NFL Nation: Norv Turner

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings' time without Adrian Peterson officially began last week, but it wasn't until early Wednesday morning that the team made a move to suggest it would be without the 2012 NFL MVP for the foreseeable future.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
AP Photo/Sang TanMatt Cassel is not likely to see opposing defenses selling out to stop the run game without Adrian Peterson, but he's been in similar situations before.
Vikings players head into Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints knowing it could be weeks, if not months, before Peterson is back on the field. The practical effects of that move might weigh heaviest on the man now charged with running the Vikings' offense on the field, knowing he won't have Peterson to occupy defenses' attention.

Matt Cassel has been in this situation before, winning a pair of games when Peterson was out with a foot injury in December. But the Vikings could be without Peterson for a longer period of time this year. Unlike last year, when Cassel had emerged the winner of the Vikings' bizarre quarterback carousel and was playing for a team with no playoff prospects and little to lose, he's trying to keep the job he won over rookie Teddy Bridgewater in training camp.

Cassel threw four interceptions in the Vikings' 30-7 loss to the New England Patriots last Sunday, though coach Mike Zimmer said Cassel had played well from training camp through the Vikings' season-opening win over the St. Louis Rams, adding, "I'm not going to let one bad afternoon define it."

What I'll be curious to see, however, is how long Cassel can keep the Vikings' offense productive, and the team can keep its record competitive. Otherwise, the Vikings could have reason to turn over the job to Bridgewater at some point this season and give him a chance to develop on the field.

In the meantime, Cassel will have to work without one of the underrated luxuries of quarterbacking next to Peterson. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Vikings quarterbacks have seen eight-man fronts on 122 dropbacks since the start of the 2012 season, the second-most in the NFL during that time. Some of those looks have been a tacit sign that defenses didn't have to worry about getting beat by the Vikings' passing game, but many have been a reflection of how much attention Peterson commands. Neither Cassel nor Christian Ponder were able to make the most of the single-coverage looks they saw last year, but Cassel had drilled both of his throws against eight-man fronts this year for a total of 31 yards.

In any case, Cassel is not likely to see defenses selling out against Matt Asiata or Jerick McKinnon in the same way, and the Vikings won't be able to rely on the big gains they came to count on from Peterson in their offense.

"I think when you have a back who is capable of making big plays and has a history of making plays -- 10, 15-yard runs -- those plays can supplant some plays you're not getting in another area," offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. "I think when you're coaching a player like that you kind of count on that you're going to get those kind of plays. I think Matt and Jerick both had big runs, but I don't think you can say, 'Hey, in this game we are going to get three or four runs over 15 yards,' like you would with Adrian. You just have to adjust your plan."

The defining moment of Cassel's career came in 2008, when he stepped in for an injured Tom Brady and led the New England Patriots to an 11-5 record in the wake of Drady's deflating injury. He drew parallels to that experience Thursday, but the difference this time is, he's not working with the remainder of a team that went 18-1 the year before. These Vikings are young, they've lost their best player and they'll need Cassel to play well.

"We do have a young, impressionable team. I think that the main thing is trying to block out the noise on the outside because there is a lot of it going on right now," Cassel said. "The Saints aren't going to feel sorry for us when we go down there on Sunday. Part of doing this job is overcoming some adversity, and we've faced some adversity, obviously, early this year."
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings were driving late in the first half of Sunday's game against the New England Patriots with an opportunity to score before halftime and pull within a touchdown or a field goal. Matt Cassel dropped back on third-and-16 and found Cordarrelle Patterson inside the Patriots' 10, running a corner route between their cornerback and safety.

It was a perfect call to beat the Patriots' coverage, and a connection with Patterson would have put the Vikings on the doorstep of a touchdown with 30 seconds and a timeout remaining. But Cassel's throw led Patterson too close to the sideline and the receiver wasn't able to get both of his feet in bounds. Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones blocked the Vikings' ensuing field goal attempt and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown to put the Patriots up 24-7.

"I had to put it outside away from the safety," Cassel said. "It was a split safety, and over the corner's head. I threw it where I wanted to, and unfortunately we weren't able to complete it in bounds."

[+] EnlargeMatt Cassel
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesMatt Cassel's four interceptions were too much to overcome.
Throws like those can extend drives and prevent the 10- or 14-point swing that effectively took the Vikings out of Sunday's game. They can help Cassel bounce back from the interceptions he threw on Sunday, and in the long run, they can help reinforce his hold on the starting quarterback job. But if Cassel can't make them, he might not be able to shake the notion that he has the job only until Teddy Bridgewater is ready.

Cassel will start for the Vikings in New Orleans next week after going 19 of 36 for 202 yards, a touchdown and four interceptions on Sunday, and in reality, the Vikings' decisions at quarterback should -- and probably do -- revolve more around determining the right course of action for Bridgewater than any short-term ramifications. But the Vikings' attempt to get to 2-0 turned sour on a poor performance from Cassel, and with it, the quarterback missed a chance to assert himself, against his former team and without Adrian Peterson by his side to command some of the defense's attention.

