NFL Nation: NFC North

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings were in the market for a veteran backup quarterback a year ago, believing they needed a steady alternative to Christian Ponder after their first playoff appearance in three years was short-circuited by a disastrous outing from Joe Webb. The Cleveland Browns were looking for the same thing, as new offensive coordinator Norv Turner sought stability behind young starter Brandon Weeden.

Both teams set their sights on former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel, who had needed just four years to go from the ranks of promising young starters to the discard pile. Cassel was seen at that point as an insurance policy who could lend some stability in a pinch -- and was paid as such -- but both Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner hung onto the thought that in the right system, the 31-year-old was still capable of more.

[+] EnlargeMatt Cassel
Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesMatt Cassel seems likely to open the regular season as Minnesota's starting quarterback.
"He'd had some struggles in Kansas City, but he went to the Pro Bowl one year with them," Spielman said. "He came through that whole system with Tom Brady (in New England). That kind of set him apart -- not only the abilities he had, but the experience and the knowledge."

Seventeen months later, as Cassel returns to Kansas City for the Vikings' preseason game this weekend, he has taken a circuitous -- and sometimes bizarre -- route back to the fraternity of NFL starting quarterbacks. It involved a season where Cassel led the Vikings to their first victory of the year, was named the starting quarterback for the next game -- and was deactivated a week later once the Vikings decided to start Josh Freeman two weeks after signing him. The stench of the quarterback situation clung so closely to coach Leslie Frazier that the Vikings fired him after a 5-10-1 season, hiring Mike Zimmer to replace him in January. And after the Cleveland Browns dumped coach Rob Chudzinski and his staff after just one season, Turner -- the offensive coordinator who wanted Cassel in Cleveland -- was hired to work with him in Minnesota.

That chain of events took Cassel from being an afterthought in October to the quarterback the Vikings determined they couldn't lose this spring. He will make his third start of the preseason on Saturday night in Kansas City, and though he hasn't been named the team's starter yet, all signs point to him being on the field for the regular-season opener Sept. 7 in St. Louis. He has developed a productive working relationship with rookie Teddy Bridgewater, intent on paying forward the favor Brady did for him as a young quarterback, and he has a two-year, $10 million contract after opting out of his original 2014 deal in February. As he heads back to Kansas City, Cassel does so in the middle of an impressive reboot of his career.

"We ask a lot of our quarterbacks, and he's able to handle it, plus more," said quarterbacks coach Scott Turner, who was the receivers coach in Cleveland when the Browns were pursuing Cassel in 2013. "He's done a great job of learning the system and really just kind of owning it."

Cassel might have the starting job in his grasp at the moment, but his grip on it is tenuous at best, thanks to Bridgewater's presence. The Vikings didn't trade up to select Bridgewater in the first round in order to keep him on the bench forever, and if Cassel struggles, it could expedite the process of making Bridgewater the starter. Spielman, though, said Cassel, who is now 32, has a unique understanding of his role as a mentor.

"That's what makes Matt so special," Spielman said. "Some guys would probably not be as positive about that situation, but Matt understands where he's at in his career. Even when we signed Matt here, we laid everything out. I don't like to sit there and BS people; this is the circumstance they're coming in. Matt understood everything. There was no question he was going to come in here and compete, regardless, to be our No. 1 quarterback. We're very fortunate to have a Matt Cassel, not only from the ability to play, but also, if that role does reverse, the ability to be a mentor and bring that young one along. That's a hard combination to find."

Cassel is 17-for-22 with a touchdown pass in the preseason, and seems more confident in his role with the Vikings -- to the point where Zimmer has mentioned the need to remind Cassel that while his suggestions are welcome, they don't represent final decisions. In whatever role he's playing, though, the Vikings seem grateful to have him.

"Matt wants to start and play; so does Teddy, and so does Christian," Scott Turner said. "Matt's doing everything he can to prepare himself to be the best player he can possibly be, and that's as far as it goes. I think he understands that Teddy's here, and we think he's going to be a very good player in this league someday. He's not looking into the what-ifs down the road, and I think you've got to commend him for that."

