NFC North: Xavier Rhodes

MAPLE GROVE, Minn. -- The interception Xavier Rhodes made during the Minnesota Vikings' organized team activity on Wednesday afternoon was, in a way, low-hanging fruit for a NFL defensive back; Matt Cassel had thrown a hitch route near the sideline, giving Rhodes ample time to diagnose the play and step in front of the ball, snatching the ball away with a clear path to the end zone.

It's a play Rhodes had made plenty in college, but there was something more to it at the NFL level -- some reason why it excited defensive backs coach Jerry Gray to the point where he yelled, "It's about time!" as Rhodes stepped in front of the pass.

Speaking about it a day later at the Vikings Children's Fund golf tournament on Thursday, Rhodes knew exactly what the difference was: He'd gotten to a point where he could trust himself enough to jump a throw from a NFL quarterback, confident he'd read the play correctly and would be able to beat the receiver to the ball. As effectively as Rhodes played press coverage late last season, he didn't come away with an interception as a rookie. He thinks he's got the instincts to change that now.

"You get to a point where you're at the top level, and you just don't trust yourself," Rhodes said. "You're going against someone as good as you. It's just a matter of time until you really trust and believe in yourself."

Rhodes is a better fit in the Vikings' new system, which will ask him to play more press man coverage, than he was in their old Cover 2 scheme. After getting eased into the Vikings' nickel package last year, he'll likely line up at right cornerback this season, and could turn out to be the team's top cover corner.

If he's learned when to break on passes and turn several of the nine pass breakups he had last year into interceptions, all the better.

"He has got great acceleration, he's learning the techniques much better, he's staying on point much better," coach Mike Zimmer said. "The thing I'm impressed with, the things that we talk about (that) he needs to improve, the next day he's working on it. We'll go in the meeting room here in a minute and we'll talk about the next process to where he is going, but I'm excited about him. He's doing well."

MINNEAPOLIS -- Perhaps the sternest test of Mike Zimmer's ability to remake the Minnesota Vikings' defense will come in an 18-day stretch from Sept. 14 to Oct. 2, when the Vikings will play four consecutive games against Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers, effectively staking their playoff hopes on their ability to stand up to some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

In many ways, the Vikings will have to fix two of their biggest problems from last season in the first month of the season if they're going to have any shot at relevance. They didn't win a road game last season (their victory in London was technically a "home" game), and they'll start the year against a St. Louis Rams team that went 5-3 at home last season before playing games at the Superdome and Lambeau Field in the next five weeks.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Dunlap
AP Photo/David KohlMike Zimmer's defense made things challenging for Aaron Rodgers last season.
But the Vikings' struggles against top quarterbacks, if left unchecked, will be an even more pervasive problem in the first part of the season. The Saints, Packers, Falcons and Patriots were the league's second-, sixth-, seventh- and 10th-best passing teams last season, and the Vikings come out of that stretch with an Oct. 12 game against the Detroit Lions, who threw for the third-most yards in the league. Essentially, the message of the Vikings' 2014 schedule is this: Fix your defense and fix it quickly.

Fortunately for the Vikings, Zimmer's had some success slowing down the quarterbacks the Vikings will face -- particularly Rodgers. The Packers quarterback faced the Cincinnati Bengals twice while Zimmer was their defensive coordinator, and lost both games. Last year, he hit 26 of 43 passes for 244 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions against the Bengals, and was sacked four times. And while he threw for 311 yards against the Bengals in 2009, he was sacked six times and fumbled twice (losing one) in a 31-24 loss.

Brady also faced the Bengals twice in that time, with unimpressive results. He went 1-1 in a pair of games against Cincinnati, completing 43 of his 73 passes for 455 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. After picking them apart in a 2010 win, he had arguably his worst game of the season against them last year, completing just 18 of his 38 passes for 197 yards and an interception in a 13-6 loss.

Brees and Ryan both fared well in their lone efforts against Zimmer's defense, each beating a 4-12 Bengals team in 2010. They were two of just four quarterbacks to surpass 290 yards against Cincinnati that season, posting 313 and 299, respectively.

