NFL Nation: Norv Turner

Kyle RudolphTimothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY SportsVikings tight end Kyle Rudolph expects his production to improve under new coordinator Norv Turner.
MINNEAPOLIS -- It generally isn't until about now, with training camp just around the corner, that Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph starts keeping a close eye on his weight. He has always worked out in the offseason, with an eye toward getting ready for the season, but Rudolph will admit he has also used his training regimen as justification to cut some nutritional corners.

(We'll pause here and let those of you who have never sneaked a couple extra cookies after a hard workout cast the first stones.)

"It was more of just a focus on my diet in February and March, versus, you are out in California, you work out every day, so you feel like you can eat whatever you want," Rudolph said. "Nothing really changes, because you make up for it with the workouts, but when I really focused on eating lean meats, eating the salads, you see the results."

Rudolph started keeping a closer leash on his diet in February, with an eye toward slimming down before the Vikings' voluntary veterans' minicamp in April. He is now about 260 pounds, he said, after playing at 275 last season, and with a more active role in the Vikings' passing game likely awaiting him this season, Rudolph has been working to refine his skills as a receiver. He is working out at Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald's training camp this week, training with the All-Pro wideout and a group of receivers for the fourth year, and has been drilling his speed in and out of his cuts with Fitzgerald's trainer, Bill Welle.

In a scheme that has traditionally rewarded tight ends, Rudolph could see the payoff this season.

"Becoming more explosive in and out of cuts, that was the big emphasis for me, going back and watching a ton of (Cleveland) Browns tape (when Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner was the coordinator there last year)," Rudolph said. "I've always watched a lot of (San Diego Chargers tight end) Antonio Gates (who played for Turner from 2007-12), and I don't know that there's anyone as good as him at getting in and out of breaks. That's been the big point of emphasis for me the whole year, and getting the weight down has helped a ton, I think. I feel like I run a lot smoother than I did at 275."

It's no secret that Turner's offense will use Rudolph differently than Bill Musgrave's scheme did, but based on what Gates and Browns tight end Jordan Cameron have done, the change figures to be stark. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Cameron ran 322 pass routes from the slot last season, which was the second-most of any tight end in the league. Gates was third at 290. Though he only played in eight games last season, Rudolph was flexed into the slot just 76 times.

He said there are also plenty of situations that call for him to be in the same spot he's always occupied, but in a two-point stance. In any case, Rudolph will get opportunities to put his route-running work into practice.

"As a bigger guy, if I'm just running, I can pretty much run with anybody," Rudolph said. "I'm very comfortable with that. But being bigger and taller, it's harder for me to get my weight down, and a lot of times, we focus on getting in and out with the fewest steps possible. I don't think I really felt comfortable running our new routes until about halfway through OTAs. We drilled it over and over again, and it just started clicking."

Rudolph has said many times, and said again on Tuesday, that he would love to sign a new contract to keep him in Minnesota beyond this season. He's clicked with Turner, whom Rudolph said is more hands-on in practices than the Vikings' previous offensive coaches, and wants to be with the team when its new stadium opens in 2016. But with training camp just 2 1/2 weeks away, Rudolph said he is not focused on a contract extension, concentrating instead on the kind of big season that could land him a lucrative deal.

"I love it here. I don't know why anyone wouldn't want to stay here," Rudolph said. "It's a very exciting time to be a Minnesota Viking. But first for me, it was learning the new offense, so I can go out there and let my ability take over. Now, at this point, I'm comfortable with the offense. It's just getting in the best shape possible, so when we report on July 24, I can have the best training camp I've ever had."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Since he was introduced as the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings on Jan. 17, Mike Zimmer has preached open competition as one of his core beliefs, and he should. It's a way for the new coach to keep his players honing their games to a fine edge, at least in theory.

If the Vikings hadn't gone into their coaching search with an open mind, Zimmer might not have landed his first head-coaching job at age 57, to the delight of people around the league who believed the longtime defensive coordinator had to wait too long for his shot. So when Zimmer -- who turned 58 earlier this month -- talks about an open battle at the quarterback position, adding that the Vikings won't be afraid to play rookie Teddy Bridgewater if he's good enough to win the job, there's every reason to believe the coach. There's also every reason for Zimmer to make sure Bridgewater has to clear a high threshold if he wants to line up as the Vikings' starter in St. Louis on Sept. 7.

Bridgewater
Zimmer
Zimmer needs only to look at the situation that played a large part in his job becoming available last winter. In April 2011, four months after the Vikings removed the interim tag from coach Leslie Frazier's title, the team took Christian Ponder with the 12th overall pick. Ponder had no offseason to learn the Vikings' playbook and no time to work with his new coaches because of a lockout that stretched until August. But after six mediocre performances from a 34-year-old Donovan McNabb (in what turned out to be the final six games of his career), the Vikings handed the job to Ponder and never looked back, putting two young quarterbacks behind him in 2012 and using several solid games during a playoff push at the end of that season -- a year in which Adrian Peterson ran for 2,097 yards -- as justification to declare Ponder the uncontested starter before 2013, despite the presence of Matt Cassel on the roster.

