Access Vikings

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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Brandon Watts returns after month layoff

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated September 18th at 1:00pm 275627721

Vikings rookie linebacker Brandon Watts received a little ribbing from the linebackers in his return to practice on Wednesday.

“They’ve been talking trash to me the last couple of weeks since I’ve been down,” Watts said.

“Uh-oh, Watts is back!” yelled linebacker Gerald Hodges right before Watts participated in his first individual period. The tackling drill is simple, which asks the linebackers to run up and hit a purple dummy, but can be embarrassing if a linebacker doesn’t follow through properly.

The ribbing ensured after Watts’ first attempt. He made contact with the dummy but got stuck, failing to finish through by lifting the dummy up, and had to do the drill again.

“I was a little nervous at first,” Watts said. “It was my first time doing any football movements. After that, I was fine.”

The rookie has been out for a month due to a left knee injury. Watts was receiving second team reps at linebacker prior to the injury, playing in just the first two preseason games. The seventh round pick said the down time was frustrating, but he spent the last month strengthening his knee and receiving mental reps.

Watts still made the team, despite the injury, as the Vikings currently have seven linebackers on the roster.

“I just tried not to think about it much,” Watts said about making the roster. “I just try to control what I can control and that was trying to get better, hurry up and get back to help the team as much as I can.”

Watts was a limited participant at practice but said he only experienced fatigue in the knee as it continues to build strength. He said he didn’t have any soreness or swelling on Thursday, however.

“It’s a good sign,” Watts said. “The trainers have been doing a great job taking care of me. I’m really feeling great every morning any time I come back from doing any kind of workout.”

What his future holds remains to be seen, but Watts clearly made a good impression in  a limited amount of time during training camp to claim a roster spot. We’ll see where Watts can develop from here as he returns to full health.

Priefer: `I think I'm a better man' because of sensitivity training

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated September 18th at 1:03pm 275627181

The reason Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer is back this week and not next Monday was the week of sensitivity training that he completed during what became a two-week suspension for using an anti-gay remark during a team setting in 2012.

While some of us probably wouldn’t head into such a training session in the best frame of mind, Priefer told reporters today that he embraced the opportunity to hear what the sensitivity trainer had to teach him.

“The details, we’re going to keep those confidential,” Priefer said. “But I will tell you this: It was real positive. It was very professionally done. And like anything else in life, if you put a lot into it, you’re going to get a lot out of it. I tell my kids that, I tell my players that. So I went into it with a great attitude and I got a lot out of it, quite honestly.”

Priefer was asked if he’s a changed person.

“I don’t know if I’ve changed, but I think I have more awareness of my surroundings and other people around me,” he said. “I think I’m a better man because of it.”

Priefer was allowed to return to the team on Monday. He arrived at 5:30 a.m. ready to go, he said, and happy he no longer has to watch his team on television.

“Both games were hard to watch,” he said. “I was with my family. I think they were watching me, seeing how I was going to react. It’s kind of weird for them, especially my kids. My daughter looked at me and said, `Dad, this is kind of weird,’ seeing me sitting on the couch watching the Vikings. It was hard. It was difficult.”

And what did you say during that punt return in which the Vikings had only nine men on the field?

“I probably can’t say it in public,” he said.

Priefer said he stayed calm and followed his wife’s “lecture” not to throw anything during the game.

“I think I was pretty calm,” he said. “I think the only time I got really excited was when Marcus [Sherels] got hit in the Rams game, because I thought we lost him. He got hit pretty hard.”

Priefer said he was allowed to watch tape of the team’s practices, so he’s been up to speed on how the players have looked between games.

“When I walked in Monday, I just let them know that I appreciated all of their effort while I was gone and it’s all behind us, it’s over,” Priefer said. “The situation is a dead issue and it’s time to move on. I know it was hard for them. I apologized to them because of what I basically put them through being away for two weeks. But now it’s time to improve and get better. We have a lot of work to do.”

Fullback Jerome Felton told reporters that players gave Priefer a standing ovation when he walked into the team meeting on Monday morning.

“It was awesome,” Priefer said. “Normally, I’m there three or four minutes before the meeting starts. I walked in right as the meeting starts because we had just finished up a staff meeting and it was really, really a cool thing. It was something I didn’t expect. It was a warm reception and I really appreciated it.

“I’m an emotional guy and I really did appreciate it. Reflecting back on it, I think that will be one of the great things that’s ever happened to me as a football coach.”

Suspended Vikings receiver in more hot water

Posted by: Christopher Miller Updated September 18th at 12:26pm 275615551

Jerome Simpson, already under a three-game NFL suspension for a DUI arrest last year, is in more trouble.

