NFL Nation: Jarius Wright

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It seems hard to believe now, considering how big of a part of the Minnesota Vikings offense Jarius Wright has become. But as Mike Zimmer recalls it, one of his first interactions with the wide receiver came this spring, when Wright was operating as though his place on the Vikings' roster wasn't a given.

"When I first got here, they were out running routes and he was talking about, 'I'll do anything to make the team,'" Zimmer said. "Now he's become a big part of a lot of things that we're doing, but he's taking advantages of these opportunities and he's worked really hard to do it."

[+] EnlargeSheldon Richardson
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesJarius Wright took a screen pass 87 yards for a game-winning touchdown on Sunday.
One can sympathize with Wright if he thought the days he's enjoying now would never come. He spent the first half of his rookie season recovering from a sprained ankle and sitting idle on game days, until Percy Harvin's own sprained ankle created an opportunity for Wright to play. And then, after he caught a pair of long touchdown passes in the Vikings' playoff push in 2012, Wright was something of an afterthought for much of 2013, catching only four more passes in 16 games than he did in seven the previous year.

Wright was the Vikings' fourth receiver for much of training camp. But when the team cut the already-suspended Jerome Simpson, Wright seized his opportunity right at the same time the quarterback he'd worked with the most before the season -- Teddy Bridgewater -- was moving from the backup job to the starting spot.

The third-year receiver has already set career highs in catches (32) and yards (478) with three games left, and he's punctuated his first two 100-yard games with big gains off the same play -- a screen from Bridgewater that Wright took 52 yards in the QB's first start and 87 yards for a game-winning touchdown on Sunday.

Wright has run most of his routes on the perimeter. He gained 23 yards on a reverse on Sunday, and bulked up enough in strength coach Evan Marcus' weight program to be an effective run blocker this season. In short, he's growing up to fit a larger role in the Vikings' offense.

"He has grown so much in terms of reading defenses, reading coverages and understanding route structure," receivers coach George Stewart said. "The second area I've seen him grow is physical toughness. He's gotten bigger. He's fast. His willingness to go in and block people, that's been better. It's the toughness and the ability to see things as a football player."

Wright and Bridgewater got many of their snaps in training camp and the preseason together, and in Bridgewater's first start, Wright had the best day of his career, catching eight passes for 132 yards. Against the Jets, Bridgewater found Wright on three screens -- including the game-winner -- and a jump ball that Wright wrested away from Darrin Walls on a free play, setting up Blair Walsh's field goal attempt at the end of regulation.

"They have a natural feel for each other," Stewart said. "It's good seeing those two guys work together. You talk about our future -- opening the new stadium, Jarius will be going into Year 5, Teddy will be going into Year 3. You'd like that to continue to work that way, because now you have some cohesiveness within the group."

The future for Wright has rarely looked as bright as it did on Sunday, when he maintained a tight grip on the football he'd lugged 87 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Far removed from whatever shadow he was in at the start of his career, he's become a key piece of the Vikings' offense.

"He's another kid that's always got a smile on his face," Zimmer said. "(He) always relishes the moment that he has, the opportunity to be here in the NFL, and to be with the Vikings."

QB snapshot: Teddy Bridgewater

December, 9, 2014
Dec 9
A quick observation of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and how he played in the Minnesota Vikings' 30-24 win in Week 14:

Earlier this month, when Bridgewater was struggling with his accuracy (particularly on several overthrows against the Green Bay Packers), Vikings coaches noticed a minor flaw in the quarterback's delivery. Bridgewater was dropping his arm as he loaded up to throw the ball, leading to higher-arcing throws that eventually sailed past receivers.

"If you're dropping it down, the trajectory is coming out a little bit higher," coach Mike Zimmer said. "I think that's why he was overthrowing some of the balls."

In the two games since the Vikings' loss to Green Bay, Bridgewater has completed 34 of his 48 passes, connecting on deep throws to Jarius Wright (on Nov. 30 against Carolina) and Charles Johnson (on Sunday against the New York Jets). Zimmer believes Bridgewater has gotten stronger now that he's had almost a full season in an NFL weight program, and he sees the rookie throwing with more velocity late in the year. As the quarterback refines his mechanics, his arm continues to look better.