Would things have turned out differently if Ponder had been given more time to develop? Possibly not. But by putting him in the lineup as soon as they did, the Vikings were, in effect, making a statement that Ponder was ready to take the job for good and locking themselves into a long stretch with him. They didn't have to make that pronouncement as soon as they did, but if they'd waffled on it shortly thereafter, they would have invited scrutiny for their lack of direction at quarterback (as they did with their Ponder/Cassel/Josh Freeman carousel in 2013). Quarterback instability ultimately doomed Frazier, and in effect, it doomed his predecessor, Brad Childress. After feuding with Daunte Culpepper shortly after taking the job, Childress pushed for the Vikings to select Tarvaris Jackson in the second round of the 2006 draft and vacillated on Jackson until the team signed Brett Favre, whose stormy relationship with Childress ended with the coach's ouster 10 months after the Vikings nearly reached the Super Bowl.

The bet here is that Zimmer won't make a rash decision with Bridgewater, not when the Vikings are set up so well to avoid one. In Cassel, who's signed for the next two seasons, they've got the perfect custodian for Bridgewater: a veteran who's solid enough to handle the job in the short term, but not entrenched enough to step aside without a fuss. And even Ponder, who will be a free agent after the season, has some usefulness in 2014, as an emergency option in case Cassel gets hurt (or struggles early) and Bridgewater isn't ready. The Vikings have done everything they can to construct a healthy atmosphere for Bridgewater's growth. The key to the whole thing, though, is a coach who's patient enough to let it work. Zimmer might get only one shot as a head coach, and he's got something of a cushion this season, with the Vikings moving into a temporary home while trying to remodel their defense. One poor season won't cost the coach his job, but mismanagement of the quarterback situation ultimately could. Especially with offensive coordinator Norv Turner at his side, Zimmer should have the good sense to avoid the potholes his predecessors hit.

So how does this all play out? The 2012 Seattle Seahawks might provide a good blueprint. They signed Matt Flynn to a three-year deal worth just $9 million guaranteed, giving themselves a quarterback they could play if Russell Wilson wasn't ready to start. When Wilson ultimately won the competition, the Seahawks were free to trade Flynn a year later. Only time will tell if Bridgewater turns out to be as good as Wilson has been -- the Vikings QB has looked sharp to this point, albeit only against defenses prohibited from hitting him -- but if he can take advantage of the situation, Minnesota has the mechanisms in place to make it work, just as the Seahawks did.

For Bridgewater to get on the field in September, he should have to prove he's unequivocally the best man for the job. Otherwise, with the Vikings facing a nasty early schedule, a tie should go to the veteran. It's a good, sensible construct for the rookie coach and quarterback, and with so many recent cautionary tales about the costs of quarterback foul-ups, the Vikings would be wise to take advantage of it.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Before the Minnesota Vikings had their first team meeting with new coach Mike Zimmer and his staff in April, Greg Jennings found Cordarrelle Patterson to deliver an updated version of the message he'd sent to receiver throughout his rookie season.

Jennings, who had already been in town and had sat down with Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner, quickly got a sense of how prominently Patterson would be featured in the Vikings' offense. He wanted to make sure the electric receiver knew what that required of him.

Patterson
Jennings
"I wanted him to know that, coming in, the expectation of you is no longer 'rookie.' It's, 'You gotta go. We saw what you can do. We're gonna showcase this,'" Jennings recalled last week. "For me, it was making sure that he understands that he has to be a professional. He has to be a pro's pro when he steps foot in this building, because we're expecting (him) to give us what we've seen you put out there."

Jennings was asked to mentor Patterson last season, as the Vikings signed him to a five-year deal in March 2013 and spent a first-round pick on Patterson a month later. That relationship will continue in 2014, but a year after Patterson put a spark into the Vikings' offense despite a role that even Jennings believed needed to be bigger, there seems to be little doubt about how much the Vikings will use Patterson this season.

That might make Patterson, not Jennings, the featured receiver in the Vikings' passing game. But there's plenty for both to gain if Patterson can take the next step in his second season.

"Greg told me a lot coming in as a rookie that I have more confidence than anyone he knows," Patterson said earlier this offseason. "I just like to set the tone for myself and my teammates."

Patterson said his work ethic wasn't good enough last year, and Jennings could see lapses as Patterson worked through the grind of a NFL season.

"We all had to learn it," Jennings said. "I had to learn it as a rookie. The best way to learn it is, not so much by someone telling you, but it's by watching someone who does it. It didn't have to be me; it could have been (Jerome) Simpson, it could have been Jarius (Wright). It could have been Rudy (tight end Kyle Rudolph). The little, 'I don't really feel like getting it done today,' it's not going to fly. There's going to be days you feel like that. But when you come out here, nobody cares about that. Once you set that bar, you have to reach that or exceed it every single day.

"As a rookie, not being given a whole lot of opportunities and then coming on strong at the end of the year, the expectation of Eight-Four went to another level. I'm going to be honest: Once I saw him make a couple plays, I'm like, 'We've got to get him the ball. He does too much well for us not to get him the ball.'"

Jennings said he recently invited Patterson and the rest of the Vikings' younger receivers over to his house for the first time -- "They're giving me a hard time, saying, 'Oh, now we just get to come over for the first time? I said, 'Man, I've got kids. I've got to feel you guys out,'" Jennings said -- and many of the receivers in the group stand to benefit from working well together in an offense that should have many more opportunities than wideouts saw in former coordinator Bill Musgrave's scheme.

