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.
Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was not at practice on Monday. He’s nursing an ankle injury suffered in the 41-28 victory over the Falcons on Sunday.
Quarterback Christian Ponder received first team reps in Bridgewater’s absence with practice squad quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson serving as his backup. Head coach Mike Zimmer said he was hopeful Bridgewater would play on Thursday against the Packers.
Along with Bridgewater, linebacker Chad Greenway and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn were not at practice. Greenway missed Sunday’s game with broken hand and a rib injury. Munnerlyn missed practice due to an illness.
Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon (ankle) and cornerback Josh Robinson (hamstring) were limited.
Linebacker Michael Mauti (foot), wide receiver Rodney Smith (hamstring), linebacker Brandon Watts (knee) and fullback Jerome Felton (knee) were listed on the injury report but were full participants.
Rookie running back Jerick McKinnon had a break-out game yesterday, showing off his wheels while rushing for 135 yards in a 41-28 win over the Falcons. But today, head coach Mike Zimmer pumped the breaks a little bit on the notion that McKinnon is ready to be an every-down back.
Zimmer said that as a defensive-minded coach, he likes the challenge that a committee approach can pose to defenses. Besides, there are only a handful of true all-situation backs in today’s NFL.
Starter Matt Asiata is more of a physical, between-the-tackles runner. Meanwhile, McKinnon, a third-round pick in May’s NFL draft, has the quickness needed to get around the edge and the speed and shiftiness to be a big-play threat when he gets into the open field. But while McKinnon has some pass-catching skills, he is not polished when it comes to things like pass protection.
“I think he’s a change-of-pace back for us,” Zimmer said. “We’ll worry about next year [then]. I hope we can continue to grow his role but I don’t think he’s going to be an every-down player right now.”
Asiata got the first six carries of the game yesterday and scored goal-line touchdowns on two of them. McKinnon got his first carry on the team’s third offensive drive and took off for 55 yards.
On 18 carries, McKinnon nearly doubled the rushing production of Asiata, who had 78 yards on 20 carries. But Asiata got the call at the goal line, and rewarded the Vikings with three touchdowns.
Zimmer said the offensive play calls won’t necessarily change when they switch running backs. But he suggested that Asiata and McKinnon might read the plays and run the ball different ways.
McKinnon is comfortable sharing the backfield with Asiata, but he does have greater aspirations for the future, which may or may not include Adrian Peterson, whose status here is up in the air.
“I’ve been improving in pass protection and other things besides running the ball,” he said. “I think I can develop into an all-down running back. That’s something that I have my eyes set on.”
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph said he’s making progress after sports hernia surgery last week. He was in the Vikings locker room on Monday, a week into the recovery process after sitting out on Sunday in the team’s 41-28 victory over the Falcons at TCF Bank Stadium.
Rudolph said the injury initially bothered him during the first week of training camp. There was a tear in the abdominal muscle away from the pelvis, Rudolph said, that he felt on the right side. During the procedure, Rudolph said they went ahead and fixed both sides.
“I’m glad that I was able to get them fixed, move forward and be healthy for this push to the playoffs,” Rudolph said. “I think everybody saw that we have something special going on here yesterday. Me personally watching on TV, I want to get back as soon as possible because I want to be a part of this.”
The Vikings training staff exhausted all their options before deciding on surgery. Rudolph said he’d received treatment throughout the week but felt it wasn’t getting any better on Mondays after games. The Vikings opted not to place him on injured reserve with a designation to return, sidelining him for eight weeks. Rudolph said the training staff believes he can return in five weeks.
It’s the second straight season Rudolph will miss a considerable amount of time due to injury. He was placed on injured reserve last year, playing just eight games after breaking his foot.
“There’s nothing worse than being hurt,” Rudolph said. “When you’re not able to be out there with your teammates, and you’re either watching from the side or watching on tv, it’s hard. At the same time, I knew this was necessary because we tried everything we could to avoid it. I had to get it fixed.
Rudolph received a five-year extension worth $36.5 million in August.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said he’s hopeful rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will play on Thursday against the Packers at Lambeau Field. Bridgewater had an MRI on his sprained ankle right after the game, which Zimmer said came back clean.
“He’s doing a lot better today, so we’ll see,” Zimmer said.
The rookie suffered the ankle injury on a 3rd and goal quarterback scramble from the 2 in the fourth quarter. He remained in the game on 4th and goal but was carted to the locker room during the next offensive series. Christian Ponder replaced Bridgewater and finished the game, sealing the Vikings 41-28 victory over the Falcons at TCF Bank Stadium. Bridgewater returned to the sideline later in the fourth, but he didn’t return in the game.
The Vikings signed quarterback Chandler Harnish, who was the quarterback at Northern Illinois under Gophers head coach Jerry Kill, to the practice squad and released wide receiver Donte Foster as a corresponding move as a precautionary move.
Bridgewater was impressive in his first career start, going 19 of 30 for 317 yards. He’s only the second quarterback in NFL history to throw for 300 yards without an interception in his first start. Bridgewater also had five carries for 27 yards, including a 13-yard run for his first career touchdown.
“I’ve been saying it for a long time watching him practice and in the preseason games, he just gets the ball out and throws a nice, tight ball,” Zimmer said. “He’s accurate, makes quick decisions.”
Let’s count some snaps from Sunday’s 41-28 victory over the Falcons and see what some of them mean …
Defensive snaps: 67.
100 percent: Strong safety Robert Blanton, free safety Harrison Smith, linebacker Anthony Barr and linebacker Gerald Hodges.