Vikings Thursday practice report

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
3:40
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Some observations from the Minnesota Vikings' practice Thursday afternoon:
  • Peterson
    Peterson
    The Vikings were still without running back Adrian Peterson, who missed practice again Thursday after being gone for personal reasons Wednesday. Peterson wasn't going to play in Saturday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs but is expected to travel to the game with the team. Defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who is still recovering from a bullet wound to his left calf, and linebacker Brandon Watts, who is out with a leg injury, weren't seen at practice. Cornerback Jabari Price and linebacker Gerald Hodges were on the field but were not participating.
  • Much of the Vikings' work again consisted of scout-team offensive snaps against the first-string defense, which meant another busy day for Christian Ponder. The third-string quarterback went 7-for-12, throwing one interception in 11-on-11 work. Matt Cassel hit 11 of his 15 throws and Teddy Bridgewater went 5-for-7. Cassel didn't divulge the Vikings' game plan for Saturday night but said he "expect(s) to play a lot" against the Chiefs.
  • Blair Walsh has hit 47 of 50 kicks in team periods since the Vikings started training camp, according to special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who said he wasn't concerned about a pair of Walsh misses from beyond 50 yards in the Vikings' first two preseason games. "I think he may have missed one from 50, or maybe none, in practice," Priefer said. "If it was one of those deals where he was shanking the ball, I'd be concerned. But he's hitting the ball well. There's a couple things he needs to do with his follow-through, to straighten that out. We've already gone back and looked at a couple game tapes from his rookie year and last year. It's one of those things he's just got to continue to focus on his follow-through and the other little small attributes that make him such a great kicker, compared to other kickers in this league."
  • Priefer said the Vikings used 42 different players on special teams in last Saturday's preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals as coaches try to evaluate whose special-teams contributions should help them win a roster spot. The Vikings will start to use more consistent special-teams units on Saturday against Kansas City as they prepare for the start of the regular season. They'll also try to get Cordarrelle Patterson a kickoff return or two, Priefer said.
  • The moment of the day in practice came when Chad Greenway dropped an interception and angrily kicked the ball into the trees just east of the Vikings' practice field. The ball got stuck in a tree, and several minutes later, Greenway walked into the woods with another football in his hand to perform the old throw-one-ball-into-the-tree-to-knock-the-other-one-down trick. "Didn't you guys do this as a kid?" Greenway said. Seconds later, he emerged with both footballs, proclaiming it'd only taken him one shot to dislodge the one he'd kicked into the tree.

Packers Camp Report: Day 18

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
2:30
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Green Bay Packers training camp:
  • Fans and reporters got their first look at what coach Mike McCarthy's new day-before-a-game practice looks like under his revamped weekly schedule. The session lasted just 58 minutes and featured 54 plays from scrimmage during designated 11-on-11 team periods. It also included a special teams period and individual drills. The entire practice was conducted without pads or shells -- just helmets, jerseys and shorts. McCarthy plans to continue this practice all season. It's the first time in his nine years as head coach that the Packers have practiced the day before a game. In the past, the final session wrapped up about 48 hours before kickoff. The six periods in the practice were: stretching, ball drills, last eight plays of the game, no-huddle, game situations and a 30-minute team period that was cut short with 8:32 still left on the clock.
  • During the game-situations period, a scenario had the Packers trailing 26-24 with 22 seconds left on third-and-7 at the defense's 35-yard line. After Aaron Rodgers threw an incomplete pass, Mason Crosby came on for a 53-yard field goal that he missed wide left. In all, Crosby was just 2-of-4 in the period. His other miss was from 38 yards wide left. He was good from 33 and 43 yards. After starting camp by making 28 of his first 30 kicks (93.3 percent), Crosby has made 17 of his past 22 (77.3 percent) in practice, giving him a camp-long mark of 45-for-52 (86.5 percent). He also has made all three of his field goals in preseason games.
  • Neither McCarthy nor the players were available to the media after practice, so there were no injury updates. However, cornerback Casey Hayward did not participate for the second straight session. After sitting out Tuesday's practice, a day off on Wednesday apparently was not enough to get him back on the field. All McCarthy has said about Hayward is that the team was being smart with him, given his past injury history. Hayward missed all but three games last season because of recurring hamstring problems.
  • Others who did not practice and appear unlikely to play on Friday against the Oakland Raiders were: running back Rajion Neal (knee), center Jordan McCray (shoulder), linebacker Joe Thomas (knee), guard/tackle Don Barclay (knee), receiver Jared Abbrederis (knee), tight end Brandon Bostick (lower leg) and defensive tackle Letroy Guion (hamstring).
  • Rookie tight end Colt Lyerla, who was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday, had his salary officially reduced to $303,000, according to ESPN Stats & Information salary data. Had Lyela made the team, his salary would have been $420,000, but he had what was called a split salary in his contract that calls for his pay to be reduced in the event he landed on injured reserve. That is common among undrafted rookie contracts.
  • After Friday's game against the Raiders (7 p.m. local time at Lambeau Field), there will be only be only two more training camp practices open to the public. They are Monday (11:45 a.m.) and Wednesday (10:15 a.m.)
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- How good do the voters in ESPN’s #NFLRank feel about Green Bay Packers receiver Randall Cobb?