Turner said last week that deep threats such as Simpson have typically averaged 18-20 yards per catch in his offense, and the spacing of Turner's attack should create room for Jennings, who did some of his best work over the middle during his time with the Green Bay Packers. There's plenty to go around, and as Jennings knows, Patterson has the ability to unlock plenty of favorable matchups for the rest of the Vikings' receivers because of how much attention he figures to command.

"If I'm having success, it's going to open up the door for success for other guys," Jennings said. "If Cordarrelle's having success, it's going to open up the door for a lot of other guys, as well."
MINNEAPOLIS -- By the middle of last October, it had become obvious that Greg Jennings' first year with his new team was going to offer little of what the receiver had enjoyed with his old one: consistency.

In seven seasons with the Green Bay Packers, Jennings had one head coach and two franchise quarterbacks. He played one game with a quarterback not named Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers, and that was in the 73rd game of Jennings' career. By his sixth game with the Minnesota Vikings -- an ugly 23-7 loss to the winless New York Giants on "Monday Night Football" -- Jennings had caught a pass from his third different quarterback.

[+] EnlargeGreg Jennings
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsGreg Jennings had 68 catches for 804 yards and 4 touchdowns during his first season in Minnesota.
The turnover stunted Jennings' productivity and grated on his patience; he would leave the Vikings' practice facility exasperated, heading home to his wife Nicole. "She got the bit of me venting. That's my wife. That's my sounding board," Jennings said in a wide-ranging interview this week. "But I didn't want to expose that part to any of the guys and filter it down to where everybody's complaining. We understood there was a situation that wasn't conducive to our success at that position. No one needed to say anything about it, specifically me."

Instead, Jennings decided he would do his best to bring the Vikings some of the consistency he craved. He bit his tongue in the Vikings' wide receiver meeting room about the changes at quarterback, trying to connect with whoever was starting that week and bring the same habits to the practice field regardless of the uncertainty. He stayed in the ear of rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, preaching to him about the importance of a steady work ethic. And Jennings clicked with Matt Cassel, whose preparation as a backup reminded Jennings of what he'd seen from Matt Flynn and a young Rodgers in Green Bay.

"I wanted consistency, but even when there wasn't consistency, I wanted to be consistent," Jennings said. "Whoever got the head nod, I was supporting them, as though they had been starting the week before, or whatever the case may have been."

Heading into Year 2 in Minnesota, it appears Jennings might have some of the stability he was missing last year. Cassel has a new two-year deal, after Jennings openly campaigned for the Vikings to re-sign the veteran, and rookie Teddy Bridgewater had an impressive spring in the Vikings' offseason workouts. The 30-year-old receiver has raved about the Vikings' new structure, with head coach Mike Zimmer and veteran offensive coordinator Norv Turner effectively giving the team, as Jennings puts it, a head coach on each side of the ball. And he's a year removed from questions about his decision to switch sides in one of the game's most bitter rivalries, which has been running hot ever since Favre signed with the Vikings in 2009 and got a kick from last year's are-they-kidding-or-are-they-serious flap between Jennings and Rodgers.

Jennings and his wife are soon to be homeowners in the Twin Cities, where they can envision living with their four kids after the receiver's career is over. Consistency, at long last, appears to be within reach.

"Once you understand (Zimmer's) mindset behind why we do what we do, it's easy to buy in, man. It really is," Jennings said. "The practices, why he's laid them out the way he's laid them out, it just makes sense. I told my wife today, 'I have no complaints. I really love it. I love the layout, the format (of practices)' She's like, 'What? I don't think I've ever heard you say you love it.' ... As long as I do my job, I'm good."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Since he learned the Air Coryell offense from Ernie Zampese as a wide receivers coach with the Los Angeles Rams in the late 1980s, Norv Turner hasn't had to change the tenets of his offensive philosophy much. He has run a version of that offense practically everywhere he's been since then, and he's had enough success -- two Super Bowl rings as the Dallas Cowboys' offensive coordinator and 10 offenses among the league's top-10 scoring attacks in 23 years as a head coach or coordinator -- that he's had little trouble making the case his ideas work.

But Turner has also faced the charge that his scheme is predictable at various points over the years, and with new ideas catching on in the NFL over the past few seasons -- in the form of more wide-open offenses and complex defenses that are harder to diagnose -- Turner said he spent some time this offseason looking for ways to tweak the scheme he planned to install with the Minnesota Vikings.

[+] EnlargeNorv Turner
Harry How/Getty ImagesNorv Turner has had 10 offenses among the league's top-10 scoring attacks in 23 years as a head coach or coordinator.
"There's a big part of this offense that's been the same, is sound and is always going to be the same," Turner said. "There's guys who played in this offense 30, 20, 10 years ago that would recognize it. What we've tried to do with our offensive staff is, we looked at people that are having success offensively and modernized this offense a little bit, updated it a little bit. We said early that we're going to get ourselves out of our comfort zone."