"You can see a little bit more velocity coming," Zimmer said. "He's so accurate that at times it looks like he's floating it on some of the outside breaking routes. It looks like he's floating it, but the ball really jumps out of his hands. I have seen a lot lately where he's gunning it a little bit harder. [Offensive coordinator] Norv [Turner] talks about throwing it with a grunt."
MINNEAPOLIS -- The play that sent the Minnesota Vikings home victorious on Sunday has been in Teddy Bridgewater's repertoire for situations like these ever since his first NFL start.

Remember the screen pass Bridgewater threw to Jarius Wright during the Vikings' win over Atlanta on Sept. 28? It came barely a minute into that game, with the Falcons showing a "zero blitz" -- or a pressure with no safeties back in coverage -- on third-and-7. Bridgewater appeared to change the play at the line and flipped a pass to Wright, who looped behind blocks from Greg Jennings and tight end Chase Ford for a 52-yard gain.

The play shows up in the Vikings' offense at least once a week, out of a number of different personnel groupings. Charles Johnson took a screen 24 yards on the Vikings' first series last week, lining up alone on the left side of the Vikings' formation and following a block from Matt Kalil. Wright nearly took one for a touchdown earlier on Sunday against the New York Jets. And in overtime, with the Vikings backed up in their own territory on third-and-5, Bridgewater checked to the play to beat the Jets on one of their own pet calls.

New York had given Bridgewater trouble with zero blitzes all day, and coach Rex Ryan had another one called, with hopes of forcing a quick throw (or possibly a turnover). The Vikings had a longer pass called, but Bridgewater had an option to check to the screen. His silent count got the Jets to show their pressure, and Bridgewater changed the play to the screen.

"The check was built into the call, so if he saw something, he was going to check to that," coach Mike Zimmer said. "He did that several times today."

The Vikings set the screen up the same way they did in the Atlanta game, with Wright to the outside of Jennings and tight end Kyle Rudolph. The Jets brought seven, Wright picked up blocks from Jennings and Rudolph and took off, with nothing but space in front of him.

"As I broke free I saw Sully [center John Sullivan running down field] and I said, 'Oh, yeah, this is going a long ways,'" Wright said.

Jets coach Rex Ryan blamed himself for the loss, saying it was his call on the blitz and complimenting Bridgewater for making the check once the Jets showed their hand, but not every rookie quarterback would have as firm a grasp of pre-snap adjustments as Bridgewater seems to have. He finished 19-of-27 for 309 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. His turnover came on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half, and he would've had three TD passes if Johnson hadn't fumbled at the goal line. Bridgewater has shown marked improvement in a number of ways during the second half of the season, and the Vikings' comfort level with him at the controls of their offense is no small thing.

"That's the thing the veterans really respect and appreciate about Teddy is the way he prepares, the way he studies, the way he cares about his job, and the way he loves playing the game," Zimmer said. "The franchise is Teddy's; I know that was a good headline for you. That's what he needs to do; he needs to take it over. This is his team now."

Bridgewater demurred, saying the team belongs as much to backup guard Vlad Ducasse as it does to him. But on the field, he showed a command of the game that will get his teammates to follow him anywhere.

"That's where you see him maturing; you see he's getting a good grasp on the whole offense," Johnson said. "He's smart. He's able to see things like that and help us win on them."
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- It appeared Sunday would be another rough day for Minnesota Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who had hit just three of his first 11 passes and threw interceptions on back-to-back plays in the second quarter. But the progress Bridgewater made later in Sunday's game, including his first NFL touchdown pass, came after what could be an important realization in the quarterback's development.

Bridgewater threw the first of his two interceptions to Leodis McKelvin after he appeared to pass up a deep shot to Jarius Wright down the middle, firing late to Chase Ford on a ball that was tipped and intercepted. McKelvin also undercut an out route to Adam Thielen that Bridgewater appeared to throw late after hitching twice. The problems led the rookie to think back to what he was doing in training camp during a stretch of interceptions in early August, and what he experienced at that point ultimately helped him turn things around on Sunday.

"That was just me trying to be perfect," Bridgewater said. "I think I went back to old training camp days of trying to be perfect in every area, instead of just trusting my God-given ability and trusting the offense and trusting the system. I am going to continue to get better; just get a rhythm."

After the two interceptions, Bridgewater found one. He hit 12 of his final 15 throws for 136 yards and a touchdown, making arguably his best throws of the day to extend drives on third downs. He hit Greg Jennings up the seam for 38 yards on third-and-7, found Wright on a gorgeous 28-yard back-shoulder throw on third-and-18, and hit Wright on the same drive for 14 yards on third-and-10. After a loss to the Detroit Lions in which he went just 2-for-8 on throws longer than 10 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Bridgewater hit several throws downfield on Sunday, connecting with Jennings, Wright and Cordarrelle Patterson on 12 of his 15 completions.

