NFC North: Minnesota Vikings

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MOBILE, Ala. -- The Senior Bowl won't be played at Ladd-Peebles Stadium until Saturday, but for NFL teams evaluating the 108 players in this year's game, most of the heavy lifting is done. Many coaching staffs, including the Minnesota Vikings' coaches, left town on Thursday, and while the team's front office will be here until Saturday, they're mostly staying for a meeting with the team's representative from the BLESTO scouting service.

The top of the draft board is stocked with underclassmen -- Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton, thought to be the top player in Mobile this week, generally isn't projected to go until the middle of the first round -- but there is value to be found here for the second and third days of the draft.

The Vikings have identified eight positions where they need to improve in 2015. Some of those could be filled by development from players the Vikings already have, and some could be solved through free agency in March. But for now, here's an early guess at a few areas where the Vikings could be looking for help, and a look at a few players who stood out in those areas during Senior Bowl practice this week.

Safety

Mississippi's Cody Prewitt has had an impressive week here, intercepting a pass on Tuesday, charging in to stop a reverse during Wednesday's practice and showing good strength and positioning during one-on-one red zone drills on Thursday. At 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds, he could make a nice second-round target for the Vikings if they wanted to put him next to Harrison Smith.

Middle linebacker

Clemson's Stephone Anthony was voted the top linebacker of Senior Bowl week by scouts who evaluated practice, and could be worth keeping in mind; he's 6-foot-2, 245 pounds and had solid speed for his size. Miami's Denzel Perryman might be too small to play middle linebacker in the NFL -- he's only 5-foot-11, and said earlier this week he's trying to get down to 235 pounds before the NFL scouting combine in February -- but he's looked stout against the run this week. Cincinnati's Jeff Luc has also been impressive. He's also 5-foot-11, but weighs 263 pounds and has run well in coverage at that weight.

Offensive line

Wisconsin's Rob Havenstein is a mountain of a man at 6-foot-7 and 332 pounds; he comes from a school that prides itself on power football, but looked better on his feet in pass-blocking drills than many thought he might. It remains to be seen if the Vikings will pursue help at the tackle position, as there were indications they spent some time with Havenstein this week. Duke guard Laken Tomlinson was voted the top lineman of the week, largely for how well he fared against Shelton in practice. He's got a compelling story -- he was born in Jamaica, double-majored in evolutionary anthropology and psychology at Duke, and has dreams of becoming a doctor -- and if the Vikings were looking for help at left guard, Tomlinson might catch their eye.

Wide receiver

The group here this week has been stocked with slot receivers -- Kansas State's Tyler Lockett had a good week, and said he talked a couple times with Vikings receivers coach George Stewart -- but Auburn's Sammie Coates is a name to keep in mind. At 6-foot-2, he's the best outside receiver prospect at the Senior Bowl. There's still concern about his hands, but he can fly (he could run the 40 in the 4.3 range at the combine) and is currently projected as an early second-round pick. The Vikings don't exactly need another unrefined player at receiver, but if they feel they can develop Coates, there's plenty there to like.
MOBILE, Ala. -- The Minnesota Vikings have one hire to make to fill out their coaching staff for the 2015 season, but it appears the rest of the group is intact for the long haul.

Coach Mike Zimmer said the Vikings plan to extend the contracts of most of their assistant coaches through the 2016 season and will promote coaching assistant Drew Petzing to take over for former assistant receivers coach Klint Kubiak, who left for a job at the University of Kansas. The Vikings have one coach who wanted a one-year contract, Zimmer said. But as many teams do, the Vikings will roll over their coaches' contracts before they're working into the final year of their deal.

When asked on Tuesday about the length of his own contract, Zimmer said it runs past 2016. The Vikings have not announced the details of Zimmer's contract, but what the coach said on Wednesday means, at the very least, he has a four-year deal (or possibly the same kind of three-years-with-an-option contract given to his predecessor, Leslie Frazier). Given the progress the Vikings made in their first season under Zimmer and the optimism surrounding quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the team could be putting together a foundation that will stand up for years to come.
MINNEAPOLIS -- If Josh Robinson, Jarius Wright, Rhett Ellison and Robert Blanton are back with the Minnesota Vikings in 2015, all four will see substantial pay raises over what their initial rookie contract called for them to make.