We'll get a better idea during training camp about whether Turner's offense will have some different wrinkles -- I certainly wouldn't expect the Vikings to start running read-option plays -- but two things he mentioned on Wednesday were a desire to spread the field a little more often and using a no-huddle offense, which would represent a change from the way Turner has operated in the past. The Vikings have also been working with some packaged plays, giving their quarterbacks more control at the line of scrimmage to check out of one look and into another than they had in the team's previous system.

None of those changes are revolutionary by modern NFL standards, but it was interesting to hear Turner talk about his offseason foray into some different concepts. It's likely some of what he studied didn't wind up in the Vikings' playbook, and the core of Turner's offense probably won't change all that much, but the 62-year-old coordinator sounded invigorated by his work with some new ideas this spring.

"When you've been doing this, and you've had success with certain things, you tend to cling to those things," Turner said. "If you're paying attention, football in the NFL is evolving -- and I'm not saying it's changing, because you'd better be able to block, you'd better be able to tackle, you'd better be able to throw and catch and you'd better be fundamentally sound. But there's some things that we looked hard at, that we can get more people involved in the offense, we can spread the field better and we can take advantage of some of our guys with some things we've added that we've watched other people do. There were some things that, to be honest with you, were a little foreign to me. It's been fun. It's really been fun."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The pick: Jerick McKinnon, running back, Georgia Southern

My take: With their final pick (96th overall) in the third round, the Minnesota Vikings took a backup for Adrian Peterson. They needed one after Toby Gerhart signed with Jacksonville in the offseason. McKinnon will give them something different than they've had in the past. He began his college career as a cornerback, shifting to quarterback in Georgia Southern's triple-option offense. He's only 5-foot-9, but had quite the set of numbers at the NFL scouting combine (a 4.41 40, a 40 1/2-inch vertical and 32 repetitions at 225 pounds in the bench press). The Vikings' scouting report lists him as a "tailback/quarterback/strong safety," but if he stays at running back, he'd be an interesting change of pace from Peterson.

Plenty of versatility: McKinnon will have plenty to learn about playing running back at the NFL level, but he could be the kind of player the Vikings can use all over their offense. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner helped put jack-of-all-trades running back Darren Sproles on the map in San Diego, and though McKinnon was throwing more passes than catching them in college, he could be the kind of versatile, elusive back that Sproles has been. The Vikings aren't in need of a kick returner, but McKinnon could give them another option there if anything were to happen to Cordarrelle Patterson.

What's next: The Vikings don't have a fourth-round pick, but are scheduled to make four selections on the final day of the draft -- two in the fifth round, one in the sixth and one in the seventh.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- If there was one thing that wore the sheen off the Minnesota Vikings' pick of Christian Ponder quicker than any other, it was how the quarterback reacted when he was under pressure. It was there -- when Ponder would fixate on a pass rush, either pulling the ball down to run after his first read or forcing a throw -- where his appeal as an intelligent, engaging young quarterback dissipated, and it was there that the Vikings most needed to make sure their next young passer could be better.

So they commissioned a deep analytical study of the quarterbacks in the 2014 draft class -- true to Rick Spielman's style as a general manager -- and as they measured how this crop of passers handled pressure, they kept coming back to one name: Teddy Bridgewater.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesTeddy Bridgewater completed over 53 passes of his passes last season when he was under duress.
The Louisville quarterback wasn't just competent against a pass rush, he was better than anybody else in the class. He completed 53.5 percent of his passes under duress, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, throwing for 508 yards and connecting on seven touchdown passes against one interception. Only Florida State's Jameis Winston and Missouri's James Franklin were better. Bridgewater hit 70.1 percent of his throws against pass rushes of five or more; UCLA's Brett Hundley was the only FBS QB with a higher completion percentage.

"He was the best against the blitz. He's very cool and calm under pressure," Spielman said.

Bridgewater saw plenty of other pressure during the pre-draft process, following a heavily scrutinized pro day that dinged his draft stock and removed him from the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick. His decision not to wear a glove, after throwing with one during his college career, backfired, and the narrative changed to whether Bridgewater would go in the first round of the draft at all. But once offensive coordinator Norv Turner started coaching Bridgewater during a workout in Florida last month, Spielman said, "some of the flaws you may have seen during the original pro day, those things were getting corrected, and getting corrected quickly."

The quarterback said in a conference call on Thursday night that he met "four or five times" with the Vikings, and had told coach Mike Zimmer he thought Minnesota was the place for him. Zimmer talked during the pre-draft process about how important it was for a quarterback to mirror his personality, and with Bridgewater, he clicked.

"You know the thing I like the most about him? He wins," Zimmer said. "Everywhere he's ever been, he wins. Starts as a freshman in high school: wins. Starts as a freshman in college, and wins. This guy, he's got something about him. One of the reasons we had him come in [to Minnesota] was, he had another physical. He had a little thing about his heart. I said, 'How's your heart?' He said, 'Well, it was too big.'"

He impressed the Vikings with how he handled adversity off the field, but Bridgewater initially stood out because of how he managed it on the field. That was one thing the Vikings needed their next quarterback to do well, and it's what set Bridgewater apart from the rest of the group.
Teddy BridgewaterAP Photo/Timothy D. EasleyTeddy Bridgewater's stock fell after a subpar performance at Louisville's pro day.
MINNEAPOLIS -- We're continuing our look at the Vikings' quarterback options this afternoon, with a look at the curious case of Teddy Bridgewater.