"After the second interception, Greg came up to me and told me, 'Hey, whatever is going on up in that head, up in that computer of yours, just reboot it,'" Bridgewater said. "Hearing that coming from a veteran, that was just telling me to relax and just play football."

Bridgewater overshot a deep ball to Patterson that might have sealed the game on the Vikings' final drive, and he was sacked five times on a day where he said he still held the ball too long on several occasions. He also blamed himself for a red zone sack in the fourth quarter where he had a run-pass option and kept the ball instead of handing off to Jerick McKinnon. "I should have left the run on, but that's a play where I was trying to think too much," Bridgewater said. "I need to give my guys a chance [to make a play]."

If the game baked some progress into Bridgewater's game, in a season that increasingly looks like it will be about developing young players for the future, the Vikings will be better for it. On Sunday, there was reason to think Bridgewater made some progress after an ugly start to his day.

"I thought he settled down better in the third quarter and end of the second quarter," coach Mike Zimmer said. "We continue to have high expectations of him, and he needs to keep being put in these situations, as well."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Each week he is asked about his lack of touches in the Minnesota Vikings' offense, second-year receiver Cordarrelle Patterson continues a variation on the same theme -- that he's not going to coaches and demanding the ball, and that he hasn't earned the right to raise a fuss yet.

On Thursday, Patterson said he's "not a drama queen;" he recalled how he successfully lobbied for the ball at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College and joked he might have to open his mouth more if things don't change. Still, he remained largely deferential to the coaching staff, saying he "trusts everything that's going on in this offense and this organization."

The problem for Patterson is that while the end result since Week 1 has been consistent, the means to fix the problem aren't so simple. Since his dynamic regular-season debut, in which he carried three times for 102 yards and caught another three passes for 26 yards, Patterson has played with three different starting quarterbacks, seen defenses shift more attention toward him with Adrian Peterson gone and watched teams take his running opportunities away with extra defenders on the perimeter. The end result has been meager; 12 catches for 163 yards in the last four games, and only one rushing attempt that went for a loss of seven yards.

The Vikings continue to look for ways to involve Patterson, offensive coordinator Norv Turner said, though it isn't the chief goal of their offense.

"You want to get all your guys involved," Turner said. "I look back to two weeks ago, when Atlanta was very concerned and aware of Cordarrelle. They were concentrating on him a great deal. Jarius (Wright) had his best day, and obviously Teddy (Bridgewater) had a great day. To me, those things come around. There's things we've got in every week for Cordarrelle, and we're anxious to get him more involved."

One factor that could help Patterson is the return of Bridgewater at quarterback. There were several plays in last Thursday's loss to the Green Bay Packers where Patterson was open, but quarterback Christian Ponder didn't get him the ball. Perhaps the most notable was on a second-quarter play where Patterson had plenty of room on a crossing route underneath the Packers' zone coverage, but Ponder let Patterson run by, pulled the ball down and took off, despite the fact the closest defender to him was double-teamed.

Ponder targeted receivers more than 10 yards downfield just 10 times last Thursday night, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and eight of those throws came in the second half, when the game was out of reach. Bridgewater, on the other hand, is 9 of 13 on such throws to receivers this season and hit Patterson for 14, 16 and 22 yards in the win over Atlanta.

"He made a big play in the drive we were down by 1," Turner said. "He got single coverage, he beat the corner and he got us down (near) the red zone. I think you have to take advantage of the opportunities you have, when you get singled up or the play that's developed comes to you."

Vikings coaches have been pleased with Patterson's work habits, and coach Mike Zimmer said after last week's game he saw some progress in Patterson as a receiver, even when the opportunities didn't come to him. The task for Patterson will be producing, and staying patient, when teams are rolling defenders his way.

"After the first game, he got a lot of attention," Turner said. "When we started moving him back in the backfield, people really got wide, and the runs he had are perimeter runs. But like I said, those things tend to come back around."
MINNEAPOLIS -- It's probably wise to use some degree of filter when viewing the Minnesota Vikings' third preseason game as a facsimile of the real thing, given how skeptical coach Mike Zimmer was about the idea of the third game being a dress rehearsal for the regular season. But on a night where the Vikings played their starters well into the third quarter, we can glean a relatively solid impression of where the team is going with a few roster decisions.

