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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Vikings 2015 schedule set, open season on Monday night

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated April 22nd at 7:50am 300864881

The Vikings regular season schedule was officially announced on Tuesday. They’ll open the season at San Francisco to face the 49ers on Sept. 14. It’ll be the second game of the Monday night doubleheader during Week 1.

It will be the Vikings’ seventh season opener on the road since 2008. The only year in that stretch that they’ve started the season at home was in 2012 against the Jaguars.

It’ll be the Vikings’ 57th game on Monday night and the first since 2013 when quarterback Josh Freeman against the Giants in Week 7.

The tradition continues with the Vikings closing the regular season against an NFC North opponent. They will travel to Lambeau Field to face the Packers in the season finale. The 109th meeting will mark the first time these two teams meet in January for a regular season game. It’s the first time since 1996 the Vikings will close the season at Lambeau Field. Since 2000, every regular season has concluded against a divisional opponent.

The Vikings will play their final home game at TCF Bank Stadium in Week 16 against the Giants. They will move into their new stadium in 2016 after playing outdoors for two seasons.

Here’s the full Vikings schedule:

Week 1 (Sept. 14): at San Francisco (Monday night)
Week 2 (Sept. 20: vs. Detroit
Week 3 (Sept. 27): vs. San Diego
Week 4 (Oct. 4): at Denver
Week 5: BYE
Week 6 (Oct. 18): vs. Kansas City
Week 7 (Oct. 25): at Detroit
Week 8 (Nov. 1): at Chicago
Week 9 (Nov. 8): vs. St. Louis
Week 10 (Nov. 15): at Oakland
Week 11 (Nov. 22): vs. Green Bay
Week 12 (Nov. 29): at Atlanta
Week 13 (Dec. 6): vs. Seattle
Week 14 (Dec. 10): at Arizona (Thursday night)
Week 15 (Dec. 20): vs. Chicago
Week 16 (Dec. 27): vs. New York Giants
Week 17 (Jan. 3): at Green Bay

NFL Draft Truth or Hype: Missouri DE Shane Ray

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated April 21st at 1:17pm 300811951

We’ll take a daily look at some of the most talked about prospects in the 2015 NFL Draft and tell you whether they’re worth the hype or not.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m intrigued by some of the top edge rushers in this draft. We’ve already looked at Nebraska’s Randy Gregory, Clemson’s Vic Beasley and now we’ll review Missouri’s Shane Ray.

He’s featured on ESPN’s Draft Academy, which follows a few prospects around before the NFL Draft. It’s a really good show and touches Ray’s rough background. His father, Wendell, was a star defensive end at Missouri but left Ray and his mother at an early age. I can’t find a link but make sure you have a tissue in hand when if you watch it.

Ray went on to play the same position as his father at the same school. He’s listed at 6-3 and 245 pounds.

By The Numbers:

Freshman (12 games): 16 tackles (eight solo), 2.5 tackles for loss

Sophomore (14 games): 39 tackles (27 solo), 4.5 sacks, nine tackles for loss, one touchdown, two forced fumbles

Junior (14 games): 65 tackles (47 solo), 14.5 sacks, 22.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles

Ray set Missouri’s single season sack record last year while earning SEC Defensive Player of the Year. He also received consensus first-team All-America honors, ranking third in the country in sacks and tackles for loss. Similar to the other edge rushers we’ve reviewed that are expected to go in the first round, Ray was a really good pass rusher in college last year.

NFL Combine/Pro Day results:

40-yard dash: 4.64 and 4.65 seconds

Bench press (225 pounds): 21 reps

Vertical: 33.5 inches

Broad jump: 10 feet

Ray only participated in the bench press at the NFL Combine due to a foot injury he suffered against the Gophers in the Citrus Bowl. He ran the 40-yard dash at Missouri’s pro day and his times would’ve slotted him with the third fastest time for a defensive end. Stacked up against the linebackers however, and Ray’s 40-time would be outside the top 10.

The Film

Maybe it’s due to his background, but Ray plays with a lot of anger and rage once that ball is snapped. It’s all controlled, but you can tell that football was his outlet in life express his emotions. He wants to destroy the quarterback, and I love that.

Compared to Gregory and Beasley, Ray is the better pass rusher. As a 4-3 defensive end, he was very unpredictable as a pass rusher. The example above shows his ability to counter inside, but he could also bull rush and speed rush from the outside. He’s more powerful and more advanced with his hands than Gregory or Beasley. Ray could also rush as a three-technique defensive tackle on third downs.