Zimmer's defense employs plenty of man coverage, mixed with some zone principles, and counts more heavily on cornerbacks winning one-on-one matchups than the Vikings' old scheme did. That seems like a good fit for second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes, and Captain Munnerlyn should help the Vikings' defense, as well, but secondary depth is paramount to surviving matchups with teams that will put as many receivers on the field as the Vikings' early-season opponents will.

The other thing to watch is how effectively the Vikings can pressure the top quarterbacks they'll face, particularly with some of Zimmer's creative blitzes. The Bengals didn't bring extra pressure after Brady and Rodgers all that often last year -- on just 12 and 11 dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information -- but what's worth noting is just how much they rattled those two quarterbacks. Brady had just a 2.2 QBR against the Bengals' blitzes last year, and Rodgers' QBR was only 8.0, as he was forced into checkdowns and didn't complete a pass of longer than 8 yards against the blitz. Considering how lethal those two quarterbacks have been against the blitz in their careers -- to the point where many teams don't try to send extra pressure -- Zimmer's ability to throw them off is impressive. He did it well against Matthew Stafford last season, too, holding the Lions quarterback to just 33 yards and a 5.0 QBR on 13 blitzes.

The key variable to all this, of course, is talent, and it remains to be seen if the Vikings' personnel is as effective in Zimmer's scheme as what the Bengals had last season. But the additions of Munnerlyn and defensive tackle Linval Joseph, the development of Rhodes and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and the health of safety Harrison Smith should help. If Zimmer and defensive coordinator George Edwards can coax more out of players like defensive end Everson Griffen and figure out the Vikings' linebacker situation, they'll likely receive credit for it early, because the Vikings' progress will be graded against some of the toughest opponents they'll see all season.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The fact that the Minnesota Vikings head into the 2014 season in need of secondary help should come as no surprise -- not for a team that allowed the most passing touchdowns, the second-most passing yards and the most points in the NFL last season. What might be more startling is just how long the Vikings have had a blighted secondary, and how unable they've been to alleviate at least some of the problem through a favorite method of some of their rivals.

The last time the Vikings had a player intercept more than four passes in a season was 2005, when Darren Sharper marked his migration from Green Bay to Minnesota with a nine-interception, two-touchdown season in just 14 games. Since then, the Vikings have intercepted just 104 passes -- the third-fewest in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information -- and have been unable to use turnovers to mask the league-worst 30,875 passing yards they've allowed.

[+] EnlargeJustin Gilbert
J.P. Wilson/Icon SMIThe Vikings could turn to Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert in the draft as a solution to their turnover problem.
The Packers and Chicago Bears haven't been much better, allowing the 15th- and 11th-most passing yards since 2006, but unlike the Vikings, they've had secondaries able to stop drives with turnovers. Green Bay's 178 interceptions are the most in the league since 2006, followed by Chicago's 159. In fact, the three teams with the most interceptions since 2006 -- the Packers, Bears and New England Patriots -- all rank in the bottom 15 of yards allowed, and the Packers and Patriots have given up the 5th- and 12th-most touchdown passes, respectively (the Vikings have allowed the third-most).

What can change the Vikings' long-running turnover drought? New coach Mike Zimmer's defensive scheme won't necessarily accomplish it naturally; the Cincinnati Bengals tied for 16th in interceptions since Zimmer took over in 2008, though they did pick off 23 more passes than the Vikings in that time. A Minnesota defense that ranked even in the middle of the league in takeaways would be a major improvement.

Safety Harrison Smith has shown signs of being a ballhawk -- he tied for the team lead in interceptions as a rookie (with three), brought two of them back for touchdowns and posted two more interceptions in just eight games last season. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn also returned his last four interceptions with the Carolina Panthers for touchdowns. Though cornerback Xavier Rhodes doesn't have a NFL interception after posting only eight in three years at Florida State, he's got the height and leaping ability to take passes away from receivers.