"I'm not going to make excuses and say that just because Adrian Peterson wasn't playing today is the reason why we faltered," Cassel said. "There are a number of different reasons, and I will take full responsibility. I've got to take better care of the ball and not give short fields against a good team, and maybe the circumstances will be different."

Chief among Cassel's concerns might be his struggles on shots down the field, which are a key component of offensive coordinator Norv Turner's scheme and led to three of his interceptions on Sunday. He was 0-of-8 on throws that traveled more than 10 yards in the air, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and is just 1-of-11 with three interceptions on throws that covered 10 or more air yards this season. Cassel is the first quarterback since 2006 to start in both Week 1 and 2 without completing more than one pass 10 or more yards downfield, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

There were more parties responsible for the Vikings' offensive shortcomings on Sunday than just Cassel. Tight end Kyle Rudolph dropped three passes, wide receiver Greg Jennings had a drop, and the Vikings gave up six sacks.

"Matt's been in this league 10 years," Rudolph said. "He's a professional; he's ready to get back to work. You know, it's not all on Matt by any means. We put ourselves in a lot of really tough situations."

Many teams do, and the good ones have quarterbacks who can get them out of those situations. Most of Cassel's opportunities to do that on Sunday fell by the wayside.

"Today was one game in a 16-game season," Cassel said. "Of course, at times would I have liked to change some outcomes and circumstances? Of course. I think any quarterback in the league would tell you that at times."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The New England Patriots' first outing with their 3-4 defense didn't yield positive results, especially against the run; the Patriots gave up 191 rushing yards to the Miami Dolphins last Sunday, after hoping they had fixed a run defense that allowed 2,145 yards last season.

Fusco
Though the Minnesota Vikings' own 185-yard rushing total against the St. Louis Rams was helped more by Cordarrelle Patterson's 67-yard touchdown run than by the Vikings' bread-and-butter plays with Adrian Peterson, there could be plenty of room to run against the Patriots on Sunday, too.

"We've seen it before. We see more space out there," guard Brandon Fusco said. "I'll be more out in space, getting to the second level more, running around a little more. I'm fine with that."

Fusco, in particular, saw plenty of action last week, as the Vikings gained 152 of their 185 yards on the right side of the line, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Their new running scheme frequently employs Fusco as a pulling guard, and he was out in front of Peterson on his two biggest runs last week -- a 17-yarder in the first quarter when Fusco was pulling with center John Sullivan, and a 16-yarder in the third quarter, when Fusco and fullback Jerome Felton were leading Peterson.

"(Left guard) Charlie (Johnson) and I are athletic guards, and we're using it to our advantage," Fusco said. "It's something (offensive coordinator) Norv (Turner) likes to do. Sully's out there pulling a little bit, too. It's getting us out in space and hitting the little guys.

"The St. Louis game, there was a play where we're pulling, but they couldn't stop it, so we just kept running it over and over. It seemed like maybe it was a coincidence that I was pulling a lot more than usual, but they couldn't stop the play."

Fusco and right tackle Phil Loadholt are typically the players behind whom the Vikings run the most, and after seeing the Dolphins push Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork around last week, the Vikings could find room to be aggressive with New England's front, as well.

"Miami did a great job, especially with Wilfork in the middle," Fusco said. "They pushed him around a little bit, and we've just got to be physical with these guys."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Adrian Peterson's disappointment over his own performance last Sunday was mostly mitigated by the fact the Minnesota Vikings beat the St. Louis Rams by four touchdowns on the road. But when he watched the film of his 21-carry, 75-yard day, Peterson didn't leave with a glowing evaluation.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesAdrian Peterson called his performance in Sunday's season opener "mediocre."
"It was kind of mediocre," Peterson said. "I really wasn't pleased in the way that I played. Overall, I really didn't beat myself up too much, because we pretty much blew them out. We got a 'W.' But on a personal level, there were a lot of things I was able to take from this game that I'll be able to adjust and do differently this week."

Peterson wouldn't elaborate on what he planned to change this week, but it appeared on Sunday he was still trying to find his comfort level with the Vikings' new running scheme, which employs more pulling guards and makes greater use of runs designed to hit a certain point of attack, rather than allowing Peterson to find cutback lanes.

The Rams' defense, though, is one of the league's best against the run, and Peterson could find more opportunities this week against a Patriots defense that ranked 30th in the league against the run last season and allowed 191 rushing yards in a loss to Miami in Week 1.

"In the second half, Miami used their no-huddle and kept coming at New England pretty fast and they got some creases and then they started getting some cutbacks," offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. "Like we’ve all been in games, it just went downhill for New England from there. If you watch that first half, you wouldn’t have thought that was going to happen."

