offensive categories.

The Vikings, led by rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, rank No. 29 in overall offense and are last in passing offense. The Bucs have been starting second-year pro Mike Glennon and they're ranked No. 30 in overall offense.

ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas preview the matchup:

Yasinskas: Ben, I know the numbers aren't pretty. But has Bridgewater been showing any signs of progress?

Goessling: He has shown some. He hit 12 of his 15 throws after a pair of interceptions in Buffalo on Sunday, and I thought he did a better job of trusting himself to find his receivers downfield than he has in recent weeks. He has looked great at times, especially in the Vikings' win over Atlanta last month, but he's still figuring a lot of things out.

He needs to be better about throwing on target, and he has fallen victim to the same problems that plague many rookies, when he has held the ball a little too long or thrown late because he didn't make up his mind soon enough. But it's important to remember Bridgewater doesn't have Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph and an offensive line that can protect him. The Vikings have given up 27 sacks this season, which is the second-most in the league, and they've forced Bridgewater to run for his life on a number of other occasions.

Speaking of quarterbacks, will Glennon remain the starter or will Josh McCown get the job back now that he's getting healthy?

Yasinskas: Coach Lovie Smith has been coy about his plans. My best guess is Glennon will get at least one more start because McCown returned to practice only this week and was out for more than a month. I think Glennon has played well enough to be the full-time starter, but I'm not sure Smith sees it that way. McCown was Smith's hand-picked quarterback and the two have history together from their Chicago days. Smith's history has shown he prefers to go with veterans. Back in Chicago, he once benched Kyle Orton, who was playing well, as soon as Rex Grossman got healthy. It wouldn't surprise me if Smith goes back to McCown.

You mentioned Minnesota's offensive line. I know it has been banged up. Will it be any healthier this week, and can it at least give Bridgewater some protection against a Tampa Bay pass rush that hasn't been good?

Goessling: It's hard to say at this point if it will be healthier. Guard Vladimir Ducasse is optimistic about his chances to play after injuring his knee on Sunday, but John Sullivan is still going through the concussion protocol, and his loss would be a big one. He's the Vikings' most reliable blocker, and does plenty to help Bridgewater set protections.

The biggest problem, though, has been left tackle Matt Kalil, who got beat again several times on Sunday and has struggled in pass protection all season. Kalil was the No. 4 pick in the draft in 2012 and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, but got hurt last year and hasn't looked like the same guy. The Vikings were able to protect Bridgewater effectively against Atlanta, another team with an underwhelming pass rush, so I'd expect they'll fare better this week than they have against Detroit and Buffalo.

Shifting to the defensive side of the ball, how has the Vikings' old coach, Leslie Frazier, fared as the coordinator? The Bucs have obviously been shredded on defense; how much of that do you think is Frazier and Smith's old Cover 2 scheme and how much is personnel?

Yaskinsas: Tampa Bay ranks last in total defense and also is No. 32 in pass defense. That's shocking since Smith and Frazier are supposed to be defensive gurus. I think this team has good defensive personnel, especially with tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David. But the pass rush has been non-existent, and that has taken a toll on the secondary. The main problem might be Smith's stubbornness. He's sticking with the Tampa 2 scheme even though it looks like it might be outdated. I'm not saying he should totally ditch the Tampa 2, but it might be wise -- and productive -- to mix in some man coverage at times.

The Vikings lost a last-minute game against Buffalo last week. That reminded me that the Vikings lost a lot of games in the final minutes last season. Is there some sort of flaw there or is this just a young team that needs to learn how to win?

Goessling: They believe it's the latter. The approach the Vikings took on the final drive on Sunday didn't look like what they did last year, when they sat back in coverage on a lot of those final drives. They were aggressive with their fronts, blitzing Orton four times on the drive and sacking him twice. But there were breakdowns that probably can be traced to inexperience. Josh Robinson needed to reroute Sammy Watkins when he pressed him on third-and-12, Xavier Rhodes misplayed Watkins' game-winning touchdown, and first-year coach Mike Zimmer said he probably should have called a timeout before a fourth-and-20 play -- like Frazier did in a couple games last season -- to get the defense settled. The Vikings gave up a first down there after Chad Greenway was trying to get Captain Munnerlyn in the right spot in a no-huddle situation. Greenway had his head turned at the snap and didn't get deep enough in coverage to keep Orton from hitting Scott Chandler for a first down.

