NFC North: Minnesota Vikings

Vikings Camp Report: Day 7

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
8:20
PM ET
MANKATO, Minn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Minnesota Vikings training camp:
  • The Vikings had a hard, physical practice on Thursday, and Friday's high of 87 degrees made it the hottest day of training camp so far. Coach Mike Zimmer said he anticipated the team's practice level might drop off a bit on Friday afternoon, and he was correct. Asked to describe the day, Zimmer said, "Sloppy. I didn't think we were as precise as we've been on both sides of the ball. The effort was good, but we've got a lot of things in, so some of the stuff runs together for them. We're making way too many mistakes, though, for my liking, so we've got to keep working it, getting this stuff right."
  • Anthony Barr has continued to impress in practice, to the point where Zimmer said on Friday the rookie has a "strong" chance to start at linebacker. "I probably would have said that after the first minicamp," Zimmer said. "His alignments are just a tiny little bit off, so if he'll fix that, he's got good power when he punches, he did a couple nice things in that move-the-ball (drill). He's blitzing well. He's still got to learn some of the rush things in this league. But for the most part, he's advancing as well as expected."
  • The sloppy play certainly extended to the quarterbacks on Friday: Matt Cassel threw an interception to Kurt Coleman early in 11-on-11 work and had another pass batted down by Linval Joseph. Teddy Bridgewater went 10-for-17 (though one of his incompletions was called back for defensive holding) and was intercepted for the second straight day by Derek Cox, who stepped in front of a pass intended for Adam Thielen and returned it for a touchdown. "We gave them a lot of different looks on defense today, too," Zimmer said. "That's part of the evaluation. It's not to line up there in the same look every time, and they know where they're going before the ball (is snapped). It's great for a young quarterback like this to see some of the things we do on defense, because that's what people are going to do to him, early in the year anyway, if he's the guy. For me, if I'm the defensive coordinator, I'm going to give you a bunch of different looks." Christian Ponder went 5-for-5.
  • Zimmer unveiled a new toy on Friday: a siren he set to sound after five seconds at the end of every play near the conclusion of practice. He had used the tactic in Cincinnati to remind players they needed to go hard for at least that long on every play. "We can't block this guy and stop," Zimmer said. "Let's block him, keep blocking him, stay on him, stay on him, stay on him. Basically, finish."
  • Considering the overall feel of the day, it's appropriate that one of the Vikings' hydraulic camera cranes crashed into the chain-link fence at the back of their practice fields, leaving a sizable dent in the fence. After some effort, the Vikings were able to get the crane moved and in position to film the team's next drill. "Sloppy off the field, too," Zimmer deadpanned.

Vikings wake-up call: Day 7

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
9:45
AM ET
MANKATO, Minn. -- Setting up the day at Minnesota Vikings camp:

Today's schedule: The Vikings have their normal routine of a 10:30-11:30 walk-through and a 3 p.m.-5:10 p.m. practice at Minnesota State University. Defensive coordinator George Edwards and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer are scheduled to talk to reporters after the morning walk-through.