According to ESPN Stats & Information, 11 of Peterson's 21 carries were to the right side of the Vikings' line and he gained 45 yards on those runs. The Dolphins ran to the right side of their line eight times last Sunday, gaining an average of 5.38 yards. If the Vikings are able to throw effectively enough to keep New England from stacking the box against Peterson, there should be plenty of opportunities for the running back on Sunday.

"To see other guys get involved, it's what I've been looking for, for a long time," Peterson said. "It's a breath of fresh air."
video
ST. LOUIS -- On Thursday night, as Percy Harvin was tearing through an electrifying, nationally televised testament to how many ways he can hurt a defense, the Minnesota Vikings were deep in the process of installing a game plan that would continue to make their fans believe they knew exactly what they were doing when they traded Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks 18 months ago.

The jet sweep the Seahawks dialed up for Harvin in a 36-16 win over the Green Bay Packers? That was in the Vikings' plans for Cordarrelle Patterson too. So was a pitch to Patterson out of a two-back set with Matt Asiata, plenty of work for the receiver at split end and his normal duties as a kickoff return man.

The Vikings believed Patterson had many of the same skills as Harvin -- perhaps not as strong or shifty but taller, with equal top-end speed and maybe even better vision. When they spent three picks to trade up and take Patterson in the first round of the 2013 draft, it was with an eye toward filling the void created by the departure of the talented and temperamental Harvin.

That plan is now in full bloom, and Patterson's performance in the Vikings' 34-6 win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday showed again how quickly he is turning into one of the game's unique weapons. He turned the two jet sweeps into 35 yards and romped for another 67 on the pitch in the third quarter, breaking a handful of tackles before he fell into the end zone. Patterson was targeted five times, catching three passes for 26 yards, and ran back two kicks for 48 yards, even though the Rams angled their deep kickoffs in a way that prevented Patterson from breaking free after fielding the ball in the end zone.

All told, he posted 176 all-purpose yards, became the first Vikings receiver to run for more than 100 yards in a game and is the first receiver since the AFL-NFL merger to score rushing touchdowns of 35 yards or more in three consecutive games. Patterson was the most explosive player on the field Sunday, and nearly seven months after the Vikings hired Norv Turner as their offensive coordinator, the second-year receiver is in the hands of a strategist who plans to bring all his talents to bear.

"We always want to get our playmakers the football. So however we can do that -- by throwing it, catching it, handing it -- it doesn't matter," coach Mike Zimmer said. "Our offensive coaches and Norv Turner do an awesome job of understanding where to go and when to take the shots."

Had offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave been bold enough to involve Patterson more early last season, he and the rest of coach Leslie Frazier's staff might have pulled out a couple more close games and saved their jobs. But for Patterson's sake, the change might have been for the best. Turner had already designed 10 plays for the receiver less than a month after he became the Vikings' offensive coordinator, general manager Rick Spielman said at the NFL scouting combine, and as the Vikings push forward with a more aggressive offense, Patterson will be at the center of the attack.

Over time, he could be an even bigger piece of it than running back Adrian Peterson, who remains the focal point of the offense for now but is making more than any running back in the league at age 29. Peterson gained 93 yards Sunday, rushing 21 times for 75 yards against a tough Rams defense, but even the running back marveled at how Patterson was able to outrush him on just three carries.

"It doesn't happen often," Peterson said, "but he is a tremendous talent."

In his second year, Patterson is a rising star, a worthy complement to Peterson and a dynamic successor for Harvin. And at age 23, he doesn't appear to be going anywhere but up.

"I just want the ball in my hands," Patterson said. "When I get the ball, I expect great things."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Three months before the Minnesota Vikings drafted Teddy Bridgewater, they had constructed a climate in which Bridgewater -- or any young quarterback -- should be able to develop without the pressure of immediate expectations.

The Vikings committed more cash to veteran Matt Cassel when he opted out of his 2014 deal, giving him a two-year, $10 million contract that effectively set him up as the bridge to the team's next young QB. They had hired offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who had Troy Aikman, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers in the nascent stages of their careers. They even had Christian Ponder, the former first-round pick who could serve -- at least for a year -- as an emergency option in case Cassel got injured and the Vikings weren't ready to put a rookie on the field.

[+] EnlargeMatt Cassel, Teddy Bridgewater
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltBy starting Matt Cassel over Teddy Bridgewater, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has given his rookie more time to develop.
All of the levers were in place to ensure a healthy environment for Bridgewater to develop. The only question: Would the Vikings pull the right ones?

Based on how new coach Mike Zimmer and Turner handled the first three months of Bridgewater's career in Minnesota, the answer appears to be yes. Zimmer named Cassel the starting quarterback Monday for the beginning of the regular season, rewarding the veteran for playing well enough to keep the job after he'd called Cassel the team's No. 1 QB on the first day of training camp.