The Vikings are young in the secondary, especially, and I think that showed up Sunday, but I continue to see progress in what they're doing. They have Pro Bowl-caliber players in Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith, and Rhodes has continued to improve as a corner. It'll take another year of player acquisitions, but they're headed in the right direction.

To wrap this up, why has the Buccaneers' ground game struggled so much? It might be a function of playing from behind as much as they have, but it seems like they've struggled to run the ball in closer games, too. What do you think the problem has been there?

Yasinskas: It's true they have had to abandon the running game at times because they've fallen so far behind. But even at the start of games, they've struggled to run the ball. That's puzzling because they have a rebuilt offensive line and running back Doug Martin is healthy after missing much of last season with a shoulder injury. I put the majority of the blame on the offensive line. But I also put some blame on Martin. He is averaging only 2.9 yards per carry. His backup, Bobby Rainey, is averaging 4.9 yards a carry. Martin needs to make more out of his opportunities.

MINNEAPOLIS -- By the end of Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills, the Minnesota Vikings had a rookie quarterback playing behind a line down to its last healthy active players and still missing a tight end who is nearly as valuable in pass protection as he is as a receiving threat.

Considering all that, and the fact the Vikings were facing one of the game's best defensive lines, perhaps it's fair to apply some perspective to the Bills' six-sack performance, as Vikings coach Mike Zimmer seemed to do after the game.

"My concern level isn't real high (with the offensive line)," Zimmer said. "I'm proud of the way the guys went in there and continue to fight. We lost those two guys on the same play early in the ballgame. We ran the ball well in the second half and we gave up some opportunities in there. We played good enough defensively that we should've won that last drive."

Perhaps, but the Vikings might have also been able to avoid losing on a last-second touchdown altogether if their first drive of the fourth quarter hadn't sputtered at the Bills' 14 and they'd been able to score a touchdown instead of kick a field goal. Teddy Bridgewater was sacked on back-to-back plays on the drive, and the Vikings ran a read-option handoff on third down, choosing to play it safe and take the points.

Bridgewater put the first sack on himself, saying he had a run-pass option and chose to throw, but Jerry Hughes beat Matt Kalil on a quick inside move. Then, Marcell Dareus got to Bridgewater after looping around Jarius Wynn on a stunt, sliding by Phil Loadholt and dropping the quarterback for a nine-yard loss.

"We didn't do well enough. We lost," Loadholt said. "That's what I say every time. Everybody always asks, 'How did the line play, how did the line play?' When we lose, we didn't play well enough. When we win, it doesn't really matter. It doesn't really matter. We didn't win, so we didn't do well enough and we need to play better."

The numbers would suggest the Vikings protected Bridgewater a little better Sunday than they did the previous week against Detroit, despite losing center John Sullivan and right guard Vlad Ducasse to injuries on the same play. The quarterback was only pressured on 25.8 percent of his dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information, after facing pressure 36.2 percent of the time against the Lions. And the Bills had to bring extra rushers to get to Bridgewater, blitzing on 12 of his 31 dropbacks.

But questions persist about the Vikings' pass protection. And whether or not too much blame is being fixed on the offensive line, a unit that was supposed to be a strength -- and was being paid like one -- hasn't played up to par. Correcting the problem could get more difficult if Sullivan isn't available to direct protections this week, though the Vikings will be facing a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that has just nine sacks on the season. Still, it will take a clean afternoon of protecting Bridgewater to turn down some of the volume about the Vikings' offensive line.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Minnesota Vikings' 17-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday:

Zimmer: Not coaching was never a thought: Coach Mike Zimmer had a "minor procedure" to deal with kidney stones on Friday but told Fox's broadcast crew in a production meeting that he'll need more work done to remove them on Tuesday. He coached in some pain on Sunday, but Zimmer said there was never any doubt he'd be able to coach on Sunday. "I'll be all right," Zimmer said.

Greenway
Greenway on fourth down: "You can't have it" -- The mood was somber in the Vikings' locker room after a loss in which the team gave up a game-winning touchdown with one second left. It was a defeat eerily similar to the five games where the Vikings blew last-minute leads last season, and the Bills extended this drive on a couple of key plays: a fourth-and-20 where Kyle Orton found tight end Scott Chandler just behind Chad Greenway, and a third-and-12 that got the Bills to the Vikings' 20. "You check off every thing you want to do, you do it -- other than maybe stopping the run," Greenway said. "The game wasn't over, and they were able to make some big throws at the end. The [fourth-and-20], you can't have it. It's a situation where you've got to get off the field. I thought I was in a good spot. Perfect throw and catch. That's what sucks about this game: You play good for a long time, and you end up losing."