More observations from Thursday's practice:
  • The Vikings have been doing extensive work with Xavier Rhodes, their talented second-year corner who still seems to be learning to trust his instincts in coverage. Rhodes is expected to be the Vikings' top cover corner this year, and while coach Mike Zimmer's defense typically doesn't ask corners to travel across the field with one receiver, Rhodes will undoubtedly see his share of difficult matchups this season. On Thursday, he drove on a route early in practice, but dropped an interception for the second consecutive day. Later, in a seven-on-seven red zone drill, he showed good technique against Jerome Simpson, playing with inside leverage that forced Matt Cassel to make a difficult throw to the back corner of the end zone, but Rhodes turned a split-second late for the ball and tried to swat it, rather than hitting Simpson's hands as he leaped to catch it. Defensive backs coach Jerry Gray explained to Rhodes afterward that he'd played the right technique in coverage, but he just needed to force the ball out, rather than trying to recover by batting it away. It was a vivid snapshot in what's been a camp full of learning for Rhodes.
  • Zimmer continued to mix and match players in his first-team defense, giving Tom Johnson some work with the top unit at 3-technique tackle and rotating Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond and rookie Antone Exum in the safety spot opposite Harrison Smith with Robert Blanton out because of a hamstring injury. Zimmer said he will release the Vikings' first formal depth chart sometime next week, and at certain positions it's probably dangerous to assume too much about a pecking order, when the Vikings are trying to get a look at a handful of different players in a variety of roles. ""Really, it's just about figuring out what guys can do," Zimmer said. "The more you can do, the more value you have to this football team."
  • The Vikings are experimenting with first-round draft pick Anthony Barr in a number of different ways. He's played linebacker in their dime package, has rushed from a defensive end position in the nickel, in addition to his normal work at linebacker in the base defense. He'll have to be able to hold up in coverage as a linebacker, but Zimmer's had no complaints there so far. "Coverage is great. He moves well. He’s got a good idea," Zimmer said. "Somebody was telling me that he takes copious notes in the meetings. He’s got pages and pages of them as we talk, so he’s very, very into trying to learn what we’re trying to do and teach. He’s got a lot of raw, athletic ability that helps in the coverage aspect of things. There’s times when he may pull off of somebody a little bit too soon that he’s got to do better at. But for the most part, I’ve been very pleased with that."
They said it: "I would say the sky's the limit, but there's no ceiling to his potential. There really isn't. If he's willing to put in the time, the potential is there. He has everything he needs. He's starting to mature as a player, as an individual, so his success is going to shoot straight through the roof. I'm excited. I told him this, and maybe it was a little premature, but I told him, 'At some point, I'm going to tell my kids I played with Cordarrelle Patterson.'" --Wide receiver Greg Jennings on Patterson.

Vikings Camp Report: Day 6

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
7:40
PM ET
MANKATO, Minn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Minnesota Vikings training camp:
  • For the first time in Vikings training camp, we've seen an interception in full-team drills. Actually, there were two of them on Thursday, both coming off rookie Teddy Bridgewater. First, Audie Cole made what might have been the play of the day, jumping in front of a pass to the flat and picking it off with what would have been a clear lane to the end zone. Then, Derek Cox snatched away a short pass intended for Adam Thielen in a 2-minute drill. Matt Cassel was nearly picked off, as well, when Xavier Rhodes made a nice play to drive on a sideline throw intended for Jerome Simpson. He got his hands on the pass, but couldn't bring down the interception.
  • Captain Munnerlyn returned to team drills on Thursday, and got some work in the Vikings' base defense opposite Xavier Rhodes. The Vikings will need to see if Munnerlyn can play in their base defense, as opposed to only the nickel package, but they were treating him like a member of their top base defense on Thursday. Cornerback Josh Robinson had also returned from a minor hamstring injury that caused him to leave early on Wednesday. Tight end AC Leonard, who left Wednesday's practice with a headache, did not return on Thursday.
  • Adrian Peterson got most of the day off, with Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon getting most of the first-team work at running back. Asiata, to me, looks quicker through the holes than he was last year, when he averaged 3.8 yards on 44 carries. He could get some carries in relief of Peterson this year, and he's big enough to be a forceful downhill runner if he can do a better job of getting through the line with some speed this season.
  • Cordarrelle Patterson got his first work of camp on kick returns, after sitting out the first four practices with a minor foot injury. The Vikings have worked a number of other return men in his place -- Marcus Sherels, Thielen, Jarius Wright and McKinnon among them -- as they try to figure out who can take over if Patterson has a bigger role in the offense. But once he got back in his familiar position on Thursday, Patterson gave a brief reminder of what made him an All-Pro return man last year: He hit a hole on the left side of the Vikings' wall and surged down the sideline for a nice return.
  • Referee Carl Cheffers and his crew were in town for their first day of work with the Vikings on Thursday. They met with the media to outline rule changes this season and were scheduled to meet with the Vikings on Thursday night before doing some more work with the team on the practice field the rest of the week. In his presentation to the media, Cheffers spent a good deal of time covering the NFL's 2014 officiating points of emphasis: Cracking down on illegal hands to the face and taking a stricter view of contact between cornerbacks and receivers. He also covered the league's new replay policy, which will involved NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino in reviews. Officials will now be able to talk to the league office in New York, as well as other members of the officiating crew, via a "Janet Jackson headset," as Cheffers called it. Referees will still wear stadium microphones on their lapels, and both microphones will need battery packs. Of course, they'll carry a flag and a bean bag, and -- as everyone does in 2014 -- they'll carry a pager.