Zimmer said at the time the designation didn't mean anything, but in a subtle way, it did: It set up a system in which Bridgewater would have to outplay Cassel to get the job, removed whatever temptation there might have been to play the rookie right away and sent a message to an offense filled with veterans -- 29-year-old running back Adrian Peterson among them -- that immediate success wouldn't take a backseat to development.

"The team has a lot of confidence in him," Zimmer said of Cassel. "They feel good about his veteran leadership and presence. I had to think about the whole football team; it wasn’t just about the quarterbacks. I’ve said this before: It’s not always the best player at that position -- and I’m not saying Matt’s not -- but any position, it’s how everything works together and at this stage in where we are at right now, I feel like that’s the best thing to do."

How this coaching staff handles Bridgewater will play a major role in Zimmer's longevity with the Vikings probably more than how the team fares this season. The decision Zimmer announced on Monday -- and the one his actions had been pointing toward for weeks -- worked on two fronts: It curried favor with players weary of quarterback instability after last season, and it provided more time for Bridgewater to learn in a forgiving environment.

Cassel will be asked to solve a tough St. Louis Rams defense on the road in Week 1, and could possibly have to trade scoring drives with Tom Brady and Brees the next two weeks. That's a daunting task for a rookie, and by assigning it to Cassel, the Vikings can retain some control over the setting in which Bridgewater eventually debuts.

They've been in a position to do that all along, with a sturdy (but not irreplaceable) veteran and an offensive coordinator who has done this before. All the Vikings needed was a rookie coach who would be pragmatic enough to manage it correctly, and it appears that's what Zimmer has done.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings were in the market for a veteran backup quarterback a year ago, believing they needed a steady alternative to Christian Ponder after their first playoff appearance in three years was short-circuited by a disastrous outing from Joe Webb. The Cleveland Browns were looking for the same thing, as new offensive coordinator Norv Turner sought stability behind young starter Brandon Weeden.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Matt wants to start and play; so does Teddy, and so does Christian," Scott Turner said. "Matt's doing everything he can to prepare himself to be the best player he can possibly be, and that's as far as it goes. I think he understands that Teddy's here, and we think he's going to be a very good player in this league someday. He's not looking into the what-ifs down the road, and I think you've got to commend him for that."
MINNEAPOLIS -- The corner route Kyle Rudolph ran in the second quarter Saturday night, lining up between the hash marks at the Minnesota Vikings' 49 and roaming to his left just inside the numbers at the Arizona Cardinals' 30-yard line, is exactly the kind for which Rudolph lost 15 pounds this offseason. It's an effort to become the latest Norv Turner tight end to feast in the middle of a defense.

Rudolph
Rudolph spent his offseason watching film of tight ends in Turner's offenses, from the Cleveland Browns' Jordan Cameron all the way back to the Dallas Cowboys' Jay Novacek, and slimmed down in an effort to speed up. He knew what kind of a role could be waiting for him with Turner as the Vikings' offensive coordinator, and he wanted to put himself into position to seize it.

So far, Rudolph has done exactly that. He caught one pass for 22 yards in the Vikings' preseason opener and followed it up with four catches for 89 yards, including his 51-yard touchdown from Matt Cassel on the aforementioned corner route, in the Vikings' win Saturday night over the Arizona Cardinals. The tight end, who got a five-year contract extension earlier this month, seems set to earn his money the same way Turner's tight ends have done it for years.

"He came up to me when he was out [in the] first half, and said, 'That guy you've got upstairs is a genius,'" coach Mike Zimmer said. "He was talking about Norv. You know, our coaches do a good job coaching these guys, and the players are really liking what they are doing."

It always seemed like Rudolph stood to reap significant gains from Turner's offense, and the early returns in the preseason suggest he's right at home. He caught another deep out Saturday -- a week after nearly scoring a touchdown on the same route against the Oakland Raiders -- and seems to have full faith in Turner's scheme.

History would suggest that, as a tight end, he should. He's seen hints of the payoff early in the preseason.

"On that 51-yard touchdown, we were sitting on the bench, and [Turner] said, 'Get ready for it -- I think it looks good,'" Rudolph said. "And sure enough, two plays later, he calls it. He just has that feel. He sits up in the box, and I think he kind of has his little glass ball that he can look into. He just always seems to dial up plays at the right time."
MANKATO, Minn. -- The biggest question surrounding the Minnesota Vikings when Mike Zimmer took over as head coach in January was the team's future at quarterback. The tallest task facing Zimmer when he accepted the job on Jan. 15 might have been remaking the Vikings' defense.

Zimmer's résumé as a defensive coordinator earned him the chance to work with a group that allowed more points than any in the NFL last season, and more than all but one defense in the Vikings' 53-season history. The coach began a detailed remodeling process almost as soon as he got the job, walking scouts and front-office members through what he'd need to succeed, and the trademark of his on-field work with players over the past two months has been an exacting adherence to details. The first concrete signs of progress came in the Vikings' preseason opener last Friday night, when the first-team defense forced a pair of three-and-outs against the Oakland Raiders. When he watched the film the next day, Zimmer saw some semblance of what he'd outlined for Vikings decision-makers months ago.

