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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Preseason highlights: Vikings have fewest turnovers, second-fewest penalties

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated August 29th at 10:55am 273190781

So how should we interpret an undefeated preseason?

Well, we know the Vikings are playing efficiently, confidently and successfully. We also know Thursday night’s 19-3 win at Tennessee completed the seventh unbeaten preseason in a franchise history that stretches to 1961.

Next up is the Sept. 7 regular season opener at St. Louis against a Rams team that’s missing its starting quarterback, Sam Bradford, who’s out for the season with another torn ACL.

So we all can write down 1-0 for the Vikings, eh?

Well …

Before we do that, let’s go back to 2001, the last time the Vikings were undefeated in the preseason. They were efficient, confident and were also coming off a trip to the NFC Championship game the year before.

The season opener also was at home against a Panthers team that was starting Chris Weinke, a rookie fourth-round draft pick, at quarterback.

Naturally, the Panthers won 24-13. The Vikings would win only five games that year. As for the Panthers, all they did was end the season on a 15-game losing streak.

But, with that in mind, Vikings fans should be encouraged by this year’s preseason.

Defensively, even with a somewhat vanilla approach that’s natural for the preseason, coach Mike Zimmer showcased an approach that was more unpredictable up front, tighter in coverage on the back end and just more aggressive and competitive overall.

A year ago, the Vikings ranked last in scoring defense, allowing 30 points per game. For what it’s worth, they were No. 2 (12.3) this preseason. Granted, it’s preseason. But something good is happening on that side of the ball.

Meanwhile, offensively, the same 11 starters return. But a better and more clear approach at quarterback coupled with the upgrade from Bill Musgrave to Norv Turner at coordinator makes it obvious that the ceiling is much higher this season.

The Vikings were 11th in scoring and third in rushing despite resting their best player, Adrian Peterson, for the entire preseason.

Although one should temper preseason statistics, here are three belonging to the Vikings that fans should feel good about regardless of whether it’s preseason or regular season.

Turnover differential: Plus-5. (No. 2 in the league).

Giveaways: 1.  (Tied for fewest in the league).

Penalties: 31. (Tied for second-fewest behind only San Francisco’s 29).

Access Vikings morning walkthrough: 4-0, Peterson, Ponder and more

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated August 29th at 7:58am 273169261

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

WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

— The Vikings finished the preseason unbeaten, defeating the Titans on Thursday.

— RB Adrian Peterson denied a report that he told Cowboys owner Jerry Jones he’d like to play for the Cowboys in the future.

— Head coach Mike Zimmer defended QB Christian Ponder after a solid performance.

— RB Joe Banyard made a strong push for a roster spot during the preseason.

TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY

AROUND THE NFC NORTH

— Lions rookie LB Kyle Van Noy underwent core muscle surgery and could miss the first of the season.

—Packers backup quarterbacks had good outings in the preseason finale.

Here’s a projected 53-man roster for the Bears after their fourth preseason game.

TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE

The Vikings have an off day after the final preseason game. The front office and the coaching staff will get a chance to evaluate the roster in an effort to trim to the roster down from 75 to 53 by 3 p.m. CT on Saturday.

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

Undrafted free agent rookie center Zac Kerin led the team with 60 snaps against the Titans. Cornerback Shaun Prater had 45 snaps, which lead the defense by playing 90 percent of the game.

Banyard makes strong argument for a roster spot

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated August 28th at 11:20pm 273137441

Looking a little exhausted after the Vikings ran him all over the rain-soaked LP Field tonight, second-year running back Joe Banyard said he had no idea he had just eclipsed 100 rushing yards.

Rushing for 111 yards on 18 carries, Banyard, who is battling for a roster spot, made a strong argument to be the team’s fourth running back behind Peterson, Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon.

“At the end of the day, I was just trying to do what’s best for this team,” said Banyard, who also had one catch for two yards. “If the opportunity was presenting itself, I was trying to capitalize on that.”