Wright
All four players will receive pay bumps under the new rookie wage scale that was introduced as part of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement. Players taken between the third and seventh round of the draft can trigger a Proven Performance Escalator by playing at least 35 percent of their team's offensive or defensive snaps in two of their first three seasons. Blanton, Ellison and Wright will earn base salaries of $1,574,000 in 2015, while Robinson -- who was taken 66th overall in 2012 -- will make $1,564,000, according to NFL Players Association salary data.

The salary increases total a combined $3,531,804 in 2015. The salary cap is expected to rise in 2015, possibly to the neighborhood of $140 million. The Vikings currently have about $129.8 million in cap commitments for 2015, according to ESPN Stats and Information, but that could change through releases or restructured contracts for players such as linebacker Chad Greenway, left guard Charlie Johnson or wide receiver Greg Jennings (to say nothing of what might happen with Adrian Peterson).

It's probably safe to expect the Vikings will go into the new league year with at least $15 million of cap space, and there are few pressing needs among their own pending unrestricted free agents. Even with the pay bumps for some of their younger players, they should be in a solid cap situation by the start of free agency.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said the team is prohibited from speaking directly with Adrian Peterson while he is suspended by the NFL. But when asked about the running back's future in Minnesota, Spielman said, "I don't know if there's a team in the NFL that wouldn't want Adrian Peterson.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
AP Photo/Tom GannamAdrian Peterson still has value, but the Vikings have much cheaper alternatives.
"There's no question on what Adrian Peterson has done for this organization on the field, and what he is as a football player," Spielman said in a news conference with Minnesota reporters on Wednesday. "I think people tend to forget, Adrian did make a mistake, he admitted he made a mistake, he went through the process in the court system. He is currently suspended by the NFL right now, but he's done a lot of positive things in this community as well. I've been here his whole career. I know what type of person Adrian is. But I also know that we have to follow everything that's put in place for us. Is there a resolution? Not right now. All I know is where we stand today."

The running back cannot be reinstated until April 15 under the current terms of his suspension, and the NFL Players Association is suing the league on Peterson's behalf to get him back into the league sooner than that. Peterson, who will be 30 in March and is scheduled to carry a $15.4 million cap figure in 2015, could need to restructure his contract to fit with the Vikings -- or any team -- next season. He said in an interview with ESPN last month he didn't think he needed to take a pay cut, and it remains to be seen where he will play next season.

Spielman, though, said he doesn't doubt the 2012 NFL MVP will excel next year.

"Everybody talked about, 'Well, he's not going to be the same after his ACL [injury in 2011].' That was his best year, coming back from that," Spielman said. "Knowing Adrian, I know he's going to play at a very high level when he comes back. I'm anticipating that, just knowing Adrian and what he's done in the past."

Spielman's comments echoed what coach Mike Zimmer said in his season-ending news conference on Dec. 30, when he said of Peterson," I think he’d add value to any team, to be honest with you. I think the kid’s a heck of a football player."

There will be those who parse Spielman's comments in light of his oft-repeated refrain from the 2012 offseason, when he said the Vikings have "no intent" of trading Percy Harvin. If the general manager wanted to end speculation about Peterson's future in Minnesota, he could have declared the Vikings will welcome the running back's return to their roster as soon as he's reinstated by the league. But that wouldn't be the most prudent move from a football standpoint. The Vikings got 1,108 yards out of Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon in Peterson's absence this season, and depending on what they do with Peterson, they could look to add a running back in a deep draft class.

There's little question about Peterson's singular talents on the field, but the Vikings' ability to get decent production at a fraction of the cost could depress Peterson's value from a financial standpoint. It still seems as though the fulcrum for this whole thing will be Peterson's willingness to restructure his contract in Minnesota, and that could depend on the state of the running back's relationship with the team come the time of his reinstatement. So here we sit, with the uncertainty about Peterson's future in Minnesota likely to linger for several more months.
MINNEAPOLIS -- There was always going to be something about Duron Carter's visit to Minnesota that felt a little different than any other visit the Canadian Football League star took this winter. He would return to the same practice facility in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, that he ran around as a kid. He would see some of the same faces on Friday that he remembered from when his father, Cris, was finishing his Hall of Fame career with the Vikings. In many ways, it would feel like a homecoming.

But now, there's a good chance the younger Carter's Friday workout in Minnesota could be the beginning of his own story with the Vikings.

