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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Zimmer on Sharrif Floyd and the 'big man's game'

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated February 27th at 12:14pm 294396561

It was about time for head coach Mike Zimmer to wrap up his official NFL scouting combine press conference last Thursday. All of the pressing questions, like the ones about Adrian Peterson and the team’s plans for free agency, had already been asked when a reporter slipped in a question about defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who thrived under Zimmer when healthy enough to play.

“Sharrif, I thought he had a good year,” Zimmer said. “He improved quite a bit. Losing weight at the beginning of the season helped him quite a bit. He changed his diet. And he’s a very conscientious hard-working kid who has a chance to be a very good three technique.”

That wasn’t all Zimmer had to say about Floyd, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

In his second NFL season, Floyd made 42 tackles, recorded 4.5 sacks and had 30 total quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, which was tied with Tom Johnson for the team lead among defensive tackles. PFF, by the way, graded him as one of the league’s best at his position.

Injuries were an issue, though, as Floyd missed two games and got knocked out of a couple others. As a result, he only played 52.5 percent of the defensive snaps in 2014.

Floyd’s level of durability was on Zimmer’s mind as he wrapped up his answer to that question.

“He’s got to continue to stay healthy,” Zimmer continued. “That will be a big thing for him. He’s got to understand that the NFL is a big man’s game. You have to go out and play all the time. But he’s a young developing player and I think he’ll get that figured out too.’’

I’ll let you read between the lines on that one.

Brandon Bostick opens up: 'I became the singular scapegoat'

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated February 26th at 12:16pm 294216941

Brandon Bostick, the tight end whom the Vikings claimed off waivers last week, has shared an interesting first-person piece for MMQB.com about his emotions and experiences in the aftermath of that botched attempt at recovering an onside kick late in last month’s NFC title game.

After Bostick’s special-teams miscue, the Seahawks went on to defeat his now-former team, the Packers, in overtime. He immediately became a scapegoat and is still trying to cope with the loss.

“There have been a few deaths in my family, and when I was in high school, a favorite uncle passed away. When he died, I didn’t cry because it didn’t feel real. The night of the NFC championship game kind of felt like that,” Bostick told MMQB.

“I knew it was a big deal. I knew it was a key mistake that cost us a trip to the Super Bowl. But, with all due respect, I think the media kind of took it and ran with it. I became the singular scapegoat. Social media didn’t help, either. I don’t know how many death threats I received, but there have been a lot. I still haven’t read most of the messages that people sent me, but I want to so I can deal with the consequences and use it as motivation. But it is physically impossible for me to read every troll’s comment; the volume is simply too much. So their comments sit there, untouched, maybe forever.”

Interestingly, former Browns running back Earnest Byner, who lost “The Fumble” in 1987 that cost the Browns the AFC title, called up Bostick in the days after the game and offered to give him guidance. Bostick said he and Byner have since talked once or twice a week.

I don’t want to steal all of Bostick’s thunder, so read the whole piece for yourself right here.

Vikings mock draft roundup: now in Waynes' world?

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated February 26th at 11:28am 294211321

The NFL scouting combine is now a few days behind us, which means the draftniks have had sufficient time to update their mock drafts to reflect what was learned in Indy.

It is still more than two months until the actual draft, and future events — none bigger than free agency — will shape how the first round of the draft actually plays out.

But if the draft were to take place today, it seems as if there is no consensus about which position the Vikings will target first. Sure, a number of the mock drafts I pulled up still had them taking a wide receiver, a popular pick the last time I did this roundup. But now we are starting to see some new names linked to the Vikings in these premature projections.

One in particular keeps popping up. That would be Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes, who helped himself by running one of the fastest forty times down in Indy. The Vikings could use another quality cornerback, especially in this division, so the connection does sound logical.

Anyway, check out which prospects are being mocked to the Vikings in these notable mock drafts:

Pat Kirwan, CBS Sports: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia. “After White’s performance at the combine the Vikings will be lucky if he is still on the board when they pick,” Kirwan wrote. “White is big, fast and productive and is a perfect fit in Norv Turner’s offense. Teddy Bridgewater could have AP behind him and White and Patterson out wide which puts this team on the map.”