Ducasse felt "sharp pain" in knee: Guard Vlad Ducasse, who was already filling in for injured starter Brandon Fusco, left the game with a knee injury late in the first quarter, on the same play that also saw center John Sullivan leave with a concussion. Ducasse wasn't sure how he hurt his knee; "I just went to get up off the ground, and there was a sharp pain in my knee." Ducasse did not return, and Mike Harris played the rest of the game at right guard.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It would appear Chad Greenway has a good chance to get back on the field this Sunday after a three-game absence.

Greenway was with the Minnesota Vikings at the start of their practice Wednesday afternoon, after doing some limited work on Friday for the first time since he broke three ribs on Sept. 21 in New Orleans. As the veteran returned, linebacker Gerald Hodges -- who started the last three games in Greenway's place -- was sitting out of practice after injuring his hamstring Sunday, so Greenway could have an open path back to his spot as the starting weakside linebacker.

Coach Mike Zimmer said on Wednesday afternoon he would "possibly" consider making changes to the starting five on the Vikings' offensive line after the team gave up eight sacks on Sunday, but the Vikings had the same five starting linemen from Sunday's game -- Matt Kalil, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Vlad Ducasse and Phil Loadholt -- working together during the open portion of Wednesday's practice.

Cornerback Jabari Price and defensive end Corey Wootton also appeared to not be practicing, and tight end Kyle Rudolph, of course, remains out with a sports hernia.
 
MINNEAPOLIS -- Defensive end Corey Wootton, who signed a one-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday, will get a $400,000 signing bonus as part of his one-year, $1.5 million deal. That signing bonus is the only guaranteed money in Wootton's contract.

The former Chicago Bears lineman will receive a $1 million base salary and a $100,000 workout bonus in addition to the signing bonus, according to ESPN Stats and Info. He can also earn up to $500,000 in incentives, and Wootton, who had 7.5 sacks in 2012, could be a solid addition to the team's group of defensive ends. But while Wootton works his way back from a torn hip labrum, the Vikings have little financial exposure in terms of guaranteed money.

The Vikings have just over $12 million in cap space left after signing Wootton. They remain in the running for former New York Jets guard Vlad Ducasse, who is expected to make his decision between the Vikings and two other teams this week.

Free-agency review: Vikings

March, 18, 2014
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Munnerlyn
Most significant signing: The Vikings filled two major holes on defense last week, adding former New York Giants defensive tackle Linval Joseph and former Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. As important as both will be to the roster, Munnerlyn should help solve one of the Vikings' biggest problems from last season. He can line up at slot cornerback on third downs, where teams routinely targeted Josh Robinson last season. Munnerlyn also gives the Vikings the kind of scrappy tackler against the run they had for years in Antoine Winfield.

Most significant loss: Jared Allen will be the Vikings' most high-profile departure, but it's difficult to tell yet how much that will affect the team. New coach Mike Zimmer's system wouldn't have featured Allen the way he'd been used over the past six years in Minnesota, and the Vikings should have their starting defensive line in place with Everson Griffen, Sharrif Floyd, Joseph and Brian Robison. Still, it will be strange not to see Allen lining up at right end in a Vikings uniform this fall.

Griffen
Biggest surprise: It's been clear for some time that the Vikings wanted to re-sign Griffen, but the value of his contract -- which puts him among the highest-paid pass-rushers in the league -- was something of an eye-opener. Griffen will get $20 million guaranteed as part of his deal, though the Vikings put all that guaranteed money in the first two years of the deal. Griffen's best year in the NFL came in 2012, when he posted eight sacks in a part-time role, and he's yet to become the kind of dominant force the Vikings are paying him to be. The contract is a gamble on potential, but the Vikings are obviously confident in Griffen's ability to fulfill it.

What's next: The Vikings still need help at linebacker, though general manager Rick Spielman sounded confident in his young linebackers last week. They remain in contact with former Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton after hosting him on a visit last week, and they will bring in Jets offensive lineman Vlad Ducasse for a visit this week. It's also possible the Vikings look at a corner, and they'll still be in the hunt for a young quarterback come draft time.

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