Duron Carter
USA TODAY SportsDuron Carter caught 75 passes for 1,030 yards and seven touchdowns this season in the CFL.
Duron Carter said the Vikings are his top choice after his meeting and workout with the team, and while the CFL All-Star can't sign with a team until Feb. 10, it seems like a distinct possibility he'll follow his father's footsteps with the Vikings. The 23-year-old still could visit the Carolina Panthers next week (depending on the team's playoff schedule), as well as the Cleveland Browns. He has also talked with the Washington Redskins and San Francisco 49ers about visiting. But at the moment, Carter said, the Vikings and Indianapolis Colts are the front-runners for his services.

Carter, who went through a rookie minicamp tryout with the Vikings in 2013, has stayed in touch with receivers coach George Stewart and many of the team's receivers since then. On Friday, he worked out for the Vikings' front office and coaching staff, with everyone from general manager Rick Spielman to head coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner in attendance.

"Nobody missed it -- from the GM all the way down," Carter said.

After catching 75 passes for 1,030 yards and seven touchdowns for the Montreal Alouettes this season, Carter has earned significant NFL interest this winter. It's believed he could fetch a signing bonus in the neighborhood of $100,000 on a three-year deal -- for comparison's sake, the Vikings gave former CFL receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux a $75,000 signing bonus in 2011 -- and if Carter lands in Minnesota, he could get a chance to compete for playing time on a team still trying to figure out what it has at receiver.

"It felt like being back home," Duron Carter said. "I used to run around that facility when I was little. It still hasn’t changed -- I remember some of the cooking people, I still remember where everything is. When I was in for the rookie minicamp, it felt really overwhelming. But this was completely different from the minicamp, from the standpoint of them wanting me and pursuing me. It felt a lot better."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Cris Carter has made no secret of his gratitude for what the Minnesota Vikings did to help him turn his life around, and the Hall of Fame receiver is doing his best to put his affections for his former team aside as his son Duron visits with them on Thursday and Friday.

"I'm trying my best to be non-partisan," Carter said on Thursday. "But strange things have happened. Minnesota has been good to the Carters."

Duron Carter
USA TODAY SportsDuron Carter caught 75 passes for 1,030 yards and seven touchdowns this season in the CFL.
For Cris Carter, though, the biggest thrill in the process might be the fact that his 23-year-old son is earning significant NFL interest because of what he's done, not because of what his father did.

After a rookie minicamp tryout with the Vikings in 2013, Duron Carter chose to sign with Montreal Alouettes, rather than go through training camp in Minnesota. He played two seasons in the CFL, caught 75 passes for 1,030 yards and seven touchdowns this season, and has received significant NFL interest from teams like the Vikings, Colts, Chiefs, 49ers, Browns and Panthers, among others.

He will work out for the Vikings on Friday, and could still visit with San Francisco, Cleveland or Carolina after his trip to Minnesota. He isn't able to sign with a team until Feb. 10, but can agree to a deal before then. Things could move quickly with the Vikings if his visit goes well; the team has kept in touch with him since his 2013 tryout, and a NFL source said the Vikings' interest in Duron Carter is "beyond a workout" this time around.

Duron Carter might have had a more traditional path to the NFL if not for academic issues at Ohio State and Alabama, but the elder Carter, who works as an analyst on ESPN's "Sunday NFL Countdown," said his son's time in the CFL gave him the valuable experience he missed in Division I college football.

"It was everything for him," Cris Carter said. "He didn’t have the game experience, he didn’t have the consistency, he didn’t have the competition it would take to be a professional. The opportunity he had in Montreal, it was really just player development. We're pretty used to the system -- you go to high school, play football, you go to college, play football and you try to make it in NFL. But there are other ways of getting there, if you're talented, you persevere and you get a good break."

Cris Carter said he wants the best situation for his son, and knows the Vikings have to make their own business decisions, too. "It's not going to affect how I ever feel about the Vikings," he said. "(General manager) Rick (Spielman)'s got to get the best players he can get. I respect that. Under no circumstances do the Vikings feel like Duron is being forced on them. They are the ones that pursued him."

That's because of the son's accomplishments, not the father's. And no matter Duron Carter's next destination, his path to this point has made his dad proud.