Vikings Camp Report: Day 5

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
8:35
PM ET
MANKATO, Minn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Minnesota Vikings training camp:
  • It was just for a series, but Teddy Bridgewater saw first-team snaps for the first time in training camp. He threw on three of his four plays with the first-team offense, handing off to Adrian Peterson once, and spent the rest of the day working with the second team. Bridgewater finished the day 12-for-15 in full-team work, though many of his passes were checkdowns to the running backs, and coach Mike Zimmer wasn't as happy with his accuracy as he's been on other days. Matt Cassel was 8-for-13, getting a pass batted down at the line of scrimmage and another one nearly intercepted by Xavier Rhodes. Christian Ponder threw just one pass in 11-on-11 work, completing it to Joe Banyard.
  • Linebacker Anthony Barr also saw his first action with the Vikings' top defensive unit, working much of the day at linebacker. He hurried Bridgewater on one blitz, and was used as a pass rusher in sub packages, but Zimmer's report on him wasn't exactly glowing. "The only time I noticed him, he was late on a blitz," Zimmer said. "We talked about that."
  • Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd had one of his more impressive days in camp, batting down a pass from Bridgewater and rushing off the edge to hurry Cassel on a throw to Cordarrelle Patterson. Cassel had to step up in the pocket and lofted a pass too close to the sideline for Patterson to catch with both feet in bounds.
  • With Robert Blanton out because of a hamstring injury, competition for the safety spot opposite Harrison Smith is wide open. Mistral Raymond got most of the work with the first team, and Kurt Coleman also saw some snaps with the top defense. Blanton could miss several weeks, which would give others a chance to win the spot. It's telling, though, that safety Jamarca Sanford hasn't gotten a chance to work with the first team; Zimmer on Wednesday cited the injury that Sanford had during OTAs and minicamp, but the safety has been participating in practice since the start of training camp. Whatever the reason, it seems Sanford is behind several players at the moment.
  • The Vikings ran a large number of screen passes on Wednesday as they worked on installing their offense, and running back Jerick McKinnon was particularly impressive; he caught four passes from Bridgewater, and surged down the right sideline on one pass after cornerback Kendall James took a bad angle on him. McKinnon ran a 4.41 40 at the NFL scouting combine and has looked smooth as a receiver during training camp. He'll be fun to watch if he gets a chance to work in the open field during the preseason.
MANKATO, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings got Cordarrelle Patterson on the practice field for the first time since the start of training camp on Wednesday afternoon, while cornerback Captain Munnerlyn did some side work after returning from a strained hamstring that had him on the physically-unable-to-perform list. While those two players returned -- and two others made progress in their recoveries from injury -- the Vikings had several other players miss practice on Wednesday.

Blanton
Safety Robert Blanton strained his hamstring during a blitz period in Monday's practice, coach Mike Zimmer said, and didn't practice on Wednesday. Cornerback Josh Robinson left with a tight hamstring, which didn't seem to concern Zimmer as much as Blanton's injury did. The safety has seen significant playing time with the first team since the start of the Vikings' OTAs in May, and his injury could alter the team's picture at the safety position opposite Harrison Smith.

A league source said Blanton could miss a few weeks, though his hamstring injury isn't believed to be serious and he could return by the end of the preseason under that timetable. Blanton's absence, though, could open the door for others at the position; Mistral Raymond got some first-team work on Wednesday, and Andrew Sendejo, who hasn't practiced in 2014 while dealing with back and ankle injuries, is nearing a return, Zimmer said.

