NFL Nation: Matt Kalil

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."

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The pick: After trading down one spot with the Cleveland Browns for the second time in three years, the Minnesota Vikings filled one of their biggest holes on defense by selecting UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr with the ninth overall pick.

My take: The Vikings needed an impact linebacker, and Barr certainly has the potential to fill that role. He's certainly raw (he played only 27 games at linebacker in college) and will need work to turn into the kind of disruptive force the Vikings are hoping to get at the position. But it's tough to argue with his physique -- he's 6-foot-4 and ran a 4.44 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine. His 15 repetitions in the bench press at the combine were the worst among linebackers, but he'll get stronger as he enters the league. It was important for the Vikings to get speed and athleticism in their linebacking group, and they've got it now.

Trading with Browns again: The Vikings acquired the 145th overall pick in the draft to move back one spot, trading with the Browns two years after they slipped back from No. 3 to No. 4 and took Matt Kalil. This time, the Browns moved up to get Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert after trading from No. 4 to No. 9. The Vikings now have nine picks in the draft; Spielman usually likes to have 10, but he's got extra flexibility now if he wants to make a move back up.

What's next: The Vikings have three picks on the second day of the draft -- Nos. 40, 72 and 96. They've traded back into the first round the past two years, though, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see Rick Spielman make a deal later on Thursday night.
MINNEAPOLIS -- As we get closer to next month's NFL draft, there is probably no Minnesota Vikings question we've discussed more than this one: If the Vikings find themselves with an opportunity to take a quarterback with the eighth overall pick on May 8, should they do it? Or should they address another need, return to the quarterback position later in the draft and take their chances on the players they find there?

That question has been complicated further by the fact that none of the top quarterbacks in this year's draft seems to have asserted himself as a sure thing. ESPN NFL draft expert Mel Kiper said there is a "super seven" group of players at the top of the draft board -- in what many football people have called one of the best drafts in years -- and none of the quarterbacks are in it.

The group, Kiper said, consists of South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews, Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans.

"That’s your super seven," Kiper said. "After that, I don’t see anybody that belongs in that group right now. I don’t think any of the quarterbacks do, and I don’t see any other players jumped up that far. So that’s your sensational seven, if you want to say that. Then you’re getting into the range where the eighth guy could be the 18th guy on some boards. To me, the seven are the consensus seven."

The problem for the Vikings with that group is that three members are offensive tackles. Minnesota is set at that position with Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt. Watkins or Evans could be an option, but with Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson already on the roster, the Vikings would probably take another receiver only if they thought stockpiling the position was worth passing on a chance to fill another need. Clowney and Mack seem likely to be gone by the time the Vikings pick.

But if one team above the Vikings takes a quarterback, or drafts another player, one of those seven players would be on the board at No. 8. Even if that group is gone, the Vikings could choose from a number of other players to help their defense. Is it worth passing on a quarterback to go that direction?

"It’s incredible. There are about a dozen quarterbacks that could be starters, and out of those dozen, there are some that argue that all 12 of them will never be a successful starter," Kiper said. "This is a crazy year for quarterbacks. There is a lot of quantity, but how much quality is debatable. But if [Central Florida's Blake] Bortles is there at 8, unless they just don’t like Bortles, it would be tough to pass him up.

"The bottom line with the Vikings -- and I’ve said this for three months -- is, I don’t care who they like or don’t like, they’ve got to get a quarterback. And however they do it, they’ve got to get a lot better at quarterback. You can’t be the fourth team in the division at quarterback by a wide margin and have any chance of being any more than a borderline playoff team at best, and probably in the cellar, more than likely, if things at other positions don’t go your way."

Of the top three quarterbacks in the draft, Kiper said Bortles was "more of a consensus" in the top eight picks than Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel or Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater.

If the Vikings did pass on one in the first round, they could come back for someone like Fresno State's Derek Carr, Alabama's AJ McCarron, LSU's Zach Mettenberger, Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo or Georgia's Aaron Murray later in the draft. Kiper said some teams feel Carr is better than the top three quarterbacks and assuaged some concerns about Murray's arm strength, saying it's "more than good enough."

"Which quarterback do [the Vikings] like? We don’t know right now. Everybody’s trying to figure that out," Kiper said. "Everybody’s not going to like Bortles, everybody’s not going to like Manziel, Bridgewater, Carr, this whole group. There’s some that really like these guys. There’s some that really don’t like these guys."