He threw around a lot of offensive linemen in college surprisingly despite only weighing 245 pounds. That’s the biggest concern with Ray is where exactly will he play in the NFL. He appears to be too light as a defensive end, but I think that’s where Ray will succeed in the NFL. The issue with just assuming someone can just throw on weight is you’re not exactly sure how a prospect’s body will respond to playing a new weight, but I wouldn’t be too concerned with Ray.  The biggest concern might be losing some of his quickness, but he’s such a good pass rusher that a lot of his skills can translate to the next level.

I don’t think he’s an outside linebacker, however. He moves a lot better with his hand in the dirt as a 4-3 defensive end than he does dropping back into coverage. It just doesn’t appear to be a fluid movement and comes off looking stiff on tape. Outside of his size, there aren’t too many flaws on tape. He is what he is — a good pass rusher and a disruptive defensive lineman.

If the Vikings had their choice between Ray, Gregory or Beasley at No. 11 though, I think I’d pick Beasley. He’s the only one versatile enough to play both defensive end and linebacker. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer loves that kind of flexibility from his defensive players.

Ray should be selected within the first half of the first round, though. It would make a lot of sense for the Falcons to pick Ray with the eighth pick because their defensive line couldn’t produce a pass rush last year. Ray would be an instant upgrade.

Verdict: Truth as a 4-3 defensive end. Hype as a linebacker in any scheme.

2015 Vikings schedule to be unveiled tonight

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated April 21st at 12:07pm 300800191

The 2015 NFL regular season schedule will be released tonight at 7 p.m. CDT. Both ESPN and NFL Network will also air “schedule release specials” if you’re sick of watching “The Big Bang Theory.”

We have known for a few months now which teams the Vikings, who finished third in the NFC North in 2014, would play this season and where. The Vikings play the NFC West and AFC West this year, in addition to the six games with their own division and two others against other NFC teams.

But we don’t know when the Vikings will play those specific teams. That changes tonight.

Vikings’ home opponents: Bears, Lions, Packers, Seahawks, Rams, Chiefs, Chargers, Giants.

Vikings’ away opponents: Bears, Lions, Packers, Cardinals, 49ers, Broncos, Raiders, Falcons.

Off the Board: Top pass rushers fall to the Vikings

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated April 21st at 2:41pm 300790791

The early going of the first round of next week’s NFL draft could be dominated by pass rushers, with several collegiate sack specialists currently being hailed as top-10 talents by the draftniks.

But then again, three wide receivers are being called top-10 talents by some of those analysts, too. And there are a couple of quarterbacks who will surely go early, as will USC defensive end Leonard Williams. A couple of offensive linemen could come off the board before the Vikings pick, too.

So it’s not out of the question that a really good pass rusher could still be there at pick No. 11.

What might the Vikings do if that happens? In the latest installment of our “Off the Board” series, we tackle that quandary by creating a scenario in which two of the top edge rushers in the eyes of those draftniks make it out of the top 10. Would the Vikings, who return starters in Everson Griffen and Brian Robison, pounce? Read on for our projection of how that scenario could play out.

1. Buccaneers: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State. As the draft nears, some of my media peers are hearing rumblings the Bucs aren’t sold on Winston. I’m not buying it. I still think he’s the pick.

2. Titans: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon. Whether it’s the Titans or some other team, someone is going to select Mariota here. And since we aren’t doing trades this time around, it will be the Titans.

3. Jaguars: Leonard Williams, DE, USC. The Jaguars are probably going to get the chance to select their preferred defender. They may prefer an edge rusher, but let’s give them Williams.

4. Raiders: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia. The ghost of Al Davis turns in this pick for the Raiders, who get a tall, fast athlete who some feel has the most upside in this wide receiver class.

5. Redskins: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama. We’ve got wide-outs going back to back. The Redskins, who don’t have a short-term need at receiver, still take this smooth pass-catcher.

6. Jets: Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida. The Jets are the first team to scoop up a pass rusher, adding Fowler to a revamped defensive unit that should be one of the league’s best this season.

7. Bears: Danny Shelton, NT, Washington. The Bears would be tempted by some of these pass rushers, too. But they also need a stout run-stuffer on the inside, and Shelton is the top nose tackle.

8. Falcons: Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Clemson. The Falcons are another team in need of a pass rusher, and they can’t resist Beasley, who made a ton of plays on the edge at Clemson.

9. Giants: Brandon Scherff, OL, Iowa. The Giants have a history of taking pass rushers in the first round. But in this instance, they pass on one, too, and add a potential Vikings target in Scherff.

10. Rams: Devante Parker, WR, Louisville. The Rams might favor White or Cooper, but they are both gone already. That’s OK, though. Some analysts see Parker as a top-10 talent, too.

