NFL Nation: Adrian Peterson
The Vikings used three different starting quarterbacks during a tumultuous 2013 season, eventually settling on Cassel at the end of the season. Zimmer said on Thursday that Cassel enters camp as the No. 1 QB in his mind, but said on-field performance will determine the Vikings' eventual starter. Peterson also put Cassel at the head of the race, for now.
"I feel like we have three good quarterbacks right now," Peterson said. "Basing everything off OTAs and the minicamps, of course Matt Cassel is our guy. With Christian Ponder and [Teddy] Bridgewater, right there, I’m behind them, but those guys are looking good as well. I have confidence in our organization from the top to the bottom, the head coach. We’re going to do what’s best for our team and the best player will play at any position. I’m just excited to get started tomorrow.”
It's already been a busy month for the running back; he proposed to his girlfriend, Ashley Brown, on July 4 -- "an exciting and explosive night," Peterson called it -- and the two were married in a small ceremony on July 19.
"It was kind of funny because we were talking about going to the court and getting married and just did something more intimate at the house," Peterson said. "I only [had] like, 20 people and just the texts I’ve been getting from family members and my brothers, some of my brothers didn’t make it. It was supposed to be something small and do something later, but plans don’t always work out. I’m sure I’ll hear something from [teammates].”
As for a honeymoon? Peterson said that happened at the Starkey Hearing Foundation gala in St. Paul last Sunday.
"Met Forest Whitaker, Hillary Clinton," Peterson said. "John Legend performed, so it wasn’t bad at all.”
Peterson is the top-rated running back in 'Madden NFL 15,' with an overall rating of 98. EA Sports released its running back ratings for this year's version of the game on Wednesday, and Peterson edged McCoy and Kansas City's Jamaal Charles by a point, a year after carrying a 99 rating and gracing the cover of the next-generation console version of 'Madden NFL 25.' Chicago's Matt Forte and Seattle's Marshawn Lynch are the next-best running backs in the game, with overall ratings of 95 each.
"The ratings pipe right back into the gameplay," Moore said. "We get so many requests and expectations for game play; it's got to be fun, but it's got to be authentic."
Peterson, Moore said, slipped a point for several reasons: His yards per carry dropped from an otherworldly 6.0 in 2012 to 4.5 last season, he fumbled five times (his most since 2009) and he was hampered by injuries for much of last season. Still, there's no one in the game with the combination of speed and power that Peterson has.
"Everybody says, 'What? How is he the top guy? He certainly didn’t have the 2,000-yard season (in 2013), but the overall rating is still a calculation of their attributes," Moore said. "He's a 97 across the board in the three physical categories that matter the most. I don’t think there’s anyone that has that collection of ratings. He's a 93 (in) trucking, 95 (in) elusiveness. When he’s out in the open, he’s not going to be caught. In contact situations, he'll still succeed better than any running back."
Moore said the most time-consuming part of his job is creating rookies for 'Madden,' since the game developers don't rely much on the corresponding characters in EA's college football games (which were discontinued after last season). The college game was more favorable to players, Moore said, than 'Madden' aims to be, so rookie creation means starting almost from scratch.
Vikings rookie running back Jerick McKinnon, Moore said, was "pretty fun to create," in large part because of McKinnon's eye-popping numbers at the NFL scouting combine. The Georgia Southern product bench pressed 225 pounds 32 times, ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash, flashed a 40 1/2-inch vertical and an 11-foot broad jump. "It's easy to rate his physical attributes very well because of how he timed (at the combine)," Moore said. "How he rates on his trucking or his elusiveness remains to be seen, but between his speed, his agility, his acceleration and his jumping, that's pretty nice for a guy from Georgia Southern."
One more Vikings-related note on this year's game, which will be released on August 26: Teddy Bridgewater -- an avid 'Madden' player who reacted with mock indignation to his rating in this year's game -- is the second-best quarterback on the Vikings' roster, a point behind Matt Cassel. Moore said Cassel, Bridgewater and Christian Ponder are "all bunched up in the high 70s," and while Bridgewater was slated to be the top rookie QB in the game when Moore started putting his ratings together, his stock slipped because of his now-famous pro day, just like it did in real life.
"I had to knock his throw power down a point or two," Moore said. "I had him at an 89, and now it's an 87. I think he has the top short accuracy of all the rookie quarterbacks, and his overall accuracy is pretty stellar. His deep accuracy needs to improve. His speed rating is in the low 80s, which puts him in the Aaron Rodgers category (for quarterbacks).
NFL Nation's Ben Goessling examines the three biggest issues facing the Minnesota Vikings heading into training camp.