Last December, when the Vikings were still in the running for the No. 1 overall pick, there were plenty of fans in Minnesota hoping the team would end up with Bridgewater, who was widely regarded at that point as the best quarterback in the upcoming draft. Then came a subpar pro day (in the opinions of many observers), consternation about why he decided to throw without a glove, reports of more bad workouts and copious revisions to the generally accepted assessment principles that happen during the lead-up to every draft, and Bridgewater is now seen as a late first-round prospect at best. If he winds up in Minnesota, it could be as the Vikings' second selection in the draft, not their first.

So what are we to think of Bridgewater heading into the draft? Let's take a closer look at the Louisville quarterback, with the help of our two experts -- ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick (the former pro personnel director for the Philadelphia Eagles) and ESPN NFL scout Matt Williamson (who used to scout college and pro players for the Cleveland Browns):

2013 stats: 71.0 completion percentage, 3,970 yards, 31 touchdowns, four interceptions.

NFL combine measurements: 6-foot-2, 214 pounds, 33-inch arm length, 9 1/4-inch hand span

Pros: It's tough to argue with how poised and accurate Bridgewater was during his career at Louisville, and heading into the NFL, he seems to have a strong command of how to run an offense. There has also been a bit of an edge to his recent public comments, and pre-draft scrutiny could be an effective fuel for him, as it was for Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. "I think he's the best of the group, in a vacuum," Williamson said. "I really think he's got a lot of Drew Brees in him. He's a plus athlete, but he's a thrower first, of course. He's highly accurate." A team placing a high emphasis on college results would have a hard time looking past Bridgewater.

Cons: There have been several common knocks on Bridgewater before the draft, his arm strength being the most common one. That could be a concern as the Vikings play the next two seasons outdoors, and would remain an issue for Minnesota in coming years as the team still plays late-season road games in Chicago and Green Bay. Williamson also was concerned about whether Bridgewater could hold up to the rigors of the NFL at his weight, and Riddick said Bridgewater was overthinking when he decided to throw without a glove at his pro day. "You wind up trying to chase ghosts," Riddick said. "You start worrying about things you don't need to worry about, because you're trying to anticipate what everybody is going to be worried about, and maybe they weren't even thinking about it. Just do what got you there."

Bottom line: Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner -- at least in his public comments -- didn't seem as worried about Bridgewater's pro day as others might have been, and the Louisville quarterback could be a steal for some team if he ends up at the bottom of the first round. In an offensive system like the Vikings will play under Turner, though, it seems like there would be more ideal fits for Minnesota than Bridgewater. "I don't think a lot of his notoriety during the season was driven by NFL evaluators," Riddick said. "He is a good player, but a lot of the things that people are worried about with him now, have been things that have been worrying the NFL all along. Personally, a lot of the things you saw in his private workout, as far as him being very accurate on short-to-intermediate (throws) inside the numbers, but struggling on intermediate-to-deep (balls) outside the numbers are the same things I saw on film. I don't know if that's a good fit for Norv's offense."
PetersonMatthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsAdrian Peterson's future could be directly affected by how the Minnesota Vikings address their quarterback situation.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Later this week, the Minnesota Vikings will likely pick their next young quarterback, possibly with the No. 8 overall pick in the draft. If you're looking for a way to frame the importance of the Vikings' next move at QB, perhaps the easiest metric is to consider how many careers could be permanently changed by the choice.

General manager Rick Spielman needs to make his next call at quarterback the correct one or he could find himself out of chances to make the Vikings' decision at the position. New coach Mike Zimmer knows full well he'll be tied to a young QB -- as he said at the owners meetings -- and a position that has such a dramatic effect on wins and losses can influence the coach's job security too (just ask Zimmer's predecessor, Leslie Frazier).

But with all due respect to Spielman and Zimmer, there's one stakeholder in the Vikings' quarterback situation who could be affected the most profoundly: Adrian Peterson.

The running back turned 29 in March and is coming off his third offseason surgery in as many years. He will likely see his role change under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, trading some carries for pass receptions that are meant to reduce the physical toll on Peterson but essentially make him even more dependent on competent quarterback play. In fact, the effect of the QB situation on Peterson seemed to be one of the things Hall of Fame defensive end Chris Doleman was most concerned about when he lamented the state of the Vikings' quarterback situation at the inaugural Pro Football Hall of Fame Fan Fest event in Cleveland on Sunday.

"Don't put him in a Barry Sanders situation," Doleman said, as if speaking to Spielman. "That's not fair, and the fan base deserves more. You've got a job. Do the job. I think too much information [before the draft] is taken in and clouds everyone's vision. Let me find a football player that is a quarterback; a football player, and I keep using that word. Let him play football."

Peterson admitted last week he is feeling "some urgency" as he heads into his eighth season and adapts to Turner's new offense, and he has every reason to be keenly interested in what the Vikings do at quarterback. In fact, people close to Peterson have invoked Sanders' name in precisely the same context Doleman used it -- as an example of a great running back never to get a chance at a Super Bowl -- and the possibility exists that by the time the Vikings move into their new stadium in 2016, Peterson either will be a much smaller part of the Vikings offense or a member of another team.

