NFC North: Minnesota Vikings

Vikings Tuesday practice report

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
6:35
PM ET
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Some observations from the Minnesota Vikings' practice on Tuesday afternoon:
  • A day after coach Mike Zimmer hinted Josh Robinson needed to make a prompt return to the field in order to stay in competition for a roster spot, the cornerback did just that. Robinson, who hasn't played in the preseason because of a strained hamstring, did some individual work on Tuesday, and appeared closer to returning to full-team work. The Vikings seem set on moving forward with Captain Munnerlyn as a starting corner in their base defense -- not that that should have ever come as a huge surprise -- but Robinson can keep himself in the running for the third cornerback spot if he gets back in time to show something in the preseason.
  • It was a bit of a sloppy day for the Vikings' quarterbacks on Tuesday; Matt Cassel hit 12 of 20 passes, but had one intercepted by Harrison Smith after it went high off Cordarrelle Patterson's hands, and had another pass batted down at the line of scrimmage. Teddy Bridgewater, who got some work with the first team on Tuesday, hit 15 of 18 throws, and had one dropped by Allen Reisner, but also had to be bailed out by his receivers on a couple completions, like one that Jerome Simpson snared after it was behind him. Christian Ponder got just three plays, carrying the ball himself on one after Jerick McKinnon missed a handoff. He threw one pass, overshooting Kain Colter.
  • Chris Crocker continued to work with the first-team defense on Tuesday, lining up at safety next to Harrison Smith. Andrew Sendejo and Kurt Coleman got some work on the second team, and the Vikings again unveiled their three-safety look in a nickel package.
  • Blair Walsh hit 7 of 8 kicks in a field goal period, connecting from 54 yards on his final attempt of the day. Considering Walsh has missed both of his kicks over 50 yards in the preseason, it was an encouraging sign for the Vikings to see him hit from long range on Tuesday.
  • Greg Jennings probably had the best day of all the receivers, outrunning Captain Munnerlyn on a perfectly-thrown deep shot from Cassel and making a nice catch in front of Xavier Rhodes on a sideline throw from Bridgewater. Rodney Smith, who caught the game-winner from Bridgewater on Saturday, was a frequent target for the rookie; Bridgewater hit a long touchdown throw to Smith, beyond Sendejo and Derek Cox.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It appears Adrian Peterson's streak of preseasons without a carry will hit three this year.

Peterson
Peterson
Coach Mike Zimmer said the running back is unlikely to play again on Saturday night in Kansas City, adding "I really don't see the need" for Peterson to play at all in the preseason. The Vikings have shifted Peterson's role in their offense, making him a bigger part of the passing game than he's been in the past, but he's gotten enough work in practices, Zimmer said, that he doesn't necessarily need to get any game action before the Vikings kick off the regular season Sept. 7 against the St. Louis Rams.

"We’re grabbing at the ball pretty good. We’re not tackling him or anything," Zimmer said. "He’s doing a great job with the protections and the routes and obviously he runs really good. The only concern you have is he might not have been hit enough. But our guys are grabbing at the ball a lot. They’re punching at the ball as he’s running in there. I talked to him about those things.”

Peterson didn't sound terribly distraught about sitting out the exhibition season, either. He said it didn't matter to him if he played on Saturday, adding he feels comfortable enough in the Vikings' offense to miss the game. "I'm wired up (for the season)," he said. "I'm ready to go."

The Vikings first held Peterson out of preseason action in 2012, after he was returning from knee surgery, and the plan worked so well -- before Peterson's 2,097-yard season -- that former coach Leslie Frazier decided to keep the ball out of Peterson's hands before last season, too, playing him for one series in the team's third preseason game but not giving him the ball. Now, as Peterson enters his eighth season, he should be as fresh as the Vikings can get him.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- You know that discussion we were having about Christian Ponder's future? Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer effectively put an end to it.

Ponder
Ponder
When asked on Tuesday how many quarterbacks he would be comfortable keeping on the roster, Zimmer said, "I don't think we'll be two quarterbacks, if that's the question you're asking."

By saying the Vikings would be unlikely to drop to two QBs, Zimmer effectively confirmed Ponder will be on the team's opening-day roster. Things can always change, of course, but despite how little the Vikings have used Ponder in camp, they still see value in keeping a third quarterback for emergencies. As we discussed earlier, retaining Ponder would give the Vikings a veteran option in case Matt Cassel were injured or ineffective and the team wasn't ready to put Teddy Bridgewater on the field yet. There's a valid line of thinking that such an insurance policy is worth a roster spot, especially when the most important task the Vikings have in the next few years probably is managing Bridgewater's development correctly.