But the Vikings' lack of takeaways are part of the reason a player such as Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert could make so much sense in the draft, particularly if Minnesota trades back from the eighth pick. Gilbert had seven interceptions last season for the Cowboys, bringing two back for touchdowns, and has both the closing speed and vertical leap to create turnovers. Putting him opposite Rhodes, with Munnerlyn in the slot, would give the Vikings a nice setup for years to come: two physical corners and a heady slot corner, all with Smith playing behind them. That kind of a secondary would have enough big-play ability that a rise in takeaways would seem likely, along with a decrease in porous pass coverage.

That was particularly evident last season when opponents tried to stretch the Vikings deep; they allowed a league-worst 14 touchdowns on passes that traveled 15 yards or more last season, according to ESPN Stats &Information, while intercepting just six passes. Those long-traveling passes can naturally turn into interceptions, and it's probably no coincidence that five of the nine teams that picked off the most deep passes -- including the Bengals -- went to the playoffs last year. Even if the Vikings' secondary isn't completely airtight next season, turnovers can be a salve, as the Kansas City Chiefs proved; they allowed 11 touchdowns of 15 yards or more, but intercepted 10 such passes on their way to an 11-5 record.

As the Vikings assess their secondary needs, finding a way to create more turnovers is certainly worth their consideration, especially when some of the teams around them have been so effective at using them to paper over some of their own flaws.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings players are on a one-week break from the team's offseason workout program, and many of them will return next week for the team's voluntary veteran minicamp. The Vikings got to start their offseason program two weeks earlier than most teams, after hiring new coach Mike Zimmer, but that doesn't mean they get to have a longer program than the rest of the league. As such, players are on their own this week, though there are still handfuls of players working out at the team's facility.

But when the Vikings do get back together, they'll likely have high attendance for their minicamp, as they've had for the beginning of their offseason program and they've had for their programs in years past. For many players, in addition to a chance to get extra work with teammates and make a good impression on coaches, there's money to be earned by participating in the team's offseason program.

Like many teams, the Vikings include workout bonuses in the contracts of veteran players, offering them an incentive to spend time in a structured program where the team can keep track of what they're doing and give them opportunities to work with players. The bonuses generally aren't offered to players in their rookie contracts, but some draft picks, like cornerback Xavier Rhodes and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, have $100,000 bonuses in the fourth year of their rookie deals.

This season, the Vikings could pay out as much as $1,695,000 in workout bonuses to players who participate in the majority of their offseason program. Those bonuses range from $250,000 (for running back Adrian Peterson) all the way down to $10,000 (for cornerback Josh Robinson and long-snapper Cullen Loeffler). Peterson, of course, hasn't been with the team yet during its offseason workouts, instead staying in Houston to do rehab work after his January groin surgery, but he said earlier this month he hopes to join the Vikings for their offseason program soon.

Here is the full list of the Vikings' 2014 workout bonuses, according to ESPN Stats & Information contract data:

MINNEAPOLIS -- We're continuing our review of the Minnesota Vikings' recent draft history today, with a look at how the team did in 2009:

First-round pick: No. 22 (Percy Harvin, WR, Florida)

Number of picks: 5

Total Draft AV: 109 (T-3rd; Green Bay was the best with a 136 AV)

Highest player AV: Harvin, 39 (4th; Green Bay's Clay Matthews was the best with a 50 AV)

How they did: The 2009 draft, at this point, looks to be one of Rick Spielman's best with the Vikings. He gambled on Harvin when character concerns dropped the dynamic receiver to No. 22, and reaped the benefits both through an electrifying player and a trade package that delivered cornerback Xavier Rhodes (and a third-rounder in this year's draft) when the Vikings finally decided keeping Harvin was untenable. Second-rounder Loadholt has turned into a fixture at right tackle, fifth-rounder Jasper Brinkley is back for his second tour with the Vikings at linebacker, and seventh-rounder Jamarca Sanford has made contributions both as a special teams player and a starting safety.