"The sad part about it is we wasted the opportunity with one of the league's premier running backs," Doleman said. "OK, let's just not even say we need to have a Peyton Manning at the quarterback position. Give me a good guy because I don't believe we need a $100 million quarterback to make this team win. I would make sure the guy I get can make all the throws, makes good football decisions, not someone who has a great IQ and can't make football decisions out there on the field. I'm looking for a football player at the quarterback position."

I wouldn't go as far as Doleman did in speaking of the Vikings' opportunity with Peterson in the past tense, but the running back probably doesn't have time for another long -- or failed -- quarterback development. He has no guaranteed money remaining on a contract scheduled to pay him eight-figure base salaries through 2017, meaning the day when the Vikings have the restructure-or-release conversation with Peterson might not be that far off.

While Peterson has said he wants to stay in Minnesota, he is watching the Vikings' moves closely and has occasionally mused about playing elsewhere if the team doesn't make progress toward a championship. The fear of Peterson following Sanders' playoff path is a valid concern, and of the many ramifications of Spielman's next quarterback move, there might be none more compelling than its ability to prevent the Sanders scenario from becoming reality for the greatest running back in Vikings history.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings did not pick up quarterback Christian Ponder's fifth-year option before Saturday's midnight deadline, meaning their 2011 first-round pick will be a free agent after this season.

Ponder
Ponder
Ponder's option would have been guaranteed only against injury until the start of the 2015 league year, but the quarterback said on Wednesday that the team hadn't talked to him about picking up the option, which would have paid him $9.686 million in 2015. After three disappointing seasons in Minnesota, Ponder officially is in a situation where he'll have to earn a new contract -- and barring a situation where he winds up playing this season and performing well, he'll get paid like a backup in his next deal.

The quarterback said this week he's still looking at the Vikings' quarterback situation as an open competition, even though Matt Cassel is expected to be the starter this season, and offensive coordinator Norv Turner didn't close the door on Ponder's future when talking about the quarterback situation on Thursday.

"Christian is still a very young player who has done a lot of really good things and been put in a tough situation," Turner said. "We’re just going to work with both of them and get the best out of them we can.”

From this point, though, anything the Vikings say about Ponder's future still being bright has to be checked against the reality that they didn't see a scenario where the 26-year-old will be worth his option next season. It's always possible Turner can coax something out of Ponder that the Vikings' previous regime couldn't, but if the Vikings really felt that was a likely possibility, they wouldn't have given Cassel a two-year deal, and they wouldn't be scouring the draft class for a young QB like they've been doing. Their latest move only cements what has seemed clear for a while: that the days of Ponder having anything promised to him in Minnesota are over.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Perhaps the most confusing thing about Cordarrelle Patterson's dynamic rookie season with the Minnesota Vikings was how long it took the team to unleash Patterson in its offense, considering how much of a jolt he gave it once he became a bigger part of the Vikings' scheme in November. Patterson scored six touchdowns in the final five games of the season, with three coming on runs and one on a 79-yard screen pass at the end of the Vikings' wild loss to Baltimore on Dec. 8.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"It’s been tough, (but) like I said, I lean on the guys in that locker room," Patterson said. "I lean on them a lot, they help me and expect big things from me, and I expect big things from them."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- As Adrian Peterson returned to Minnesota last week in advance of the Vikings' voluntary minicamp, he had little doubt about the ways and the degree to which his role in the team's offense was about to change.

Peterson
Peterson
Both new coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner had talked about wanting to get Peterson more involved in the passing game. Turner's history -- 17 seasons of 40 catches or more by a running back on teams where he was either the head coach or offensive coordinator -- made that point even clearer. So when Peterson dialed up the Vikings' new playbook on his iPad, he wasn't surprised to see how much different things were about to look.

"I've been in the league for eight years. I've caught a lot of passes," Peterson said. "I just haven't had an offense that really distributes the ball to the running back a lot. That will change, for sure."

It will be interesting to see how deeply the Vikings involve Peterson in the passing game, considering how rarely he's been used in that capacity through his first eight seasons with the Vikings. He's had just three seasons of more than 30 catches, and the only ones in which he gained more than 300 receiving yards came in 2009 and 2010 with Brett Favre -- long a champion of throwing to running backs -- as his quarterback.

Peterson will have some rough edges to clean up in his own right. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he's dropped 8.6 percent of the passes targeted to him since 2007. That's the third-highest drop rate of any running back targeted with 150 or more throws during that time, indicating Peterson will have work to do if he wants to become a reliable receiver. And as good as he's been at gaining yards after contact in the running game, he hasn't been as adept at breaking tackles when catching passes; he's averaged only 1.5 yards after contact per reception in his career, That's only the 23rd-best average in the league since 2007, well behind running backs such as Ray Rice and Arian Foster, who have made catching the ball out of the backfield a key part of their games.

The prospect of putting Peterson in open space, letting him gain his yards by eluding cornerbacks instead of withstanding linemen and reducing the number of hits he takes is a tempting idea, though -- so much so that Peterson sounded willing to trade some carries for receptions when discussing it Thursday.