Quarterback: This will be the biggest storyline surrounding the Vikings in training camp until head coach Mike Zimmer settles on a starter. Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner have pledged to hold an open competition during training camp, though the race really figures to boil down to two quarterbacks: veteran Matt Cassel and rookie Teddy Bridgewater, who both got a significantly larger share of snaps during the Vikings' OTAs and minicamp than Christian Ponder. Bridgewater was impressive in his first work with the Vikings this spring, but unless he's clearly the best of the Vikings' quarterbacks in training camp, Cassel figures to start the season as the quarterback. The Vikings re-signed Cassel so they wouldn't have to rush a young quarterback, and in the process, they created a situation in which they can afford to be patient with Bridgewater. If he's the best man for the job, it doesn't seem likely Zimmer will wait to play him. But if he's not fully ready by the end of camp, there's nothing forcing the Vikings to play the rookie.
Remaking the defense: The Vikings committed $20 million in guaranteed money to defensive end Everson Griffen and guaranteed another $16.95 million to secure the services of defensive tackle Linval Joseph and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. But until training camp, when players put on pads, cornerbacks play press coverage and there's actual contact at the line of scrimmage, it's difficult to assess where the Vikings are in their effort to rebuild a defense that allowed more points than any other unit in the league last season. Rookie linebacker Anthony Barr only had a minicamp with the team as classes at UCLA kept him out of the team's OTAs, but he'll be a prominent figure as the Vikings plan to use the 6-foot-5 linebacker in several different ways. With questions at linebacker (does Jasper Brinkley start in the middle?) and in the secondary (is Josh Robinson good enough to get significant playing time at cornerback?), the Vikings will have plenty to figure out on defense.
New roles for Peterson, Patterson: At age 29, Adrian Peterson is intent on cruising along with his career at a time when most running backs his age start to break down. In Norv Turner, Peterson has a new offensive coordinator who is intent on using him differently. Peterson will be more involved in the Vikings' passing game this season, as Turner and Zimmer seek to convert some of his carries into receptions, giving him more room to work in the open field and making him less likely to take a pounding. Turner also has big plans for second-year receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, whose emergence late last season made many wonder why the Vikings waited so long to make him a big part of the offense. Patterson, who played mostly at split end last season, moved to different spots during the Vikings' offseason program, and Turner seems interested in getting the explosive receiver the ball as much as he can; general manager Rick Spielman said at the NFL scouting combine in February that Turner already had designed about 10 plays for Patterson. If the Vikings can turn him loose in Year 2, he could emerge as one of the NFL's premier playmakers.
MINNEAPOLIS -- In the dozens of celebrity softball games she's pitched, like the one she played at Target Field on Sunday night, former U.S. Olympic pitcher Jennie Finch will inevitably get asked to fire her famous rising fastball in toward a hitter. It makes for good theater with the fans who call for it, and because she usually grants the request spontaneously, Finch is able to surprise (or perhaps terrify) hitters used to seeing pitches lobbed to them.
In the All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game on Sunday, though, Finch said she experienced something for the first time: A hitter actually asked her to dial up the heat.
That hitter would be Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who began ribbing Finch during a Sunday afternoon batting practice session. Peterson only played a handful of baseball games as a kid, he said, and hadn't played in 15 years. If he'd taken any swings since then, he surmised, they might have come when the Minnesota Twins sent him a bat as a gift.
She didn't. She blew the first fastball by Peterson, whose Herculean hack caught only air, and fired two more to the 2012 NFL MVP. What happened next was a matter of some dispute -- Peterson got credit for two foul balls, he said "it's possible" he made contact with one, and Finch contended he didn't connect with any of them. "No -- he's full of it!" she cried with mock indignation when told what Peterson said.
That Peterson even wanted the challenge, though, impressed the gold medal-winning pitcher, who once struck out 24 major leaguers in an episode of "This Week in Baseball."
"I mean, I'm pretty confident -- I expect them to strike out," Finch said. "But he was ready -- he was digging in there. Normally, I catch them off guard."
When Finch brought the speed back down, Peterson grounded out for the second time in the game. He hit a hard grounder to third in the first inning, but rapper Nelly -- wh0's become a regular in the All-Star weekend exhibition and won MVP honors with two home runs -- actually made a slick play to throw Peterson out.
Batting second and playing center field for the American League team, Peterson soon wound up where most defensively-challenged outfielders do: first base. He tried to make a leaping catch in the second inning, but dropped the ball.
"I just missed that one," he said.
Peterson said he enjoyed the experience -- which had him on a team with Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise and retired slugger Jim Thome, among others -- and got a raucous ovation from the Target Field crowd when he was introduced before the game. His swings and misses against Finch also drew the biggest laughs of the night.
"I said, 'Don't take it easy on me. I want you to come with a fastball,' " Peterson said. "She said, 'What else?' I said, 'Changeup.' Initially, I thought she was going to continue to throw them underhand, but she saw I was serious."