Offensive snaps: 76.
100 percent: Center John Sullivan, right guard Vladimir Ducasse, left guard Charlie Johnson, left tackle Matt Kalil.
Team-high snaps: 84 (Sullivan, Ducasse, Kalil)
Most special teams snaps: 20 (Jabari Price, Antone Exum, Andrew Sendejo, Michael Mauti).
DEFENSIVE BACKS:Blanton is the only defensive player not to miss a snap all season (although he did look AWOL with the angle he took on that 48-yard TD run in the third quarter). Other than Blanton and Smith, cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Captain Munnerlyn only missed one snap. The BIG NEWS for the defensive backs was Josh Robinson playing a season-high 43 snaps (64 percent) after being listed as questionable with a hamstring injury. It’s big news because the assumption (here, at least) was Robinson would continue a pattern of leaving the field with nagging injuries. But that wasn’t the case. Not only did Robinson play very well, he stayed on the field when needed. He’s come a long way since coach Mike Zimmer referred to him as “the other guy” when asked about injuries during the preseason. Sendejo played one snap at safety.
LINEBACKERS: We knew Barr would play 100 percent. But Hodges playing 100 percent of the snaps in his first start was confirmation that the coaching staff loves this guy’s versatility and athleticism. He fits the defense in every situation and, frankly, could be hard to get off the field once Chad Greenway gets healthy. Greenway might have to share some of the load with Hodges, who sure looks like the starter beyond this season. Middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley played a season-low 36 percent of the snaps (24), which is understandable considering the way the Falcons spread teams out.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd’s shoulder is better. We don’t have to ask him to know that. A week after playing a season-low 39 percent of the snaps, Floyd played a season-high 79 percent (53) on Sunday. That was the third highest total among defensive linemen behind Everson Griffen (63 snaps, 94 percent) and Brian Robison (62, 93). Nose tackle Linval Joseph (46, 69), tackle Tom Johnson (23, 34), tackle Shamar Stephen (12, 18) and end Corey Wootton (9, 13) followed.
OFFENSIVE LINE: The only starter who didn’t play 100 percent of the snaps was right tackle Phil Loadholt, who limped off for one snap and returned. Backup Joe Berger played two snaps as an extra lineman in a goal-line formation. Mike Harris played the one snap that Loadholt missed. Atlanta’s front line isn’t the toughest test in the league by any stretch, but the offensive line deserves the MVP of this game. It was a dominant performance. The best we’ve seen in a long time.
RUNNING BACKS, FULLBACK:Now this breakdown was more like it. Finally, rookie Jerick McKinnon got some extended playing time with a season-high — by far — snap total of 32 (42 percent). Matt Asiata got 44 snaps (58 percent) and fullback Jerome Felton made the most of his 11 snaps (14 percent) with his best game of the year. He flattened a linebacker in the hole, allowing McKinnon to run free on his 55-yard run. For whatever reason, offensive coordinator Norv Turner trusted McKinnon more in this game and the result was a running attack that notched an unexpected 5.5-yard average, 244 yards and four touchdowns.
RECEIVERS, TIGHT ENDS: The big news here is the coaches sure like Chase Ford. Granted, he had been with the team before. But when he was brought back after Kyle Rudolph’s injury, the assumption (at least here) was he might be eased back in. But that wasn’t the case. Ford played 41 snaps (54 percent) while Rhett Ellison played 55 (72 percent). MarQuies Gray played only six snaps (eight percent). At receiver, Greg Jennings led the way with 72 snaps (95 percent). Cordarrelle Patterson (67 snaps, 88 percent), Jarius Wright (40, 53) and Adam Thielen (9, 12) followed. Hey, if you’re looking for something new to complain about after a win, we could start a campaign for Wright to get more playing time. After all, he did have game highs of eight catches and 132 yards while playing slightly less than half the offensive snaps.
QUARTERBACKS: For the second straight week, the Vikings ended the game with their backup quarterback, which means they also were one snap away from having to use Patterson or McKinnon as their emergency QB. You may have heard that Teddy Bridgewater started and played pretty well. He played 66 snaps (87 percent) before leaving the field with an ankle sprain that doesn’t appear to be serious. Christian Ponder played the final 10 snaps and didn’t attempt a pass.
|Oakland - J. Lester||7:07 PM|
|Kansas City - J. Shields|
|Minnesota||10/2/14 7:25 PM|
|Buffalo||10/5/14 12:00 PM|
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|Pittsburgh||10/5/14 12:00 PM|
|Arizona||10/5/14 3:05 PM|
|Kansas City||10/5/14 3:25 PM|
|NY Jets||10/5/14 3:25 PM|
|Cincinnati||10/5/14 7:30 PM|
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|(6) Texas A&M||10/4/14 11:00 AM|
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|New Mexico||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|(3) Alabama||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|(11) Ole Miss|
|(14) Stanford||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|(9) Notre Dame|
|(17) Wisconsin||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
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|(7) Baylor||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|(4) Oklahoma||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|Wake Forest||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|(1) Florida State|
|NC State||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
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|Oregon State||10/4/14 3:00 PM|
|Vanderbilt||10/4/14 3:00 PM|
|Kansas||10/4/14 3:00 PM|
|Kent State||10/4/14 4:00 PM|
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|Texas-El Paso||10/4/14 6:00 PM|
|(15) LSU||10/4/14 6:00 PM|
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|Edmonton||10/4/14 3:00 PM|
|Brt Columbia||10/4/14 6:00 PM|