The trick, of course, is valuing that insurance policy in comparison to other roster construction options, and the Vikings apparently put a high enough premium on it to sacrifice some flexibility elsewhere. They've always had three QBs on their opening-day roster with Rick Spielman as the GM, even as some teams changed their philosophy once the league eliminated a rule in 2011 that effectively made a third quarterback a free roster spot on game days.

So there you have it; barring some kind of change, it appears the Vikings will have three QBs on the roster this season. And it's safe to assume, at least at this point, that the third one will be Ponder.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- We discussed the reasons the Minnesota Vikings might have for parting with Christian Ponder, and why the return they could receive -- either in the form of trade compensation or additional flexibility on their roster -- might outweigh the risks of carrying only two quarterbacks.

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner used an example from his not-so-distant past to illustrate those risks, and he scolded fans for booing Ponder in the Vikings' first exhibition game.

"I think he's done everything he can do, and he's working his butt off," Turner said Tuesday. "He's a guy that's going to be valuable to our team. The thing in Cleveland [last season], we had three different guys have their career-best games in three different situations, and we didn't win the game because we gave up a touchdown at the end of the game, or something kept us from winning the game that was out of the quarterback's hands. I thought that happened to Christian a number of times last year. Having three quarterbacks, if that's the way we end up going, that's extremely valuable to me."

Ponder
Ponder
Fans didn't get a chance to react to Ponder during the Vikings' second exhibition game, of course, because he didn't see the field, and he didn't throw any passes in full-team work during Monday's practice. As we discussed on Monday, there's a valid reason to keep Ponder; not many teams have a third-string quarterback who has led a team to the playoffs, and he could be useful if Matt Cassel gets hurt or is ineffective and the Vikings want to control the circumstances in which they put Teddy Bridgewater on the field. In the end, the Vikings will have to place a value on those benefits, and determine whether it exceeds the value of parting ways with Ponder and adding a roster spot.

"There are advantages to going both ways," Turner said. "We'll adjust to whatever. I think we have a pretty good quarterback situation right now."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Wide receiver Jerome Simpson was back at the Minnesota Vikings' practice facility on Tuesday morning, confident he'd made his case that the NFL should lift his three-game suspension as best he could. But until the league makes a final decision on whether it will suspend Simpson for a drunken driving arrest last November, the Vikings have to hedge their bets about whether they'll have their No. 3 receiver at the start of the season.

"You have to have a varied plan," offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. "Unfortunately in this game, guys miss [time]. If it's a case where someone misses because of an off-the-field thing, that's one thing, but we could be in the opening game, and someone we're counting on to play a big role sprains his ankle on the third play. We have to have a plan to go play and do the things we want to do. There's certain plays that 'Simp' is really good on, and there's other guys that have to fill in if he's not in for that play."

[+] EnlargeJerome Simpson
AP Photo/Ric TapiaJerome Simpson has made his appeal regarding a three-game suspension and now awaits word.
Simpson's attorney, David Valentini, said on Monday night that he was one of two attorneys representing the wide receiver at his appeal at NFL headquarters in New York, where the attorneys argued Simpson's suspension should be lifted after he pleaded guilty to lesser charges of careless driving and refusing to submit to a chemical test. The receiver, who was arrested Nov. 9, registered a blood-alcohol level of .095 on a breath test, which was above Minnesota's legal limit of .08, when an officer stopped him on Interstate 394 in Minneapolis, but Valentini has contended that if Simpson had taken a blood test the morning of his arrest, he would have passed it.

The receiver has completed his community service requirement after pleading guilty in January, and if the NFL decides not to officially hand down the three-game suspension, Simpson would be available at the start of the season.

For his part, Simpson said on Tuesday that his meeting with the league "went great" and he's now ready to move on. But if the league decides to suspend Simpson, it could put the Vikings in a bind at the beginning of the year, especially after wide receiver Jarius Wright left practice with an ankle injury on Monday.

Adam Thielen and Rodney Smith have been battling for a fifth receiver spot -- and Turner said the Vikings could keep both of them if they're playing well enough -- but neither has caught a pass in a regular season game. The Vikings would also miss Simpson's downfield presence; the receiver might be the most natural deep threat on the Vikings' roster.