"I believe he will be starting to come back Monday, when we come back to practice (after an off-day Sunday)," Zimmer said. "That's what I've been told. That's what we're shooting for."

Patterson, who missed the Vikings' first four practices with a minor foot injury, lined up at wide receiver for the first time on Wednesday afternoon. "He looked good," Zimmer said. "He was running good."

Tight end Chase Ford, who broke his foot before training camp, was off crutches and walking in a boot on Wednesday, but Zimmer said he wasn't sure when Ford might be able to return. Tight end A.C. Leonard also left early, but Zimmer said it was simply because of a headache.
MANKATO, Minn. -- The Vikings will be back on the practice field on Wednesday afternoon, following a day off on Tuesday, and coach Mike Zimmer said the team would likely adjust its practice plan to provide more snaps for players who need the extra work. At the quarterback position, that likely means the Vikings will pare down the snaps for one of their three passers, as offensive coordinator Norv Turner said on Wednesday morning.

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

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

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

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

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

"You have to make the most of the work you get on the field, like we did on Monday night," Turner said. "I think from a quarterback position, getting them up to speed in terms of what to do, this system is outstanding for that. You don't get as many team reps, so when we're throwing routes against air, we're throwing balls to their backs, we're working with the tight ends, we've got to mentally create a game environment for them, so you're simulating the reps they would get if they were practicing in the morning."
MANKATO, Minn. -- The test was not going to be difficult. David Yankey had taken enough U.S. history classes growing up in Roswell, Georgia, that he had little trepidation about his ability to pass an American citizenship exam. There would be a different set of emotions when he sat down to take the test this spring.

There would be pride, from having completed a journey that meant so much to his Ghanaian-born father, David, Sr. There would be a sense of community, from joining his mother and his two younger brothers as citizens of a country his family had moved to when Yankey was 8-years old. And there would be wistfulness, from imagining how happy his dad would be to see him now, a full-fledged American about to graduate from Stanford University and begin a career in the NFL.

"He loved football, and he would have loved to see that, as well," Yankey said. "But I think he would have been ecstatic to see me graduate."

[+] EnlargeMinnesota's David Yankey
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallDavid Yankey, who became a U.S. citizen earlier this year, was born outside of Sydney, Australia, to a father from Ghana and a mother from Czechoslovakia.
Yankey has made it now, becoming a U.S. citizen two weeks after the Vikings selected him in the fifth round of the NFL draft and two weeks before he graduated from Stanford. He's been called a possible steal in the draft, after some projections had him going in the second or third round, and he could eventually push Charlie Johnson for the starting left guard job. He's arrived in Minnesota, as the next stop on a rich journey that took Yankey from Australia to Georgia, then to California. His dad, though, won't be there to see what comes next. David Yankey, Sr., passed away last fall, from causes that aren't completely clear. He'd had some heart issues in the past, but had gotten himself in better shape before his unexpected death last fall.

His legacy, though, includes a son who's made his family proud.

David Yankey, Jr., was born just outside of Sydney, to a father who'd followed his brothers from Ghana to Australia for work with a foresting company and a mother who'd escaped Communist rule with her family in Czechoslovakia. They met and married in Australia, and David Yankey, Jr., grew up as the oldest of three boys, in a house crackling with linguistic diversity.

Yankey never learned any of the tribal dialects his father spoke, but his parents told him he was fluent in Slovak as a toddler. "I eventually refused to speak it, for some reason," Yankey said. "I think it was just before I could have really maintained it and kept remembering it, unfortunately."

English was the language both of his parents knew, and became the common tongue of his family. But Yankey, who lived in Australia and the Deep South, somehow didn't wind up with an accent from either place.

His family moved to the United States in 2000, when his father took a job as an IT professional. "He'd always wanted to come to the States," Yankey said. "It was always kind of a dream of his, especially growing up in Africa."