How's this for a sign: He missed 10 games last season yet slipped only two spots from last year. In our second annual rankings, Cobb checked in at No. 66 among all NFL offensive players when Nos. 61-70 were revealed on Thursday.

Perhaps the lingering memory of Cobb was his game-winning, NFC North-winning 48-yard touchdown catch on fourth down with 46 seconds left in the regular-season finale against the Chicago Bears. It came in Cobb's first game back after breaking his tibia and landing on the temporary injured reserve list.

Cobb was on his way to a big season before his injury.

He has become one of Aaron Rodgers' most reliable receivers. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Cobb caught 78 percent of his targets in 2012, second best among wide receivers (Brandon Stokley, 79 percent) that season.

Cobb is the fourth Packers player to make one of the lists. Nos. 51-60 will be revealed on Friday, followed by the rest next week.

Here's a look at the Packers in the rankings so far:

Defense
No. 95: CB Sam Shields
No. 81: DT B.J. Raji

Offense
No. 77: G Josh Sitton
No. 66: WR Randall Cobb
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- A few observations from the Minnesota Vikings' practice on Wednesday afternoon:
  • With Chad Greenway sitting out of team drills because of an injury to his right wrist, Michael Mauti got most of the work with the first team in Greenway's spot. Greenway had a brace on his wrist, but said he hoped to be back at practice on Thursday. The linebacker also will be in charge of the Vikings' huddle this season, coach Mike Zimmer confirmed on Wednesday; the job typically falls to a middle linebacker, but since Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole aren't likely to be on the field on passing downs, the Vikings gave the job of relaying defensive calls to Greenway because he figures to be on the field most of the time.
  • The Vikings continued looking at several safeties next to Harrison Smith, giving Robert Blanton, Chris Crocker and Kurt Coleman work with the first team on Wednesday. They'll continue their audition process on Saturday night in Kansas City, with Blanton -- who missed the Vikings' first two preseason games because of a hamstring injury -- receiving a fair share of the work so the Vikings can evaluate him.
  • On a day where the Vikings spent plenty of time with their scout teams on the field, Christian Ponder got much of the work at quarterback, facing the first-team defense for good chunks of the practice. Ponder threw one interception, when Harrison Smith picked off a pass underthrown into double coverage, but made some nice throws the rest of the day. "I think that Christian has improved a lot since we have had him," Zimmer said. "I still like a lot of things that he does, his athletic ability, his intelligence. I keep seeing that he doesn’t have a good arm -- that’s wrong, too. He’s got a good arm. He throws the ball beautifully, he just didn’t make as many plays during the OTAs as some of the other guys did."
  • As the Vikings get closer to special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer's suspension at the beginning of the regular season, interim special-teams coach Joe Marciano has spent his time working with Priefer and assistant special-teams coach Ryan Ficken to mold his system into the Vikings' way of doing things. "His system and Mike's system are very similar," Zimmer said. "He’s obviously in all the meetings and everything in with Mike all the time. He’s trying to learn the same terminology that Mike is using that so when we do go to St. Louis (for the season opener) it’s all the same."
  • Wide receiver Kain Colter left with trainer Eric Sugarman in the middle of practice, and appeared to have an injury to his right hand.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If the Seattle Seahawks think they have the Green Bay Packers' no-huddle offense figured out from watching Aaron Rodgers run it last Saturday at the St. Louis Rams, they should think again.

According to several Packers' players and coaches, the hand signals they are using in the preseason are nothing like what they will use to combat the noise when the regular season opens in the Pacific Northwest on Sept. 4.