"His trail led to the CFL," Cris Carter said. "Him playing in the NFL is more realistic than two years ago."
The Minnesota Vikings took care of their main 2015 free agent priorities last preseason, signing tight end Kyle Rudolph and guard Brandon Fusco to contract extensions in August and September, respectively. Their main 2015 offseason question will revolve around the future of Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, but in terms of the team's pending free agents, the Vikings have few major items on their to-do list. Below is a quick look at the Vikings players who will become unrestricted or restricted free agents when the new league year opens at 4 p.m. ET March 10, when unrestricted free agents can sign with any team.

Unrestricted:

Christian Ponder, QB
Jerome Felton, FB (can opt out of 2015 contract)
Joe Berger, OL
Vladimir Ducasse, OG
Corey Wootton, DE
Tom Johnson, DT
Jasper Brinkley, LB
Mistral Raymond, SS (spent 2014 on injured reserve)
Cullen Loeffler, OL

Restricted:

Matt Asiata, RB
Mike Harris, OT

Vikings: George Paton staying put

December, 31, 2014
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MINNEAPOLIS -- It appears Minnesota Vikings assistant general manager George Paton is staying put in Minnesota.

According to two league sources, Paton has no plans to interview for either the New York Jets' or Chicago Bears' general manager openings and will be staying with the Vikings. That means general manager Rick Spielman will have his long-standing right-hand man for another year in Minnesota.

Paton was a finalist for the St. Louis Rams' GM job in 2012 before deciding to stay in Minnesota, and declined an opportunity to interview for the Miami Dolphins' GM job last winter. He had drawn early interest from the Jets, in particular, this offseason, but it appears he won't be pursuing outside opportunities for the time being.

The Vikings' assistant GM has spent eight seasons with the team, coming with Spielman to Minnesota after working with him in Miami and Chicago. He's been an integral piece of an aggressive draft strategy that's helped the Vikings land seven first-round picks in the past three drafts. Evidently, Paton is happy enough with his role in the Vikings' organization that he can choose to be selective when it comes to outside opportunities. And as the Vikings begin preparations for a draft where they hold the 11th overall pick, they'll apparently have Paton in the fold.

Minnesota Vikings season report card

December, 31, 2014
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The Minnesota Vikings finished the year 7-9, missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, but there's real optimism in the Twin Cities after a year that could have easily gotten off track.

Playing 15 games without Adrian Peterson, the Vikings managed to finish third in the NFC North and appeared to identify their quarterback of the future in rookie Teddy Bridgewater, who went 6-6 as a starter despite a decimated offense. Bridgewater and head coach Mike Zimmer figured to be joined at the hip, and now it looks like the Vikings have a foundation with both of them.

Team MVP: Bridgewater gets our vote in his first season with the team. He completed 64.4 percent of his passes -- third best for a rookie in NFL history -- and won six of his 12 starts despite a tattered offensive line, an insignificant Cordarrelle Patterson and no Peterson. Bridgewater finished just short of 3,000 yards and became the first quarterback to surpass 200 rushing yards in a Norv Turner offense. With a better supporting cast around him in 2015, Bridgewater could take off in his second season.

Best moment: The Vikings' two overtime touchdowns this season were triggered by their two first-round picks -- Bridgewater and Anthony Barr -- but we'll go with Bridgewater's 87-yard game winner to Jarius Wright on Dec. 7. The rookie changed the play at the line of scrimmage after he saw a New York Jets blitz coming. After Wright picked up a couple of blocks, he outraced Sheldon Richardson to the end zone for a game-winning score. The play showed Bridgewater's developing command of the offense, and his growing relationship with Wright in an uplifting moment for the Vikings.

Worst moment: This season will always be remembered for Peterson's absence, and the low point of the season probably came in the early hours of Sept. 17, when the Vikings put Peterson on the commissioner's exempt list after sponsors balked at their initial decision to let the running back play through child abuse charges. Peterson's absence stripped the offense of its focal point, and it meant Bridgewater didn't have the luxury of a former MVP to command the attention of defenses.

2015 outlook: The Vikings have to feel good about where they're headed. Bridgewater should continue to get better, and Zimmer will have another offseason to tinker with a defense that showed major improvement in 2014. Their schedule appears tougher -- at least at first glance -- and they'll have to figure out whether they have enough playmakers on offense, with Peterson in limbo and Patterson trying to rebound from a disappointing second season. But an improvement on 7-9 should be expected, and a bid for a playoff berth shouldn't be out of the question.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- There has been something of an odd fascination with Christian Ponder in recent weeks, as the quarterback prepares for his likely departure from the Minnesota Vikings. His bizarre turn as the team's quarterback heir presumptive ended last spring, when the team drafted Teddy Bridgewater and declined to pick up Ponder's fifth-year option, and his last snaps on the field came in an odious Oct. 2 performance in Green Bay, when Ponder threw two interceptions in a 42-10 loss.

