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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McKinnon reflects on his whirlwind rookie season

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated November 28th at 12:02pm 284155511

A little over a year ago, Jerick McKinnon scored the game-winning touchdown as Georgia Southern stunned Florida, the small school upsetting one of the big boys without completing a single pass.

If McKinnon wasn’t already on the radar of some NFL teams, he would be after rushing for 125 yards and that touchdown on nine carries against the Gators, including a 66-yard run.

But what exactly was McKinnon? He played slot receiver, cornerback and safety in high school before his coach moved him to quarterback. Georgia Southern recruited him as an athlete and made him the backup quarterback in their triple-option scheme as a freshman. Throughout his college career, he played pretty much every backfield position while moonlighting as a defensive back. A few NFL teams worked him out as a corner, thinking his athleticism could be best used there.

“It was really just wide open for me, coming from a small school that had an untraditional offense. And I played option quarterback. I think it was based all off projection so a lot of teams I guess had a question mark in their heads,” McKinnon said last week. “But Minnesota gave me the opportunity and that’s all I can ask for. I just tried to make the most out of it when I came here.”

While McKinnon’s status for Sunday’s game is in doubt after he missed another practice today, he has made a much bigger impact than anyone expected this season. He was originally slotted in as one of the backups to Adrian Peterson and the Vikings wanted him to learn about the pro running game by watching the Pro Bowler. It seemed the team planned to use him as more of a pass-catcher.

But then Peterson was banished, and everything changed. McKinnon was starting by Week 6 and thanks to several big runs, he has averaged 4.8 yards per carry while rushing for 538 yards.

When asking about life after Peterson, it seems McKinnon is at least part of the answer. It’s crazy how much has changed in a year for McKinnon, going from Georgia Southern to a starting NFL gig.

“I didn’t expect to be starting or having any, I guess, success like I’ve had,” McKinnon said. “But I always prepared myself for the unknown so that when that opportunity did come up I would be ready and not stunned and shocked or unprepared for the moment.”

It hasn’t been easy. The learning curve has been steep coming from a smaller school that ran an offense that doesn’t translate to the pro game. In Georgia Southern’s option attack, McKinnon often had to sprint laterally trying to get around the edge. Now, in the NFL, he must be patient when running between the tackles.

But the coaching staff has raved about his vision, the kind of thing that can’t be taught, and the rookie has surprised with his willingness and ability to run between the tackles.

“In a pro-style [offense], you have to be more patient opposed to being real quick,” McKinnon said. “That was something that I thought would be a big challenge. But it was actually more comfortable than I thought it would be. Going through the Senior Bowl and coming here, there were some times where I would be too fast. But I kept working on being patient. I talked to the other running backs on the team and they helped me learn and become more and more comfortable with it.”

And it shows. And the Vikings are benefiting from his surprisingly quick transition to the pros.

McKinnon not at practice; Floyd, Patterson return

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated November 28th at 12:02pm 284153371

Vikings rookie running back Jerick McKinnon was the only player absent at Friday’s practice.

McKinnon hasn’t participated all week dealing with a lingering low back injury. His status at this point for Sunday’s game against the Panthers doesn’t look too good.

Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (knee), defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (knee) and tight end Chase Ford (hamstring/foot) all returned to practice for the first time this week.

The Vikings practiced indoors with the doors closed coming off a walkthrough on Thanksgiving.

Behind Enemy Lines: Chatting about Newton and Munnerlyn with beat writer Jonathan Jones

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated November 28th at 10:32am 284149131

For the Vikings’ Week 13 matchup against the Panthers, we spoke to Jonathan Jones, who covers the Panthers for the Charlotte Observer, for this week’s edition of “Behind Enemy Lines.” Here are five questions we asked Jones about Sunday’s game at TCF Bank Stadium.

1. Has quarterback Cam Newton regressed, or has his supporting staff been the byproduct of the 22nd ranked offense this season?

JJ: Cam has obviously played hurt, so that hasn’t helped his progress any. The thought early in the season was that Cam was a better pocket passer because he couldn’t use his legs as much in the preseason due to his offseason ankle surgery. Cam has made some mistakes in recent weeks, but he’s also had a different offensive line in each of the past five games. Minnesota will make six. The line has failed him multiple times, and [general manager] Dave Gettleman tried to patch up the line with some pieces that have proven to be (less than) mediocre. The result is Newton on pace to be sacked more than ever in his career, the offense being ranked 22nd and the Panthers at 3-7-1.