"I think we have a lot of guys who can stretch the field and get deep. Some of them do it in different ways," Turner said. "Greg Jennings has caught some deep balls out there against our top corners [in practice]. A lot of it depends on coverage, a lot of it depends on the play we have designed, but I think we have a number of guys that can make big plays down the field."

Vikings Monday practice report

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
7:05
PM ET
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- A few observations from the Minnesota Vikings' Monday practice:
  • Safety Robert Blanton was back at practice, but the Vikings were still using Chris Crocker as their first-team safety alongside Harrison Smith. Blanton is listed atop the Vikings' depth chart, but he'll have to earn his way back into the race for a starting spot after missing time with a hamstring injury. Coach Mike Zimmer said Crocker didn't see enough action in Saturday's preseason game for the Vikings to evaluate him properly, but the Vikings seem to want to take a longer look at the 34-year-old. Zimmer said on Monday he's evaluating players like Andrew Sendejo and Kurt Coleman as much for what they do in pass coverage as what they're able to do near the line of scrimmage. That'd explain why Crocker is getting a long look, and why Blanton had put himself in the mix for a starting job before his injury. We'll see if he can reassert himself now that he's back.
  • Tight end Kyle Rudolph, who caught a 51-yard touchdown pass during the Vikings' preseason game on Saturday night, was back at it on Monday, snatching passes away from Crocker and Michael Mauti in tight coverage over the middle. At 6-foot-5, Rudolph is already an inviting target for quarterbacks, and he's shown several times already how much it helped him to drop 15 pounds in the offseason in an effort to be a bigger downfield threat in Norv Turner's offense.
  • In 11-on-11 work on Monday, quarterback Matt Cassel hit 8 of 11 passes, getting one batted down at the line of scrimmage and throwing one away downfield. Teddy Bridgewater went 8-for-10, with his only misses coming to Rodney Smith and Jarius Wright -- who sustained a left ankle injury while trying to catch Bridgewater's sideline pass in tight coverage. And Christian Ponder, who didn't play at all on Saturday night, didn't throw a pass in full-team work during Monday's practice.
  • The Vikings made one roster move on Monday, cutting linebacker Dom DeCicco, who had hip surgery last week, and claiming linebacker Justin Jackson off waivers from Detroit.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Matt Cassel will start the Minnesota Vikings' preseason game on Saturday night against the Kansas City Chiefs, but coach Mike Zimmer still isn't ready to announce a decision on a starting quarterback for the Vikings' regular-season opener.

Cassel, who has completed 17 of his 22 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown in the preseason, would seem to have the inside track on the job over Teddy Bridgewater. Zimmer said it's a possibility Bridgewater could see some time with the first team on Saturday, but wouldn't say for sure whether that will happen. The Vikings have been operating as though Cassel is their starting quarterback, but Zimmer said after last Saturday's game against the Arizona Cardinals that he wanted players to keep competing, so he could be delaying an announcement to encourage competition.

Bridgewater went 16-for-20 on Saturday night, throwing for 177 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including the game-winner to Rodney Smith in the final minute.

"I thought he played well," Zimmer said. "He was calm, poised. You could tell he was kind of feeling it the whole way. He was getting the ball out in the right places and getting the protections down. I think he’s feeling more comfortable. Like he’s told you, it’s better when he doesn’t overthink things and let the game go. We go out, practice hard and try to be perfect in practice. I’ve told the team this that we don’t want you thinking about those things when you’re playing the game. "
MINNEAPOLIS -- In time, the Minnesota Vikings' 30-28 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday night -- a preseason game in which both Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater played a full half, and each fashioned a passer rating better than 125 -- could come attached with an ignominious footnote: It could be the night when Christian Ponder's chances of appearing in another home game as the Vikings' quarterback were permanently snuffed out.

Ponder
Ponder
Coach Mike Zimmer said last week that Cassel could play as much as a half in the Vikings' second home preseason game, and after the game, he added that the plan all along was to give Bridgewater the whole second half. That meant the Vikings effectively went into the game planning not to use Ponder, who was firmly entrenched as the team's starting quarterback at this time last year. This came on the heels of a training camp where Ponder never got more than a cursory look, and as the Vikings make decisions about their roster composition, it raised this question: Would the Vikings be better off parting with Ponder before the season?