All-NFC North: Minnesota Vikings

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

 The Vikings had five players named to the All-NFC North team, which was the second fewest in the division. Of those, only running back Adrian Peterson is headed to the Pro Bowl (though kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson probably would have earned a spot if the NFL hadn't curtailed kickoffs from the game).

Other than Patterson -- who is a rookie -- and Brian Robison, it's tough to say that any of the selections played better in 2013 than they did in 2012. Offensive tackles Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt round out the Vikings' representation.

Even if several players got spots because they were the best options in a mediocre division, the Vikings' group of all-division players did provide highlights. Patterson was the best kick returner in the NFL, leading the league with a 32.4-yard return average and becoming the only player in the league to return two kicks for touchdowns. Peterson finished fifth in the NFL with 1,266 rushing yards, despite carrying only 18 times in the final four games and missing two with groin and foot injuries. And Robison had the best year of his career, finishing with nine sacks and ending the year second in the NFL with 81 total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.

It's tough to find too many snubs on the Vikings roster. The biggest one might be punt returner Marcus Sherels, who surged at the end of the season and finished third in the NFL with a 15.2-yard return average. Sherels, though, was up against a strong field; every punt returner in the NFC North had a touchdown this season.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Close your eyes and imagine it, Vikings fans: Robert Griffin III and Adrian Peterson in the same backfield, working opposing defenses into a tizzy and electrifying the Metrodome with a read-option attack.

Griffin and Peterson, who share an agent, had talked about the possibility before the 2012 draft, Griffin said Tuesday, and though he added he didn't have any contact with the Vikings' front office, he was told by people on the outside that if he'd fallen to No. 3 in the draft, the Vikings "weren't going to leave me there."

Now open your eyes, realize the reason the Vikings didn't have any contact with Griffin was because there was no way he was going to slip past No. 2. And if you like, thank Joe Webb for having the game of his life on Christmas Eve 2011.

The Vikings beat the Washington Redskins that day, overcoming Peterson's torn ACL and getting their third win in large part because of Webb, who spelled an injured Christian Ponder and directed three touchdown drives in a 33-26 Vikings victory. That game meant the Vikings would wind up picking third, not second, in the draft, and wouldn't have a shot to take the Heisman Trophy winner. The Redskins traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick to the St. Louis Rams in March 2012 for the No. 2 pick and the right to draft Griffin. The Vikings could have, at the very least, gotten a similar bounty for the No. 2 pick, or they could have taken Griffin.

"They try to tell you you never know what can happen," Griffin said in a conference call Tuesday. "Specifically, I was told by a few people from the outside that if I had fallen to No. 3 they weren't going to leave me on the board. But nothing as far as them wanting to move up or just dying to have me. Just kind of if I was there, they were going to take me."

We've never seen Peterson in a read-option scheme, though the Vikings showed flashes of it with Webb in their playoff game against the Packers last year. It's hard to know exactly how much of it the Vikings would have used if they had Griffin, or whether Peterson would have taken to it after lining up behind the quarterback for most of his career. But it's safe to say that with two dynamic players like that in the backfield, the Vikings could have at least had something very entertaining.

It still seems a bit hard to believe the Vikings would have behaved the same way with the No. 2 pick that they would have if Griffin had been there at No. 3. They had just drafted Ponder the year before and liked Matt Kalil, whom they ended up drafting fourth overall once they traded with the Cleveland Browns. If Griffin had slipped to third overall, it might have meant Kalil was off the board, but had the Vikings picked second, they might have been swayed by the bounty they could have reaped in a trade. But that alternative could still have left the Vikings in an attractive position.

On Tuesday, as the Vikings prepared to play Griffin a year after he ran for a 76-yard touchdown against them, coach Leslie Frazier wanted no part of thinking about what might have been.

"Next question, please. Anybody else got a question? We just want to win!" Frazier said with a laugh. "2011, 2010, 2013, a win. I'm not looking at what's happening at the draft. I just want us a win. That might be a question for Rick Spielman and [team president] Mark [Wilf] or [owner] Zygi [Wilf], but not Leslie Frazier. Every game we play, I'm going to tell you this, we're going to try to win."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson did not practice on Wednesday because of a lingering right hamstring injury, but based on how the Vikings proceeded with Peterson last week and what he said about the injury after Monday's loss to the New York Giants, there's little reason to think Peterson won't play on Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers.