"It's really geared towards our first game," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "So you don't want to show a whole lot. I think our players, particularly, on offense have done a great job with communication. No-huddle is a big part of what we do. To have a set of signals for preseason and a whole different set for the regular season, this is really the first year we've done that. So, we just have a lot more going on."

The reason for the different hand signals is two-fold:

1. The Packers want to keep the Seahawks guessing.

2. They believe several of the players they cut in their roster reduction at the end of camp may be picked up by other teams on their schedule.

"It's tough, especially when you play in a no-huddle situation," quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said. "You have 90 guys in camp but 53 are going to be around so, obviously, some people aren't going to be here. You try to have the second group of signals ready to go. Use the ones we use in camp then say, 'All right, guys, let's wipe the slate and here's the new set.' That's part of dealing with crowd noise is having the ability to change signals. Maybe one week the signal is 'this,' and the next week the same signal becomes the double move off of that. Just try to keep the defense guessing."

While much of the talk this offseason has been about what new wrinkles defensive coordinator Dom Capers may throw at the Seahawks that they have never seen from the Packers before, there's also plenty McCarthy wants to be a surprise from Rodgers & Co. That's why at the start of practice, when the defense is outside going through its pre-practice walk-through, the offense works behind the closed doors of the Don Hutson Center.

"It's the same offense; it's just different plays," receiver Jordy Nelson said. "It's nothing difficult. It's just plays that, as I said, us older guys have seen every play in the book. There's just plays that we'll probably run more throughout the season than what we'll run in the preseason. Preseason games are very vanilla and watered down. We're just getting more into those plays that might be deeper in the playbook. It's nothing difficult."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Josh Sitton is no longer an unknown commodity around the NFL.

Last season, the Green Bay Packers left guard was named to the Associated Press' All-Pro second team.

And now the seventh-year veteran has cracked the ESPN #NFLRank project, which picks the top 100 players on each side of the ball. When players 71-80 were revealed on Wednesday, Sitton popped up at No. 77.

He's the third Packers’ player to show up in the rankings so far, but the first on the offensive side of the ball.

ESPN Stats & Information has come up with nuggets about each player selected and had this to say about Sitton:

"Sitton and the Packers' offensive line allowed their running game to average 2.9 yards before contact per rush last season, fifth best in the NFL. Sitton played more offensive snaps than any other Packer last season.”

Packers in the rankings so far:

Defense
No. 95: CB Sam Shields
No. 81: DT B.J. Raji

Offense
No. 77: G Josh Sitton
Joseph
Houston
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- A Chicago Bears defender finally made the cut in our NFLRank project, which commenced with Day 3 on Wednesday as ESPN continued to rank the top 100 players on offense and defense, with defensive end Lamarr Houston checking in at No. 80.

The latest rankings grouped players between Nos. 80 through 71. Bears tight end Martellus Bennett made the list on Tuesday with a No. 82 ranking.

Read more on Bennett and his ranking, here.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Oakland Raiders posted a sack on 7 percent of pass attempts with Houston on the field, compared with 4.5 percent of attempts when he wasn’t on the field. Perhaps that’s why the Bears made Houston the jewel of their class of free agents, signing him in March to a five-year deal worth $35 million.

Bears general manager Phil Emery believes Houston is starting to come into his prime as a defender.

“Obviously watching tape of him, Lamarr has matured into a very versatile, powerful, tough, physical, productive player, and we’re very happy to have him as a member of the Chicago Bears,” Emery said after the signing.

A fifth-year veteran, Houston is coming off a 2013 season in which he racked up a career-high six sacks for 52 yards in losses. Houston led Oakland’s defensive linemen last season with 71 tackles, forced two fumbles and collected 10 tackles for lost yardage.