There's a danger in only carrying two quarterbacks, as the Green Bay Packers found out last season, and I've long thought Ponder carried some value for the Vikings this year, in the sense that he could step in if Cassel were injured or ineffective and the Vikings didn't feel the time was yet right for Bridgewater's debut. But their use of Ponder to this point speaks to how marginalized he's become, to the point where the value of his roster spot -- or the return he'd fetch in a trade -- might exceed what he could provide as an emergency option.

The San Francisco 49ers, for example, were facing questions about their backup quarterbacks after a 34-0 defeat Sunday, to the point that coach Jim Harbaugh had to give them a vote of confidence. The 49ers shipped a sixth-round pick in 2014 and a conditional draft choice in 2015 to Jacksonville in exchange for Blaine Gabbert, who was picked two spots ahead of Ponder in the 2012 first round. They also have McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who was the Vikings' third-string quarterback until the team signed Josh Freeman last October. Could San Francisco -- or a team in similar straits -- part with a seventh-round pick for Ponder, whose mediocre career has still featured more success than Gabbert's or Bethel-Thompson's?

The fact the Vikings haven't traded Ponder to this point would suggest they haven't yet found a team willing to pay that modest price, or that they put a higher value on the quarterback than that. But even if the Vikings cut Ponder at the end of the month, it would seem there's a good chance that he'll sign with another team, which would offset some or all of the Vikings' responsibility for Ponder's $1.76 million base salary through the language in his rookie contract.

As rookies like defensive tackle Shamar Stephen and second-year undrafted free agents like receivers Adam Thielen and Rodney Smith make their push for roster spots, the Vikings might find themselves in need of a little extra flexibility. They could get it by parting with a quarterback who's never looked like more of an afterthought in Minnesota.
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; he didn't play at all in the team's second preseason game against Arizona, and it's possible the Vikings could cut him if they can't find a trade market. 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)

Asiata has played well during training camp, and is listed ahead of McKinnon for the No. 2 running back spot behind Peterson at the moment. At the very least, both could have distinct roles behind Peterson, with Asiata as a downhill runner and McKinnon as a threat in the passing game.

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, and the Minnesota State product has been the darling of training camp so far. Undrafted free agent Kain Colter got an $8,000 signing bonus from the Vikings, but the 6-foot-5 Smith sneaks in ahead of him to give the group a bigger target; he showed on Saturday night what his size can do for him, when he caught the game-winning touchdown from Bridgewater on a fade route.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

Ford is still working his way back from a broken foot, but coach Mike Zimmer has sounded more optimistic about the timetable recently, and it's looking more likely he won't have to begin the season on the physically unable to perform list. If he is still hurt, that could open the door for Michael Higgins, who caught two passes for 27 yards in the Vikings' preseason opener against the Raiders.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)

The Vikings seem set with their starting five from last season, which means Yankey would have to wait for a chance to push Johnson at left guard; everyone from coach Mike Zimmer to offensive line coach Jeff Davidson seems to like the continuity the Vikings have enjoyed on the line. Richardson was not wearing a knee brace in the Vikings' second preseason game on Saturday night, and seems to be getting healthier after another player rolled up on his leg during training camp. If he's not healthy enough to be the Vikings' swing tackle, Mike Remmers or Kevin Murphy could win the last spot.

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. Johnson has also seen time at three-technique tackle in the Vikings' nickel rush package. If there's one player on the roster who could compel the Vikings to make room somewhere else, it might be Shamar Stephen, the seventh-round pick who has impressed Vikings coaches throughout camp and has seen time at both the three-technique and nose tackle positions.

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 (12)

There's a large group of defensive backs on the roster, but with as many prolific passing attacks as the Vikings will face, it makes sense to keep a large group of them -- especially in light of how many three-safety looks Zimmer has employed in camp and how many young players he could try to stash on the roster. Price has been one of the pleasant surprises of camp; he's been willing to compete at slot cornerback, and earned a reputation as a solid tackler in run support from his days at North Carolina. The Vikings still have a logjam at safety, and the next two preseason games -- as well as special teams involvement -- could lead the team to part with one of the veterans next to Harrison Smith (Sanford, Sendejo, Coleman or Blanton).

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.
MINNEAPOLIS -- As the Minnesota Vikings continue to try and establish a pecking order at safety, it appears they'll give Chris Crocker every chance to wind up at the top of it.