Pivotal pick: Harvin's failed drug test at the NFL scouting combine had put his draft stock in jeopardy, but the Vikings spent enough time with him before the draft to become convinced they would be able to work with him if they selected him with the 22nd overall pick. He certainly presented some difficult situations for the team in his four seasons with the Vikings, but he proved himself to be a one-of-a-kind talent that could still fetch three draft picks in return when it became clear the Vikings were going to part with him last spring. Even after Harvin clashed with two head coaches, battled migraines and missed nearly half a season with a sprained ankle, it would be tough argue the Vikings weren't better off by rolling the dice on him.

Best pick: As dynamic as Harvin was, Loadholt is the one who could provide the most value in the long run. He's been an important part of the Vikings' offensive line, particularly as a run-blocker, has started all but two games since the team drafted him with the 57th overall pick, and signed a four-year contract with the Vikings just before the start of free agency last March. He's likely to remain on the team's offensive line for years to come.

Worst pick: Third-round pick Asher Allen is the only one who is not still in the league, and the only one the Vikings would probably say didn't work out. He'd started 21 games in three seasons for the Vikings, but had battled concussion issues and abruptly retired before the 2012 season.
MINNEAPOLIS -- A year ago this week, the Minnesota Vikings cut veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield, making Chris Cook the senior member of a secondary the team was gambling could work without a proven veteran in the group. Cook was entering his fourth season and seemed to take the charge of extra responsibility seriously; he went back to school at the University of Virginia over the summer, working toward his degree and making sure to stay out of trouble, and came to training camp proclaiming he was ready to have the kind of breakout season that would lead to a long-term contract.

Cook is on his way out of Minnesota a year later, heading to the San Francisco 49ers on a one-year contract, closing a disappointing chapter of the Vikings' struggles to stock their secondary through the draft. They spent a second-round pick on Cook in 2010, only to see him get suspended for the second half of the 2011 season as he battled a domestic assault charge, struggle with injuries throughout his career and fail to make plays on the ball. His 29 starts without an interception are the second most by a defensive back in NFL history, and his most memorable moments of the 2013 season came on plays he was in position to make but couldn't close out -- such as the touchdown Alshon Jeffery caught over the top of Cook's head on Dec. 1, running almost five yards holding the ball just above Cook's helmet. The cornerback stuck an arm back toward Jeffery, but never turned his head to locate the ball, and was subsequently ejected for making contact with an official, whom Cook argued should have called pass interference two plays before.

Cook is 6-foot-2 and has the size and speed to match up against big receivers, which is why the 49ers are spending a low-risk deal on the chance they can turn him around. But he exits Minnesota as the latest cornerback not to make it after being taken early in the draft. Xavier Rhodes, one of the Vikings' three 2013 first-rounders, looks as though he can play, but 2012 third-rounder Josh Robinson still has much to prove. Cook was a second-rounder in 2010, and 2009 third-rounder Asher Allen was gone after starting 21 games in three seasons. Marcus McCauley, a third-round pick in 2007, washed out of Minnesota after two seasons, and while 2006 second-rounder Cedric Griffin looked as though he'd turn into a solid cornerback, two torn ACLs ended his career. Griffen and 2002 fourth-rounder Brian Williams are the only two Vikings draft picks to start more than three years at cornerback in the last 12 years.

Rhodes has a chance to reverse that trend, and while the Vikings have had plenty of trouble pinning down safeties, Harrison Smith looks like a star on the rise heading into his third season. But the Vikings' inability to stock one of the league's most important positions stands out as a major black mark on their recent draft history. Cook's ignominious exit from Minnesota is only the latest example of it.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Shortly after they finished a deal with former Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, the Minnesota Vikings were preparing to add another cornerback to their roster. According to a league source, the Vikings were finalizing a deal on Thursday night with former San Diego Chargers cornerback Derek Cox, who could add some depth to their group of defensive backs next season.