"It was a little bit like I envisioned this football team to look like. We didn’t make many mistakes on defense until later on in the ball game. We competed very well; we got up in people’s face on defense," Zimmer said. "I think that we are starting to develop a physical mindset with this football team. I like how we practice and the way we practice is showing up when the lights come on and we get ready to go play. We need to continue to practice at the same tempo, we need to continue to improve on the mistakes and we've still got a long way to go."

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. If Matt Cassel (or Teddy Bridgewater) can help the Vikings move beyond the quarterback turmoil of 2013, the team has enough weapons to catch up to the prolific offenses in the NFC North. Cordarrelle Patterson could be in for a breakout season in Year 2, Greg Jennings worked well with Cassel last season and Kyle Rudolph dropped 15 pounds in an effort to adjust his game to offensive coordinator Norv Turner's downfield passing game. The Vikings, of course, still have Adrian Peterson, and they're excited about the potential of third-round pick Jerick McKinnon, who could be the change-of-pace back Turner has typically had in his offenses.

[+] EnlargeMinnesota's Anthony Barr
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsAnthony Barr should start at strongside linebacker, though the Vikings night unveil some creative packages for the rookie.
2. First-round pick Anthony Barr should start at strongside linebacker, where he'll be featured as part of a defense that should be more aggressive than recent Vikings teams. While he was the defensive coordinator in Cincinnati, Zimmer sent five or more pass-rushers just 172 times last season (the seventh-fewest in the league), according to ESPN Stats & Information, but he'll bring pressure from more places than the Vikings did under Leslie Frazier. The Bengals, for example, blitzed a defensive back on 30 more snaps than the Vikings did last season.

3. General manager Rick Spielman has picked seven players in the first round of the past three drafts, assembling a core of young talent that could help the Vikings improve as quickly as it can develop. Third-year safety Harrison Smith is back from a turf toe injury that cost him half the season, second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes is a good fit with Zimmer's press coverage scheme and Sharrif Floyd could become the Vikings' answer to Geno Atkins, the outstanding three-technique tackle Zimmer had in Cincinnati.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. The Vikings will be counting on better depth in the secondary than they had last season, which means a number of unproven players will have to fill large roles. After the Vikings' experiment with Josh Robinson at slot cornerback backfired last season, he should be more comfortable on the outside, where he could start or play in the Vikings' nickel package once Captain Munnerlyn moves inside. But Robinson hasn't been asked to play much man coverage in his career, and the Vikings will need Rhodes to be their top cover corner in Year 2. They'll also need a starting safety to emerge alongside Smith, though the signing of 34-year-old Chris Crocker could help there.

2. There's little set at the linebacker position, where Chad Greenway is trying to rebound from the worst season of his career, Barr is developing as a rookie and Jasper Brinkley, in his second tour with the Vikings, is trying to hold off third-year man Audie Cole for the middle-linebacker job. In a scheme that leans on active linebackers, the position is one of the most unsettled on the roster.

3. Of course, there's the quarterback position. Cassel performed respectably at the end of last season, and seems comfortable in Turner's offense, but probably hasn't been among the top half of the league's quarterbacks since 2010. If he isn't faring well at the beginning of the season -- and the Vikings get off to a rough start against a schedule that includes dates with Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers by Oct. 2 -- how soon do the Vikings turn things over to Bridgewater? Whether they're counting on a veteran whom they signed last season as a backup or a rookie, the Vikings again begin the season as the only NFC North team with uncertainty about its starting quarterback.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallIf Matt Cassel struggles, how quickly will the Vikings turn to Teddy Bridgewater?
OBSERVATION DECK

  • The Vikings have used Barr as a defensive end in pass-rushing situations and could unveil more creative packages for the rookie this week. Zimmer has plenty of flexibility with his defensive fronts, considering Everson Griffen has played defensive tackle in the nickel package and Corey Wootton and rookie Scott Crichton have rushed from the inside. The Vikings have also toyed with dropping defensive end Brian Robison -- who began his college career as a linebacker -- into coverage in their nickel package.

  • Zimmer wants safeties who can hold up in coverage, and he has unveiled a few nickel packages that feature three safeties and two corners. Considering how much time teams spend in nickel packages, safeties who can cover slot receivers and hold up against the run provide some additional flexibility. That's why Crocker -- who has played the past seven seasons for Zimmer in Atlanta or Cincinnati -- is back with him again.