The Vikings receiver was cited July 7 on charges of marijuana possession, open bottle and violating a limited drivers license, according to Hennepin County Court records.

He has a Nov. 3 court appearance.

ESPN was first to report the news. The team has not issued a comment.

Simpson is serving a three-game suspension by the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, stemming from a drunken-driving arrest last season.

Simpson was arrested Nov. 9 but avoided jail time in January after pleading guilty to careless driving and third-degree drunken driving. Simpson was placed on a one-year probation and ordered to perform 120 hours of community service.

This is Simpson’s second suspension from the NFL. He previously was suspended for three games when he first signed with the Vikings in 2012 related to a drug arrest in September 2011 while he was a member of the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Vikings re-signed Simpson to a one-year deal this past offseason, knowing he faced an NFL suspension in his second legal case.

His suspension was set to end after Sunday’s game at New Orleans.

Under terms of Simpson’s probation, was ordered to do 120 hours of community service in public schools instead of serving 15 days in the workhouse. He had to attend alcohol seminars and, for one year, could not have any same or similar offenses.

Vikings 4 Downs: Cassel, running backs, Simpson, PSA to conspiracy theorists

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated September 18th at 10:11am 275601451

If Cassel has another dud performance like he did last week, that support won’t last long. Inconsistency has been an issue throughout Cassel’s career where he’ll single-handedly lose a game for a team. We saw that last season against the Panthers and Bengals. In eight starts with the Vikings, Cassel has three games with multiple interceptions. He has 19 career games where he’s thrown multiple interceptions.

Can he bounce back? Yes he can, especially against this Saints defense that’s allowed the second most points per game (31.5) and third most yards per game (446) through two games. All this performance did was remind fans that Cassel likely won’t start the entire season, and we’ve inched closer to the start of the Teddy Bridgewater era.

At this point, they have to be. If the Vikings sign a running back, it’ll take weeks to learn the offense and actually become effective in a game. The most intriguing names are LaMichael James and Lache Seastrunk, but the Vikings already have a shifty back in rookie Jerick McKinnon.

Again, Matt Asiata did improve this offseason. That won’t translate to the point where Asiata can carry Adrian Peterson’s load. It’ll take all three, including Joe Banyard, to replace Peterson. Even then, and even if the Vikings decide to sign another running back, it still won’t fill Peterson’s massive shoes.

A team never wants to go into a game with a roster spot open, so I’d expect the Vikings to fill that spot by Saturday. It’ll likely be a promotion from the practice squad, which fullback Zach Line is probably the favorite among the 10 players on the practice squad. He was waived so the Vikings could promote Banyard to the active roster as a result of Peterson’s deactivation. Line is back on the team after he signed to the practice squad. If they thought Line was worthy of a 53-man roster spot after preseason, then they’d probably feel the same way two weeks into the season.

As for when Jerome Simpson returns in Week 4, wide receiver Rodney Smith is likely the odd man out next week. He’ll probably sign with the practice squad, however. There will be an open spot if the Vikings promote Line, or someone else on the practice squad, this week. It’s just hard to see the Vikings keep six wide receivers on their roster given they hardly spread four wide receivers under offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

Enough with the conspiracy theories. There’s no conspiracy here, just accept it was a mere coincidence those two reports occurred in the same offseason. Will Peterson remain with the Vikings? I don’t know. If he’s released, will he go to the Cowboys? I don’t know. But I do know the conspiracy theory tweets are the dumbest thing to come out of this entire Peterson situation. Enough already.

Access Vikings morning walkthrough: Peterson's Vikings future, Greenway's broken hand and more

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated September 18th at 8:31am 275582241

Every weekday, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening with the team that day.

WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

— Will RB Adrian Peterson ever play for the Vikings again?

— Has Peterson hastened his departure with his legal issues?

— The Vikings say they put Peterson on the exempt list to “get things right.”

— The Vikings must deal with a big distraction as they prepare for the Saints.

— OLB Chad Greenway missed practice with a broken hand.

TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY

BEHIND ENEMY LINES

— The Saints are preparing for a less explosive Vikings offense without Peterson.

— Some Saints defenders are disappointed they won’t get to play Peterson.

— QB Drew Brees says that not all NFL players are “brutes.”

— Saints RB Mark Ingram had surgery on his broken hand.

TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE

The coordinators — including Mike Priefer, who is back with the team — will speak with reporters at 11 a.m. The locker room will be open then, too. The Vikings will begin practice at 12:50 p.m.

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

Since 2007, Peterson’s first season in the NFL, the Vikings have rushed for 16,104 yards, more than any other team. The team’s 4.8 yards-per-carry average also ranks first in the league.

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