And now that he's a citizen, Yankey finds himself even more at home in the U.S. He'd always rooted for Australia during the World Cup, and nervously refrained from taking a side in the Ghana-U.S. matches during the 2006 and 2010 tournaments. But this year, after he'd become a citizen, Yankey proudly supported the U.S. team during its group stage victory over Ghana last month.

Even Minnesota has a familial feel for him. He played with offensive line coach Jeff Davidson's son, Nick, at Stanford, and Jeff Davidson's May trip to the West Coast allowed him to both visit his son and work with Yankey, who couldn't attend the Vikings' organized team activities until Stanford's classes concluded in June.

Yankey said he's happy among a veteran group of linemen, who have played together under Davidson for three seasons and combined to start 157 out of a possible 160 regular-season games the past two seasons.

"Minnesota, I think, was a really awesome place for me to end up," Yankey said. "These guys, they know so much, they do the right things, they're all pros."

His latest stop, so far, feels like a rewarding destination. And Yankey will carry with him the man who put him on his journey in the first place.

Vikings Camp Report: Day 4

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
11:58
PM ET
MANKATO, Minn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Minnesota Vikings training camp:
  • The Vikings have a day off on Tuesday, and coach Mike Zimmer will use it to meet with his staff and decide which players need more practice snaps and which ones might get less work. It's getting harder and harder to see the team's quarterback competition as anything other than a race between Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater. Cassel and Bridgewater got most of the work in the Vikings' night practice, which was heavy on playbook installation; Cassel again took the first-team snaps, while Bridgewater worked with the second team and Ponder with the third. Cassel hit 5 of his 9 passes and found a wide open Greg Jennings on a nice throw down the right sideline. Bridgewater went 12-for-13, and Ponder went 1-for-2. All three quarterbacks had a dropped pass, which means Bridgewater and Ponder technically didn't miss a receiver all night. But when the Vikings are giving Cassel the work with the starters -- and using much of their remaining time on Bridgewater -- it doesn't say much for Ponder's chances. Bridgewater hit 4 of his 12 completions to running backs, and had to be bailed out by his receivers on a couple throws, but he did a nice job stepping up in the pocket, made a solid throw to Rodney Smith on the run and again connected with Adam Thielen. He's continued to impress.
  • Blair Walsh got his first chance to kick during training camp, and made seven of his eight field goal attempts. His lone miss was from 44 yards out, and Walsh finished the session by drilling a 52-yarder.
  • First-round pick Anthony Barr showed his speed as a pass-rusher in a sack, so to speak, of Cassel during 11-on-11 work. Barr surged through the middle of the Vikings' line on a blitz, getting to Cassel as the play was blown dead (quarterbacks, of course, aren't allowed to get hit during training camp). He's mostly worked with the second team, but has had a handful of first-team snaps. He might have to get past Audie Cole for the starting strong-side linebacker job early in the season, but Barr's size and speed has the Vikings excited about what they're seeing.
  • The Vikings did their first goal-line work on Monday night, and it was easy to see why Zimmer wanted to keep Adrian Peterson out of the session. The Vikings were practicing at "thud" tempo, where defenders initiate contact without taking ballcarriers to the ground, but the drill featured some live hitting, like when Jasper Brinkley drilled Matt Asiata for a loss on the first snap of the drill and the third-string defense hammered undrafted free agent Dominique Williams.
  • The evening practice had a special guest: Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, who is in Mankato for a summit with the team's ownership group, watched the session from the top row of Blakeslee Stadium, sitting with general manager Rick Spielman.
MANKATO, Minn. -- The process that led to Kyle Rudolph earning a new contract from the Minnesota Vikings, which culminated in a hug and words of congratulations from general manager Rick Spielman after Sunday's practice, seemed about as devoid of drama and tension as either side could have wanted.

Rudolph
Rudolph made it known at the end of last season he wanted to stay in Minnesota; the Vikings spoke highly of the big tight end and said they wanted the same thing. They hired an offensive coordinator with a history of featuring tight ends; Rudolph responded by taking a more serious look at his offseason nutrition program, dropping 15 pounds and sharpening his technique as a receiver. He said he hoped to get a contract done before the season; the Vikings met with his agents in the Twin Cities on July 15 to begin discussions on a deal.