The Vikings held Peterson out of one practice last week and limited him twice before the Giants game, and while Peterson said after Monday's game he could feel his hamstring, it wasn't a huge detriment to his game. He'll likely get a light workload all week in practice, but the injury doesn't seem like one that would cause him to miss time.

In other Vikings injury news:
  • Quarterback Josh Freeman (concussion) did not practice, and coach Leslie Frazier said earlier Wednesday that Christian Ponder "more than likely" will start on Sunday.
  • Running back Matt Asiata (shoulder) and tight end Rhett Ellison (ankle) were both held out of practice. Wide receiver Rodney Smith (hip), who didn't play on Monday against the Giants, also didn't practice.
  • Defensive back A.J. Jefferson (ankle) and left tackle Matt Kalil (low back) were limited; Jefferson missed Monday's game, while Kalil played through his injury.
  • Kicker Blair Walsh (left hamstring) was again limited. Walsh was short on a 53-yard field goal on Monday, the first time in his career he'd missed from longer than 50 yards, and ceded kickoff duties to Jeff Locke.
  • Lastly, linebacker Chad Greenway was limited with a wrist injury.

Upon Further Review: Vikings Week 7

October, 22, 2013
An examination of four hot issues following the Minnesota Vikings' 23-7 loss to the New York Giants:

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
AP Photo/Julio CortezRyan Mundy and the Giants put the clamps on Vikings RB Adrian Peterson on Monday night.
1. An encore for Freeman? Two weeks after signing with the Vikings, quarterback Josh Freeman's debut on Monday night had the feel of a calculus midterm after an all-night cram session. Freeman overthrew 16 of his 33 incompletions, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only Tony Romo -- against the Giants in Week 8 last year -- has overthrown more passes in a game in the past eight seasons. Freeman chalked up many of the issues to a lack of timing with his receivers, saying some of his passes were just "a hair off," but no amount of practice or game plan study will make up for an inability to hit receivers. The Vikings might as well see if Freeman can improve on Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers, but three of their next four games are against division leaders (Packers, Cowboys, Seahawks). Two of those are on the road. That's not a recipe for much more success.

2. Peterson MIA: For just the third time in his career, running back Adrian Peterson failed to rush for 30 yards after logging double-digit carries. But Peterson's workload wasn't exactly heavy; he carried just five times in the second half as Freeman uncorked 37 passes, including 31 in the fourth quarter. Like most teams do against Peterson, the Giants stacked the box with eight and nine defenders, daring Freeman to throw and cutting off Peterson's rushing lanes. But teams were doing that to the Vikings last year, and they still managed to open holes for Peterson. The running back said the team needs to be more physical, like it was last year, but it's been startling to watch how ineffective the Vikings have been running the ball, considering Peterson, fullback Jerome Felton and their entire offensive line returned this season intact. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's decision to use Peterson so little was perplexing, but how long do you try something that isn't working?

3. Pass protection issues: At the risk of piling on the offensive line, the Vikings weren't much better at protecting Freeman than they were at clearing holes for Peterson. Left tackle Matt Kalil -- playing with lower back tightness -- allowed seven pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. So did left guard Charlie Johnson, who was beaten on a number of blitzes up the middle. The Vikings were better at run blocking than pass protection last year, but they were by no means deficient at keeping quarterback Christian Ponder upright, either. Ponder was sacked 32 times in 2012, and the Vikings were tied for 11th in the league in sacks allowed per game. It's been startling to watch Kalil struggle after a Pro Bowl rookie season, though, and as a whole, the Vikings have given up 15 sacks in seven games.

4. Hot seats? Owner Zygi Wilf dismissed the idea of any immediate staff changes after the loss, saying, "I'm sticking with my team." But if the Vikings get throttled at home against the Packers next week, could coach Leslie Frazier meet the same fate his predecessor, Brad Childress, did after a lopsided loss to Green Bay in 2010? One thing that might help Frazier is the lack of an obvious successor; the Vikings had Frazier waiting in the wings in 2010, but of the Vikings' current assistants, only special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer might be an obvious interim candidate. And Priefer's unit marred a punt return touchdown with two turnovers Monday night. Moreover, a midseason coaching change would be the Vikings' second in four years, and would add another dose of uncertainty to a season that's already had plenty of it. The next few weeks could reveal how much more the Vikings' ownership can stomach.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Minnesota Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil, who was questionable to play against the New York Giants because of back tightness, is active for Monday night's game.