11. Vikings: Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska. Scherff and Parker, two players linked to the Vikings in mock drafts, are off the board. But the Vikings probably wouldn’t be displeased with how this board fell. Another Vikings target in Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes is still available, as are pass rushers such as Missouri’s Shane Ray and Gregory, who failed a drug test at the scouting combine. Cornerback is a greater need now, but the Vikings, who have done their homework on Gregory, may do backflips if this playmaker tumbles out of the top 10 picks and into their laps.

OK, your turn. Leave a comment to tell me who you would want the Vikings to pick in this scenario.

Vikings draft positional primer: the offensive line

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated April 21st at 9:38am 300781841

Each day this week, we will break down where the Vikings stand at certain positions heading into next week’s NFL draft. Today, we continue the series with the offensive line.

The Vikings will have a new starter along the offensive line this season. But who will it be?

They released veteran left guard Charlie Johnson in the offseason, leaving a starting spot up for grabs. It remains to be seen whether David Yankey can seamlessly transition into a starter after spending his entire rookie season on the bench, or if the Vikings find a starter at some point in the draft. If both options fail, the Vikings re-signed veteran Joe Berger as a safety net and won’t be forced to reach on a guard.

It’s almost a guarantee that General Manager Rick Spielman’s draft classes will include an offensive lineman. The only year Spielman hasn’t selected an offensive lineman during his tenure with the Vikings was in 2007. Plenty of mock drafts have the Vikings selecting an offensive lineman in the first round, particularly Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff. While Scherff is a talented prospect, the move would be out of the ordinary for Spielman. The only lineman he’s selected in the first round was left tackle Matt Kalil with the fourth overall pick.

The Vikings were decimated by injuries along the offensive line last year, particularly on the right side. Right guard Brandon Fusco and right tackle Phil Loadholt both tore their pectoral muscles and were placed on injured reserve. They should be set outside of guard, however.

Projected starters: Kalil at left tackle, Berger at left guard (for now), John Sullivan at center, Fusco at right guard and Loadholt at right tackle.

Don’t forget about: Berger has been a reliable veteran for the Vikings over the past four years. He made nine starts last year and held his own. He’s penciled in as the starter for now at left guard, but the Vikings hope that either Yankey will develop into a starter or they find a starter in the draft.

Level of need: High. It’s among the top three biggest needs along with linebacker and cornerback. They settled on bringing Johnson back last year, and it turned out to be a bad decision. The Vikings didn’t address the need of a left guard in free agency and can’t go into training camp assuming Yankey or Berger will pan out. One of their first three picks next week must be an offensive lineman.

Five prospects to remember: Iowa OT Brandon Scherff, Duke OG Laken Tomlinson, Hobart OG Ali Marpet, Alabama OG Arie Kouandjio and Oregon OT Jake Fisher

Our best guess: The Vikings will pass on selecting an offensive lineman in the first round and look for Day 2 prospects to fill the need at left guard. Tomlinson and Marpet are two guards in this draft to keep an eye on that fit the description. Tomlinson appears to be a second-round pick, while Marpet could slide into the third round.

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Atlanta - LP: J. Johnson 0 FINAL
Philadelphia - WP: K. Giles 1
NY Mets - LP: J. deGrom 1 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: M. Pineda 6
Boston - WP: A. Ogando 7 FINAL
Baltimore - LP: B. Matusz 5
Cleveland - WP: D. Salazar 13 FINAL
Detroit - LP: S. Greene 1
Chicago Cubs - WP: J. Motte 7 FINAL
Cincinnati - LP: B. Badenhop 3
Washington - LP: T. Roark 2 FINAL
Miami - WP: B. Morris 3
Toronto - LP: R. Dickey 3 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: J. Dominguez 12
St. Louis - WP: C. Martinez 3 FINAL
Milwaukee - LP: M. Garza 0
Kansas City 2 Suspended
Chicago WSox 2
San Francisco - LP: C. Heston 4 FINAL
Colorado - WP: E. Butler 6
Pittsburgh - WP: G. Cole 4 FINAL
Arizona - LP: J. Collmenter 1
Houston - WP: L. Gregerson 5 FINAL
Oakland - LP: E. O`Flaherty 4
Texas - LP: K. Kela 2 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: G. Richards 3
Los Angeles - WP: Z. Greinke 3 FINAL
San Diego - LP: A. Cashner 0
Minnesota - LP: P. Hughes 0 FINAL
Seattle - WP: F. Hernandez 2
Houston 130 FINAL
Dallas 128
Toronto 99 FINAL
Washington 106
LA Clippers 73 FINAL
San Antonio 100
Ottawa 5 FINAL
Montreal 1
Pittsburgh 1 FINAL(OT)
NY Rangers 2
Minnesota 4 FINAL
St. Louis 1
New York City 0 FINAL
Chicago 1
FC Dallas 1 FINAL
Colorado 1

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