Packers Camp Report: Day 17

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
7:45
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Green Bay Packers training camp:
  • Most people think the Packers signed Julius Peppers to rush the quarterback, and they did. But don't underestimate his worth to the run defense. That was on display during Tuesday's full-pads practice during the half-line running drill. Peppers tossed aside fullback Ina Liaina like a ragdoll and almost immediately was in the backfield, where he hogtied running back Michael Hill for a loss. On the next snap, he beat tackle John Fullington to force the ball carrier to turn inside and into traffic. Peppers also had a tackle for loss in Saturday’s preseason game against the Rams.
  • In a sign that undrafted rookie outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott has moved up the depth chart after his three-sack performance against the Rams, he was on the No. 1 punt team in practice on Tuesday. He lined up at right tackle, a spot that had been occupied by tight end Brandon Bostick before his injury. That’s the first time Elliott has appeared on a top special teams unit. Elliott also was working outside with the regular defense during the early portion of practice. In the past, he had been relegated to scout-team work inside the Hutson Center during that time.
  • Bostick had no clearer of an idea about whether he can return from his leg injury in time for the season opener at Seattle on Sept. 4 than coach Mike McCarthy did a day earlier. However, Bostick on Tuesday confirmed that his injury is to his right leg (although he declined to give specifics other than to say it will not require surgery) and had nothing to do with his broken foot that ended his 2013 season. That injury was to his left foot, which required surgery to place a screw in the broken bone. "I still have time before the season starts," Bostick said. "So hopefully I'll be pretty good."
  • Mason Crosby made 5 of 6 field goals with his only miss from 44 yards (wide right). He was good from 33, 38, 42, 46 and 53 yards to run his training camp-long mark to 43-of-48 (89.6 percent). He is 3-for-3 in preseason games.
  • For the first time all camp, rookie center Corey Linsley took some team reps at guard during team periods. If Linsley is going to make the team, which looks likely, the fifth-round pick will need to show he can back up more than one position in order to be active on game day.
  • Cornerback Casey Hayward, who missed all but three games last season because of a hamstring injury but has participated fully in training camp this year, was limited on Tuesday. McCarthy said it was precautionary "just because of his history." He said guard T.J. Lang banged his shoulder late in the two hour and 16-minute practice. Otherwise, there were no new injuries.
  • There is no practice on Wednesday but the players will have their regular schedule of meetings, film work and walk-through sessions at Lambeau Field. The next open practice is Thursday at 10:30 a.m. local time.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Jay Cutler's interactions with teammates and the media always seem to creep into the narrative about the quarterback, and on Tuesday Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said "we've absolutely noticed a difference in Jay."

Cutler admits he's changed, too.

Cutler
"It might be true. Anytime you are in an offense and have the same group of guys around you, it's going to be more comfortable. It is for me anyway," Cutler said. "I like the group of guys we have in the locker room, understand what we are doing offensively. And it's early. It's still preseason with you guys."

Described as petulant to the media in the past with televised on-field blowups with teammates and coaches as evidence that he's been difficult to get along with, Cutler hasn't displayed such qualities so far. But to Cutler's credit, he didn't in 2013 either.

Going into 2014, Kromer believes Cutler is taking on more of a leadership role. He's moved on to a new staff led by an offensive-minded head coach in Marc Trestman. He's finally protected well, and not taking unnecessary punishment every time he drops back to pass. He's surrounded by a bevy of weapons on offense, and playing in an offensive system he believes in strongly on a new seven-year contract.

"I think everyone in the building has noticed a difference in Jay," Kromer said. "None of us knew Jay very well before getting here last year, and we worked through the year and that first year is always hard on everybody. But what I see in Jay Cutler right now is a guy that's the leading the group; a guy that is approachable, and is working to make everybody better because he realizes it's important that everybody is on the same page with him."

New receiver Santonio Holmes admitted as much Monday, saying the quarterback has "taken me under his wing, talked to me, and kept me close." The expectation is Cutler's approach will translate into victories this season. During training camp, Brandon Marshall called Cutler "a totally different person," adding that "I think he has great balance in is life now."

"He's talked with receivers. He's talked with linemen. He's working with running backs constantly," Kromer said. "That's a maturity on his part of knowing the offense, knowing what we want as coaches and feeling good about being the leader that he is. It's been a very good start of the year that way."

Will it continue? Well, it did in 2013 despite the Bears finishing 8-8 in a season in which Cutler was forced to miss time due to injuries on two occasions.

Cutler seems to now totally understand the value of making everyone else around him better, which is part of the reason that within an hour of Holmes signing his contract on Saturday, the two were on the field together working on plays to develop a rapport as quickly as possible. Cutler displayed similar qualities in 2013, too.