The 34-year-old, who signed with the Vikings earlier this month and came out of retirement to play his eighth consecutive season for coach Mike Zimmer, will start alongside Harrison Smith on Saturday night against the Arizona Cardinals. Zimmer said the Vikings want to take a long look at four safeties -- Crocker, Jamarca Sanford, Kurt Coleman and Andrew Sendejo -- on Saturday, in hopes of sorting out the position.

That Crocker will start, however, speaks to what could eventually land him the starting job; he's more familiar with Zimmer's defense than anyone else on the roster, and can lend some stability to a position where no one has established a firm hold on the job next to Smith.

Robert Blanton, who is still listed at the top of the Vikings' depth chart at strong safety, will miss Saturday's game with a hamstring injury. Cornerback Josh Robinson -- who's still battling a hamstring injury and appears to be ceding ground to Captain Munnerlyn in the race for a starting cornerback job -- will also sit out. Tight end Chase Ford (broken foot) and defensive tackle Linval Joseph (bullet wound to calf) are the other Vikings players who won't dress.

Fred Evans will start at nose tackle for Joseph, and Matt Asiata will again start at running back in place of Adrian Peterson, who will sit out for a second consecutive week.

Vikings Camp Report: Day 15

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
7:30
PM ET
MANKATO, Minn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Minnesota Vikings training camp:
  • The Vikings will still be without safety Robert Blanton because of a hamstring injury on Saturday night against the Arizona Cardinals, and coach Mike Zimmer wants to use the exhibition game to get a long look at four safeties in particular: Chris Crocker, Jamarca Sanford, Andrew Sendejo and Kurt Coleman. It seems reasonable to conclude those four are the ones receiving the strongest consideration to start next to Harrison Smith (at least until Blanton comes back), and Zimmer said he hopes Saturday's game will help sort out the depth chart. "Right now, I am looking for the other safety. That is why I want to play these guys quite a bit this week. I want to see how it goes from there and then try to figure out the rest of the pecking order as we get going. Hopefully, this will be a big week for those safeties."
  • Injuries are also affecting the Vikings' plans at the cornerback spot opposite Xavier Rhodes, where the Vikings have indicated Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Robinson are sharing the No. 1 spot on their recent depth charts. That seems a bit unnecessary, especially since Munnerlyn has been getting many of the first-team snaps in the base defense, but Robinson has been playing outside when Munnerlyn slides into the slot in nickel, and a third cornerback is essentially a starter in the NFL these days, anyway. Robinson, though, was out of practice with a lingering hamstring injury again on Thursday, and Zimmer indicated that's making it tough for him to nail down a spot. "Well, it’s hard to make the club in the tub," Zimmer said when asked if Munnerlyn was entrenched at the other cornerback spot. "I guess that would be a yes. I don’t know if he’s entrenched, but if you’re not going out there and proving it every single day and proving it in the games then it’s hard to know."
  • Zimmer has talked at various points about the advice he picked up from Bill Parcells when he was the Dallas Cowboys' defensive coordinator for four seasons under the Hall of Fame coach. He said on Thursday he was planning an end-of-training-camp call to check in with Parcells and talk about the Vikings at the end of his first camp as the head coach. "I had Coach Parcells' number on my phone today but I didn’t push the button," Zimmer said. "I plan on calling either tonight or tomorrow, just to talk about things."
  • They've become good friends after two years of rooming together at training camp, and Cordarrelle Patterson went out of his way -- literally -- to stick up for Adam Thielen during a drill on Thursday. Both receivers were returning mock kickoffs, starting their runback with a ball in their hands as defenders tried to strip it away. Patterson was waiting in line for his turn when he thought players were trying to rip the ball away from Thielen a little too forcefully. "Get your hands off him," Patterson snapped. "That's a receiver. You don't touch my receivers like that."
  • In the final autograph session of training camp, things got a bit out of hand. Fans were leaning against a chain link fence to get Teddy Bridgewater’s autograph when it collapsed, leaving a row of kids trying to pick themselves up and stay in line for Bridgewater’s signature. St. Paul Pioneer Press photographer Ben Garvin has a fantastic photo of the scene here.
  • The Vikings will head back to the Twin Cities on Friday after a closed walk-through on Friday; Zimmer said the Vikings will go through a mock game, working through different situations and making sure they have the correct substitution packages for those situations. Then, they'll be back at the team facility in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, after Saturday's game. Asked how he thought his first camp went, Zimmer said, "I think it was productive. We were able to come out and work efficiently, work quickly, move to different spots. Hopefully I learned something every day about this team, but they haven’t disappointed me. They have been very willing to do whatever. I heard someone say, 'Buy in;' I guess, maybe. There hasn’t been any complaining, whether that is buying in or not. In training camp there is usually some complaining. I like this team; they are good guys and they work real hard. As long as we play together as a team, we play real hard, we do the things that we are trying to coach them to do, then we have a chance to be a good football team."
MANKATO, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings ended training camp on Thursday with two quarterbacks seemingly headed in different directions.