Ponder has spent the past 12 weeks as the Vikings' backup quarterback, watching Bridgewater replace him as the Vikings' quarterback of the future. He hasn't ruled out a return to Minnesota, he said, but with Matt Cassel signed for next season and likely to return as Bridgewater's backup, the 26-year-old Ponder seemed to know his career prospects could lead him elsewhere.

[+] EnlargeChristian Ponder
AP Photo/Tom LynnChristian Ponder's time in Minnesota is likely over with Teddy Bridgewater entrenched as the starter and Matt Cassel expected to back him up next year.
"The emotional part is saying goodbye to a lot of people," Ponder said. "I feel like I’ve built some great relationships with people the past four years, and this has been my comfort and everything and a place I’ve called home. So it’s tough to leave, but I’m excited about new beginnings."

The oft-used refrain from those who were praising Ponder, whether it was general manager Rick Spielman, wide receiver Greg Jennings or offensive coordinator Norv Turner, was that he had "all the tools" to be successful in the NFL. That might be true -- Ponder is smart, mobile and has sufficient arm strength -- but it's the ability to turn those tools into legitimate production that has always eluded him. Ponder never seemed to have a sense of timing in the pocket, often fleeing at the first sign of pressure or waiting too long to throw, and he never grasped what Bridgewater seemed to be learning in the final weeks of the 2014 season, about throwing the ball to a spot and trusting his receivers to make a play.

He said he'll spend some time in the next few weeks looking at possible destinations that could offer him a chance to play, but Ponder will likely have to hope for work as a backup somewhere. He often talked this season about what he had learned from offensive coordinator Norv Turner, and seemed appreciative on Monday of the chance to spend this year working away from the spotlight.

"The stress level was completely different, and I kind of got to enjoy it and have a little more fun," Ponder said. "It was tough to not be out there -- as a competitor you want to be the guy playing -- but it was fun to watch Teddy grow up through this year, and it was fun playing with him and being his teammate."

Perhaps his experience this season will benefit Ponder in the long run, but until (or unless) he gets another chance to start, he will be known for his strange saga in Minnesota. He leaves as the second-highest drafted quarterback in team history, the last quarterback to lead the Vikings to a playoff spot, the player who lost, regained and lost his job on the team's silly 2013 quarterback carousel, and the backup who only saw the field in an emergency this season. On Monday, Ponder was thankful for all of the turns on the wild ride.

"It was an interesting one. It was up and down for sure," Ponder said. "It was a dream come true for me to be able to get drafted and play, and I want to thank (owner) Zygi (Wilf) and the whole Wilf family and Rick (Spielman) for giving me that chance. I enjoyed it. There were times that weren’t as enjoyable, but overall it was fun, and I’ll remember my times here."

2015 Minnesota Vikings' draft order

December, 29, 2014
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The Minnesota Vikings will have the 11th pick in the 2015 NFL draft, and as they try to build on a 7-9 record in 2014, they might start by adding another piece to coach Mike Zimmer's defense.

The Vikings finished 14th in the league in yards allowed, and 11th in points allowed, after ranking at the bottom of the league in both categories last season. They saw impressive returns on a defensive overhaul last offseason, and if they can add a few pieces to the group they put together this season, the Vikings could have one of the better defenses in the league in 2015.

Another linebacker, as well as an upgrade at safety, could be good places to start. ESPN's Todd McShay has Alabama's Landon Collins 11th on his latest draft board Insider, and the athletic safety might be a nice fit next to Harrison Smith. Players like Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd could also intrigue the Vikings.

And then there are the questions the Vikings have to address on offense. If Adrian Peterson isn't coming back, would Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon make sense? Could Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker -- a former college teammate of Teddy Bridgewater's -- be an option if the Vikings don't think Cordarrelle Patterson will be their No. 1 wideout? The Vikings have a number of places they could look for upgrades, and they are sure to consider all of them over the next four months.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Next season will be Chad Greenway's 10th in the NFL, and he plans to spend it on a football field somewhere -- not watching from a sideline or taking it in from the couch during his first year of retirement.