The 6-foot-1 Cox began last season as a starter for the Chargers, but lost his starting job for good after he was benched three times in four weeks last November. Cox gave up three catches and a touchdown on three targets last Nov. 24 against Kansas City, and didn't play a significant role after that. Still, he had been a serviceable player in 2012, and intercepted four passes that season for the Jaguars. He'd give the Vikings another big corner, and he'd represent a low-risk gamble by the Vikings on the ability of coach Mike Zimmer and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray to get something out of Cox.

He might also represent another closed door for a return by Chris Cook to the Vikings. The four-year player's future seemed uncertain after a conversation with Zimmer last week, and though Zimmer mentioned his ability to improve players who have a history of underachieving, like Cook does, the Vikings' order of business might tell the story better than anything else. They signed Munnerlyn and Cox on the same day Cook was scheduled to visit the San Francisco 49ers, and the Vikings now have eight cornerbacks signed for next season.

Of those eight -- Munnerlyn, Cox, Xavier Rhodes, Josh Robinson, Marcus Sherels, Shaun Prater, Robert Steeples and Kip Edwards -- only a handful might make the team, but the Vikings could also take another cornerback high in the draft. Those players might occupy whatever real estate and cap space was remaining for Cook to make a return to Minnesota.

Kiper's Mock 3.0: Vikings

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
The Minnesota Vikings have the eighth overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, after finishing 5-10-1 in 2014.

While they're in need of a quarterback for the future, they might have bought themselves a little time last week, when they re-signed Matt Cassel to a two-year, $10.5 million deal. Cassel figures to head into the season as the starting quarterback unless he's beat out by a rookie. But if the Vikings can't get one of the top quarterbacks with the eighth overall pick, they could conceivably wait until the second or third rounds to take a QB, rather than reaching for one in the first round.

Instead, a cornerback such as Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert or Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard could make sense with the eighth overall pick, particularly if the Vikings don't sign a proven corner in free agency. If Minnesota could pair another young corner with second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes and third-year safety Harrison Smith, it'd have a secondary to build on for quite some time.

It's also conceivable the Vikings could look for a linebacker in the first round of the draft, possibly pursuing someone who could bring a dose of physicality to their defense. Buffalo's Khalil Mack might be gone by the time the Vikings pick, but someone such as UCLA's Anthony Barr or Alabama's C.J. Mosley could make sense for Minnesota.

Check out Mel Kiper's Mock Draft 3.0 in a few hours to see which players he thinks the Vikings should target with the eighth pick.

Revisiting the Vikings' 2013 draft

January, 24, 2014
Jan 24
MINNEAPOLIS -- After the 2013 draft, ESPN NFL Draft Insider Mel Kiper Jr. gave the Minnesota Vikings a B, for a bold draft that included three first-round picks. Now that the Vikings' 2013 class has logged its first year in the league, though, Kiper Jr. has downgraded his review of the group somewhat.

He gave the Vikings' 2013 draft a C+ in a second review (via ESPN Insider Insider), saying the Vikings didn't get quite as much as one would have expected, given where they were picking. We're not going to share everything Kiper Jr. had to say about the Vikings, since the piece is only available to subscribers, but here is a snippet:

[+] EnlargeSharrif Floyd
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsThe development of defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd could determine how the Vikings' 2013 draft class is viewed in the future.
"If you say the Vikings got a lot of reps from their rookie class in this draft, let's just keep one thing in mind: They drafted three times in Round 1. Considering they had some holes and depth questions at several spots, it's a given they were going to get some guys who should be playing early. But they also needed decent impact, and so far I think it's fair to say we don't yet know what they have."

That's a fair point, and it speaks to the risk the Vikings were taking when they sent a second-, third-, fourth- and seventh-round pick to New England to move back into the first round and take Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson looked like a star kick returner in his first year, but Kiper Jr. called him still a "tertiary threat" in the passing game. Inconsistency at quarterback had plenty to do with that, and many receivers don't blossom until their second or third year in the league, anyway. But after one year, it's fair to say the jury is still out on the group.

