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.
In need of another linebacker, the Vikings placed rookie Anthony Barr on injured reserve and signed Josh Kaddu from their practice squad.
Barr hasn’t played the last three games and will miss the season finale on Sunday against the Bears due to a knee injury. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer announced last week the team would shut him down so he could have a minor knee procedure.
Kaddu was signed to the practice squad two days before the season opener after spending the preseason with the Eagles. The Dolphins’ fifth round pick in 2012 played in five career games with Miami but didn’t record a tackle.
The Vikings had just three healthy linebackers on the active roster this week in practice. Chad Greenway was listed as questionable with a knee injury he suffered in last week’s loss to the Dolphins, while Barr and rookie Brandon Watts (hamstring) were ruled out.
With Anthony Barr (knee) and Brandon Watts (hamstring) listed as out and Chad Greenway (knee) questionable, the Vikings have only three healthy linebackers on the 53-man roster. But that probably will change soon, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said after practice today.
The Vikings are expected to promote one or both of their practice squad linebackers, depending on whether Greenway can play on Sunday.
Asked about the readiness of the two practice squad players — third-year pro Josh Kaddu and recently-signed rookie Justin Anderson, Zimmer said, “I think they’ll be fine.” As for his level of concern about a position that has only Gerald Hodges, Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole as healthy bodies, Zimmer said, “None.”
Although Greenway hasn’t practiced all week, the team listed him as questionable. Normally, a player missing an entire week of practice would be listed as doubtful or out.
“He probably could have practiced today, but we didn’t want to aggravate it more,” Zimmer said. “So we’ll just see how it goes.”
Greenway returned Wednesday from South Dakota, where he was with his family for his father’s funeral. His right knee has been bothering him since having to leave last week’s loss early, and he also appears to have a cold.
Asked to describe his week, Greenway said, “Long. Emotional.”
Although the Vikings and Bears are long gone from the playoff race, Greenway said “it would mean a lot” for him to play on Sunday.
“It’s my job to play a football game, so they’re all important,” Greenway said. “I’ll get ready as much as I can to go out there and play a full game.”
Greenway said it was “probably smarter” that he didn’t practice. He thinks that will give him a better chance of being able to recover before Sunday.
“We’ll let coach Zimmer decide what we’re going to do,” Greenway said. “See where I’m at and make a decision based off of that.”
As for whether the 31-year-old Greenway thinks there will be a role for him on this defense beyond Sunday, he said, “I guess we’ll find out. I don’t have an answer there. Obviously, I think when I’ve been healthy I’ve played well. But I have no idea.”
Here is the rest of the injury report:
Limited in Friday’s practice and listed as questionable: WR Jarius Wright (low back) and TE Kyle Rudolph (ankle, knee).
Full participation and listed as probable: LG Charlie Johnson (ankle), WR Greg Jennings (hamstring), S Antone Exum (knee), RT Mike Harris (foot), TE Chase Ford (foot), SS Robert Blanton (ankle), S Andrew Sendejo (thumb), DT Sharrif Floyd (knee), RB Matt Asiata (foot).
It’s looking almost certain that Chad Greenway’s run of six consecutive seasons as the Vikings team leader in tackles has ended.
Greenway wasn’t participating in the portion of practice open to the media today and is likely to miss Sunday’s game against the Bears. He left last Sunday’s game because of a knee injury and has not practice at all this week.
Greenway, who is tied with former linebacker Scott Studwell for most consecutive seasons of leading the team in tackles, is second with 115. Free safety Harrison Smith has 116.
Linebackers Brandon Watts (hamstring) and Anthony Barr (knee surgery) also weren’t at practice.
We’ll have the official injury report after practice.
For the Vikings’ season finale, we reached to a familiar name in the last installment of “Behind Enemy Lines.” Former Star Tribune writer and current Chicago Tribune Bears bear writer Dan Wiederer answered five questions about this week’s matchup against the Bears at TCF Bank Stadium.