Said Finch: "He kept saying, 'You've got to bring it. You've got to bring it.' So, I brought it."
You'll have the opportunity to judge for yourself whether Peterson made any contact in his at-bat; the game airs on Monday night after the Home Run Derby on ESPN.
Bridgewater figures to start training camp behind Matt Cassel, though he'll get a shot to win the job before the season. Even if he sits on the bench for much of 2014, though, Bridgewater will likely be the starter by the time the Vikings open their new stadium in 2016. Assuming he claims the job sometime in the near future, the first-round pick will have to develop quickly if the Vikings want to make the most of Peterson's remaining years as one of the league's best running backs.
Peterson turned 29 in March and will likely see a larger role in the passing game as the Vikings seek to find more balance on offense than they had under coach Leslie Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. That means the quarterback, not Peterson, will likely be the focal point of the Vikings' offense, and eventually it will put the burden on Bridgewater's shoulders to carry the Vikings.
The rookie was impressive during OTAs and the Vikings' mandatory minicamp, though it's hard to accurately assess his progress in such a controlled setting. When he is ready to play, though, Bridgewater will have a clear charge: He'll be asked to create a foundation for the Vikings at the most important position in the game.
The NFC North features a mix of veteran quarterbacks and a rookie in Minnesota who might be in line for significant playing time this season.
Will Teddy Bridgewater put up the most impressive numbers among rookie quarterbacks?
Will Matthew Stafford be directing the most explosive offense in the division now that the Detroit Lions have added weapons?
Will rising star Alshon Jeffery emerge as the Bears' No. 1 target, supplanting Brandon Marshall?
And could the Packers withstand another injury to Aaron Rodgers, as they did last season while winning the division?
These are the questions our NFC North reporters tackle in the latest version of 4 Downs.
Of the three QBs taken in the first round of this year's draft, Teddy Bridgewater will put up the most impressive numbers.
Michael Rothstein: Fact, although not because Bridgewater will be the best quarterback of the first-rounders. Simply, he is going to end up playing more than either Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles this season, so he will have more opportunity. Plus, Minnesota is going to be down in a lot of games this season, so the Vikings are going to have to throw more in the second halves of games. He'll end up having nice numbers, but the number that matters -- the record -- will be ugly.
Rob Demovsky: Fiction, unless Matt Cassel goes down with an injury. There is more pressure on the Browns to play Johnny Manziel right away than there is on the Vikings to play Bridgewater. The same could be said of the Jaguars and Blake Bortles. All three of the first-round quarterbacks have journeyman veterans starting in front of them, so it all depends on which one flames out or gets hurt first. Cassel seems the least likely to do either.
Ben Goessling: I'm going to say fiction, simply because I think he'll have more work to do to get on the field than Johnny Manziel. The Vikings have Matt Cassel and have been giving him many of the first-team snaps during organized team activities and minicamp. So unless Bridgewater is so good that he takes the job away from Cassel in training camp, I think it will be a while before he is on the field in regular-season games. Now, he might be more efficient once he gets in there -- he has certainly looked sharp during the Vikings' offseason program -- but he might not put up many numbers until late in the season, if at all.
@GoesslingESPN True, and it won't be close. Like asking which will have the more pleasant winter: North Dakota, Manitoba, or Hawaii?— Steven Macks (@semacks) June 17, 2014
The Lions will have the most explosive offense in the NFC North this season.
Michael Rothstein: Fact. There are a bunch of good offenses in the NFC North this season, although none improved on paper as much as the Lions. Detroit still has Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell as targets for Matthew Stafford. The Lions added Golden Tate, which is an upgrade from Nate Burleson. They also held on to Joseph Fauria and re-signed Brandon Pettigrew, along with drafting Eric Ebron in the first round. While Ebron's hands are in question, his athleticism and ability to get open down the field are not. As long as Stafford and Johnson stay healthy, there is no reason Detroit should not be a top-10 offense again. They should inch ahead of Green Bay and Chicago, both of which had top-10 offenses as well in 2013.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. It's fact if "implosive" is the word used. Just kidding. But the Lions in the past relied too much on Matthew Stafford forcing the ball to Calvin Johnson, which often led to turnovers and quick three-and-outs. And although the offense features multiple weapons, it's easy to see why the club has operated this way. Megatron is the best in the game. He is going to make plays other receivers can't make. But, to me, it's expected that a team operating a new scheme will experience its fair share of growing pains. I see that happening with the Lions in 2014. I know Stafford has put up big numbers in the past, but I see his inconsistency holding this offense back this season if he doesn't take a big step in his development.