"That would be awesome," Greenway said. "I've accomplished a lot of goals in my life and that's one I have left."

Greenway
Greenway said again on Monday that he wants to stay in Minnesota, echoing the sentiment he's put forth over the last few weeks and indicating he'd be open to restructuring his contract to make that happen. The future of the Vikings' elder statesman on defense is unclear, though, and like Antoine Winfield, Jared Allen and Kevin Williams before him, Greenway could find himself saying goodbye to a team that hasn't kept many of its long-tenured defenders in recent years.

Linebacker Gerald Hodges played well in a spot role this season and could be the heir apparent to Greenway at the weakside linebacker position. It also wouldn't be surprising to see the Vikings target another linebacker in the draft to pair with rookie Anthony Barr. Greenway, in all likelihood, will have to wait a couple months to see where his relationship with the Vikings goes next.

"[It's been a] pretty good relationship for the most part," he said. "You hope that you can make that work. Being a loyal guy myself, I just want to be able to do that. At the same point, you understand that it’s a business and you have to make the correct decision when it comes up.”

With his three daughters settled in Minnesota, Greenway said he'll talk through his options with his wife and base any decision on what's best for his family. "My daughters are big-time Vikings fans. It'd be a change if that happened," he said. "We make every decision based on our family. It won't simply come down to money or business."

Greenway said the knee injury that kept him out of Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears won't require surgery, but said on Sunday he wasn't able to do anything beyond a few individual reps in practice. The ailment, however, came at the end of a season when Greenway dealt with a broken hand and broken ribs, missing four games and sitting out for the first time since he tore his ACL as a rookie.

"The rib injury was really kind of a fluky deal and obviously this knee thing would have put anybody out," Greenway said. "You play a lot of football and the rib injury could have happened 10 times over. I don't feel like I've become injury-prone or my age has caught up to me any way. That can happen to anybody at any point.

"I feel like I can continue to play somewhere. Hopefully here."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon said he hasn't been cleared to resume training after lower back surgery, but he said he's feeling much better after having an operation three or four weeks ago and should be ready for the start of organized team activities in May.

McKinnon
The rookie played two games after injuring his lower back while lifting weights at the team facility and was placed on injured reserve Dec. 6. He finished the season as the Vikings' second-leading rusher, with 538 yards on 113 carries, and caught another 27 passes for 135 yards. Running backs coach Kirby Wilson said Friday he thinks McKinnon can be a featured back in the NFL, and he could wind up as the Vikings' primary option -- or at least the top back in a group of ball carriers -- if Adrian Peterson doesn't return next season.

"I can’t really say what’s going to happen," McKinnon said. "Nobody knows. It’s the NFL, things change. All I can do is work hard and come OTAs, come back out here and compete and show the coaches I can still do what I can."
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Maybe Cordarrelle Patterson has received the message. Maybe he's understood what he needs to do to reverse the arc of a season that began with a blockbuster performance in St. Louis and ended with the receiver brooding on the sideline, while a player signed off the Cleveland Browns' practice squad and an undrafted free agent played ahead of him. In case Patterson hasn't grasped the magnitude of what happened during his second season, though, Greg Jennings wants to make sure he does.

"I've told him I want to get with him this offseason, just so he can watch himself on film," Jennings said. "Sometimes, you feel like there's things you're doing that look great, but you may be tipping your hand to different things. He does a lot of things great, but there are some little things he has to tweak in his game, to allow him to be the player we all have the expectation of him being."

[+] EnlargeCordarrelle Patterson
Icon SportswireFollowing a disappointing sophomore season in the NFL, receiver Cordarrelle Patterson has some important offseason homework to focus on.
For his own future, as well as the proficiency of the Minnesota Vikings' offense and the development of rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, it's important that Patterson takes steps to make sure his third season in the league doesn't go the way his second one did. In a year that began with indications the Vikings were going to feature the receiver in their offense, Patterson saw how quickly teams will move on to other options. Right now, he's still got the investment of the Vikings' front office, coach Mike Zimmer and teammates such as Jennings, who have seen Patterson's star potential and want to make sure he realizes it. Without progress in 2015, Patterson might find there aren't as many people in his corner.