  • Depth at tight end could be a concern, especially early in the season; Chase Ford looked like he could be a solid receiving option behind Rudolph until he broke his foot before the start of training camp, and the Vikings cut promising undrafted free agent AC Leonard last week. Rhett Ellison has mostly worked as a run blocker so far in his career. Especially if Ford starts on the physically unable to perform list, the Vikings will have to hope Rudolph stays healthy a year after missing half the season with a broken foot.

  • Running back Matt Asiata could carve out a role for himself in the Vikings' offense, especially now that Toby Gerhart is gone to Jacksonville and the Vikings need another running back who can hold up in pass protection. Asiata ran for 115 yards in the Vikings' final game of the 2013 season and has shown some ability as a downhill runner between the tackles.

  • With punt returner Marcus Sherels nursing a hamstring injury, second-year receiver Adam Thielen has shown he can be a solid No. 2 option, returning three punts for 53 yards in the Vikings' preseason opener. As a receiver, Thielen has been one of the big stories in Vikings camp, displaying sure hands over the middle of the field and working well with Bridgewater in front of the same fans who cheered him at Division II Minnesota State, which hosts Vikings training camp.
MANKATO, Minn. -- When the Minnesota Vikings are back on the field for their second preseason game on Saturday night, against the Arizona Cardinals at TCF Bank Stadium, offensive coordinator Norv Turner will probably be less concerned than most of us charting the horse-race aspect of the Minnesota Vikings' quarterback competition. Matt Cassel will need to play more than the 10 snaps he got last Friday, and that could affect how much time Teddy Bridgewater gets with the first-team offense.

Bridgewater
Who plays where, and how much, isn't factoring all that much into Turner's thinking about the quarterbacks.

"That's so overrated," Turner said of the need to see a certain quarterback with the first-team offense. "You get an evaluation of a guy when he plays. The things that happen to him with the second (team), the same exact things are going to happen to him with the (No.) 1s. (Bridgewater) got a 10-play drive with the 1s. He got as many snaps as Matt did with the 1s. I'm not interested in evaluating Teddy. I'm interested in coaching him and continuing to help him get better. We evaluated Teddy before the draft. We know what he's capable of doing."

On Friday night against the Oakland Raiders, Bridgewater "showed all the things that you need to be a quarterback in this league," Turner said. "He was quick with the ball. He made good decisions. For the most part, he got the ball out quick. He's very elusive. I think that's hard for guys to rush you when that's the case. He got pretty good pressure a couple times, and he probably could have gotten the ball out (sooner). He will be able to get the ball out as we continue doing it."

Bridgewater started the game with a 21-yard strike to Greg Jennings after rolling to his right, a play that was called back because the Vikings only had six men on the line of scrimmage. The throw, Turner said, was "as good a throw as you can make." The Vikings will take advantage of Bridgewater's mobility, and they could also use the tactic to make the game easier for the rookie by only requiring him to read half the field after he rolls to one side or the other.

"It can simplify things, but it simplifies things for the defense, too," Turner said. "You can't live on those things. Those things are change-ups you mix in. He's going to be able to do that."

Bridgewater looked rattled by pressure on Friday night, but he handled it well throughout his college career, and will likely adapt to it in the NFL. It might be interesting to see him get some snaps against a first-team Cardinals defense that posted 47 sacks a year ago and plays one of the league's better 3-4 schemes, but the personnel on the field doesn't have as significant an effect on the Vikings' evaluations of Bridgewater as it does in the rest of our minds. That is worth remembering on Saturday, when the Vikings will be looking for progress from Bridgewater no matter what point in the game he gets on the field.
MANKATO, Minn. -- On Friday night, Teddy Bridgewater will play his first NFL game, in a college stadium that's hosted exactly one of them before, officially putting an end to what might turn out to be the most bizarre stretch of his career. He hasn't been hit by a defender in more than eight months, since Louisville's win over Miami in the 2013 Russell Athletic Bowl, but he was dinged by enough scouts and analysts in the months that followed to drop from a possible No. 1 overall pick to the final selection of the first round.

In the Minnesota Vikings' preseason opener against the Oakland Raiders, Bridgewater will return to an actual football game, the environment where he's best been able to show his wares. He isn't expected to start, but coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner both said this week Bridgewater will get some first-team snaps, and the rookie is preparing to be on the field for a good chunk of the night.

"Coach Turner hasn't mentioned to me about taking me out any time soon," Bridgewater said. "I'm just going to continue to compete until my number's called to come out."

Bridgewater said he isn't nervous about his first action in a professional game, adding that cornerback Xavier Rhodes sounded more nervous for Bridgewater than the quarterback did for himself in a conversation at dinner on Monday night. He quipped that "it's felt like 100 years since I've actually taken a hit," and sounded more excited than he did nervous. Considering he'll be back in an environment where he'll actually have some control over shaping the opinion of him, he should be excited.