Kalil said on Saturday he expected to play unless he had a setback before Monday's game, and he'll man his normal spot, protecting Josh Freeman's blind side in his first start against a Giants pass rush that has struggled to get to the quarterback. New York has just five sacks this season -- the fewest in the league -- and is one of three teams with fewer sacks than the Vikings' 10 this season.

Cornerback A.J. Jefferson is inactive with a sprained ankle, and quarterback Matt Cassel -- who started last Sunday against the Carolina Panthers -- is inactive as the Vikings' third quarterback, as expected, with Christian Ponder as the Vikings' backup. With so many teams reeling from quarterback injuries around the league, the Vikings might be able to find a market for Cassel before next week's trade deadline, and it's possible the 31-year-old would be amenable to a move.

The only other inactive player of note for the Vikings is rookie Gerald Hodges, who looked like he might get some playing time with Desmond Bishop heading to injured reserve. The Vikings said they'd seen a sense of urgency from Hodges now that he is only one spot behind Marvin Mitchell on the depth chart, but the Vikings evidently will staff the weak-side linebacker position another way if Mitchell gets hurt. As much as the team is in nickel, and as much as other linebackers -- Larry Dean, Audie Cole and Michael Mauti -- contribute on special teams, Hodges might have lost out there.

We'll see in about 70 minutes whether the Vikings can get their second win of the year. I'll be chatting about the game through the night with ESPN Giants reporter Dan Graziano. Come join us here.

Adrian Peterson likely to play Monday

October, 19, 2013
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is likely to play with a hamstring injury on Monday night against the New York Giants, coach Leslie Frazier said on Saturday. Peterson missed practice on Friday, but was back at practice with the team on Saturday and will be listed as probable for the game, Frazier said.

"He practiced well today," Frazier said. "That was encouraging."

Frazier said offensive tackle Matt Kalil will be listed as questionable with back tightness. Though Kalil said he expects to play on Monday if he doesn't have any setbacks, he will need to wait and see how he feels on game day before making a final determination.

Kalil is listed as questionable on the Vikings' injury report.

"I'll see where I'm at Monday, and see if I can play. I can judge that, if it's going to hurt me or if I can play," he said. "From the way I felt yesterday and the way I felt today, if it keeps progressing, I'm pretty confident in Monday."

In other Vikings injury news:
  • Cornerback A.J. Jefferson was listed as doubtful with a sprained ankle, but Frazier said the Vikings plan to hold him out on Monday. It will be the second game he's missed in the Vikings' past three, and the decision means Jacob Lacey, who re-signed with the team this week after getting cut at the end of training camp, will likely be active.
  • Kicker Blair Walsh (left hamstring) and cornerback Xavier Rhodes (ankle) returned to full participation on Saturday. Both are probable for Monday.
  • Wide receiver Rodney Smith, who was elevated from the practice squad to the active roster this week, will likely miss Monday's game, Frazier said. Officially, Smith is questionable with a hip injury, but Frazier said Smith was likely to be among the Vikings' inactives anyway.
  • Defensive end Jared Allen was limited for a second straight day with an ankle injury, but is probable for Monday.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Adrian Peterson missed practice for the Minnesota Vikings on Friday because of a hamstring issue that also limited the running back on Thursday, but coach Leslie Frazier said there is no major concern about Peterson missing the Vikings' Monday night game against the New York Giants.

"His hamstring was a little tight, so we held him out of practice," Frazier said. "We expect Adrian to practice tomorrow."

The Vikings also kept cornerback A.J. Jefferson (sprained ankle) and offensive tackle Matt Kalil (back tightness) out of practice, but Frazier said both players are likely to practice on Saturday, as well. Of those three players, Jefferson seems most likely to possibly miss Monday's game against the Giants; he did not practice on Thursday, and was out of the Vikings' Sept. 29 game with the Pittsburgh Steelers because of the injury.

Frazier also said the Vikings are waiting to see if safety Harrison Smith's turf toe will require surgery, and based on what the coach said, the only chance Smith would have to return this season would be if he can recover without surgery. Smith is on injured reserve with a designation to return in eight weeks, but if he did need an operation, Frazier said, he would face a four-to-six month recovery, which would obviously end his season.