Of the Vikings' three first-round picks, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd probably had a smaller impact on the Vikings' roster than did Patterson or cornerback Xavier Rhodes, and it might be Floyd's future that will swing impressions of the group the most. To play devil's advocate for a second, what if the Vikings had passed on Floyd, taken Rhodes at No. 23 and drafted Patterson later in the first round, either at No. 25 or a few picks further back after trading down? We'll admit that feels like revisionist history now, since the Vikings were pleasantly stunned to see Floyd available at No. 23 at the time. But follow us for a second; that course of action would have left the Vikings with three more picks in the first four rounds of the draft to address holes at linebacker and possibly add depth on both lines. We're not saying that what the Vikings did won't work out for the best in the end, but for as much praise as they received after the draft for being bold in the first round, the jury is still out on the class after Year 1, largely because the return on three first-round picks should be significant.

The Vikings enter the 2014 draft with four picks in the first three rounds, including the No. 8 selection in each round, so they will have plenty of chances to fill holes in their roster. But they will also have plenty of holes to fill, and it will be interesting to see how general manager Rick Spielman handles things this year -- whether he'll try to move down in an attempt to stockpile more early round picks, or whether the hunt for an impact player will leave the Vikings with fewer premium picks than they have now. Those are the decisions that face every team in the draft, and the fact the Vikings still have depth issues on their roster might precipitate a different approach this year.

But hey, it's only January, and we've still got 3 1/2 months to chew on this stuff. Ain't it great?
MINNEAPOLIS -- Well, Minnesota Vikings fans, we asked how you felt about Percy Harvin being in the Super Bowl, and you have apparently found closure. That Harvin has only played 1 1/2 games this season and the Vikings received three draft picks in return probably hasn't hurt.

When we asked how you felt about Harvin being in the Super Bowl, 79 percent of you said, "Good for him; the Vikings got plenty back in the trade." Fifteen percent of you wanted to wait and see how the trade plays out, and just six percent of you said the trade still stings, because the Vikings shouldn't have traded him.

The early return on the trade would seem to support your willingness to move on; cornerback Xavier Rhodes, whom the Vikings drafted with Seattle's 25th overall pick, looks like he could be a fixture at cornerback for years, and the Vikings traded back into the first round to draft receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who looks well on his way to replacing Harvin. The Vikings still have a third-round pick coming from Seattle this year, and though that pick will be at the end of the round, it does give the Vikings four picks on the first two days of the draft, and could afford them the flexibility to move up, if they choose to do so.

One interesting nugget from our poll: Two of the states with the largest percentage of people saying the Harvin trade still hurts were Washington and Idaho. The largest number of responders, of course, were in Minnesota, but it does appear there might be some displaced Vikings fans in the Pacific Northwest who are regretting the trade somewhat. Perhaps that's because seeing Harvin in a Seahawks uniform is a more regular occurrence in that part of the country, but in general, it seems like most of you are willing to let go of any ill will about the trade.

Vikings inactives: Rhodes out

December, 29, 2013
MINNEAPOLIS -- Hello from the late, great Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, which sees its final NFL game today as the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions finish their seasons (and possibly the tenures of their respective coaches). We'll have plenty more on that later, but from a competitive perspective, today's game will be missing a few things.

Both the Vikings and Lions are out of the playoff chase, both will be missing their star players (Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson) and both will be missing at least two of their top five cornerbacks. For the Vikings, that means rookie Xavier Rhodes will be out with a sprained ankle. Rhodes had been listed as questionable for the game after working out late last week, but he evidently wasn't able to go today. Chris Cook, Shaun Prater and Marcus Sherels will be the Vikings' top three corners today. Not having to defend Johnson will make things easier, but the Lions showed in September they can gash the Vikings' defense with Reggie Bush, too.

Josh Freeman, of course, ends his season on the inactive list, which could bring his bizarre tenure in Minnesota to a close. Freeman has only been active as a backup quarterback since his "Monday Night Football" debacle in October, and it seems unlikely he'll be in the Vikings' plans going forward, unless a new coach would have some strong ties to him.