Rob Demovsky: Fiction, unless Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler get hurt again. Do you trust Matthew Stafford more than Rodgers or Cutler for a full 16-game season? At this point, the Bears might have the most explosive offense. They have the best 1-2 receiver punch with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, and the Packers have the best quarterback. Not only do the Lions not have the most explosive offense in the division, they might not even be No. 2.
Ben Goessling: Fiction. They have the talent to have it, but how often do the Lions turn talent and potential into actual results? Give me the Bears, with Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte, or the Packers, now that Aaron Rodgers will be healthy and have a full season with running back Eddie Lacy. I like what Golden Tate gives the Lions opposite Calvin Johnson, and Eric Ebron fits nicely into their scheme, but I think they have the third-best quarterback in the division.
@mikerothstein If Stafford plays the way he can play then fact. Good O-Line, balance runners, best WR and other WR/TE opt— Tom (@tomarmetta) June 16, 2014
Alshon Jeffery, not Brandon Marshall, will be Chicago's go-to receiver in 2014.
Michael Rothstein: Fiction. Jeffery might have had more yards last season, but opponents also are going to be more aware of the former South Carolina receiver this season from the get-go. While his numbers were gaudy a season ago, 467 of his 1,421 yards came in two games. Marshall had a little more consistency last season than Jeffery and was a more consistent target. The real reason Jeffery won't be considered Chicago's go-to receiver next season is that the Bears won't have one on a consistent basis. It will likely change based on matchups, because they are the best receiver duo in the division.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. As long as Jay Cutler is quarterbacking the Chicago Bears, Marshall always will be the go-to receiver. And why not? Marshall is one of the league's best, even when teams focus on stopping him with double teams. Besides that, Marshall, in my opinion, is poised for a big season because he has spent this entire offseason actually training instead of rehabbing an injury. In 2013, it took Marshall, who was coming off hip surgery, about half the season to finally find his groove; yet he still finished with a team-high 100 grabs for 1,295 yards. Last season, Jeffery was probably the beneficiary of extra coverage devoted to a hobbled Marshall. Because of the damage Jeffery did last season, he will start to see more coverage, which should free up Marshall to continue to do his thing. Besides, Marshall was the fifth-most targeted receiver in the NFL last season. Marshall's 163 targets ranked even more than Calvin Johnson, who had 156 passes thrown his way.
Rob Demovsky: Fact, if we're talking about making big plays. Marshall still might end up having more receptions like he did last season; he's Cutler's security blanket. But even last season, Jeffery began to emerge as the bigger playmaker of the two. His 16.0-yard average per catch was 11th best in the league among all receivers last season. He is a freak athlete with great size, making him a matchup nightmare.
Ben Goessling: Fact. Jeffery is six years younger than Marshall and probably is a better deep threat at this point in his career. I thought he was phenomenal last season, and, to me, he might be the second-best receiver in the division right now behind Calvin Johnson. If he is not there yet, he can ascend to that spot by the end of the season. Marshall is still a great receiver, but Jeffery seems ready to become the main man in Chicago's offense.
The Packers can win the division again even if Aaron Rodgers misses nearly half the season, like he did last season.
Michael Rothstein: Fiction. Not a chance. Chicago has improved defensively and should have a more potent offense in 2014, as well as a healthy Jay Cutler for the entire season. Detroit should have a more dynamic offense than in 2013, and the leadership within the Lions should keep the team from collapsing like they did in 2013. Minnesota is likely not a factor this season, but either Chicago or Detroit would take advantage of a Rodgers-less Green Bay team better than they did a year ago.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. In the past, this would definitely be "fact" and it might still be now that the Packers have put together a nice ground game to complement their passing attack. But I just think the rest of the division is starting to catch up to the Packers in terms of overall talent. Every team in the division improved its talent. Detroit's offense should be above average at the very least, and its defense definitely will be better. The Bears will be potent on offense in Year 2 of Marc Trestman's system, and their defense should be improved, especially up front with that revamped line. Let's not forget that Rodgers' return (combined with a mental bust by Bears safety Chris Conte on the quarterback's game-winning bomb) is what won Green Bay the division title. The Packers appear to have put together a better backup plan than they had last season, but we all know how important Rodgers is to his team's success.
Rob Demovsky: Fiction. The Bears and Lions folded last season, which allowed the Packers to stay afloat until Rodgers returned for the regular-season finale in Chicago. Both teams have taken measures to ensure that won't happen again. The Bears beefed up their defense, and the Lions made a coaching change. That said, the Packers might be in better position to handle a Rodgers absence because they should have Matt Flynn as the backup from the get-go.