Essentially, the Vikings' only chance to get Smith back this season is if his injury heals on its own -- or at least improves to the point where he can play through it.

"We're going to take this approach and re-evaluate it at the end of that six weeks (before Smith can practice)," Frazier said. "There's a possibility he won't need it. There's some guys that haven't had to do it. We'll see if he can go out and do anything, and if not, we'll take the next approach."

In other Vikings' injury news:
  • Kicker Blair Walsh (left hamstring) was back to limited participation in practice after sitting out on Thursday; Walsh played last Sunday with the injury, but did not kick off.
  • Defensive end Jared Allen appeared on the injury report for the first time, his participation limited because of an ankle injury.
  • Wide receiver Jarius Wright (ankle) returned to full participation, and cornerback Xavier Rhodes (ankle) was limited again.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- If Matt Kalil was going to reach the NFL, there would be little doubt about how he would do it. His father Frank -- a center who was drafted by the Buffalo Bills and played in the USFL -- never pushed his boys to play football, but let them know if they asked for his help, they were going to play offensive line, and they were going to learn to do it his way.

"It’s something we always wanted to do,” Matt Kalil said. “He just said if we ever wanted his help, it’s going to be his way or he’s not going to help us. That’s what he always made very clear. Football has always been a sport we loved to play."

M. Kalil
R. Kalil
His father influenced Matt Kalil growing up, but it was his older brother Ryan who set the example -- through high school, to USC and onto the NFL. Ryan Kalil is a Pro Bowl center for the Carolina Panthers. Matt reached the Pro Bowl in his rookie season with the Vikings last year. And for the first time, the two brothers will take the field on opposing teams this Sunday.

The Panthers come to Mall of America Field on Sunday afternoon, pitting Matt and Ryan Kalil against each other in a game that should be a showcase for the family. Their sister Danielle, an aspiring country artist -- will sing the national anthem, and their parents will be in the stands. They'll be wearing purple and gold; Matt Kalil made sure of that.

"This is my home game," he said.

Even though both brothers' teams are in dire need of a win on Sunday, the Kalils are making sure they enjoy the moment. They talk frequently to compare blocking notes, and when he's asked, Frank Kalil is still a candid source of advice.

"He’s one of the only guys that’s not going to be a ‘yes guy,'" Matt Kalil said. "He’s going to tell me how it is and tell me how I played. Maybe the first couple games I played bad and he’ll call me up: ‘What the hell were you doing?’ He’s always there to coach me; he’s never going to B.S. me. If there’s any critic that I’ll really listen to, it’s him and all his advice.”

Ryan Kalil has been a source of advice for his younger brother, too. When Matt Kalil adopted his 6,000-calorie diet this summer, trying to keep his weight up through a healthier regimen of lean meats, vegetables and starches, he modeled the plan after what Ryan was doing. And the drive to be better than his big brother is still there.

"He’s always setting the bar so high, it always keeps me motivated and play with that little chip on my shoulder that I always want to do better than him,” Matt Kalil said. “I’m sure he wants to do better than me. That’s how we are. We’re good competitors and it’s that little sibling rivalry we’ve always had since we were younger.”

Upon Further Review: Vikings Week 3

September, 23, 2013
An examination of four hot issues after the Minnesota Vikings' 31-27 loss to the Cleveland Browns:

[+] EnlargeChristian Ponder
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsDespite returning five starters on the offensive line, the Vikings couldn't stop the Browns from sacking quarterback Christian Ponder six times.
Line play is offensive: There's no easy explanation for why the Vikings' offensive line play has been so poor in the team's first three games. The group returned all five starters from a year ago, when it was one of the best units on the Vikings' roster. But Christian Ponder was sacked six times on Sunday, and the group was unable to open holes for Adrian Peterson, whose longest carry was 9 yards on an 88-yard afternoon. Whatever the problems are, they stretch back to the preseason, when left tackle Matt Kalil was struggling in pass protection and center John Sullivan botched a shotgun exchange with Ponder.