We'll have a more complete overview of the Vikings' roster in our latest weekly roster projection on Monday, but for now, here are three takeaways from the Vikings' win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday night:

[+] EnlargeTom Johnson
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsTom Johnson appears to have carved out a role for himself as a rotational player on the Vikings' D-line
Tom Johnson appears to have a key role on the defensive line: The former New Orleans Saints defensive tackle wasn't a high-profile pickup when the Vikings signed him this spring, but his explosiveness looked like it could help the Vikings at 3-technique tackle (outside shade on right guard). Through three preseason games, Johnson has shown he'll fit on the Vikings' roster. He's seen regular playing time as an inside pass-rusher in the Vikings' nickel package, and had two half-sacks on Saturday night. He shared a sack with Anthony Barr in the Vikings' first preseason game, and had two quarterback hits against the Chiefs. Johnson played 32 snaps in the game -- two more than Sharrif Floyd -- and appears here to stay as a rotational player on the Vikings' line.

Special teams, not receiver, might cement Adam Thielen's spot: Zimmer is fond of saying, "The more you can do, the more valuable you are," and wide receiver Adam Thielen has taken that to heart in the preseason. He'd earned attention during the Vikings' offseason program and training camp as a receiver, but he's done more to make an impression on special teams in preseason games than he has as a wideout. He had three punt returns for 53 yards in the Vikings' preseason opener, also registering a tackle for a 4-yard loss in that game, and showed great patience on a 75-yard punt return on Saturday. The Vikings haven't gone much deeper than three receivers with their first-team offense -- it's even been hard for Jarius Wright to find a role -- and if the Vikings wind up keeping just five receivers, Thielen's utility might put him in over Rodney Smith, who's also had a solid preseason and still could make the roster, especially if Jerome Simpson is suspended. If it's a decision between those two, however, it's hard to see the Vikings letting Thielen go. "He just keeps fighting and fighting," Zimmer said of Thielen. "He's got a lot of heart, and obviously, I like guys with a lot of heart. He seems to get better and better, and he makes plays. That's important."

Middle linebacker is still up for grabs: The closest competition in the final week could be at safety -- where Robert Blanton and Chris Crocker look like the favorites over a cast of other veterans -- or the third cornerback spot, where Josh Robinson's injuries have left plenty of playing time for Marcus Sherels in a role that's essentially a starting job, given how much time a third cornerback is on the field. But the one we've got our eye on is the battle for the middle linebacker spot, where Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole continue to battle. Brinkley started the game on Saturday, but he and Cole alternated series throughout the night, to the point where both were still playing into the fourth quarter with the Vikings' reserves. Cole got 33 snaps on Saturday, Brinkley got 27 and both players bring a different skill set; Brinkley is more forceful against the run, while Cole's size and instincts make him a better fit in pass coverage. Of any battle on the roster, this one might go down to the end of camp -- and even beyond, if the Vikings decide to tinker with their lineup during the season.
MINNEAPOLIS -- It will be months, if not longer, before we have a complete idea of where Teddy Bridgewater is at in his development as a NFL quarterback. But in an interview after his impressive showing at the Vikings' organized team activity on Thursday, Bridgewater offered a hint that he already understands an important key to success in the pros.

Bridgewater went 9-for-9 in the Vikings' first 11-on-11 period on Thursday, taking one sack but connecting with Adam Thielen on a couple of tough throws against tight coverage. In a 7-on-7 drill red zone drill, he hit a couple of corner routes to Kain Colter and Thielen, and connected with Jarius Wright on a long pass during his two-minute drill. Afterward, when asked about his biggest challenge so far, he said this:

"The biggest challenge is just anticipating throws. In college, open was 10 feet. Now in the NFL, open can be just a couple of inches. So just being more decisive, anticipating throws more and I feel like I’m doing a great job learning from Matt (Cassel) and Christian (Ponder). Also, (quarterbacks) coach (Scott) Turner has been teaching me to throw it on time, trust your feet and everything will happen."