Ben Goessling: Fiction. The only reason the Packers won the division last season was because the other three teams were flawed enough not to take it from them. The Lions collapsed late in the season, the Bears lost four of their last six (including the season finale against Green Bay) and the Vikings blew five last-minute leads (including one against the Packers) to take themselves out of the race. Green Bay might be better prepared for a Rodgers injury now that they have gone through it with Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien, but the Packers' offense is predicated on Rodgers making throws few others can make. You can't expect a team to survive the loss of an elite player like that again.
@RobDemovsky True. Defense will be much better this year & flynn/tolzien will have a full training camp to run offense.— Jules Parmentier (@JulesPthe5th) June 12, 2014
He took the Jaguars’ national identity.
Jones-Drew was the franchise’s most recognizable player. He was one of the few Jaguars players -- and possibly the only one -- who the average football fan in, say, Kenosha, Wisconsin, could pick out of a lineup, mainly because of fantasy football. When Jones-Drew said something interesting or controversial, it was national news.
He was the face of the franchise, and now he’s wearing silver and black.
The Jaguars are entering the second season of the Dave Caldwell/Gus Bradley era, and while the rebuild is focusing on improving the talent level on the roster, they also need to find Jones-Drew’s replacement as the public image of the franchise.
"I think that will just develop," Bradley, the head coach, said. "We don’t talk to our guys about that. Our hope is that they just continue to become the best that they can be, and then that might be a byproduct of it. That’s kind of how we look at it, and we think in due time those things will come."
Every NFL team needs a face, especially a small-market team like the Jaguars. In many cases it’s the quarterback -- think Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers. But not always -- think J.J. Watt, Adrian Peterson and Larry Fitzgerald. It certainly helps from a marketing perspective to have one -- especially when it comes to jersey sales -- but it goes beyond that.
The face of a franchise gives the team an identity. He's the player who rallies the team when things go wrong. It goes hand in hand with leadership, but think of the face of the franchise as the alpha leader. Teams generally have several leaders, and a player can be a leader without being the face of the franchise, but a player can’t be the face without being a leader.
In almost every case, he's a good player -- usually among the league’s elite. That’s the Jaguars’ problem. While they do have some very good players, they don’t have any who would be considered elite. Tight end Marcedes Lewis and middle linebacker Paul Posluszny have been to the Pro Bowl, but neither carries the same national recognition and cachet that Jones-Drew did for the past five seasons. Posluszny even admits that.
"Maurice is a national figure, and playing the running back spot, Pro Bowl player, offensive guy, great personality -- so whether you can fill his role in that aspect, I don’t know," Posluszny said. "Maybe it’s going to be by committee. Marcedes Lewis is a huge name, and then you look at Chad Henne and how he’s going to be able to lead, so as far as the leadership aspect of it there are several guys that’ll definitely step up to fill that void.
"Who’s going to be the guy? I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine."
The most logical pick would be quarterback Blake Bortles, the No. 3 overall selection in last month’s draft. He’s the most high-profile player on the roster right now. However, it’s hard to be the face of a franchise when you’re sitting on the bench, which is what general manager Caldwell and Bradley want Bortles to do in 2014.
Henne is well-liked in the locker room and has become more of a vocal leader now that he is assured of being the starting quarterback, but he doesn’t have the star power. Neither do receiver Cecil Shorts and running back Toby Gerhart.
The Jaguars’ most notable player may actually be wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who is serving an indefinite suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy for the third time, but he wouldn’t be considered the face of the franchise.
Right now, the most visible and prominent Jaguar is owner Shad Khan, and not just because of his handlebar mustache. He has put $31 million of his own money into improvements at EverBank Field -- $11 million to renovate the locker room and weight room and $20 million to help finance the $63 million in stadium upgrades that include the world’s largest video boards and two pools in the north end zone.
The mustache helps, though. It is featured in advertising campaigns and on T-shirts, and you can spot fans sporting fake ones throughout the stadium on game days.
It’s clever and it’s funny, and it’s obvious that the fan base has completely embraced Khan, who purchased the team from the beloved Weaver family in late 2011. But how long will that last if the Jaguars continue to struggle on the field? And can an owner truly be the face of a sports franchise? It has happened with Jerry Jones, Mark Cuban and George Steinbrenner, but those three men share the same traits: huge egos and dominant, aggressive personalities. That’s not Khan.
It appears that Caldwell and Bradley have begun adding good players. They need one to become the franchise’s new face.
1. Bridgewater looking sharp: Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who missed the Vikings' final two OTAs last week while he was attending a NFL rookie marketing event in Los Angeles, is back this week and was impressive in his first full-team work open to the media. He hit his first nine throws in 11-on-11 work, connecting with Adam Thielen on a long sideline pass against tight coverage on his first attempt of the day. Bridgewater also connected with Jarius Wright on a long corner throw during his two-minute drill, which ended with a rushing touchdown. "I thought Teddy did a nice job in the two-minute situation, hit a nice long ball there," coach Mike Zimmer said. "He left for those two days, he was a little rusty when he came back, and he's picked it up since then. He's kind of feeling his way a little bit around the guys, which will come in time. He'll keep progressing, getting more comfortable. I like him a lot."