"It's a dream come true to finally be able to play your first game in the National Football League," Bridgewater said. "I've been playing football since I was five years old. I've just been waiting on this moment."
MANKATO, Minn. -- Six days from now, the Minnesota Vikings will line up for their first preseason game against the Oakland Raiders, with a new coach, major scheme changes on both sides of the ball and possibly as many as seven new starters on defense. To call it anything more significant than a checkup on the Vikings' progress would be silly, and coach Mike Zimmer doesn't seem to be treating it as anything else.

Zimmer
"I told our players a little bit last night, 'We've got a game in six days now, but to me, this is about us, and us getting better,'" Zimmer said. "I don't want to go out and trick the Raiders. I want to go out and play solid, fundamental football. I'm sure we could run some blitzes they're not ready for, but that's really not what I want to do. I want to find out if we can cover, if we can line up and play the run, if we can block people in the running game and if we can get open on offense and throw the ball in the right places."

To this point in training camp, the Vikings have made progress in Zimmer's eyes, though it's been uneven in some areas. The Vikings' run-blocking has been solid, he said, but the team's pass protection needs work. The defense needs to be more precise in its alignments, but its blitz package has exceeded Zimmer's expectations. It would be presumptuous to think the Vikings would be close to a finished product at this point, though, and four preseason games will provide them opportunities to get closer to that point.

Zimmer wouldn't say how much he will play his starters on Aug. 8 at TCF Bank Stadium, but hinted the Vikings' top units would get more than a series. "It's not going to be, one-two-three and out," he said. And though his assistant coaches have started some preparation work for the Raiders, Zimmer will use his time to drill his own set of new responsibilities.

Friday's game will be his first at the helm of a NFL team, and Zimmer started working on Saturday through a set of game situations that general manager Rick Spielman put together for him to study. "Rick put together a tape; we sit down and talk about game-like situations, challenges, when to use timeouts, go for field goals, things like that," Zimmer said. "We've got four more days to go. We hit probably 15 scenarios today. We sit down for an hour each day." Then, he joked, "Rick's never wrong."

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner will handle the offensive play-calling, and Zimmer will use the preseason to determine whether he will call defensive plays or delegate the task to defensive coordinator George Edwards. Zimmer, of course, will have veto power on offensive play calls, and he's also working to make sure he can give Turner sound feedback there.

"Honestly, I trust Norv's judgment," Zimmer said. "I'll come in and talk to him about, 'How are we going to get this guy blocked this week? What do you think the best runs are?' We talked about a couple things last night. But the biggest input for me will be, 'Alright, it's this situation, Norv; we need to run the ball here. We've been running it down their throats. Let's not throw it three times. Let's get another run in there, give the ball to Adrian [Peterson] or whatever it is. Or things that I see on tape; they're having a hard time [with] no-backfield formations, or things like that."
MANKATO, Minn. -- The Vikings will be back on the practice field on Wednesday afternoon, following a day off on Tuesday, and coach Mike Zimmer said the team would likely adjust its practice plan to provide more snaps for players who need the extra work. At the quarterback position, that likely means the Vikings will pare down the snaps for one of their three passers, as offensive coordinator Norv Turner said on Wednesday morning.

"You can't work three [quarterbacks] for a long time, so the reps will get divided up differently," Turner said.

Based on what we've seen so far, it seems likely Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater will continue to get more work than Christian Ponder, as the Vikings try to settle on a starting quarterback to begin the season. Turner said on Wednesday preseason games will factor "heavily" into the final decision, but added he doesn't need to see full-contact situations to see how well Bridgewater handles pressure.

"He doesn’t look at the line; he feels it," Turner said. "He keeps his eyes up the field, makes throws with people around him and throws in real tight quarters where he doesn’t have real much room to work. That’s not a big concern. I think that’s one of the best things he does right now.”

Bridgewater hit 53.5 percent of his throws under pressure last season at Louisville, and was the best of any quarterback in this year's draft class under pressure, according to ESPN Stats & Information. His quick release has helped him get the ball out in tight situations, and he's done a nice job of stepping up in the pocket as it closes.

The Vikings will work heavily on playbook installation again in practice on Wednesday, and while Turner said the current collective bargaining agreement -- which affords teams more meeting and walk-through time instead of lengthy practice sessions -- actually makes it easier to teach quarterbacks what to do. There's less time, however, to teach them exactly how to do it.

"You have to make the most of the work you get on the field, like we did on Monday night," Turner said. "I think from a quarterback position, getting them up to speed in terms of what to do, this system is outstanding for that. You don't get as many team reps, so when we're throwing routes against air, we're throwing balls to their backs, we're working with the tight ends, we've got to mentally create a game environment for them, so you're simulating the reps they would get if they were practicing in the morning."