Here is the Vikings' full list of inactives:

Vikings: Xavier Rhodes practices again

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the Vikings' full injury report:

Vikings will wait and see on Peterson

December, 23, 2013
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier pulled Adrian Peterson from Sunday's 42-14 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in part because the Vikings' big deficit wasn't worth risking further injury to Peterson's sprained foot. But the Vikings might have to see some improvement in Peterson's condition before they'll put him on the field for Sunday's season finale against the Detroit Lions.

Frazier said the Vikings will make a determination about Peterson's status when they get back on the practice field this week -- the team will practice on Tuesday, while shifting its normal off-day to Wednesday because of the Christmas holiday. It seems unlikely Peterson would do much in practice on Tuesday, but as the week goes on, the Vikings will be monitoring him closely.

He carried seven times for 31 yards in the first quarter on Sunday, but had just four carries after that and was taken out of the game in the third quarter.

"I think there were some moments in that game where he did some good things and some other moments where we just weren’t sure he’d have the burst we normally see, so we all want to see if he’s better this week with some more time," Frazier said. He later added, "We always want to do the right thing by him when it comes to playing the game of football. He means so much to our franchise and organization so we have to be wise when talking about how to use him."

Frazier confirmed that backup running back Toby Gerhart again strained his right hamstring on Sunday, two weeks after his initial injury in Baltimore. He also said middle linebacker Audie Cole will miss the Vikings' final game after suffering a high ankle sprain, which likely means Erin Henderson will start at middle linebacker unless the Vikings decide to take a look at rookie Michael Mauti.

The coach is hoping cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who has missed the Vikings' past two games with a sprained ankle, will also get back on the field for the season finale. "We definitely need him, so we’ll see if he can practice tomorrow or after Christmas."

Peterson, Gerhart active for Vikings

December, 22, 2013
CINCINNATI -- The Vikings won last week without Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, but they won't have to play without either one in Cincinnati on Sunday.

Both Peterson and Gerhart are active for the Vikings, returning from a sprained right foot and strained hamstring, respectively. Peterson will start at running back, with Gerhart backing him up, as usual. It will be interesting to see how the Vikings divide the workload between the two players. Gerhart has played well in recent weeks, and the Vikings might look to take some stress off Peterson two weeks after he sprained his foot.

The Vikings will officially be without cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who was listed as out with a sprained ankle. Shaun Prater will start in Rhodes' place at cornerback after recording his first career interception last week, but as well as Rhodes has played, the Vikings would undoubtedly like to have him to deal with A.J. Green on Sunday.

Here is the Vikings' full list of inactives:

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings won't have cornerback Xavier Rhodes on Sunday in Cincinnati; the rookie will miss his second straight game with a sprained ankle, meaning the Vikings' depleted secondary, which controlled Philadelphia's prolific offense last week, will have to try to do it again to Bengals receiver A.J. Green.

Cornerback Chris Cook should be back from a knee injury that kept him out last week, but Rhodes has been the Vikings' best cover corner in recent weeks, and Cook has struggled at times this season when put on an island against top receivers like Chicago's Alshon Jeffery. Shaun Prater and Marcus Sherels will likely be the corners the Vikings rely on most, other than Cook, and safety Robert Blanton could again see time at cornerback, though he got beat for two touchdowns last week against the Eagles.

Tight end John Carlson is doubtful to play after having recurring post-concussion symptoms this week; coach Leslie Frazier said he hasn't talked with Carlson yet about the possibility of finishing the season on injured reserve, but considering there is only a week left in the season and Carlson has sustained three concussions in the NFL, the Vikings could think about shutting him down for the season.

"We just have to decide what is better for him and what is best for the club and see where he is when we come back and talk again tomorrow and see if he is better," Frazier said.

Here is the Vikings' full injury report:

  • Out: Cornerback Xavier Rhodes (ankle).
  • Doubtful: Tight end John Carlson (concussion).
  • Questionable: Running back Adrian Peterson (groin/foot), running back Matt Asiata (ankle).
  • Probable: All others.