Any Vikings fan who's spent the last three years watching Ponder knows Bridgewater hit on a central trait of being an effective NFL quarterback. One of Ponder's biggest hindrances has been his inability to make throws into tight windows, or to trust himself enough to try them. Bridgewater completed 68.4 percent of his passes in college (compared to 61.8 percent for Ponder), and turned himself into a first-round pick by being one of the more accurate passers in the draft, so the Vikings have reason to be confident in his ability to hit tough throws. The job will ultimately require Bridgewater to be confident enough in himself to put the ball just beyond defenders, but he seemed to have little hesitation about doing that on Thursday. It's dangerous to assume too much before Bridgewater is throwing in live games, but the Vikings have to be encouraged by signs that their first-round pick is able -- and willing -- to make some of the throws that gave their last first-round QB trouble.

"I thought Teddy did a nice job in the 2-minute situation, had a nice long ball there, took them down and scored," coach Mike Zimmer said. "He left for those two days (for a NFL rookie marketing event in Los Angeles last week), he was a little rusty when he came back, (but) he’s picked it up these last two days, so he’s doing well."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- A quick look at the highlights of the Minnesota Vikings' second open OTA of the offseason on Thursday:

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."

2. Cassel connects, Ponder struggles: Matt Cassel got the majority of the first-team snaps at quarterback, though Bridgewater had some in his two-minute drill. Cassel, by my count, was 8-for-9 in the Vikings' first 11-on-11 period, and hit four of his eight throws during the two-minute drill (though Kyle Rudolph was arguing for interference on one of the incompletions). Cassel found Wright for a touchdown on a red zone throw, and threw another touchdown on a broken play, though the play wouldn't have developed that way had a defense actually been coming after Cassel. Christian Ponder, however, didn't get to throw much, and wasn't impressive in the work he did have. He threw an ugly interception over the middle to Derek Cox during his two-minute drill. Ponder mentioned to reporters on Wednesday that he thought the Vikings not picking up his 2015 option might give him some "leverage," since he could decide where he wanted to be next. If that logic seems hard to follow, Ponder didn't do anything on Thursday to help further his case.

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."

Vikings offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
May 22
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With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Minnesota Vikings' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
AP Photo/Matt RourkeIt's been a long time since the Vikings had a run-stuffing nose tackle like Linval Joseph.
Best move: The Vikings needed a run-stuffing nose tackle as much as they needed anything else on their defense, and the signing of Linval Joseph gave them a big body for the middle of their defensive line. Joseph should provide a presence the Vikings haven't had since Pat Williams' time in Minnesota ended, and although his contract will pay him $31.75 million over the next five years, including $12.5 million guaranteed, it's structured in such a way that the Vikings would face minimal cap repercussions if they needed to cut Joseph as soon as 2016. He's just 25, and in an ideal world, he'll be playing nose tackle for the Vikings for the next five years.

Riskiest move: It's based on the Vikings' high assessment of his potential, but giving $20 million guaranteed to defensive end Everson Griffen after four seasons of rotational duty was a gamble. The Vikings could insert Griffen in Jared Allen's old left end spot, and while sacks are an incomplete measure of performance for a defensive end in Mike Zimmer's scheme, Griffen will have to generate some pressure and be stout against the run. He has the talent to do both, but for him to be worth a contract that pays him like one of the league's top defensive ends, Griffen will have to showcase that talent more frequently than he's done so far in Minnesota.

Most surprising move: In an offseason that followed a fairly sensible shopping list, there weren't too many out-of-character steps among the Vikings' decisions. But the team opting not to add another receiver was worth at least a second glance. The Vikings could have plucked one in the middle rounds of a deep draft, giving themselves another option at a position where No. 3 receiver Jerome Simpson is coming off his second arrest in three years. Instead, the team will hope that Simpson is available for the better part of the season, third-year man Jarius Wright can become a more consistent part of the offense, and practice squad holdovers like Adam Thielen can add something to an offense that should push the ball downfield more than it has in the past.

Quarterback plan in place: The Vikings started their offseason by giving themselves some pre-draft insurance at quarterback, signing Matt Cassel to a new two-year, $10 million deal after he opted out of the contract he'd signed in 2013. They also traded back into the first round to take Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, meaning their succession plan is in place at the position, whether that happens sometime this year, in 2015 or in 2016. If the Vikings do want Bridgewater to sit for a year, they're making a leap of faith that Cassel can be reliable for a full season in Norv Turner's offense after starting just 23 games from 2011 to 2013. If he's not, the Vikings could have to decide whether to put Bridgewater on the field or see whether they can get through a few games with Christian Ponder. But Cassel was mostly solid in six starts last season, and with both him and Bridgewater in the building, the Vikings have more reason to feel comfortable at quarterback than they've had in a while.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Sometime around 8:30 Central time Thursday night, the Minnesota Vikings will finally be on the clock with the No. 8 overall pick, finally rendering insignificant the months of mock drafts and speculation about who they'll take.