There seemed to be little chance of the Vikings letting Rudolph get to free agency next spring, not when they had taken him in the second round of the 2011 draft, not when he was one of the only viable candidates for a contract extension before next season. But the toothy smile Rudolph flashed when talking about the contract on Monday let everyone know even an inevitable payoff was sweet.

"Being the organization that took a chance on me out of the draft, being hurt at the time and still drafting me when they did and now giving me this extension, it shows the faith that they have in me," Rudolph said. "Certain people have the opportunity to change your life, and I can't thank Rick and (assistant GM) Rob (Brzezinski) enough for that opportunity."

Now comes the hard part for Rudolph. He will have to play well enough to maximize the value of his contract, which pays him a $6.5 million signing bonus and effectively guarantees his $956,343 base salary in the final season of his rookie deal. The five-year, $36.5 million deal could be worth up to $40 million if Rudolph triggers incentives in the contract, and though another $12 million of the deal is currently guaranteed for injury only, that money will become fully guaranteed by the start of the 2016 league year, coming to Rudolph in separate chunks on the third day of the 2015 and 2016 league years.

But the tight end, as usual, seemed sensible about the contract on Monday. He said he didn't plan to buy himself anything special, adding his only plan was to fulfill a promise to his old strength coach and pay to remodel the weight room at his alma mater, Elder High School in Cincinnati.

As for the Vikings, Rudolph wants to make sure they get a good return on their investment.

"Essentially, if you look at this from a business side, I'm here for the next three years (anyway) because of the last year of my deal and opportunity to be franchised twice," he said. "So they felt like it was important to keep me here for a long time. It instills a responsibility to become one of the veteran leaders in the locker room. We have a lot of young guys on this team and it's weird for me to see that now, four years later I'm one of the veterans in the locker room who have to bring those guys along so we can win football games."
Examining the Minnesota Vikings' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
The Vikings could free up some roster space if they carried only two QBs and traded Ponder for a late-round pick at some point, but it seems likely they'll carry three into the season. Ponder could still have some value in an emergency, if the Vikings aren't ready to put Bridgewater on the field and they need someone to fill in if Cassel is injured or ineffective.

RUNNING BACKS (4)
Joe Banyard could push Asiata for the third running back spot, especially if he shows he can fit into the offense as a receiver. Zach Line also will be competing for a spot after a solid training camp and preseason last year.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman singled out Thielen -- who spent last year on the Vikings' practice squad -- as a player who had improved from last year during the Vikings' minicamp. He could stick as the fifth receiver, and Colter (who got an $8,000 signing bonus) might fit in as a return man if the Vikings look to get Patterson some breaks on kickoffs.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

Chase Ford's broken foot could mean he'll start the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list. It also opens up a spot for the Vikings to put Leonard on the roster; he's only 6-foot-2 and will struggle as a blocker, but his speed (a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine) could make him an intriguing weapon, especially if the Vikings look to flex him out.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

The only starting spot up for grabs might be at left guard, where Yankey could compete with Johnson. Undrafted rookie Antonio Richardson could get a long look at tackle, too, and if the Vikings don't put him on their roster, they'll likely try to sneak him onto their practice squad.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)

This might be the deepest position group on the Vikings' roster, and in Mike Zimmer's defensive line rotation, they could all play; Wootton and Crichton give the Vikings a pair of versatile backups who can play inside or outside, and Johnson and Evans figure to be the primary backups at three-technique and nose tackle, respectively. The Vikings will be counting on Floyd taking a big step forward in Year 2.

LINEBACKERS (6)

In Cincinnati, Zimmer had linebacking groups of just six and five players after training camp the past two seasons. If the position is similarly staffed this season, it could mean the Vikings will cut seventh-round pick Brandon Watts. There are plenty of questions at the position overall -- none of the three spots in the Vikings' base defense is completely solidified -- but in Barr, Hodges, Mauti and Cole, the Vikings have some young talent to work with.