Vikings Camp Report: Day 2

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
8:00
PM ET
MANKATO, Minn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Minnesota Vikings training camp:
  • The Vikings' quarterbacks were more efficient on Saturday than they were in the team's first practice on Friday, though we didn't see Matt Cassel, Teddy Bridgewater and Christian Ponder take quite as many shots down the field. Cassel again took most of the first-team snaps, finishing the day 10-f0r-13 in 11-on-11 drills, while Bridgewater went 8-for-11 and Ponder was 6-for-7. Cassel had one pass broken up by Linval Joseph, who had also batted down a pass on Friday, but he did connect with Greg Jennings on a long throw that drew one of the day's biggest rounds of applause. Bridgewater and Adam Thielen, who seemed to click during the Vikings' OTAs and minicamp, were in sync again on Saturday. Three of Bridgewater's last four passes were targeted for Thielen, and the two connected on a long play-action pass late in practice. Bridgewater mostly worked with the Vikings' second team, and Ponder's snaps were with the third team.
  • With Munnerlyn out, the Vikings tried several different players at the slot cornerback position; rookies Jabari Price and Kendall James got some work there, as did Shaun Prater. Price got some first-team snaps and handled himself well. He said he played the slot corner position as a junior at North Carolina before moving back outside as a senior, so as the Vikings try to identify players who can handle the job in the event Munnerlyn gets hurt, Price could make his case for a roster spot that way. "It's definitely a harder job, but you can't put it on the back burner," Price said. "Other teams get those fast receivers in on third down. It's definitely a change-up for corners, but it's something that's got to be done."
  • Nearly a third of the Vikings' 24 completions in team drills went to running backs, and they put a particular emphasis on setting up screens for Adrian Peterson. Peterson caught one from Matt Cassel, did a masterful job of letting his blockers get out in front of him and raced down the left sideline for a big gain. By my count, Peterson was targeted with four passes, catching three. "There are times where he'll double-catch it a little bit, but most of the time, he's pretty darn good," Zimmer said. "People are afraid of his speed, which gives him some areas to go underneath or beat people to the perimeter. I think he'll be a good weapon. I think when I was in Atlanta (in 2007), he caught a (60)-yard swing pass (in his first NFL game) for a touchdown. Once he gets the ball in his hands, if it's in the open field, it's bad news." Zimmer was also impressed with Matt Asiata, who's making a strong case at the moment to be the No. 2 running back. "He's elusive," Zimmer said. "He's got a little bit of shift, a sneakiness about him the way he goes. He's been good."
  • For the second day in a row, the Vikings used a nickel package with three safeties, and Zimmer said he also has a three-corner, one-safety base look that he'll unveil at some point. "We're introducing them, and we'll continue to add some," Zimmer said. "We'll get to some more exotic things, I guess you'd say, later on in camp."
  • It seems like Norv Turner's offense will employ pulling guards more often than Bill Musgrave's scheme did; the Vikings had rookie David Yankey pulling on a number of plays. There will still be some zone blocking, but it doesn't seem like the Vikings will be as married to that style of offensive line play as they were with Musgrave.
MANKATO, Minn. -- If there's been one thing to quibble with in Adrian Peterson's game over his seven seasons in Minnesota, it might be his pass protection. Peterson has long been seen as a poor protector, to the point where the Vikings have limited his third-down snaps and designated the task of blitz pickups to other running backs on their roster.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
AP Photo/Tom GannamThe Vikings also plan to make Adrian Peterson a bigger part of the passing game in 2014.
Peterson has been in the bottom half of the league in Pro Football Focus' Pass Blocking Efficiency metric for running backs each of the last three seasons, ranking 29th among the 54 running backs who played at least 25 percent of their team's passing snaps last season. Toby Gerhart, who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars in the offseason, finished 13th last season, and while Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata can fill some of Gerhart's role, Peterson doesn't want to be excluded from the mix. He's argued for a larger role on third downs, and the Vikings plan to make him a bigger part of the passing game means he'll probably end up in more situations where he's asked to stay in and protect, or at least chip a defender on his way out of the backfield.

If the Vikings handle it the right way, offensive coordinator Norv Turner said, Peterson can actually be an effective pass blocker.

"He is an outstanding pass protector when you keep him in his element," Turner said. "We don't want him blocking defensive ends. We don't want him blocking 280-pound outside linebackers. When he's blocking the people he should be blocking, he's very good in pass protection."

Turner said Peterson's third-down role is "yet to be determined," adding the Vikings could use Asiata or McKinnon on third downs if Peterson is logging plenty of carries on first and second down. Given the degree to which the Vikings have talked about limiting the stress on Peterson's body, it's unlikely they're going to expose him to a great deal of extra contact as a pass protector. But, as Turner said, "you'd like his presence out there" on third downs, and a Vikings offense that has Peterson on the field is simply more dangerous than one that doesn't. If the Vikings can be smart with Peterson in pass protection and find ways to give him more playing time on third downs, it opens up more options for their entire offense. It stands to reason they'll explore those options during the next few weeks.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider

NFL SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/18
Sunday, 9/21
Monday, 9/22
WEEKLY LEADERS