When they do make their pick, general manager Rick Spielman said Tuesday, they could take a player that none of the mock drafts have pegged.

"Everybody reads the mocks, because we're tired of yelling at each other," Spielman said. "At night, I read the mocks and kind of get caught up on things. You guys are missing some names on our spot at 8, I can tell you that."

Spielman said no one in the building knows who the Vikings will take with the eighth pick, even though the general manager has had plenty of discussions about the options at that pick. Many of the media mock drafts (including plenty at ESPN) have the Vikings taking a quarterback, in large part because that's what many pundits feel the team should do, not necessarily what it will do. In light of Spielman's comment, though, here's one name that could be worth a longer look for the Vikings than he's received so far: Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans.

The 6-foot-5 receiver has been listed in the top seven picks of many mock drafts, and is seen as the second-best wideout in the draft behind Clemson's Sammy Watkins. The Vikings don't have a big, physical presence at the position, and they only have two receivers who look like sure-fire starters: Greg Jennings, who will be 31 in September, and Cordarrelle Patterson, who is still learning the finer points of playing receiver in the NFL before his second season. Jerome Simpson is on a one-year deal (and was arrested for a second time last November), and third-year man Jarius Wright might not be more than a complementary receiver.

Would it be a bit frivolous to take Evans when the Vikings have so many other needs on defense? Perhaps. But if the Vikings are going to take a young quarterback at some point -- or if they're going to try to win with Matt Cassel for now -- one theory is that they could try to load the offense up with as many weapons as possible. Adrian Peterson, Jennings, Patterson, Kyle Rudolph and Evans would put the Vikings on par with the rest of the high-powered offenses in the division and potentially make things more comfortable for whomever the Vikings' quarterback is, this year or in the future.

And then there's this: The Vikings had at least three wideouts on the field for just 447 snaps last season, the fourth-fewest in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Under offensive coordinator Norv Turner, the Cleveland Browns used at least three receivers on an extra 112 snaps. If three-receiver looks are going to be at least a slightly more prominent part of the offense, and the Vikings have depth concerns about the position, is taking a player like Evans the craziest idea in the world?

"You can look at spots on offense, besides quarterback," Spielman said. "There's no way that's not a need. While that may be a need, that guy can't come in and help this year, but he sure as heck is going to be an impact player for us down the road as well, whether that's receiver or whatever."

It might not be the most sensible, in terms of filling an obvious need, but that scenario would test the Vikings' commitment to Spielman's stated practice of taking the best player available, regardless of position. If Evans meets that description when the Vikings were on the clock Thursday night, it isn't beyond the realm of possibility to think they'd take him.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Perhaps the most confusing thing about Cordarrelle Patterson's dynamic rookie season with the Minnesota Vikings was how long it took the team to unleash Patterson in its offense, considering how much of a jolt he gave it once he became a bigger part of the Vikings' scheme in November. Patterson scored six touchdowns in the final five games of the season, with three coming on runs and one on a 79-yard screen pass at the end of the Vikings' wild loss to Baltimore on Dec. 8.

Former coach Leslie Frazier said last season that the Vikings brought Patterson along about as fast as they could, even though it seemed like the ways Patterson ultimately affected the Vikings' offense the most were on relatively simple plays. But Patterson said this week he didn't work hard enough as a rookie, and said he wants to be available at more receiver positions than just split end, where the Vikings primarily used him last year.

[+] EnlargeCordarrelle Patterson
Jerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsCordarrelle Patterson is determined to make a bigger impact with the Vikings' offense this season.
"This year my whole mindset is, 'Remember everything. Do better than you did last year,'" Patterson said this week. "I think I was kind of bad last year. This year will be way better."

By all accounts, offensive coordinator Norv Turner brings a more complex offense to Minnesota than what the team had under Bill Musgrave, so Patterson will have to digest a more intricate scheme as he learns his second offense in two years. On the other hand, general manager Rick Spielman said at the NFL scouting combine that Turner already had 10 plays designed for Patterson, and Turner moved Patterson around in the Vikings' offense plenty during the team's voluntary minicamp this week.