His year ended with just 33 catches for 384 yards and one touchdown, and Patterson carried just seven times for 15 yards after his 102-yard rushing performance against St. Louis. He didn't return a kickoff for a touchdown, and lost a fumble on one against the New York Jets. On Sunday, Patterson saw his first action as a wideout at the end of the second quarter when Jarius Wright left the game with a low back injury, and on the first series of the second half, he ran a short comeback route, couldn't hold onto a pass that Bridgewater threw slightly behind him and watched Kyle Fuller intercept the deflected pass, returning it to the Vikings' 9 until Bridgewater tripped him up by the ankles.

"[Bridgewater] had a 90 quarterback rating, and would have been over 100 if the ball wouldn't hit our guy in the chest and bounce out," Zimmer said. Later, when the coach was asked about Patterson specifically, Zimmer took a long pause to gather his thoughts and said, "I've got a plan for this offseason for him, and hopefully it works. But it's going to be up to Cordarrelle. I'll leave it at that."

Patterson left the locker room Sunday before it was opened to the media and was unavailable for comment.

Zimmer has talked about Patterson's route-running on more than one occasion, saying the receiver needs to make sure he's hitting the same depth on all of his routes so Bridgewater knows where to find him. On Sunday, Jennings took it a step further.

"Whether a ball is behind you or in front of you or ahead, it doesn't matter. If I get my hands on it, I have to make that play," Jennings said. "If the defender has a certain leverage, I have to counteract what he's doing to make it right with my quarterback. It's being honest with me; it's not looking at what somebody else didn't do.

"He gets separation, but it's what he does after he gets the separation. It's little things like that. It's something we'll watch together. It's not badgering him, because we all have that maturation process. This is a guy who hadn't played a whole lot of college football at receiver. Of course we have expectations -- I'm not making an excuse for him -- but it's going to take time."

Jennings punctuated his remarks by saying, "As long as I'm here, [Patterson] will not fail. I refuse to allow that to happen, and he has to refuse to allow that to happen." In the end, that's the key for Patterson. It's one thing for so many people to see his ability, to devote themselves to helping Patterson cash in on his talent. But Patterson is hardly the first 6-foot-2 receiver with 4.42 40 speed, and his mastery of the game's minutiae -- of running crisp routes, of baiting defensive backs -- still isn't there.

Right now, Patterson has a general manager who spent three draft picks to get him, an offensive coordinator who worked with Michael Irvin, a receivers coach who worked with Jerry Rice and a teammate who's played with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. He wants to be in Minnesota, Jennings said, and he should; the Vikings have the wherewithal, and the intent, to help Patterson flourish.

But if the receiver doesn't work at it for himself, it won't matter how badly anyone else wants it for him.

"[Wide receivers] coach [George] Stewart always says, 'You don't know, or you don't care,'" Jennings said. "Almost 100 percent of the time, guys know. So that leaves, 'You don't care.' With the little things, you may not want to admit that you don't care. But if you don't put the same effort that you put into everything else, it means you don't care. He definitely wants to learn, but he has to shine."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Minnesota Vikings' 13-9 win over the Chicago Bears at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday:

Greenway
Greenway's future: Linebacker Chad Greenway, who turns 32 next month, is entering the final year of his contract in 2015. He carries an $8.8 million salary-cap number into next season but has indicted he would be amenable to restructuring the deal, hinting as much again Sunday.

"I've always said, since day one, I want to finish as a Viking," Greenway said. "I'm going to try to do everything I can do to get that done. If they want me back, hopefully we'll find a way to get that done."

Thielen throws TD ball to fiancée: After he scored his first NFL touchdown as a receiver Sunday, Adam Thielen peeled off to his left and headed for the southwest corner of TCF Bank Stadium, where his fiancée Caitlin Graboski was seated. Thielen tossed the ball into the stands for his bride-to-be, who tweeted a picture of herself with the ball.

"She was up there a little ways. I don't know if I got it all the way up there," Thielen said. "She might have been fighting some people in the stands for it."

Zimmer emotional about Rhodes: After the game, cornerback Xavier Rhodes found coach Mike Zimmer and thanked the head coach for helping him improve in his second season. Rhodes effectively shut down receiver Alshon Jeffery on Sunday and showed signs of becoming a premier corner in the NFL. His development -- and his gratitude -- made Zimmer emotional when he talked about it after the game.

"Xavier came up to me and said, ‘Thanks for everything,’ helping him get good, you know?" Zimmer said. "He was just a big piece of clay, really, that had a ton of ability, and we’ve been able to -- [defensive backs coach] Jerry Gray’s done a great job with him, getting him to understand things."

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