1. Will this be Marc Trestman’s final game as the Bears head coach?
DW: It sure seems to be headed down that path. And it would be a bigger shock Monday to have the Bears announce that Trestman was returning in 2015 than it would be for him to be shown the door. It’s just been a miserable season across the board in Chicago and Trestman will take a heavy volume of the heat for it. He hasn’t been able to spark the offense the way everyone anticipated he might. He hasn’t been able to take Jay Cutler to the next level. He wasn’t able to keep the team’s struggles from compounding week after week after week. It’s not just that the Bears have lost seven times in their past nine games, it’s that they’ve been blown out too often. The Patriots, the Packers, the Cowboys, the Saints. All four of those teams went up at least 24 points on the Bears and coasted to victory. So the inability for the Bears to be more competitive has been disconcerting. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is likely to be fired after another season in which the Bears’ defense has struggled. Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer put himself on thin ice a few weeks ago by first anonymously criticizing Cutler to the NFL Network, then confessing to that transgression. And the Bears’ special teams, under coordinator Joe DeCamillis, have been a mess this season too. So it’s hard to envision a scenario where you bring any of those three coordinators back. And if you’re blowing out everything at the coordinator level, the head coach is obviously in the line of fire as well.
2. Despite some offseason acquisitions, why didn’t the Bears defense improve?
DW: Injuries have been a major issue. There’s no doubt about that with Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, D.J. Williams, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston all ending the year on Injured Reserve. But the Bears’ troubles run much deeper than just that. Their perceived personnel changes last offseason never paid off. Jared Allen has clearly lost a little something and isn’t the feared edge rusher he was at his peak with the Vikings. The Bears never did get much consistency from their linebacking unit with Shea McClellin and Jon Bostic still not showing that they are major difference makers. The secondary has been ordinary. And Tucker hasn’t done a good enough job getting the best out of the playmakers he does have. Tim Jennings is without an interception this season. Allen is headed for a career low in sacks. There haven’t been enough splash plays. And while the defense made strides from 2013, they were starting from an all-time low.
3. Why did the Bears decide to start quarter Jay Cutler again over rookie David Fales?
DW: Let’s make something clear here. Fales was a sixth-round pick, not a guy taken in the first or second round that the team absolutely has to get a look at right away to determine their future at the position. No one in the organization envisions him as a long-term starting option. So he’s a No. 2 at best. On top of that. Fales was on the practice squad until Week 15, not getting anywhere near the practice reps that Cutler and Jimmy Clausen have taken. So his command of the offense isn’t where it needs to be. And it would be a borderline unfair position to put him into to simply throw him out there in the season finale just because. That’s the simplest explanation there is for the Cutler-over-Fales call this week.
4. How has this rookie class, led by cornerback Kyle Fuller, looked through 15 games?
DW: Incomplete. Fuller has had his rough moments this year to be certain, at times looking very much like a rookie learning on the fly. But the kid has clearly shown he has the competitiveness and athleticism to be a big-time corner in the league for a decade or longer if he stays healthy. After 15 games, you can chalk that up as a hit for the Bears, a first-round pick that seems ready to jell into a difference-making starter. Beyond Fuller, the rookies haven’t made much of an impact. Defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton have shown promise. But it’s too early yet to determine just how much potential either guy has. Running back Ka’Deem Carey has been in a limited role behind Matt Forte. Safety Brock Vereen, a University of Minnesota product, had his first career interception last week and comes to the table with great savvy and a feel for the game. But Vereen has to improve his coverage skills and willingness to be more physical on the back end of the defense. We’ve already discussed Fales. Punter Pat O’Donnell, taken in the sixth round, has been solid but not spectacular. And seventh-rounder Charles Leno has played only sparingly as an emergency option on the offensive line. In other words, they’re not chilling the champagne at Halas Hall just yet to celebrate a certain victory with their 2014 draft class.
5. What do the Bears need to do to win in the battle for last place in the NFC North?
DW: They need to do what they did the first time they played the Vikings. They need Cutler to move the ball consistently, to take advantage of favorable match-ups at key moments and to avoid turnovers. They need to find ways on defense to get after Teddy Bridgewater and make him uncomfortable in the pocket. They need to muster up enough energy in a meaningless finale to fight through the inevitable rough moments that are coming Sunday. It’s definitely a winnable game against an opponent that they already have shown they can beat. The biggest question is just how much emotion and fire they have left in the tank given all they’ve been through this season and the low stakes of this game.
Every weekday, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening with the team that day.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
— Veteran CB/PR Marcus Sherels quietly goes about his business.
— OLB Chad Greenway and TE Kyle Rudolph missed practice again.
— Coach Mike Zimmer called QB Teddy Bridgewater “the anti-me.”