"I think you've always got to hold that judgment in terms of how a guy handles it," Turner said on Thursday. "We've had guys who have been very productive players, extremely outstanding players I would say, and they lined up and played one position. We've had a bunch of other guys we've moved around. We've moved Cordarrelle around quite a bit this week and he seemed to handle it pretty well, so we'll see how much he can handle?"

It is interesting, though, to hear Patterson putting the onus on himself to work harder, especially in light of something he mentioned to Fox sideline reporter Charissa Thompson after he scored his final touchdown of the season in the team's Dec. 29 win against the Detroit Lions. Thompson said during the broadcast that Patterson rubbed people the wrong way in meetings early in the season, adding veteran receiver Greg Jennings wasn't sure what to make of Patterson and that it all changed when fellow receiver Jarius Wright invited Patterson on a trip to Las Vegas. The story is worth noting in light of how much more aware Patterson seemed this week of where he fits in the Vikings' offense, and how his work ethic can affect his teammates' perception of him.

He said he spent his offseason taking a pair of classes at Tennessee -- though he wasn't able to finish one of them because he had to return to Minnesota during the final exam -- and added he plans to take classes at the University of Minnesota next year, so he can stay in town and work out at the Vikings' facility while making progress toward a degree in communications.

It seemed important for the Vikings to retain receivers coach George Stewart, who had bonded with Patterson before last year's draft, and in his second year working with Stewart, Patterson seems more aware of his surroundings and the expectations on him. The knock on Patterson coming out of college was that he would struggle to master NFL offenses, and he'll be asked to learn his fourth scheme in as many years, counting one year with Musgrave, one year at Tennessee and his final season at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College.

There is little doubt Patterson will be an integral piece of the Vikings' offense in 2014, but some of that will be based on how much he can handle. Based on what he said this week, he seems intent on making a good impression.

"It’s been tough, (but) like I said, I lean on the guys in that locker room," Patterson said. "I lean on them a lot, they help me and expect big things from me, and I expect big things from them."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Of the many young players on the Minnesota Vikings' roster who earned playing time and performance bonuses from the NFL for their work last season, right guard Brandon Fusco topped the list.

Fusco earned an extra $237,060.74 for his work last season, giving him the biggest share of the Vikings' $3.46 million total distribution, according to figures released by the NFL management council. The total amount is negotiated in the collective bargaining agreement between owners and players, and while every player gets at least a small bonus, the system is designed to reward low-salaried players who see the most playing time.

For a team like the Vikings, that meant a number of players saw big boosts to their paycheck; Fusco made just $594,167 last season, and he started 15 games.

See the NFL's full list of performance-based pay distributions here.

Vikings re-sign Jerome Simpson

March, 14, 2014
Mar 14
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings announced they re-signed wide receiver Jerome Simpson, adding some depth to their receiving corps by bringing Simpson back for his third season in Minnesota.

Simpson caught 48 passes for a career-high 726 yards last season, and might have been the Vikings' best receiver during the first half of the year. He lost his starting job in November, however, after he was arrested on Nov. 9 for drunken driving in Minneapolis. Simpson, who was suspended for the first three games of the 2012 season after a drug-related arrest, pled guilty to careless driving in January, and could still face NFL discipline. But the Vikings still decided to bring Simpson back, and he figures to be the team's third receiver next season.

He played in Cincinnati while new coach Mike Zimmer was the Bengals' defensive coordinator, so the two are familiar with each other, and Simpson could fit in nicely with offensive coordinator Norv Turner's downfield passing game. The Vikings are probably set at the top of their receiving group with Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings, and Simpson can pair with Jarius Wright to fill out the roster. The team could, however, try to add another receiver now that their offense figures to open up a little more under Turner.

The Vikings did not announce the terms of Simpson's deal.

Upon Further Review: Vikings Week 15

December, 16, 2013
MINNEAPOLIS -- A review of four hot issues following the Minnesota Vikings' 48-30 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday:

Cassel starts again: Coach Leslie Frazier said after Sunday's game there are "no questions" about the Vikings' starting quarterback for next Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals after Matt Cassel threw for 382 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another one. That means, at most, Josh Freeman will get one more chance to play this season, and at this point it seems highly unlikely that will happen. What's probably more interesting now is what happens between the two quarterbacks the Vikings have under contract for next season -- Cassel and Christian Ponder. Cassel can opt out of his deal after this season, but if the Vikings draft another quarterback next spring, they might be well-served by keeping Cassel and letting him start the season until -- or unless -- the rookie is ready.