No pressure on Hoyer: Playing at home and facing an offensive line that had allowed 11 sacks in its first two games, the Vikings figured they'd be able to get to quarterback Brian Hoyer early and often on Sunday. But left end Jared Allen was shut down by Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas, and although the Vikings sacked Hoyer three times, they had to compensate for their lack of defensive line pressure by blitzing more than they usually do -- or probably would like to do. Linebacker Erin Henderson had two of the Vikings' three sacks, and his second one came on a blitz where he followed linebacker Chad Greenway. The Vikings typically are at their best when their front four is causing trouble and shielding whatever issues they have at linebacker and defensive back. But the Browns' max-protect schemes worked, and Hoyer had time to rebound from his mistakes and threw for 321 yards.

Peterson slowed again: Maybe all that chatter about fullback Jerome Felton being overpaid was off-base; the fullback, who got a three-year, $7.5 million deal in the offseason, has clearly been missed during his three-game suspension for a prior drunken-driving arrest. Peterson averaged just 3.5 yards a carry against a stout defensive front on Sunday, and without Felton to open holes for him, the running back has looked out of sorts, seeing holes close up when he's trying to turn decent gains into game-changing runs. Felton returns this week against the Steelers, and as much trouble as the Vikings have had putting Peterson in control of a game, they'll be happy to have their Pro Bowl fullback again.

Embarrassing day for special teams: Vikings special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer was upset enough about his group allowing Bears kick returner Devin Hester to rack up a NFL-record 249 yards in Week 2. One can only guess what he's saying to the Vikings' special teamers this week after defensive back Josh Aubrey gained 34 yards on a fake punt and punter Spencer Lanning threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Cameron on a fake field goal that turned out to give the Browns their margin of victory. Coach Leslie Frazier said after the game that the Vikings simply "didn't recognize" the fake field goal, and Aubrey wound up being the Browns' leading rusher because of the fake punt. One can make the argument that those two plays cost the Vikings the game.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings will play the Cleveland Browns at Mall of America Field on Sunday, and they spent the first two days of the week preparing for a team that likely would start Jason Campbell at quarterback and Trent Richardson at running back.

The team they face in actuality will use neither player.

The Browns announced Wednesday morning they would start third-stringer Brian Hoyer, not Campbell, in place of the injured Brandon Weeden, a move that had a grateful Leslie Frazier chuckling about how he'd rather find out now than at game time on Sunday. Then, on Wednesday evening, Cleveland traded Richardson to Indianapolis for a first-round pick, as ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported.

Not only does the latter move take the Browns' top playmaker off the field on Sunday, it adds another interesting wrinkle to one of Vikings general manager Rick Spielman's biggest trades.

It was Cleveland, you'll recall, that sent three additional picks to the Vikings last year to swap first-rounders with Minnesota, moving up one spot from No. 4 to No. 3 overall. The Browns drafted Richardson, and the Vikings got the player they were targeting anyway (USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil). The trade gave the Vikings an extra fourth-rounder, making it easier for them to part with their own fourth-round selection to move back into the first round and take Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith. Kalil reached the Pro Bowl last year, and Smith looks like he could be headed in that direction.

The Browns, meanwhile, gave up three picks for a running back they decided to deal 17 games into his career. Richardson scored 11 touchdowns as a rookie, and it's not the Vikings' business what the Browns did with him after they took him, but the Browns-Colts trade does speak again to Spielman's ability to create a market for his assets. The Browns likely believed they had to move up to No. 3 to take Richardson, and in return the Vikings got the flexibility to deal back into the first round and pick up a starting safety in addition to the tackle they wanted. It's similar to what Spielman did in March, landing three picks for Percy Harvin (a receiver it seemed obvious the Vikings would trade at some point) and moving back into the first round to draft Cordarrelle Patterson after taking Sharrif Floyd and Xavier Rhodes with Minnesota's other two first-rounders.

With Harvin out for at least the first six weeks of the season, and Richardson gone to Indianapolis, the ledger looks like this: From the Cleveland trade, the Vikings got picks to take receiver Jarius Wright and safety Robert Blanton (who are still on the team), and had an extra fourth-rounder to help them move up and get Smith. From the Seattle trade, they got Rhodes and offensive guard Travis Bond (who is currently on their practice squad). In exchange for all that, the Vikings gave up Harvin and the rights to two picks that became Ravens linebacker Courtney Upshaw and offensive guard Gino Gradkowski.

Again, Spielman couldn't control anything that happened to the pieces he parted with in trades, but the fragility of the NFL so often rewards teams that are more willing to assemble pieces than pay dearly for one player. The Richardson trade was a reminder of that, and the fact the Browns won't have him on Sunday probably shouldn't be the only reason for Spielman to smile today.