Matt Miller, Bleacher Report: DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville. “Reunited and it feels so good for DeVante Parker and his college quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The two Louisville Cardinals need each other — Teddy needs a legitimate No. 1 receiver and Parker will step into an NFL offense begging for his ability in the red zone,” Miller wrote. “With freakish size, game speed and the ability to post up in the end zone, Parker has the skill set needed to open up the Minnesota offense with speedsters like Jarius Wright and the big-play potential of Cordarrelle Patterson.”

Todd McShay, ESPN: Waynes. “I think this pick could come down to Waynes and Louisville receiver DeVante Parker, who was Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s favorite target at Louisville and is a top-10 player on our board,” McShay wrote. “But Minnesota really needs help at corner, so I’ll go with Waynes. He really helped himself at the combine by running a 4.31 40-yard dash, which eliminated any concerns about his speed after showing a little bit of tightness on tape. He is a technically sound cover corner with good instincts and football character. Plus, he plays hard and isn’t afraid to show up in run support.”

Peter King, MMQB: Waynes. “Even if the Adrian Peterson thing blows up and the Vikings lose him and they love Melvin Gordon … Mike Zimmer likes his front’s ability to pressure the quarterback,” King wrote. “Now he wants a corner to play with Xavier Rhodes as his two long-term cover guys in a division with very good quarterbacking.”

Eric Galko, Optimum Scouting: Parker. “Norv Turner recently said that Charles Johnson is the Vikings’ best receiver. That’s basically code for, ‘We need to upgrade at receiver,’” Galko wrote. “Parker is in the mix for the top receiver in the class, and his relationship with Teddy Bridgewater gives him the nod over the other options here [including White].”

Peter Schrager, Fox Sports: Waynes. “Waynes could go earlier, depending on team needs in the top 10. He is a 6-foot, 186-pound corner who starred in a man-to-man defense at Michigan State. He worked on an island against some of the best in the country,” Schrager wrote. “He does it all and runs a 4.32 40-yard dash. Mike Zimmer is a defensive backs coach at heart and there are never enough corners in a division with Aaron Rodgers, Matt Stafford and Jay Cutler.”

Eric Edholm, Yahoo Sports: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa. “The guard-tackle versatility would allow Scherff to start inside as a rookie and kick out to tackle eventually if the Vikings don’t re-sign Matt Kalil after 2015 or decide to part ways with Phil Loadholt,” Edholm wrote. “Scherff is already an established run blocker who fits what the Vikings want to do offensively.”

Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama. “Cooper would be a steal for the Vikings and their young franchise quarterback,” Jeremiah wrote.

Don Banks, Sports Illustrated: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford. “Passing up Teddy Bridgewater’s former Louisville teammate, receiver DeVante Parker, probably won’t be a popular move in many places,” Banks wrote. “But solidifying the offensive line and protecting the young quarterback is paramount, and Peat addresses one of the team’s weakest links.”

Matt Brown, Sports on Earth: Waynes. How often does the extremely obvious mock draft pick actually happen? Understandably, DeVante Parker has long been pegged to the Vikings, who need another outside receiver. Who better to pair with Teddy Bridgewater than his top college target?” Brown wrote. “But the wide receiver depth in this draft is strong; the Vikings may instead opt to take the top cornerback on the board. Waynes further established himself in that position after running a blistering 4.32 in the 40.”

Some NFL free agency 'don'ts'

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated February 25th at 12:09pm 294054531

A week from Saturday, NFL teams and agents for players who will become unrestricted free agents are allowed to begin negotiating. But they can’t sign off on a deal until 3 p.m. CT on March 10, three days later.

This, of course, causes concern among those of us who need official NFL-approved COUNTDOWN CLOCKS!! to get through our year. While we figure out whether to set ours to March 7 or 3:00.00 on March 10, we’ll toss out over the next two days one person’s list of three do’s and three don’ts for free agency. (And, yes, there are always going to be exceptions to every do or don’t.)