"If Santonio Holmes is going to play, Jay's going to rely on him," Kromer said. "Jay knows he has to be on the same page with him. So the faster he can get to know him, the better off he's going to be and that's Jay's goal."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Mike McCarthy has not named a starting center, tight end or free safety.

But Green Bay Packers training camp is in its fourth week, and the coach has not made changes at any of those positions where there was a new starter to be found.

For that matter, there has not been a single starting job that has changed hands since practice began on July 26 -- something that has to be a first in McCarthy's nine training camps as head coach.

[+] EnlargeRichard Rodgers
AP Photo/Mark ZaleskiRookie TE Richard Rodgers has been a part of the Packers' process in building continuity this preseason.
With half the preseason gone, if a starting lineup change was coming, it probably would have happened in practice this week.

But the same players who have taken the regular starter's reps since camp opened were in their usual spots as the Packers began preparation for the third preseason game, at home against the Oakland Raiders on Friday, when the starters likely will see their most extensive action of the preseason. Some of them will then sit out the preseason finale in preparation for the season opener at the Seattle Seahawks.

That likely means that barring injury between now and Sept. 4, the Packers will open the regular season with JC Tretter as their starting center, rookie Richard Rodgers as their starting tight end and Micah Hyde at free safety. All three have started each of the first two preseason games, and all three were in those same spots on Monday and Tuesday.

"Teams that play together, particularly practice together every day, get better," McCarthy said. "That's always been my experience. The opportunity to grow takes time on the practice field. Obviously, once you start getting into the games, you have the opportunity to grow there. The continuity's been good."

That does not mean there won't be some variety from play to play or series to series. McCarthy has multiple personnel groups on offense just as coordinator Dom Capers does with his defense. For example, the Packers will use more than one tight end. And on defense, first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will play some safety when Hyde moves to the slot cornerback in some sub packages.

"We're still trying to play as many different combinations of players as we move forward," McCarthy said. "You'll see some of those changes as we get ready for Oakland and the way we go about it Friday night against Oakland. We have targets that we're trying to hit based on schemes we’re trying to run [with] different combinations of players. The biggest thing is the same guys are practicing every day together. It's been good that way."

Perhaps that's why when the No. 1 offense took the field for the first time as a complete unit on Saturday at St. Louis, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Co. put together a pair of 12-play drives that resulted in a touchdown and a field goal in their only action of the preseason so far.

"It's really important," Rodgers said of the continuity. "Although there were some questions early on about the center position, I think JC definitely separated himself, and we were really able to operate as a No. 1 offense with really, other than the tight end position, not many of those spots where there's a gray area on who was going to be the guy."

There has not even been much turnover at the bottom of the roster. General manager Ted Thompson claimed receiver Gerrard Sheppard off waivers on July 30 and that's the only other roster move the Packers have made since was last week's trade of defensive end Jerel Worthy to the New England Patriots for a conditional seventh-round draft pick.

"Sometimes you keep adding to the mix, it gets too salty," Thompson said. "Sometimes you have to stop and say, 'OK, let's try to figure this out.' And quite frankly it's just a reflection of where you are, if you've gotten somebody nicked up. When we claimed Sheppard, we had just had a couple of receivers with a bump or two and you don't want to get too light at those running positions, especially early in training camp."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It appears Adrian Peterson's streak of preseasons without a carry will hit three this year.

Peterson
Peterson
Coach Mike Zimmer said the running back is unlikely to play again on Saturday night in Kansas City, adding "I really don't see the need" for Peterson to play at all in the preseason. The Vikings have shifted Peterson's role in their offense, making him a bigger part of the passing game than he's been in the past, but he's gotten enough work in practices, Zimmer said, that he doesn't necessarily need to get any game action before the Vikings kick off the regular season Sept. 7 against the St. Louis Rams.

"We’re grabbing at the ball pretty good. We’re not tackling him or anything," Zimmer said. "He’s doing a great job with the protections and the routes and obviously he runs really good. The only concern you have is he might not have been hit enough. But our guys are grabbing at the ball a lot. They’re punching at the ball as he’s running in there. I talked to him about those things.”

Peterson didn't sound terribly distraught about sitting out the exhibition season, either. He said it didn't matter to him if he played on Saturday, adding he feels comfortable enough in the Vikings' offense to miss the game. "I'm wired up (for the season)," he said. "I'm ready to go."

