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.
For Week 3 of “Behind Enemy Lines,” we talked to Larry Holder, the Saints columnist for The Times-Picayune. Here are five questions we asked Holder leading up to the Vikings-Saints matchup at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
1. What has been the biggest issue on defense?
LH: Where do you start? The two strengths on the Saints defense last season was the pass rush and the secondary play. Both have been a letdown so far this season. The Saints haven’t consistently been able to pressure either Matt Ryan or Brian Hoyer. The secondary hasn’t done the defense any favors, though, by having far too many miscommunications.
2. How has Drew Brees looked through two games?
LH: Brees hasn’t been as sharp as the Saints have been accustomed to in recent years. But Brees started slow last season and he compiled one of his best seasons in the NFL. Brees has thrown a costly interception in each game. One was his fault against Atlanta in the end zone. The other came as he took a shot in Cleveland, but the result also cost the Saints as it went back for a touchdown.
3. In what ways does the defensive game plan change without running back Adrian Peterson?
LH: I would assume the Saints would focus less on stopping the run and zero in on shoring up the pass defense. The Saints have expressed their respect for Cordarrelle Patterson and will take their chances in not stacking the box.
4. What is the sense of urgency with this team starting 0-2 and coming back to the Superdome?
LH: There’s no major panic with this team. There’s definitely a sense of urgency, though. The Saints know they had their chances of winning both games and it didn’t happen. They know the season isn’t in trouble at 0-2. As for 0-3, that’s a different story.
5. What needs to happen for the Saints to win the game?
LH: The Saints need to play like they typically play at home. Both side of the football come with extra juice in the Superdome as the Saints went undefeated there in 2013. The Saints need to cut down on the mistakes on defense and increase the pressure on the quarterback. The Saints have also run the football with plenty of success and should continue to use their ground game even with Mark Ingram likely out Sunday with a broken hand.
Every weekday, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening with the team that day.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
— The Vikings released WR Jerome Simpson after another brush with the law.
— The loss of Simpson and RB Adrian Peterson isn’t going to help QB Matt Cassel’s struggles.
— Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer says he’s a better man after sensitivity training.
— Head Coach Mike Zimmer was optimistic about injuries to OLB Chad Greenway and others.
— Rookie OLB Brandon Watts is back at Vikings practice after a month layoff.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
Congrats to my man @D_Hest23 breaking the record!
— Corey Wootton (@CoreyWootton) September 19, 2014
BEHIND ENEMY LINES
— Saints RB Khiry Robinson is excited about his opportunity with RB Mark Ingram out.
— Banged-up Saints C Jonathan Goodwin is expected to start against the Vikings.
— Embattled Saints CB Patrick Robinson owned up to his recent struggles.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
The Vikings will practice at 10:50 a.m. Zimmer will speak with reporters at 12:30 p.m. and the locker room will be open as Vikings players pack up their bags before flying to the Big Easy.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
The Vikings and Saints have gone in different directions since meeting in the NFC championship game five years ago. Not only did the Saints go on to win the Super Bowl that year, they have gone 42-24 with three seasons with double-digit wins since then. The Vikings, meanwhile, have three seasons with double-digit losses and they have a 25-40-1 record since that day in the Superdome.
We just chatted with Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer after practice, as we usually do every Thursday. As he walked over to meet us, a PR staffer flagged him down and informed him about wide receiver Jerome Simpson’s latest legal issue. Even though the incident happened in July and took place just down the road in Bloomington, Zimmer said it was the first time he had heard about it.
Zimmer said he wouldn’t comment on Simpson until he spoke with General Manager Rick Spielman, but he did say that the Vikings, who are still reeling from the child abuse charge against running back Adrian Peterson, are “going to keep guys who care about football.”
“We’re going to look for high-quality guys,” Zimmer said. “We’re going to keep guys who care about football, guys who are passionate about playing the game. We’re going to continue to get those guys and keep working. There’s really nothing I can do about what everybody else says. All I can do is what I think is best at the time.”
In football-related news, a rarity this week, Zimmer stood by quarterback Matt Cassel, who threw a career-high four interceptions in the loss to the Patriots. Zimmer again pointed out that Cassel played well in the preseason and Week 1 and said “I’m not going to let one bad afternoon ruin it.”
Zimmer also said that outside linebacker Chad Greenway, who missed practice yesterday and today with a broken left hand and a rib injury, “feels a lot better today.” The Vikings will evaluate Greenway tomorrow and go from there. Zimmer added that offensive tackle Phil Loadholt, who participated in practice in some fashion today, is going to be OK. “He’s tough,” Zimmer said.
Finally, Zimmer expressed displeasure that players on both sides of the ball freelanced in the loss to the Patriots. He said it had more to do with the score than it did with Peterson not being active.
“The whole team last week, especially in the second half, we tried to do more than we were supposed to do and it showed up on tape,” Zimmer said. “Guys were trying to do their own thing. So we worked real hard this week on trying to get back to basics and understanding that there’s times where you make plays in the game but the game has to come to you.”
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.