There should be more don’ts than do’s in free agency (see: 2014 Free Agency “Winner” Tampa Bay), so we’ll start with the don’ts today and finish with the do’s on Thursday:

Free agency DON’T No. 1: NO ONE OVER 28.

Don’t fall in love with the past. Players are either getting better or  getting old. The league’s great personnel men have no rear view mirrors and a keen sense for Father Time’s tipping point.

Generally, 30 is the frowned-upon age in free agency. The frown here is directed at anyone not coming off his rookie contract. Twenty-seven tends to be the perfect intersection for necessary youth, experience, hunger, upside and reliable durability.

Free agency DON’T No. 2: NO RUNNING BACKS.

I’m not devaluing the position. I think it remains an important position in a league that’s not only pass-happy, but pass-rusher-happy. If nothing else, someone has to keep the pass rushers honest and the extra DBs from flooding the field and staring down the QB.

However, I just think, as a general rule of thumb (Note: General rules of thumb don’t apply to a certain 2012 league MVP),  there are too many other avenues to acquire younger running backs who can make an immediate and acceptable impact, and are less likely to break down during a long season.

It’s an unfortunate “don’t” for a guy such as Demarco Murray, but that’s just how it is. His great season in 2014 included too many touches for it to work in his favor in 2015. At least not from this vantage point.

As I said earlier, there are exceptions. Peterson would be a classic exception to the first two “don’ts.” In a risk/reward scenario, I’d push the chips toward Peterson’s talent and determination.

Darren Sproles was another good exception a year ago. He was a running back turning 30, but he also was still very much the toughest and most unique matchup at running back in the league.

Free agency DON’T No. 3: NO KNUCKLEHEADS OR INJURED PLAYERS.

Building a roster is difficult enough without having to count on knuckleheads not to be knuckleheads for seven months. Just ask the Browns.

Last fall, the Vikings needed a no-name receiver — Charles Johnson — to come out of nowhere to help them fill out a pro-caliber receiving corps. We all bundled up the fault for this and dumped it at the feet of Cordarrelle Patterson, who was slow to understand the mental commitment needed to succeed at this level.

What we all should have done was take a big chunk of that finger-pointing and direct it toward Jerome Simpson, a classic knucklehead who couldn’t graduate from Knucklehead U.

Simpson seemed like a good dude, but he came to the Vikings via free agency with a proven track record as a knucklehead. He even had the jail time and the impending NFL suspension to prove it.

He messed up again. Got another suspension. Messed up while on that suspension and was tossed aside quietly while the team dealt with the Peterson fiasco last season.

When the roster was put together, Simpson was counted on to help out. But, predictably, he did what knuckleheads tend to do: he wasted a precious roster spot and left his team scrambling to fill a hole that’s not easy to fill during the season.

NFL combine recap: Vikings takeaways, winners, losers

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated February 24th at 2:25pm 293888431

The NFL scouting combine is over, and the GMs, coaches, scouts, agents and pesky reporters have vacated Lucas Oil Field, the fancy hotels and expensive steakhouses where their business is done.

So what did we learn? Who helped themselves? Who hurt themselves?

Here is a quick wrap-up of the week in Indianapolis, with a Vikings slant:

FIVE VIKINGS TAKEAWAYS:

1. The relationship between the Vikings and Adrian Peterson is rockier than they had been making it seem. The team embarked on a media campaign to voice its support for the suspended running back and GM Rick Spielman said Wednesday that he expected Peterson to be back. A day later, Peterson pumped the breaks in an interview with ESPN, saying that he feels “uneasy” about a return. And then there was that reported dust-up between Peterson’s agent and a key Vikings exec. While I’m sure Peterson means what he said about feeling betrayed by the team’s decision to get him placed on the commissioner’s exempt list, this conflict will probably come down to money. Both sides will dig in their heels and it’s too soon to say how this saga will end up playing out.