After McKinnon got three carries in the early going, Banyard took over as the primary ball-carrier and pretty much carried the offense on his back. He rushed for 59 yards on the team’s first two drives, and his 20-yard run down to the Tennessee 3-yard line on the opening drive set up rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s third-down touchdown pass to wide receiver Adam Thielen.

Banyard finished the preseason with a team-high 212 yards. He averaged 5.9 yards per attempt.

But head coach Mike Zimmer stopped short of saying that Banyard had locked down a roster spot.

“Joe has played good this whole preseason, and that’s another guy that is a good kid, that works real hard and he is showing up a lot in the preseason,” Zimmer said. “Him and [rookie] Dominique [Williams] have also both done nice jobs. We’ll sit down tomorrow and talk about those things.”

Even if Banyard doesn’t make the Vikings’ 53-man roster, he certainly put up some impressive tape during the preseason. So it’s going to be difficult for them to sneak him onto their practice squad.

Zimmer defends Ponder after positive performance

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated August 28th at 11:08pm 273136381

It took less than 20 seconds for Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer to bring up Christian Ponder in his post-game press conference after tonight’s 19-3 win over the Titans in the preseason finale, and he again staunchly defended the third-string quarterback.

“I’m especially proud of Christian Ponder because I know there’s been a lot of fans and a lot of people that have really been negative towards him,” Zimmer said. “And the guy’s been nothing but a first-class guy, works hard every single day and went on to perform well tonight.”

Ponder replaced starter Teddy Bridgewater at the 9:26 mark of the second quarter. He completed 12 of his 15 attempts for 121 yards with no touchdowns and no turnovers. He led the offense on three scoring drives and would have gotten them in the end zone if not for a drop at the goal line.

“I feel like I played well,” Ponder said. “There are some plays I’d like back. But overall, I’m pretty proud of the way I played and the way we all played.”

It was Ponder’s first appearance since the preseason opener, when he went just 3-for-7 for 39 yards in the fourth quarter of a 10-6 win over the Raiders. It might also have been a final audition of sorts for Ponder. Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner have said they would like to keep three quarterbacks, and there’s no reason to believe Ponder won’t be one of them. But at the very least, this might be the last time Ponder shows up on tape before his contract expires as season’s end.

“We did well and won the game, which is most important,” Ponder said. “I had fun. It was a fun environment to play in with the rain coming down, and we had a good time.”

Three things to watch during Titans-Vikings

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated August 28th at 4:51pm 273084671

We’re finally here. The final preseason game is upon us and real football is around the corner. But until the season opener against the Rams, the Vikings have their final exhibition game against the Titans on Thursday.

The big names and most of the starters likely won’t play, which will probably steer away the casual Vikings fan. Nevertheless, this game is important. It’ll be head coach Mike Zimmer’s last opportunity to evaluate his team before the Vikings trim the roster from 75 to 53 by Saturday at 3 p.m. CT. With that said, here’s three things to watch:

1. HOW MUCH WILL TEDDY PLAY? There’s a “good chance” rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will start, according to Zimmer. The quarterback competition was settled this week with Matt Cassel named as the starter, but this is still a good opportunity for Bridgewater. It’d be his first chance to start, and the last time Bridgewater will face another opponent for the foreseeable future. It’s unknown how much Bridgewater will play and when quarterback Christian Ponder will enter the game, but Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner would like to see the rookie wrap up a solid preseason against the Titans on a high note.

2. WHICH CORNERBACKS WILL START? A veteran like cornerback Captain Munnerlyn probably won’t play, but will Zimmer want to give Xavier Rhodes another game to get comfortable with the new scheme before the regular season? He made a few good plays against the Chiefs last week and will need to take that next step in his second season with the questionable depth at cornerback. Also, keep an eye on Josh Robinson and Shaun Prater, who had an interception against the Chiefs, and how much they’ll play against the Titans.

3. WHO WILL STAND OUT ON SPECIAL TEAMS? There’s a lot of pressure on some of players on the bubble to perform well one last time to make the 53-man roster. Keep an eye on who starts on the return and coverage teams on kickoffs and punts. The final guys vouching for a roster spot will likely make their biggest impact on special teams during the regular season and will be used accordingly in the final preseason game.

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