"You can kind of balance it out. If you're getting eight to 10 catches -- that's a pretty high number, I would think -- it'll kind of balance out," he said. "The rushing yards might not be up to par, but it's not about that. It's all about winning. I'm trying to win a championship, so if that's taking less of a pounding and being more productive in the pass game, I'm all in for it."

Even if he doesn't buy the theory that running backs are bound to slow down in their late 20s, Peterson admitted to feeling urgency at age 29. In all likelihood, he'll spend the most productive years he has left with Zimmer and Turner, who plan to use him in a different way. If Peterson can use the shift to prolong his productivity and get closer to a title, he's got every reason to be on board.

"When [Turner] was in San Diego and Cleveland, he always found a way to get the running back out in space. So, I knew once we hired him that will be something would new for me. I'm pretty excited about that.”
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Christian Ponder is still on the Minnesota Vikings' roster, working out at the team's voluntary minicamp this week in the same No. 7 jersey he has worn for the past three seasons. But in many ways, he is more on the periphery of the team's plans than he has been since the Vikings drafted him 12th overall in 2011.

Ponder
Ponder
The team gave Matt Cassel a new two-year deal in March, effectively slotting him above Ponder on the depth chart. The Vikings have spent the better part of the offseason evaluating the quarterbacks they might take in the draft next weekend. They have not, Ponder said, discussed the possibility of picking up his fifth-year option, which would be guaranteed for 2015 only in the case of injury but would pay him just over $9.6 million if he did get hurt.

"Honestly, I'm not thinking about it," Ponder said. "Plus, the option doesn't really mean much. They can cut me without anything after this year so it doesn't matter."

However marginalized Ponder appears to be at this point, he is coming to work with the hope he can pick up offensive coordinator Norv Turner's system and fare well enough to reclaim the starting job that seems slated for Cassel. He said he hoped the Vikings would come to the conclusion they have enough at quarterback not to take one in the first round, characterized the quarterback situation as a competition and thought learning from Turner would help him.

Asked what's gone wrong in his time with the Vikings so far, Ponder said, "Turnovers. Turnovers were the biggest thing, and that cost us quite a few games. Just some dumb decisions. That's been kind of the story of the past three years."

Ponder took second-team snaps during Wednesday's workout and seems like he'll be in that position barring an injury or major change to Minnesota's thinking. His $1.76 million base salary is guaranteed for 2014, so the only way he wouldn't be with the Vikings is if they were to trade him or decide to absorb $3.2 million in dead money (counting Ponder's signing bonus proration) by cutting the quarterback.

With a new coaching staff, Ponder said he has a "clean slate" and hopes he will be able to use it to rewrite a past that currently has him on the fringes in Minnesota.

"It was disappointing how the year went, but honestly, when I left, it was more motivation than anything," he said. "I think I really worked hard this offseason, more than I have in the past, and I didn't want it to happen again. I knew there was going to be a competition to play, and I tried to do my best to prepare."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- As a receiver who'd spent his formative years in the West Coast offense, Greg Jennings knew his first spring in Norv Turner's scheme was going to involve some rewiring of his brain.

As one of the "Air Coryell" offensive system's most prominent disciples, Turner was going to bring a markedly different offense to Minnesota than the one that made Jennings a Pro Bowler in Green Bay. Everything about the offense, from the terminology used to name routes to the plays given the highest priority, was going to be new to the 30-year-old receiver.

[+] EnlargeGreg Jennings
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsGreg Jennings said he's confident that Norv Turner's scheme will help make the Vikings' offense more potent than in recent seasons.
"Literally, I've had to erase everything I've learned in the past and start completely over," Jennings said. "It's exciting. It's overwhelming, which today in practice probably will show. But this is Day 2 [of the Vikings' voluntary minicamp], so we're excited."

The offense won't be a major change for just Jennings. All but two of the Vikings' receivers -- Jennings and Jerome Simpson -- had spent their entire NFL careers in former offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's scheme -- which, by all accounts, was less complex than what Turner is bringing to Minnesota.

"If last year's offense was complicated," Jennings said, "guys will struggle with this one."

At the other end of the learning curve, however, could be rejuvenation for an offense that seemed ill-prepared to use all of its playmakers the past two seasons. Whether the Vikings had to simplify things to compensate for their instability at quarterback or whether Musgrave's offense just had fewer variables, the Vikings' passing game sagged the past two seasons, even as Adrian Peterson presented Minnesota's offense with as many favorable matchups as almost any in the league. According to ESPN Stats & Information, opponents put eight defenders in the box on 196 snaps against the Vikings last season; only the San Francisco 49ers saw that look more often. But instead of taking advantage of teams loading up to stop Peterson, the Vikings sputtered, finishing 23rd in the league in both passing yards and yards per attempt. When they faced eight-man fronts, their QBR of 9.5 was the third-worst in the league.

Turner, though, brings a well-worn reputation as having one of the more aggressive downfield passing games in the league, which probably makes it easier for the Vikings' receivers to see past the indoctrination phase in his offense.

"What he says, you can pretty much stamp it in concrete," Jennings said. "He’s one of those guys that’s not going to give you a bunch of leeway because his offense works. It’s proven and that’s one of his statements he makes. ‘Look guys, I’ve been around a little bit longer than most guys in this building and this has worked.’"