Wright emerges: Second-year receiver Jarius Wright, who had been a forgotten man after a solid second half in 2012, had his biggest game of the season on Sunday, catching four passes for 95 yards. Wright began the season as the Vikings' third receiver before becoming their fourth option in recent weeks as Cordarrelle Patterson's role in the offense grew. But Wright hauled in a 42-yard pass from Cassel on Sunday, and looked like the kind of downfield slot threat he was at times last season.

Patterson shut out on kickoffs: The Eagles went into Sunday's game clearly wanting to avoid Patterson on kickoffs, but the Vikings might take the alternative; Philadelphia's short kicks helped Minnesota start four drives at its own 30 or better after kickoffs, and though the Vikings didn't get a chance to let Patterson break a big return, they got more consistent field position than even the rookie returning dynamo likely would've been able to provide. Frazier said the Vikings could toy with the idea of putting Patterson on punt returns next week, simply as another way to get the ball in his hands.

Thin secondary survives: The Vikings were missing their top three corners -- Chris Cook, Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson -- on Sunday, but they held up reasonably well against an Eagles offense most expected to burn Minnesota's thin secondary. Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles threw for 428 yards, but had only 144 at halftime and got many of his second-half yards after the Vikings had built a big lead. Cornerback Shaun Prater had the first interception of his career, and safety Harrison Smith returned from a two-month layoff to post eight tackles in his first game back from turf toe. Cook, meanwhile, missed Sunday's game after a knee injury cropped up late in the week. His frequent injuries could prevent him from landing a big contract when he hits the open market next March. And while Prater got his first pick on Sunday, Cook is still waiting for his, four years into his career.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The demolition in Denver made sense. Peyton Manning at the top of his game shredded a still-learning Eagles defense in a 52-20 Broncos rout.

But the meltdown in Minneapolis? Against a Vikings team with a journeyman quarterback and without Adrian Peterson? Nobody saw that coming, and when the 48-30 beating was over, nobody seemed able to explain how a defense that held nine consecutive opponents to 21 or fewer points got dismantled so thoroughly.

“I wish I had better answers for you,” defensive coordinator Bill Davis said.

[+] EnlargeGreg Jennings
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsGreg Jennings said he's confident that Norv Turner's scheme will help make the Vikings' offense more potent than in recent seasons.
“They just made more plays than we did,” Eagles safety Nate Allen said.

Matt Cassel completed his first eight passes, finishing 26-of-35 for 382 yards and two touchdowns. Greg Jennings caught 11 of those passes for 163 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown. Matt Asiata, who hadn’t touched the ball in a game all season, ran for three touchdowns.

It added up to the most points surrendered by an Eagles defense since Oct. 30, 2005, when the Broncos scored 49 points. Denver scored two special-teams touchdowns in their 52-20 win in September.

“I do not know if we were overlooking them or did not take it seriously,” Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin said. “I don’t know what happened, but whatever we did was not good enough going into this game.”

The Eagles have made it a priority to avoid giving up big plays. Cassel found Jennings streaking behind Allen and Patrick Chung in the first quarter for that 57-yard score. The Eagles gave up four passes of 20 yards or more, the most they allowed since a game against Carolina last year, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Chung, who lost his starting job to rookie Earl Wolff earlier in the season, was benched in favor of Kurt Coleman.

“Kurt has done a good job in practice,” coach Chip Kelly said. “Just trying to find out where we are since Earl has been down (with a knee injury). I think Kurt deserves some time and we’re just trying to figure out who can play.”

No one on the defense made much of a case for themselves in this game.

“We just weren’t playing tight enough coverage,” Davis said. “That’s attached to the rush, too. It’s all attached together. It’s not just the coverage giving up plays, it’s the rush that has to get there. Collectively, as a defense, we came up really short today.”

The Eagles had gotten some breaks this season. They faced Green Bay in its first game without Aaron Rodgers. That snowstorm last week helped neutralize Detroit’s Calvin Johnson. Facing a Vikings team without the injured Peterson and backup Toby Gerhart seemed like good fortune smiling on the Eagles again.

But without Peterson to lean on, Cassel was free to throw to Jennings, Jarius Wright, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jerome Simpson and Chase Ford. It begged the question of how Chicago, with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, will attack this defense.

“I don’t see it as a blueprint,” linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. “It was mainly us. We are going to have to go back and watch the film to see what we can correct.”

They should see plenty.


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