— In the event you were too busy on Christmas to read the blog…
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
After a very long night guiding Santa’s Sleigh, gotta get to work! Christmas Day with the football family! Merry Christmas!
— Kyle Rudolph (@KyleRudolph82) December 25, 2014
BEHIND ENEMY LINES
— Chicago QB Jay Cutler said that “everyone could get axed.”
— Bears rookie QB David Fales will have to wait for his chance.
— Bears RB Matt Forte is pushing himself to stay in top form.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
After being dismissed for Christmas activities yesterday afternoon, the Vikings are back at Winter Park this morning. They practice at 10:50 a.m. and Zimmer has a press conference at 12:30 p.m.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
Bridgewater hasn’t been asked to throw many deep passes over the past few weeks, but according to Pro Football Focus, only three quarterbacks have been more accurate on passes of 20-plus yards the past four weeks. Bridgewater has completed five of eight such attempts for 168 yards and a touchdown, per PFF. Yes, that’s a small sample size. But it does suggest he is improving there.
|Buffalo||12/28/14 12:00 PM|
|Cleveland||12/28/14 12:00 PM|
|Dallas||12/28/14 12:00 PM|
|Indianapolis||12/28/14 12:00 PM|
|Jacksonville||12/28/14 12:00 PM|
|San Diego||12/28/14 12:00 PM|
|NY Jets||12/28/14 12:00 PM|
|Chicago||12/28/14 12:00 PM|
|Philadelphia||12/28/14 12:00 PM|
|New Orleans||12/28/14 12:00 PM|
|Carolina||12/28/14 3:25 PM|
|Detroit||12/28/14 3:25 PM|
|Oakland||12/28/14 3:25 PM|
|Arizona||12/28/14 3:25 PM|
|St. Louis||12/28/14 3:25 PM|
|Cincinnati||12/28/14 7:30 PM|
|TBA||1/3/15 2:00 AM|
|TBA||1/3/15 2:00 AM|
|New Orleans||7:00 PM|
|New York||9:00 PM|
|NY Islanders||6:00 PM|
|New Jersey||6:00 PM|
|San Jose||9:00 PM|
|UNC-Wilmington||63||2nd Half 9:59|
|Georgia State||51||2nd Half 8:47|
|Jacksonville St||6||1st Half 10:40|
|Kentucky||10||1st Half 11:05|
|Northern Ky||2:00 PM|
|Santa Clara||3:00 PM|
|San Francisco||5:00 PM|
|Wright State||6:00 PM|
|Tennessee St||7:30 PM|
|Kennesaw St||8:00 PM|
|Colorado State||8:00 PM|
|New Mexico St|
|Wayland Baptist||8:05 PM|
|Bristol University||8:05 PM|
|Sacramento St||8:05 PM|
|Utah Valley U|
|Southern Utah||9:00 PM|
|SD Christian||9:00 PM|
|San Diego St|
|Cincinnati||7||2nd Qtr 0:41|
|(15) Arizona State||7||1st Qtr 9:22|
|Boston College||3:30 PM|
|(25) Nebraska||7:00 PM|
|Texas A&M||12/29/14 1:00 PM|
|Oklahoma||12/29/14 4:30 PM|
|Arkansas||12/29/14 8:00 PM|
|Notre Dame||12/30/14 2:00 PM|
|(13) Georgia||12/30/14 5:45 PM|
|Maryland||12/30/14 9:00 PM|
|(9) Ole Miss||12/31/14 11:30 AM|
|(21) Boise State||12/31/14 3:00 PM|
|(8) Miss State||12/31/14 7:00 PM|
|(10) Georgia Tech|
|(19) Auburn||1/1/15 11:00 AM|
|(7) Michigan State||1/1/15 11:30 AM|
|(16) Missouri||1/1/15 12:00 PM|
|(2) Florida State||1/1/15 4:00 PM|
|(5) Ohio State||1/1/15 7:30 PM|
|Houston||1/2/15 11:00 AM|
|Iowa||1/2/15 2:20 PM|
|(11) Kansas State||1/2/15 5:45 PM|
|Washington||1/2/15 9:15 PM|
|East Carolina||1/3/15 11:00 AM|
|SMU||28||2nd Half 12:43|
|St Marys-CA||4:00 PM|
|San Diego||7:00 PM|