Observation deck: Vikings-49ers

August, 26, 2013

If Christian Ponder's preseason is done, at least he saved his best work for his closing act.

Ponder went 7-of-9 for 48 yards on his final drive during the Minnesota Vikings' 34-14 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night, directing a 12-play, 78-yard drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Joe Webb on a fade route. It was as assertive and accurate as Ponder has looked all preseason, and though most of his completions were underneath the 49ers' coverage, he converted two third downs (one on a 7-yard scramble, the other on his touchdown to Webb), and the scoring pass was Ponder's second of the night. It helped him finish with his best stat line of the preseason -- 17-of-23 for 116 yards, two touchdowns and an interception -- but it also dressed things up after another ragged start for Ponder.

On the Vikings' first play, he threw too far out in front of Greg Jennings, who was in single coverage against a safety, on a deep ball off play action. He threw incomplete to John Carlson on second down, and fumbled on third down after Ahmad Brooks beat Phil Loadholt and sacked Ponder. It took the Vikings four series to get a first down, and on their first sustained drive of the night, Ponder floated a couple of high passes -- one caught by Jennings, the other caught by Stephen Burton out of bounds -- instead of driving the ball downfield.

He finished the night with an average of 5 yards per pass, not unlike much of the work he did last season, and while the night again came with a significant caveat -- Adrian Peterson was on the field for just two plays -- Ponder had opportunities to connect on a few big throws that he didn't hit. He'll likely sit out the Vikings' final preseason game Thursday night, which means fans will head into the regular season relying more on faith than concrete evidence that Ponder is progressing.

Here's a rundown of the rest of the night:
  • It wasn't a good night for the Vikings' secondary. Chris Cook left the game with a groin injury (no small thing, considering all the trouble Cook has had staying on the field) and Josh Robinson spent much of the night dealing with the attention 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick paid to him. Kaepernick targeted Robinson four times on a 84-yard touchdown drive, hitting rookie Quinton Patton for a 19-yard gain in the slot against Robinson and connecting with Patton on a 5-yard touchdown after two completions to Marlon Moore against Robinson. If Cook is out for any length of time, the Vikings' big gamble in the secondary could become even riskier with Robinson and rookie Xavier Rhodes starting.
  • Defensive tackle Kevin Williams left the game with a knee injury after a chop block in the second quarter and will have a MRI on Monday. Early indications are that the injury isn't serious, but defensive end Jared Allen was ticked about the low hit; interviewed on TV he called it a dirty play. Sharrif Floyd also is out for the rest of the preseason after a chop block caused him to have a minor knee operation, and Christian Ballard is still away from the team because of personal issues. The Vikings' lack of depth at defensive tackle, at the moment, looks a bit unnerving.
  • The Vikings' offensive line had another uncharacteristically bad night. Loadholt offered little resistance to Brooks on Ponder's fumble, and was later flagged for holding. And left tackle Matt Kalil had a pair of unnecessary-roughness penalties, earning one after he joined a shoving match between Brandon Fusco and a 49ers player. Coach Leslie Frazier had to sit Kalil down for a play to cool him off, and after Kalil sustained a knee injury in a poor performance in the Vikings' second preseason game, tonight wasn't a good follow-up.
  • On Ponder's interception, Burton stopped early on a crossing route and was a step shy of catching the pass. Burton's had a strong preseason, but Ponder's interception might have been a completion had Burton finished his route.
  • Webb, the former quarterback who is competing with Burton for one of the final receiver spots, provided another reminder of why he might fit in as a pass-catcher. He did a nice job on his touchdown, going up for a jump ball and pulling down Ponder's pass in the corner of the end zone. With his size, strength and leaping ability, Webb could be a nice weapon in the red zone.
  • As promised, Desmond Bishop got plenty of work, playing with the Vikings' first-team defense in the first half and remaining in the game with the No. 2 defense in the second half. He gave up a catch to Moore when Kaepernick stepped out of the pocket and drew Bishop toward the line of scrimmage, but Bishop stopped Kendall Hunter for a loss and made a nice open-field tackle of D.J. Harper in the fourth quarter. Though he's still struggling somewhat in pass coverage, Bishop can help the Vikings' run defense, and he looked more assertive Sunday than he did against Buffalo.
  • Before he left with his injury, Cook made an impressive tackle of Chad Hall, coming across the field to drag down the receiver after a four-yard screen pass.
  • Chad Greenway sold the 49ers on the idea that he was rushing before dropping back into coverage on his second-quarter interception of Colt McCoy. The turnover set up the Vikings' first touchdown, when Ponder hit Zach Line -- who turned a screen pass into a 61-yard touchdown in the Vikings' first preseason game -- for a 1-yard score.