DEFENSIVE BACKS (11)

The Vikings will keep one more defensive back than they did last year to add some depth at cornerback in light of all the prolific passing attacks they'll see early this year. Kurt Coleman will have to fight for one of the last safety spots; the Vikings seem to like Exum's potential as a safety, and Blanton got quite a bit of work with Smith in the Vikings' first-team defense during minicamp.

SPECIALISTS (3)

The group returns unchanged from what the Vikings had on their roster last year; Locke punted better toward the end of the season, and has already put in some work getting to know the wind patterns at TCF Bank Stadium.
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MANKATO, Minn. -- After the Minnesota Vikings named Norv Turner their offensive coordinator in January, it quickly became apparent that tight end Kyle Rudolph stood to become one of the biggest beneficiaries of the move. Rudolph had put together a solid start to his career in Minnesota, winning Pro Bowl MVP honors after his second season and catching 30 passes before breaking his foot in the Vikings' eighth game last year, but Turner's offense -- and his history of featuring tight ends in it -- stood to take Rudolph to a new level.

And that came at a good time for the tight end, too. He'd talked at the end of the 2013 season about wanting a contract extension in Minnesota, and said it several more times throughout the winter. But as recently as the beginning of this month, when Rudolph was working out with Larry Fitzgerald at the University of Minnesota, he gave some credence to the theory that it might be in his best interests to wait, put up a big year in 2014 and cash in before free agency next March.

[+] EnlargeRudolph
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsIn his three years with the Vikings, Kyle Rudolph has 109 catches for 1,055 yards and 15 touchdowns.
The Vikings clearly saw that possibility, too. Think of the five-year contract extension they gave Rudolph on Sunday night, then, as both a good-faith deposit and a mechanism to ensure some cost certainty.

Rudolph's production (109 catches, 1,055 yards and 15 touchdowns) as well as his reputation as a model citizen, had put him in line for contract extension talks. But if the Vikings had waited, and Rudolph had posted a 65- or 70-catch season, they might have been paying a higher premium to keep Rudolph off the free-agent market next spring. Instead, they got a deal done that could pay Rudolph up to $40.5 million, but presently carries a practical guarantee of just $7.46 million. He'll receive a $960,000 base salary in 2014, according to a league source, as well as a $6.5 million signing bonus.

There's another $12 million of guaranteed money, but that's currently slated to come to Rudolph in case of injury only, until it becomes fully realized at some point in the future if Rudolph is still on the roster on the third day of a given league year (or years, if the remaining guaranteed money is spread over several seasons). That's the same mechanism the New Orleans Saints used in Jimmy Graham's deal -- and Rudolph's guaranteed money is only $1.5 million less than Graham's -- but unlike Rudolph, Graham got $13 million guaranteed at the time of signing the deal.

The Vikings' deal with Rudolph (which was first reported by Fox Sports) means the tight end must still produce to unlock much of its worth. There's little reason to think he won't work to earn the money -- he's worked to get himself in better shape this offseason -- but the Vikings structured the deal in such a way that Rudolph won't get paid like one of the league's top tight ends unless he is playing like one.

Rudolph isn't as fast as Antonio Gates or Jordan Cameron, two other tight ends who have excelled in Turner's offense, but he's a 6-foot-6 target who has caught 11 of his 15 career touchdowns in the red zone. Playing at 258 pounds instead of 273, he could work the middle of the field more effectively and produce big chunks of yardage. That the Vikings gave him an extension now, before he has played a down for Turner, shows they think it's a distinct possibility Rudolph will take the next step. They won't be fully committed to the deal, though, unless he does. It's a show of faith, but with mechanisms to limit the Vikings' exposure. That's good business, and in the NFL, that's as fervent as faith gets.

