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Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.

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Practice recap: Defenders still struggling to cover Rudolph

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated August 19th at 8:22am 271749641

If the first half of Saturday night’s preseason game wasn’t enough to prove the Kyle Rudolph is one tough dude to cover, Monday’s practice at Winter Park was another convincing argument.

SETTING THE SCENE: Today’s practice seemed flatter as the as the Vikings returned to Winter Park, where the final two weeks of training camp isn’t open to the public. At one point, the offense was moving so slowly that offensive coordinator Norv Turner reminded the players that the particular segment wasn’t designed to be run at three-quarters speed.

YOUR DAILY QUARTERBACK SMORGASBORD: Veteran Matt Cassel’s comfortable, if not insurmountable, lead over rookie Teddy Bridgewater continues to be obvious based on practice reps. Cassel took all of the first-team reps, while Bridgewater ran the second unit. The third unit didn’t see any reps during 11 on 11 segments of practice.

During the first team competition, Cassel went 4 of 5 with a couple of particularly accurate throws that Rudolph caught softly in tight coverage. Bridgewater also went 4 of 5.

In the second team competition, both went 2 of 3. Again, Cassel and Rudolph were too tough to beat on a completion over the middle.

WRIGHT HOBBLED: Bridgewater’s worst throw of the day was a misfire to Jarius Wright, who was surrounded by four defenders. Wright sprained an ankle and didn’t return.

RUDOLPH A TOUGH MATCHUP: As we’ve grown accustomed to seeing, Rudolph is a tough matchup for a defense. The Cardinals got a look at the leaner, faster version of Rudolph on Saturday. The result was a four-catch first half that produced 89 yards, including a 51-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown.

Today, strong safety Chris Crocker had tight coverage on Rudolph on two occasions when it didn’t matter. On a crossing route, Cassel hit the window and Rudolph grabbed the ball as Crocker dived and was left behind. Crocker also couldn’t stop a short out pass despite having good position. Later, while going against the second unit, Rudolph was covered by a linebacker, Michael Mauti. He was fairly tight in coverage, but again, Rudolph caught an accurate ball in stride as Mauti tumbled.

NOISE MAKER: Unlike a lot of coaches, Mike Zimmer said he doesn’t place any more significance on the third preseason game. For a lot of coaches, the third preseason game is the only one they game plan for. They also play their starters into the third quarter. Zimmer said his routine this week “is still about us,” still about focusing on installing the new schemes. He said the coaches aren’t doing any in-depth game-planning for Saturday night’s game in Kansas City. But one thing was different today. As the Vikings prepare to play their first road preseason game of the year, Zimmer had a big speaker on the sideline to blare simulated crowd noise.

INJURY UPDATE: Other than Wright, no other players appeared to be injured while participating in practice today. We updated the other injuries on the blog earlier in the day. Matt Vensel also updated the excused absences of defensive end Brian Robison and receiver Jerome Simpson.

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