Bridgewater
Cassel
Cassel
Matt Cassel, who appears to be in firm command of the team's quarterback race, was preparing to play as much as two quarters in the Vikings' second preseason game on Saturday night, saying, "I have to go out and perform, and if I do that, I plan on being the Week 1 starter."

Teddy Bridgewater, on the other hand, seemed to be in the throes of a rookie's initiation phase, with everything about the game that had come so easy to him now shrouded by a thicket of information.

"I haven't been pressing, but I have been overthinking things," Bridgewater said on Thursday. "A lot has been thrown at me so far, but I just have to continue to put the time in with studying, and eventually things will start unfolding."

Bridgewater didn't throw an interception in practice on Thursday, after throwing five in the Vikings' previous two practices, but there's little reason to see it as anything other than the rookie's adjustment to the NFL. The quarterback said the interceptions didn't affect his confidence, only reinforcing the point that he needs to be smart with the ball. He's more comfortable now, he said, setting up his protection schemes than he was at the beginning of training camp. But until he gets to a point where decisions about where to go with the ball are more automatic, Bridgewater will probably hit some rough patches.

"The most challenging thing is the load that's thrown at you right away," he said. "They put that load on you and expect you to know it. For me, it's putting that extra time in when my body is aching, going into the training room and still at the same time studying my notes and everything and trying to become a better player in this offense.”

Bridgewater will get plenty of playing time on Saturday night against the Arizona Cardinals to show another step in his development. At this point, though, it seems hard to see the Vikings not taking advantage of the fact they have a veteran on the roster who can give Bridgewater more time to learn before starting.

"The more I can play, as I always say in preseason, the more prepared you are once you come into the season," Cassel said. "There’s nothing like going against live competition when the bullets are flying and you have to make quick decisions. Again, I think these are the best tests for us getting prepared for Week 1."

 
MANKATO, Minn. -- Before his first preseason game as a head coach, Mike Zimmer spent an hour each day with Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, going over in-game scenarios and practicing how he'd approach them as a strategist. Now that Zimmer's had his first quiz, of sorts, on game strategy as a head coach -- the Vikings' first preseason game last Friday against Oakland -- he's got a sense of what he needs to correct.

As Zimmer saw it, there were two game situations where he could have done something different -- or at least handled the moment differently in a preseason game. "When we kicked the field goal on fourth-and-1 (that Blair Walsh missed from 53 yards), we’ve been practicing a situation out here that I should have done in the ball game," Zimmer said. "Even if it wasn’t the time, we could have practiced that. And then the one time the official on our sideline called a fumble and an official in the back called an incomplete pass and I had three timeouts left and we were winning 10 to nothing. There was three minutes left. I probably should have challenged."

The coach said the Vikings will practice the fourth-and-1 situation again on Thursday afternoon, saying he "just didn't think quick enough" to give the Vikings a chance to run it last week.

Zimmer said during his introductory news conference as the Vikings' coach he would use the preseason as a gauge of whether he could call defensive plays during a game -- like he did as a defensive coordinator -- and still be engaged in his new responsibilities as a head coach. He said he called some of the defensive plays on Friday night, but not all of them, and hasn't decided how he's going to handle the job in the regular season.

"When I was calling the plays in Cincinnati on defense, I was able to go over and talk to the defense and look at the pictures and do all that stuff," Zimmer said. "I didn’t do that this time."

Vikings wake-up call: Day 15

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
10:10
AM ET
MANKATO, Minn. -- Setting up the day at Minnesota Vikings training camp:

Today's schedule: The Vikings will hold their final practice at Minnesota State for the season this afternoon at 3 p.m. CT, then head back to the Twin Cities after that. They'll begin with a morning walk-through from 10:30-11:30; coach Mike Zimmer and quarterbacks Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater are scheduled to speak to reporters after the walk-through.