The Vikings first held Peterson out of preseason action in 2012, after he was returning from knee surgery, and the plan worked so well -- before Peterson's 2,097-yard season -- that former coach Leslie Frazier decided to keep the ball out of Peterson's hands before last season, too, playing him for one series in the team's third preseason game but not giving him the ball. Now, as Peterson enters his eighth season, he should be as fresh as the Vikings can get him.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- You know that discussion we were having about Christian Ponder's future? Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer effectively put an end to it.

Ponder
Ponder
When asked on Tuesday how many quarterbacks he would be comfortable keeping on the roster, Zimmer said, "I don't think we'll be two quarterbacks, if that's the question you're asking."

By saying the Vikings would be unlikely to drop to two QBs, Zimmer effectively confirmed Ponder will be on the team's opening-day roster. Things can always change, of course, but despite how little the Vikings have used Ponder in camp, they still see value in keeping a third quarterback for emergencies. As we discussed earlier, retaining Ponder would give the Vikings a veteran option in case Matt Cassel were injured or ineffective and the team wasn't ready to put Teddy Bridgewater on the field yet. There's a valid line of thinking that such an insurance policy is worth a roster spot, especially when the most important task the Vikings have in the next few years probably is managing Bridgewater's development correctly.

The trick, of course, is valuing that insurance policy in comparison to other roster construction options, and the Vikings apparently put a high enough premium on it to sacrifice some flexibility elsewhere. They've always had three QBs on their opening-day roster with Rick Spielman as the GM, even as some teams changed their philosophy once the league eliminated a rule in 2011 that effectively made a third quarterback a free roster spot on game days.

So there you have it; barring some kind of change, it appears the Vikings will have three QBs on the roster this season. And it's safe to assume, at least at this point, that the third one will be Ponder.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Maybe you've seen the picture from Super Bowl I, when Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson was photographed in full uniform, sitting on a chair in the locker room and taking a drag off a cigarette during halftime of the game against the Green Bay Packers.

Or perhaps you've heard the story of Packers defensive end Ezra Johnson scarfing down a hot dog on the sideline during a preseason game in 1980.

That is not the NFL that Chip Kelly and Mike McCarthy believe in.

"Not to say that stuff didn’t work," Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews joked.

[+] EnlargeClay Matthews
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY Sports"There was a point where you'd smoke cigarettes and eat hot dogs at halftime," Clay Matthews said. "Now, we have specifically designed drinks for us and stuff that gets you up and going."
There has been much written of late about how Kelly, the Philadelphia Eagles' second-year coach, has brought an element of science to the NFL game. An ESPN the Magazine profile of Kelly by Seth Wickersham detailed how the Eagles players "wear mandated heart monitors and GPS devices. Trainers carry water bottles labeled with each player's name and after practice ask the players to pee into a cup, part of Kelly's plan to track hydration. A monitor on a wall in the facility ranks the most hydrated players. Drinking water is now a drinking game."

In a recent Grantland.com story, Chris B. Brown devoted a part of his Kelly profile to explaining how the Eagles take part in a full-speed practice the day before games "rather than the leisurely walk-throughs run by essentially every other team in the league."

If much of this sounds familiar, it's because in preparing for his ninth season as Packers coach, McCarthy has adopted some of the same practices in Green Bay.

This offseason, the Packers hired Catapult Sports, an Australian-based company that uses GPS technology to compile live data on athletic exertion and help determine how injuries can be prevented.

Nearly a month into training camp, and the Packers, who have been crushed by injuries in recent years, had just seven players who sat out of practice on Monday. Only one of them, defensive tackle Letroy Guion, had a muscle pull.

"I don't want to really talk about it, honestly," McCarthy said Monday of the relatively low injury totals. "We have a lot of football left."

McCarthy also altered his weekly routine that will put the players through a practice the day before a game. Previously, all of the Packers' on-field work was completed about 48 hours before kickoff.

"Here we are now getting it going on Saturday," Matthews said. "It's a fast, crisp practice. The next thing you know [the game is] the following day. So it doesn't feel like there's a lull. It doesn't feel like there's a wait until the game. You just kind of roll right into it."