3. Ragged red zone: Zimmer said he was disappointed with the Vikings' red zone defense on Thursday, after the team spent much of its practice session working on red zone situations, and it was easy to see some of his concerns. Bridgewater's two-minute drill ended with a touchdown after newcomer Julian Posey was called for pass interference on Jerome Simpson off a red zone throw, and both Cassel and Ponder hit some open throws near the goal line. "I was least impressed with the defensive red zone this morning. It wasn’t very good. We’ve got to get a lot better there. And then offensively we did a really nice job."
4. Thielen shines: With Greg Jennings gone, Thielen got plenty of opportunities at receiver, and the second-year player made the most of them. He hauled in Bridgewater's sideline throw, and seemed to have a good rapport with the rookie quarterback all day, connecting on a crossing route between two levels of coverage during 11-on-11 work. The Minnesota State product could be fighting for one of the final receiver spots on the Vikings' roster after spending 2013 on the practice squad as an undrafted free agent.
5. McKinnon working as receiver: Running back Jerick McKinnon figures to see plenty of action as a receiver out of the backfield this year, and got a chance to work on his pass-catching skills on Thursday. The third-round pick, who was primarily an option quarterback at Georgia Southern, caught six passes and looked smooth. He'd caught only 10 passes in college, but running backs coach Kirby Wilson has said McKinnon looks like a natural as a receiver.
6. Richardson at tackle: With Matt Kalil out again, undrafted free agent Antonio Richardson got some work at left tackle, splitting time with Kevin Murphy. Richardson had been projected as a possible second-day draft pick, but concerns about his work ethic left him available as an undrafted free agent.
7. Back injury keeps Griffen out: Defensive end Everson Griffen missed practice with a back strain, though Zimmer said he was mostly sitting out for precautionary reasons. Brian Robison slid over to right end, with Corey Wootton working in Robison's typical left end spot. Safety Jamarca Sanford and cornerback Josh Robinson, who were each limited because of muscle pulls last week, were again sitting out.
8. Peterson, Jennings gone: The Vikings' first-team offense was without perhaps its two most prominent players -- Adrian Peterson and Jennings. The running back wasn't at Thursday's OTA, and Jennings was gone for a charity appearance.
9. Burns in the house: Former Vikings coach Jerry Burns, who had the head job from 1986-91 after serving as Bud Grant's offensive coordinator, was on hand to watch practice on Thursday. “I knew he was coming out here today," Zimmer said. "I talked to the team about him this morning because a lot of these younger guys don’t know who some of these guys are that we talk about – he’s in the Ring of Honor, head coach at Iowa and so on and so forth, head coach here, six Super Bowls (four with the Vikings and two as an assistant on Vince Lombardi's staff in Green Bay), a lot of those things. But he talked a little bit about what he believes in the football team and the philosophy. He was very good. He’s a good guy, funny guy.”
10. Happy birthday, coach: Zimmer turned 58 on Thursday, and said the "best gift I could have is[to] have good practices." Was Thursday's good enough? "Mmmm ... no," he said. "We've got a ways to go."
"I don't know how people may take that," McCoy said after Monday's practice session. "It was a question I was just being honest about. I can't worry about how other people think about it. That's why we work every day. That's why I try to perfect my game. So that if people want to prove me wrong, they can."
Peterson said on the radio McCoy was just kidding, and said he advises young players to speak up when they're serious.
McCoy found that response confusing.
"I don't know him that well," McCoy said. "I don't know if he's joking or what. I play the game. It speaks for itself. I don't know what that meant. I don't know if that was joking. He was saying a lot. I don't know what that meant."
At a time when the running back position seems to be evolving -- with more emphasis on catching passes and blocking than running the ball -- the Eagles were committed to running it under first-year head coach Chip Kelly in 2013. And that was a huge change from the pass-first, pass-second philosophy of former coach Andy Reid.
"Coach Kelly, he just wants to win," McCoy said. "If it's running the ball a million times or passing it, he's going to do it. He doesn't have that pass, pass, pass or run, run, run thing. Whatever's working, that's what he's going to do."
When McCoy finished the season finale in Dallas with a firm grasp of the NFL rushing title, he donned a boxing-style championship belt to celebrate. He is not reluctant to show his confidence. But it is the other parts of his game -- blocking, running routes -- that he feels give him the edge over Peterson or anyone else.
"You look at the tape," McCoy said. "As a back, I do everything -- running, blocking, as a third-down back in and out. There's nothing that I can't do. The last three years, I don't feel there's a back who's more productive."