And even though the coaching change will mean Jennings has to adapt to a new way of thinking and second-year receiver Cordarrelle Patterson has to digest another scheme, the payoff could be worth it for the Vikings' receivers.

"I had the opportunity to talk to [Browns receiver] Josh Gordon at the Pro Bowl," Patterson said. "He was telling me, ‘My coach is going to get you the football. Not just you -- everybody on your team, running backs, tight ends. Everybody is going to get the ball.'"
History, prior association and a semi-sensational quote tell us one thing. The mock drafts Insider are telling us another Insider. Whom to believe when it comes to projecting the likelihood the Minnesota Vikings would select Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel if he is available at No. 8 next month?

There is no telling what is truly going on inside the heads of Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner, two of the three most important people involved in the decision. (The third, general manager Rick Spielman, has pledged to draft players who match the sensibilities of his coaching staff.) We can, however, say this with confidence: Manziel would represent a stylistic departure from the offense played on the teams Zimmer and Turner have coached throughout their combined 49 NFL seasons.

As the chart shows, Zimmer and Turner almost exclusively have played with tall, traditional pocket passers. Only one of them, Quincy Carter on Zimmer's 2003 Dallas Cowboys, has rushed for as much as 200 yards in a 16-game season.

As assistant coaches on many of those teams, Zimmer and Turner had limited influence on the personnel decisions that brought those quarterbacks. But the list represents a near-linear thread of similar players who have informed a lifetime of values, experience and familiarity -- one Manziel would at minimum upend if he were the Vikings' selection.

The closest match from either coach's history is Doug Flutie, a 5-foot-10 scrambler who started for the San Diego Chargers in 2001 when Turner was their offensive coordinator. Yet even that comparison is limited. Flutie was 39 at the time, and although he was still nimble enough to scramble for 192 yards, Turner nevertheless had him throw a career-high 521 passes as part of his well-defined downfield passing scheme.

Another mobile quarterback, Jay Fiedler, had his per-game rushing totals with the Miami Dolphins in 2002-03 drop by 58 percent under Turner compared to the two seasons before Turner's arrival.

Manziel, of course, was at his best in college when scrambling outside the pocket. It's true that he has a strong arm -- stronger than Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater or Central Florida's Blake Bortles, according to ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay -- and there is near-unanimous agreement he won't stay healthy if he runs as often in the NFL.

But if you're going to run a three-digit pocket offense like Turner's, one modeled after the "Air Coryell" system the Chargers ran with Dan Fouts, are you going to be naturally drawn to Manziel? What is Manziel going to look like if you've seen your offense run mostly by Troy Aikman (6.2 yards rushing per career game), Philip Rivers (3.1), Jim Everett (3.8) and Gus Frerotte (2.1)?

That's a question only Turner can answer. But if you're among those who think he'll endorse Manziel, then you must believe he sees him in the same light as those traditional pocket throwers -- or that he is planning a sharp left turn in his scheme and play-calling ideas as he approaches his 62nd birthday next month. Tweaking schemes to fit players is a popular NFL mantra, but is it reasonable to expect it from Turner?

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesJohnny Manziel, the former Texas A&M quarterback who rushed for 1,410 yards in 2012, could see less action outside of the pocket in the NFL.
As for Zimmer, it's true he has spent his career on the defensive side of the ball. He has had little role in choosing quarterbacks and no hand in coaching them. We can't know the details of his personal philosophy on offense, but the three quarterbacks he has seen most frequently start for his teams are Aikman, Andy Dalton (9.5 yards rushing per game) and Carson Palmer (2.7). At the very least, he has almost no personal experience with a quarterback of Manziel's skill set.

To this point, his most important public statement about offense has been the hiring of Turner -- whom he coached with on the Cowboys staff in the early 1990s and who is well-equipped to implement and run a scheme while Zimmer directs his attention elsewhere. When you combine his alliance with Turner with his recent comments about Manziel, you get a sturdy encapsulation of his set of personal and professional values.

In media interviews, Zimmer derisively referred to Manziel's pro day -- which was set to blaring music and included a visit by former President George H.W. Bush -- as a sideshow. Elaborating, Zimmer said it was important to know if Manziel is "going to conform to typically what the NFL is or what everyone else has done before him, including what the great players in the game have done before him? Or is he going to try to be the celebrity man guy that he was maybe a year and a half ago?"

Many have assumed Zimmer was pulling the old Jedi mind trick, attempting to cast public doubt about his interest in a player he secretly hopes to draft. I wonder if that's a case of overthinking about a man who grinded for nearly four decades to get his first head-coaching gig at age 57. After working so long to get this job, will he hinge its success on a player who appears out of his comfort zone?

In total, then, here is a franchise with a coach whose no-nonsense values already have flared. His offensive coordinator has made a successful career out of running the same offense, with a certain type of quarterback, and his general manager doesn't seem likely to impose an unpopular choice. I can't say for sure the Vikings will pass on Manziel at No. 8, but this is one instance where it isn't difficult to come up with a long and relatively formidable list of reasons why they might be inclined to look elsewhere.

SPONSORED HEADLINES