And then this summer, the Packers hired nutritionist Adam Korzun, who previously worked at the University of Oregon, where it just so happens Kelly coached before jumping to the NFL in 2013. Korzun has been working closely with strength and conditioning coach Mark Lovat.

"These are … discussions that have been going on for some time," McCarthy said when asked about the comparisons to Kelly's program. "Mark Lovat does a great job staying on the front end of the research and the stuff that's out there. We've done a pretty good job around here training our players and winning games.

"We're about winning championships. Anything we feel we can do better, we're going to do our due diligence, go through it. Never want to just do something because someone else did it. But if they're doing something that's better than what we're doing, then we're going to do it. This is the Green Bay Packers. We have tremendous resources and our organization gives us that each and every year, and we feel the changes we made have been for the best."

Matthews' younger brother Casey is a linebacker for the Eagles, but he said the two have not spent much time discussing the similarities of their respective team’s use of sports science. Clay Matthews said he has done some reading about what the Eagles are doing, and it sounds a lot like what's going in Green Bay. Matthews said the Packers are monitoring players' hydration levels by checking urine samples on a regular basis just like the Eagles do.

"Seeing this change, I'm able to buy into it," Matthews said. "And I think the other players are too just because of the science behind it."

Receiver Randall Cobb, who said he has changed his eating habits and has not eaten red meat in three months, said the team has done sleep studies to give players more information about their health and conditioning.

"Now it's on us as pros to go out and do those things," Cobb said. "They're giving us the education and helping us understand that what we can be doing to help ourselves."

This is not the NFL of Dawson and Johnson, of halftime smoke breaks and sideline sausages.

"I just think it's the natural progression of the league," Matthews said. "There was a point where you'd smoke cigarettes and eat hot dogs at halftime. Now, we have specifically designed drinks for us and stuff that gets you up and going."

Packers Camp Report: Day 16

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
9:30
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Green Bay Packers training camp:
  • Maybe Monday will be remembered as the day the light went on for first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. After going 15 straight practices without an interception, the rookie safety picked off two passes during a one-hour and 29-minute session without pads inside the Don Hutson Center. Clinton-Dix's first pick came off fourth-string quarterback Chase Rettig, who badly overthrew receiver Chris Harper. His second one was a little more impressive because it came on the second play of the two-minute drill by the starting offense. Running back James Starks let a dump-off pass from Aaron Rodgers ricochet off his hands and Clinton-Dix plucked it out of the air. You could argue that both interceptions were gift-wrapped to him, but at least he made a couple of plays. "I thought it was great to actually touch the ball again after a while, so that felt good," Clinton-Dix said.
  • The defense won both two-minute drills, although Matt Flynn went a little longer with the No. 2 offense than Rodgers' two-plays-and-out possession. Flynn directed an eight-play drive that ended on fourth-and-10 from the defense's 21-yard line. On the last play, safety Chris Banjo picked off a pass that went off the outstretched hands of tight end Justin Perillo.
  • Other than the two-minute period, it was a stellar day by both Flynn and Scott Tolzien, who remain in a competition for the backup job. Flynn's best throw was on a deep corner route to Alex Gillett. He placed the ball perfectly out of the reach of cornerback Jarrett Bush. Tolzien had a couple of noteworthy throws, a go route down the right sideline that Myles White caught without breaking stride and a 30-yard corner route to Perillo over Clinton-Dix. "I thought they had sharp practices," coach Mike McCarthy said of Flynn and Tolzien. "It was our best tempo of the year. We were done extremely early in every period and the takeaways by the defense in the two-minute drill obviously added to that, so I was very pleased with the energy and the tempo. I think it's going to be a lot of good video. So, I thought both of those guys did a lot of good things."
  • The only new injury was to tight end Brandon Bostick (lower leg). He is expected to miss the rest of the preseason. Others who did not practice were: running back Rajion Neal (knee), tight end Colt Lyerla (knee), offensive lineman Don Barclay (knee), receiver Jared Abbrederis (knee) and defensive tackle Letroy Guion (hamstring). McCarthy would not say whether Abbrederis or Barclay had their ACL reconstruction surgeries yet. Both will eventually be placed on injured reserve.
  • For the first time all camp, rain forced practice inside the Don Hutson Center. That means there are only four open practices left in training camp. The next one is Tuesday at 11:45 a.m. local time.

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