He couldn't resist throwing another shot Peterson's way.
"Ask my man in Minnesota," McCoy said. "Check the numbers. Especially the last two years, to be sure. Check those numbers."
Though there is a complete generation of fans who have seen him play only on grainy highlights from the old, decaying Silverdome, he still remains popular. He beat out Adrian Peterson last year to be on the cover of Madden and has become part of this season’s Madden cover vote.
“I don’t know. I think I could adjust,” Sanders told ESPN.com this week. “I think I would just have to do more things in the passing game and out of the backfield, which I think that can make you more dangerous and you see that with a guy like [LeSean] McCoy and a guy like Jamaal Charles. In some cases that can make certain guys more dangerous.
“The two elements really kind of feed off each other and really go hand-in-hand. If you’re a dangerous running back and you can catch the ball out of the backfield, I think that makes your running game more dangerous and your passing game more potent as well. If you’re one-dimensional, I think it’s easier to contain you.”
In that list of do-it-all backs, Sanders also mentioned Detroit running back Reggie Bush as a player who has taken advantage of the new style of offense and running backs.
Sanders, for his time, was about as multipurpose as it came. Besides his 15,269 yards rushing over 10 seasons, he also caught 352 passes for 2,921 yards. Though he never caught more than 48 passes in a season -- 1995 -- he never had fewer than 24 receptions, either.
If one can imagine his explosiveness and ability in an offense like New Orleans or Philadelphia or what is expected with the Lions this season, he probably would put up similar numbers to what he did in his 10-year career.
So unlike some players from other eras, Sanders would have almost definitely been able to adjust and have his skills fit in with the NFL of today just as well -- if not better -- than they did in the 1990s.
.With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Jacksonville Jaguars' offseason moves:
Best move: It has been forgotten after the moves in free agency and excitement over the draft, but general manager David Caldwell trading Blaine Gabbert to San Francisco for a sixth-round pick was a shrewd move. Caldwell managed to get something for a player who obviously wasn't in the team's plans and was going to be cut before camp anyway. He used that pick to draft Virginia center Luke Bowanko, a player who will compete with Mike Brewster for the starting job. Caldwell essentially got a potential starter -- and at least a player who can contribute at guard as well -- for nothing.
Most surprising move: The Jaguars didn't land him, but it was a bit of a surprise to see how aggressively they pursued Cleveland center Alex Mack despite the fact that the Browns put the transition tag on him. The Jaguars put together an offer they felt Cleveland wouldn't match -- $42 million over five years ($26 million guaranteed) with a player option in the third year and a no-tag clause -- but the Browns quickly did. Still, the attempt served as a message to the rest of the league that the Jaguars aren't going to be an afterthought any longer.
Overlooked move: Drafting guard Brandon Linder in the third round didn't move the excitement needle, but he may end up being one of the Jaguars' biggest rookie contributors. The interior of the offensive line was a weakness in 2013, and the Jaguars started to fix that in free agency by signing Zane Beadles to start at left guard. Linder was picked to be the starter at right guard. The proof of how much they are counting on him was the release of guard Will Rackley, the team's third-round pick in 2011, three days after Linder was drafted. Linder played both guard spots and center at Miami, and that versatility is an added bonus.
It was then I realized: This must have been the first time in a while where it was purely, unequivocally good for the Wilf family to be the owners of the Vikings.
Even low-level controversies, like the news the Wilfs were receiving tax breaks in exchange for storing stadium dirt on parking lots they owned in downtown Minneapolis, played on the narrative that the Vikings' owners were suspicious out-of-towners, intent on driving hard bargains with a community that counts three Midwesterners as the owners of its other pro teams and tends to be leery of slick East Coast mavens.
But on Tuesday, the Wilfs weren't seen as carpetbaggers. They were the patient, steady hands who bought the Vikings in 2005, never threatened to move the team during a long legislative battle over a new stadium and ultimately helped forge the partnership on a $1 billion complex that will bring the Super Bowl back to Minnesota for the first time in 26 years. They got to talk about the "beginning ... of a long, great relationship and a great venue that everyone in Minnesota can be proud of," and as a kicker, they helped Minnesota exact a small measure of revenge for one of its most bitter NFC Championship Game defeats, beating out New Orleans for the right to host the game four years after the Vikings' overtime loss to the Saints. After a long, tenuous stretch, they seemed as much a part of the community in Minnesota as they had in some time.