2. There is a 99 percent chance that the Vikings are going to take a running back in this draft. Head coach Mike Zimmer said Thursday that the team won’t have much interest in free-agent backs, so Peterson being suspended until April 15 won’t really impact their offseason plan at the position. Spielman likes the top-end talent and depth of this running back class, and while I don’t think he will like Melvin Gordon or Todd Gurley enough to use the 11th overall pick on one of them, I do think the Vikings will come away with a running back they like. Yes, even if Peterson does return.

3. The Vikings are doing their due diligence on some of the top linebackers. We shouldn’t obsess too much over who the Vikings did and didn’t speak with at the combine. After all, they get 60 formal interviews there and had informal talks with other prospects. But still, it was noteworthy that they chatted with a number of linebackers who could go in the first round. That list included Washington outside linebacker Shaq Thompson, two of the top middle linebackers in Miami’s Denzel Perryman and Mississippi State’s Benardrick McKinney, and a pair of edge rushers in Clemson’s Vic Beasley and Florida’s Dante Fowler. Which prospects they bring in for workouts will be more significant, but it seems the Vikings are open to drafting a linebacker early for a second straight year.

4. If the Vikings were hoping Alabama’s Amari Cooper or West Virginia’s Kevin White would drop to them at No. 11, they left Indianapolis disappointed. Both of those wide receivers likely solidified themselves as top-10 selections with strong workouts. Cooper ran well and, as expected, looked good in receiver drills. White showed off 4.35 speed and athleticism to go with his 6-foot-3 frame, and now draft analysts are saying he has more upside than Cooper, the more polished player right now. If the Vikings want one of those guys, Trader Rick will probably have to do his thing again.

5. The Vikings probably aren’t going to go crazy in free agency. Zimmer admitted as much last week, saying the team isn’t likely to sign a top-tier free agent and stating his preference to sign lower-level free-agents and coach them up as best as he can. Organizationally, that makes sense, not just because few, if any, teams that “win the offseason” ended up winning the Super Bowl. Remember how the Vikings have gotten praise for drafting Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, Teddy Bridgewater and four other young guys in the first round the past three years? Well, those guys aren’t going to be young for much longer, meaning they will be up for contract extensions soon. The Vikings, who prefer to give big bucks to their own players, will be conscious of that as they enter free agency.

FIVE WINNERS (IN NO ORDER):

1. Jameis Winston. The Florida State quarterback did his thing in throwing drills and reportedly fared well in team interviews, too. He is the clear favorite to go first overall to the Buccaneers.

2. Top-12 teams that don’t need a quarterback. With Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota both answering the bell in Indy, they will go early, pushing two talented non-passers down in the draft.

3. Trae Waynes. The Michigan State cornerback might have locked himself in as the top corner in this class with a 4.31 in the 40-yard dash. Could he be of interest to the Vikings at No. 11 overall?

4. Cooper and White. See above. Louisville’s DeVante Parker did well, too. They’re all top-20 picks.

5. Edge rushers. Prospects such as Fowler, Beasley, Kentucky’s Bud Dupree and UCLA’s Owa Odighizuwa had strong workouts. This looks like a good year for teams in need of an impact rusher.

FIVE LOSERS (IN NO ORDER):

1. Running backs. While this is a deep class, their times, outside of a few exceptions, weren’t exactly eye-popping. But will that prompt teams to maybe check out some tape again? Maybe. Maybe not.

2. Tight ends. Maxx Williams fared OK with a 4.77 in the 40-yard dash, but beyond him, this looks to be an underwhelming tight end class, which actually makes Williams a winner. He seems likely to go in the top 30 picks at this point, and he could even sneak up into the teens with a strong pro day.

3. Devin Funchess and Shaq Thompson. These two guys entered the combine as two of the most versatile players in the draft. But they might have left as prospects without a position. Funchess, the Michigan wide receiver, ran like a tight end. And Thompson did not run as well as hoped.

4. My offseason diet. I had been doing so well, but scouts left town disappointed with my physique.

5. The Vikings and Adrian Peterson. With Peterson sounding off on the Vikings and his agent and a team exec getting into a public spat, this week was not a good one for either side as the extent of their frayed relationship became public. This does not mean this relationship cannot be repaired. But as my colleague Mark Craig wrote a couple hours ago, it is going to take some compromise.

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