Vikings Camp Report: Day 3

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
8:00
PM ET
MANKATO, Minn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Minnesota Vikings training camp:
  • Robert Blanton's bid for the starting safety spot next to Harrison Smith continues to pick up steam; Blanton was again working next to Smith in the first unit on Sunday, while Jamarca Sanford -- who missed most of the Vikings' offseason program with a pulled muscle -- took second-team snaps. Coach Mike Zimmer said how impressed he was with Blanton's coverage skills on Sunday afternoon and wanted to see how the Notre Dame product fared in run support. Blanton came on strong at the end of last season after injuries forced a move to slot cornerback, and the coverage skills he flashed there could translate well to the safety position. The Vikings want to be able to put their safeties in man coverage at times so they can stay in their base defense and still handle three-receiver sets. "Robert has honestly impressed me with being in the right place all the time," Zimmer said. "He has really good ball skills, and he has made a couple really, really nice plays on the ball. He has been very solid and steady, he understands the checks and really the communication in the back end of where he is supposed to be."
  • Chad Greenway got some work at middle linebacker on Sunday, and it still seems possible he ends up there. The Vikings would be able to put Greenway in charge of their defensive huddle, knowing he'll likely stay on the field in nickel situations and could provide some continuity there. Greenway will have to earn the job, though, and he made a nice play in the Vikings' first padded practice on Sunday, driving Adrian Peterson back into Matt Cassel on the way to a sack. If the Vikings moved Greenway to the middle, they'd be able to put a couple of younger, athletic linebackers on either side of him. Gerald Hodges got some work at Greenway's usual weak-side linebacker spot, while Audie Cole continued to receive snaps on the strong side. Cole played in the middle last season, but if Anthony Barr isn't ready to grab the starting job, Cole could be a good option there.
  • It was another strong day for receiver Adam Thielen, who's easily become the darling of Vikings camp so far. Thielen, who went to college at Minnesota State and is going through training camp at his alma mater, has had a good connection with Teddy Bridgewater since this spring, and it showed again on Sunday, as Bridgewater hit him on a difficult deep out connection along the right sideline. Thielen said he spent his winter working out in the Twin Cities, trying to get faster and stronger, and he looks more impressive this year than he did last year. He also has some of the best hands on the team and has continued making the kinds of catches in traffic he was making during the Vikings' minicamp.
  • The Vikings' quarterbacks worked in the same order today, with Cassel running the first team, Bridgewater the second team and Christian Ponder the third. They started practice with a handful of screen passes, again setting up Peterson for a number of impressive gains, and didn't take many shots downfield on a windy and rainy day. In 11-on-11 drills, Cassel went 10-for-13, Bridgewater went 9-for-11 and Ponder went 6-for-7.
  • An odd day of weather made the Vikings' first padded practice feel more like October than July. The team started practice under a threatening sky, and the clouds opened up while the Vikings were still stretching, sending many of the fans and media members in attendance looking for shelter. Zimmer kept the Vikings on the field, though, and continued practice during a heavier period of rain later in the afternoon. In previous years, the Vikings have moved such practices inside, but it's worth remembering that the Cincinnati Bengals -- where Zimmer was the defensive coordinator the past six seasons -- are one of the only teams in the NFL without an indoor practice facility. Especially with the Vikings playing home games outdoors this season, the threshold for moving practices inside will likely be much higher.

Vikings Camp Report: Day 2

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

Sendejo still hasn't made much progress in his recovery, Zimmer said on Saturday afternoon. He was working out with Patterson during the Vikings' Saturday practice, but still hasn't had a down of practice time since Zimmer became the Vikings' coach in January.

"It's a concern," Zimmer said. "I haven't seen him one day, so I don't know really anything."

Patterson informed Zimmer about his foot injury the day before the Vikings reported to training camp, and was held out of the Vikings' conditioning test on Thursday. He's been improving since the start of camp, Zimmer said. "It won't be long," he said. "I'd be surprised if it was long [before he practiced]."

Munnerlyn, Zimmer said, should be back "in a couple more days."
MANKATO, Minn. -- If there's been one thing to quibble with in Adrian Peterson's game over his seven seasons in Minnesota, it might be his pass protection. Peterson has long been seen as a poor protector, to the point where the Vikings have limited his third-down snaps and designated the task of blitz pickups to other running backs on their roster.

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

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

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

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

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