2. How much has defensive end Greg Hardy’s absence impacted the Panthers defense?

JJ: It’s been huge. Think about it like this: How much has the absence of [Adrian] Peterson impacted the Vikings’ offense? Of course AP is a future Hall of Famer and Hardy is far from that, but the principle is the same. Gettleman’s philosophy is that you win up front. That’s why he spent $13.1 million to keep Hardy this season. Around Hardy, the line would generate the most sacks in the NFL again, the linebackers would be able to flow to the ball and the secondary’s inefficiencies would be masked. That was the thought, anyway. Without Hardy, teams can scheme against DE Charles Johnson and not really worry much about the other side of the line. The Panthers planned all offseason to have their Pro Bowl DE, and they got him for one game.

3. What does the Panthers secondary look like through 11 games without Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn?

JJ: Honestly it looks about the same as last year. To my earlier point, this secondary isn’t breaking any records. Their safeties aren’t that fast, and their best cornerback was benched earlier this season. Last year Captain brought a great deal of grit to the group, and safety Mike Mitchell brought an attitude with some hard hits. But it was really a secondary that looked a lot better than it really was because of the front seven. Make no mistake, Carolina wanted to keep Munnerlyn, but the Vikings out-bid them. But his absence isn’t the cause for the woes of the Panthers’ defense or secondary. That group looks about the same as it did last year.

4. Who has been the biggest surprise, and the biggest disappointment this year?

JJ: The biggest surprise has definitely been undrafted rookie guard Andrew Norwell. Folks probably haven’t heard of him, and the Panthers want to keep it that way. He came out of Ohio State undrafted and has started several games lately and played really well on a line that’s really taken its lumps this year. Trust me, Panthers fans can sympathize with Vikings fans when it comes to offensive line woes. Norwell has made Gettleman and his scouting staff look like geniuses.

As far as the biggest disappointment, let’s just say it’s the running game. They’ve been banged up with injuries all season but that excuse only goes so far. This team has yet to have 150 rushing yards in a single game. DeAngelo Williams has gone down at first contact and Jonathan Stewart hasn’t gotten a great deal of carries. Now, this could change with the return of fullback Mike Tolbert, who adds another dimension to Carolina’s backfield. But there’s no doubt this team’s rushing offense has been a letdown.

5. What will the Panthers need to do to win on Sunday and, as dumb as it sounds, remain in the hunt for the NFC South title while boasting an astonishing 3-7-1 record right now? 

JJ: Well, they could lose and still be in it. I don’t think they will though. Cam is due for a good game, and I think he’ll get it this week. I suppose it’s just one of those feelings you sometimes get. But specifically, on the field, they have to win up front in a game where the weather will make the ball hard as a rock in passing attempts. I also believe Tolbert’s addition will give a boost to the offense. This team hasn’t won a game since Oct. 5, and they know they need to start making hay if they want to get into the playoffs. I believe it happens in Minnesota.

Access Vikings morning walkthrough: Harris pumped to start, Smith back at practice and more

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated November 28th at 7:05am 284135891

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

WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

— OT Mike Harris is excited for the opportunity to start again.

— Banged-up S Harrison Smith returned to practice yesterday.

— Could the no-huddle help QB Teddy Bridgewater get going early?

TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY

BEHIND ENEMY LINES

— The Panthers might be on to Plan C at the right tackle spot.

— CB Bené Benwikere will be back in the Panthers secondary.

— TE Greg Olsen’s resilient son helps put football in perspective.

TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE

The Vikings will battle the elements and any tryptophan left in their systems with a 10:50 a.m. practice that is expected to be held outside. Head coach Mike Zimmer will talk after the practice.

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

Despite being in the same division as the Lions and same conference as the Cowboys, the Vikings haven’t played a Thanksgiving game since 2000. Twenty-five teams have played on Thanksgiving since they last did. Oh, and case you are wondering, the Vikings are 5-1 all-time on Turkey Day.

Smith (limited) one of four players upgraded on today's injury report

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated November 27th at 4:10pm 284089801

It was a healthier day for four Vikings who were upgraded from Wednesday’s injury report to today’s injury report.

Free safety Harrison Smith (shoulder/ankle) went from not practicing to being limited, while running back Matt Asiata (concussion), left tackle Matt Kalil (knee) and linebacker Anthony Barr (knee) went from limited to full participation.

Here’s today’s injury report:

Did not participate: TE Chase Ford (hamstring/foot), WR Cordarrelle Patterson (knee), RB Jerick McKinnon (low back) and DT Sharrif Floyd (knee).

Limited participation: Smith (shoulder/ankle),

Full participation: Kalil, Asiata, Barr, TE Kyle Rudolph (abdomen/groin), WR Jarius Wright (hamstring), WR Greg Jennings (rib) and RT Mike Harris (ankle).

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