More observations from Wednesday's practice:
  • Safety Chris Crocker continued to get work with the first-team defense on Wednesday, and it's looking like the 34-year-old will get every opportunity to claim the starting job opposite Harrison Smith. He could start on Saturday against the Arizona Cardinals, and though Robert Blanton is still listed first on the Vikings' depth chart this week, his hamstring injury is providing opportunities for others to win the spot. Considering Crocker's history with Zimmer, he has a good shot to win the job.
  • Bridgewater has thrown five interceptions in his last two practices, but neither Zimmer nor running back Adrian Peterson seemed overly concerned about the spate of turnovers. "If we are going to get beat, let’s get beat out here in practice, let’s learn from what we do out here," Zimmer said. "I think that is for every position. This is where we learn and when we go out to play, we have a better feeling of our talent and the guy we are going against. But his confidence is not shaken, he is fine." Said Peterson: "That's how you find out if a guy is resilient or not."
  • Speaking of interceptions, Zimmer had an interesting point about how he wants his defensive backs to operate in practice. While fans and reporters might get excited about players jumping routes to pick off passes against teammates, Zimmer said he doesn't always want players operating that way when game situations won't afford them so much familiarity. "I know what routes Kyle Rudolph likes to run when I am covering him. It doesn’t help me as a defender to guess and be on the right thing," Zimmer said. "When I go against somebody that I don’t know, then I am guessing and cheating or I am playing it differently. I think it is important that we learn how to play football first. I had Terence Newman when he first came back to Cincinnati and he jumped in front of a route and intercepted the ball. Then I said, 'Terence, I don’t want you doing that yet. I want you working on your technique, I want you working on what you need to do to get better. When you get that part down, then you can use your intelligence about where you are at playing football, then you become a much better player.' He understood and we went from there. To me, it is about getting us better, it’s not about not defeating our offense or defeating our defense. It’s about getting us better, because that is what will stand the test in the long run when we have to go play 16 ballgames. A guy can jump a route two times and get an interception then gets beat 10 times; that is not a good day."
They said it: "I try to whisper stuff in his ear every now and then and I hope that he is listening. ‘Hey, just go out and play your game. Just control what you can control.’ He’s out here learning a difficult system. Like I tell him, ‘You’re going to make mistakes.’” -- Peterson, on helping Bridgewater develop as a rookie.

Vikings Camp Report: Day 14

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
7:40
PM ET
MANKATO, Minn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Minnesota Vikings training camp:
  • After throwing three interceptions during Monday's practice, Teddy Bridgewater was picked off twice more on Wednesday afternoon, by Mistral Raymond and Gerald Hodges. Bridgewater finished the day 12-for-17 in full-team drills, including a pass he threw away and a deep ball Adam Thielen dropped with a step on the defensive back covering him. Matt Cassel, who was again listed at the top of the Vikings' depth chart on Wednesday and appears to be solidly at the front of the Vikings' quarterback race, hit 12 of his 14 throws, with his only incompletions coming on drops from Kyle Rudolph and Matt Asiata. Christian Ponder went 6-for-8, with Shaun Prater breaking up one pass.
  • Linebacker Dom DeCicco will have surgery on his hip on Thursday. He was one of three players not to practice on Wednesday, joining Robert Blanton (hamstring) and Chase Ford (broken foot). Blanton started doing some drills on the side, as he tries to get back in time to compete for the Vikings' starting safety spot alongside Harrison Smith. Ford was also doing some running on Wednesday. Josh Robinson, who has been battling a hamstring injury, also visited the trainer's tent early in practice.
  • Cassel connected with Greg Jennings on the play of the day, hitting a long throw down the sideline to the receiver, who was covered well by Marcus Sherels. The quarterback and the receiver connected on both of the passes Cassel targeted for Jennings.
  • Defensive tackle Shamar Stephen, who has won praise from coach Mike Zimmer, defensive coordinator George Edwards and defensive line coach Andre Patterson, got some first-team snaps at nose tackle on Wednesday. He'll get a chance to make his case with Linval Joseph still out because of a gunshot wound, and it seems like Stephen has a good shot at a roster spot; Patterson said on Wednesday the former Connecticut tackle is much better than his seventh-round draft status would indicate.
  • Running back Chuck Foreman, who played on three Vikings Super Bowl teams in the 1970s and still has the third-most rushing yards in franchise history, was spotted on the sidelines watching Vikings practice on Wednesday.

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