However unscrupulous the Wilfs' business dealings might make them seem in the eyes of Minnesotans, it's tough to argue they haven't been good owners since they bought the team from Red McCombs. They've funded one of the NFL's highest payrolls, routinely spending money in free agency and giving general manager Rick Spielman the freedom to acquire seven first-round picks in the past three years. They were patient with state legislators through the fits and starts of the stadium process, even as the Vikings' local revenues in the outdated Metrodome ranked among the league's lowest. And they've now got the distinction of being the owners who helped bring America's biggest sporting event back to a state that might never have been more energized than when it had the game last time, in the middle of a remarkable 10-month run that saw the U.S. Open, Stanley Cup finals, World Series, Super Bowl and Final Four land in the Twin Cities in 1991 and 1992, making Minnesota the center of the nation's sporting conscience.
On top of all that, the Wilfs have a new head coach they like, a new quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater and an iconic player in Adrian Peterson. The narrative around the team right now is very much about what's exciting and new, and very little about the unsightliness of the past nine months. Tuesday was a good day for them to be the owners of the Vikings, and as they landed a Super Bowl that's sure to induce plenty of fretting about Minnesota's frosty climate, it probably wasn't hard for the Wilfs to feel the warmth from their adopted fan base.
From a pure football perspective, the change made sense. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner's schemes have always involved getting running backs involved as receivers, the Vikings were in need of more balance in their offense and in the modern NFL, it's not terribly prudent to lean so heavily on a running back, especially one who will be 30 in just over 10 months.
That's why it's worth spending a bit of time on what Mike Freeman (formerly of CBSSports.com and now of Bleacher Report) wrote on Sunday, when he said that "the Vikings are looking for ways to part with superstar runner Adrian Peterson sooner rather than later," and quoted an AFC general manager who believes the 2014 season will be Peterson's last in Minnesota. Peterson will make $12 million this season, counting his $250,000 workout bonus, and he's due to be paid $44 million in the last three years of his deal -- though the Vikings would face just a $2.4 million cap hit if they cut him after this season and no penalty if they released him after 2015.
When the Vikings signed Peterson to his $100 million contract extension in 2011, they structured it for precisely the scenario we're discussing here. What's striking, though, is how quickly the NFL landscape has shifted away from running backs, to the point where Peterson is the only back in the league with a cap hit of more than $10 million. He's still the franchise player, and even with a set of nagging injuries that limited him to 18 carries in the team's last four games, he finished fifth in the league with 1,266 yards last season. But Peterson's had three surgeries in the last three years, and even if the Vikings' offense is still structured around him now, they're clearly (and rightly) planning for a day where it won't be.
It's worth remembering what the Vikings did with cornerback Antoine Winfield in 2012, planning to reduce his number of snaps in the base defense and lean more on young cornerbacks like Chris Cook and Josh Robinson. That didn't work, and Winfield wound up having one of his best years while playing 90 percent of the Vikings' defensive snaps, but the team released Winfield at age 35 last spring instead of restructuring his contract. A 29- (or 30-) year-old running back isn't that much more of an outlier than a 35-year-old cornerback, and while Peterson certainly could continue to be one of the NFL's best running backs for a few more years, he's playing with a contract that makes him an outlier in the NFL's salary spectrum, and the league usually deals with such anomalies harshly.
Will this be Peterson's last season with the Vikings? I'm not sure I'd go that far, but his age and his contract structure makes the question worth asking. At the very least, the Vikings could come asking for money back from Peterson in the form of a contract restructure after this season. Time will tell if they take more permanent measures than that, but as Vikings fans should know by remembering with whom Peterson shared a backfield in 2009 and 2010 -- and how Brett Favre came to Minnesota -- the cruel reality of the NFL is that no one is safe.
My take: With their final pick (96th overall) in the third round, the Minnesota Vikings took a backup for Adrian Peterson. They needed one after Toby Gerhart signed with Jacksonville in the offseason. McKinnon will give them something different than they've had in the past. He began his college career as a cornerback, shifting to quarterback in Georgia Southern's triple-option offense. He's only 5-foot-9, but had quite the set of numbers at the NFL scouting combine (a 4.41 40, a 40 1/2-inch vertical and 32 repetitions at 225 pounds in the bench press). The Vikings' scouting report lists him as a "tailback/quarterback/strong safety," but if he stays at running back, he'd be an interesting change of pace from Peterson.
Plenty of versatility: McKinnon will have plenty to learn about playing running back at the NFL level, but he could be the kind of player the Vikings can use all over their offense. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner helped put jack-of-all-trades running back Darren Sproles on the map in San Diego, and though McKinnon was throwing more passes than catching them in college, he could be the kind of versatile, elusive back that Sproles has been. The Vikings aren't in need of a kick returner, but McKinnon could give them another option there if anything were to happen to Cordarrelle Patterson.
What's next: The Vikings don't have a fourth-round pick, but are scheduled to make four selections on the final day of the draft -- two in the fifth round, one in the sixth and one in the seventh.
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