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.”
|Los Angeles - C. Kershaw||1:20 PM|
|Chicago Cubs - E. Jackson|
|Boston - A. Webster||6:05 PM|
|Baltimore - K. Gausman|
|Milwaukee - Y. Gallardo||6:05 PM|
|Pittsburgh - J. Locke|
|Toronto - M. Buehrle||6:05 PM|
|NY Yankees - H. Kuroda|
|Washington - D. Fister||6:10 PM|
|Miami - T. Koehler|
|Chicago WSox - J. Quintana||6:10 PM|
|Tampa Bay - J. Hellickson|
|NY Mets - Z. Wheeler||6:35 PM|
|Atlanta - J. Teheran|
|Cleveland - T. Bauer||7:10 PM|
|Minnesota - P. Hughes|
|Detroit - J. Verlander||7:10 PM|
|Kansas City - J. Vargas|
|Seattle - T. Walker||7:10 PM|
|Houston - B. Peacock|
|Arizona - C. Anderson||7:10 PM|
|Colorado - J. Lyles|
|Cincinnati - D. Holmberg||7:15 PM|
|St. Louis - J. Lackey|
|Philadelphia - D. Buchanan||8:35 PM|
|Oakland - J. Lester|
|Texas - L. Bonilla||9:05 PM|
|LA Angels - H. Santiago|
|San Francisco - T. Hudson||9:10 PM|
|San Diego - O. Despaigne|
|San Diego||9/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Dallas||9/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Washington||9/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Houston||9/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Minnesota||9/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Tennessee||9/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Baltimore||9/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Green Bay||9/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Indianapolis||9/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Oakland||9/21/14 12:00 PM|
|San Francisco||9/21/14 3:05 PM|
|Denver||9/21/14 3:25 PM|
|Kansas City||9/21/14 3:25 PM|
|Pittsburgh||9/21/14 7:30 PM|
|Chicago||9/22/14 7:30 PM|
|(20) Kansas State||14|
|Old Dominion||9/20/14 11:00 AM|
|Troy||9/20/14 11:00 AM|
|Georgia Tech||9/20/14 11:00 AM|
|Eastern Mich||9/20/14 11:00 AM|
|(11) Michigan State|
|Iowa||9/20/14 11:00 AM|
|Bowling Green||9/20/14 11:00 AM|
|Maryland||9/20/14 11:30 AM|
|Tulane||9/20/14 11:30 AM|
|Hawaii||9/20/14 1:00 PM|
|Marshall||9/20/14 1:00 PM|
|North Carolina||9/20/14 2:30 PM|
|Army||9/20/14 2:30 PM|
|Virginia||9/20/14 2:30 PM|
|(6) Texas A&M||9/20/14 2:30 PM|
|Rutgers||9/20/14 2:30 PM|
|Central Mich||9/20/14 2:30 PM|
|Utah||9/20/14 2:30 PM|
|Florida||9/20/14 2:30 PM|
|Louisville||9/20/14 2:30 PM|
|Fla Atlantic||9/20/14 3:00 PM|
|Indiana||9/20/14 3:00 PM|
|San Jose St||9/20/14 3:00 PM|
|Texas State||9/20/14 3:00 PM|
|Massachusetts||9/20/14 3:00 PM|
|Georgia State||9/20/14 5:00 PM|
|Appalachian St||9/20/14 6:00 PM|
|Miss State||9/20/14 6:00 PM|
|Northern Ill||9/20/14 6:00 PM|
|Middle Tennessee||9/20/14 6:00 PM|
|Utah State||9/20/14 6:00 PM|
|Miami-Ohio||9/20/14 6:00 PM|
|Idaho||9/20/14 6:00 PM|
|Ball State||9/20/14 6:00 PM|
|(14) So Carolina||9/20/14 6:30 PM|
|(4) Oklahoma||9/20/14 6:30 PM|
|Ga Southern||9/20/14 6:30 PM|
|UNLV||9/20/14 7:00 PM|
|(22) Clemson||9/20/14 7:00 PM|
|(1) Florida State|
|Miami-Florida||9/20/14 7:00 PM|
|New Mexico||9/20/14 7:00 PM|
|New Mexico St|
|California||9/20/14 9:00 PM|
|Louisiana||9/20/14 9:30 PM|
|(2) Oregon||9/20/14 9:30 PM|
|San Diego St||9/20/14 9:30 PM|
|Texas Tech||9/25/14 6:30 PM|
|(25) Oklahoma State|
|Appalachian St||9/25/14 6:30 PM|
|(12) UCLA||9/25/14 9:00 PM|
|(15) Arizona State|
|Real Salt Lake|
|Edmonton||9/20/14 6:00 PM|
|Calgary||9/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Ottawa||9/21/14 3:00 PM|
|Montreal||9/26/14 6:00 PM|
|Saskatchewan||9/26/14 9:00 PM|
|Hamilton||9/27/14 5:30 PM|
|Brt Columbia||9/27/14 8:30 PM|
Poll: Which of these returning TV series are you most looking forward to this fall?