What to watch for: Vikings-49ers

August, 25, 2013
The Vikings' third preseason game is tonight in San Francisco, and it will serve as the final look at almost all of their starters before they begin the season in Detroit on Sept. 8. It's no coincidence the third preseason game is on national TV -- if Adrian Peterson was going to play at all this preseason, it was going to be tonight, and the reigning MVP will give fans at least a little taste of what to expect this season. But for the Vikings, there are more pressing matters than what Peterson does in a brief tuneup.

Here are five things to watch from the Vikings' perspective:

1. Christian Ponder's last rehearsal: The Vikings' starting quarterback hasn't done much to ease fans' anxiety about how he'll perform this season, throwing an interception on his second pass of the Vikings' first preseason game and going 5-for-12 for 53 yards last week against Buffalo. He'll play into the third quarter tonight in his most extensive work with new receivers like Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson before the season starts, and it would help Ponder to show tangible signs of progress before starting his third season. Coach Leslie Frazier stopped short of calling tonight's game "crucial" for Ponder but did say it's important for the Vikings coaches to come off the field with some confidence about where the team is at in certain areas. Count Ponder's play high on that list.

2. More work for Patterson: With Jarius Wright staying home because of a concussion, Patterson will get his first work with Ponder in a game, and the Vikings could get some chances to see whether the dynamic rookie can take advantage of how defenses are playing Peterson. He hasn't caught a pass from Ponder in a preseason game yet, but that will likely change tonight, and the Vikings can take a look at how prominently Patterson can factor into their offense early in the season. It will be especially interesting to see if Patterson gets on the field with Jennings and what kind of production the Vikings can get with both receivers in the same packages.

3. A rebound for the O-line: The Vikings offensive line had some uncharacteristic mistakes last week in Buffalo; Matt Kalil missed a block on Jerry Hughes on the first play of the game, and John Sullivan delivered a shotgun snap before Ponder was expecting it, leading to a fumble that Ponder recovered. The unit was solid all last season, and tonight is a chance for it to clean things up against a strong defense. That's particularly important in pass protection, considering how much Ponder struggled under pressure last season and how much pressure the 49ers can generate.

4. "Good-on-good" action for Bishop: The Vikings will give linebacker Desmond Bishop plenty of work with their first team tonight so they can see how he fares in what defensive coordinator Alan Williams termed as "good-on-good" situations (in football parlance, the Vikings want to see Bishop against the 49ers' best players). As Bishop returns to his hometown, he'll also have an opportunity to make a strong statement that he deserves one of the Vikings' linebacker spots. That seemed to be a foregone conclusion when he signed with the team in June, but Bishop missed time in training camp and sat out the Vikings' first preseason game with a groin injury, and he's been playing behind Marvin Mitchell at weakside linebacker. Tonight, he'll be on the field quite a bit with the Vikings' starting defense, and, after playing last week for the first time since he tore his hamstring in the Green Bay Packers' 2012 preseason opener, Bishop has an important opportunity to show he's still effective at age 29. The Vikings have a number of young linebackers, like second-year man Audie Cole and rookies Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti. That means there could be some hard decisions looming at the position, and Bishop needs to make his case after an up-and-down performance last week in Buffalo.

5. "All Day" at night: Even if it's only for a few carries, Peterson's presence on the field is hard to ignore -- particularly when he hasn't played since last January's playoff loss and when he figures to be prominently featured on TV. He has never carried less than than 10 times when he's played in the Vikings' third preseason game, though it seems likely he could get less work than that tonight. Still, Peterson fundamentally changes the Vikings offense. Defenses have to account for him, and Ponder will get his most realistic action of the preseason simply because of that fact. The Vikings could also see how other fullbacks, like Rhett Ellison and Zach Line, fare as lead blockers for Peterson with Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton out for the remainder of the preseason after an emergency appendectomy earlier this month.