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.
Every weekday, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening with the team that day.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
— Head coach Mike Zimmer named Matt Cassel his starting quarterback.
— Backup QB Teddy Bridgewater still thinks Minnesota is a perfect situation for him.
— S Mistral Raymond and CB Derek Cox were among the team’s first roster cuts.
— The Vikings activated TE Chase Ford from the PUP list.
— Zimmer is apparently not a big fan of Pro Football Focus.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
— Jason McIntyre (@jasonrmcintyre) August 25, 2014
AROUND THE NFC NORTH
— Jimmy Clausen won the battle to be the Bears’ backup quarterback.
— Rookie C Corey Linsley must step up with J.C. Tretter sidelined.
— The Lions claimed two tight ends off of waivers.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
After the morning walkthrough, coordinators Norv Turner and George Edwards will chat with reporters at 11 a.m. and the locker room will be open. The Vikings start practice at 12:50 p.m.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
Zimmer cares not for the grades from Pro Football Focus, but he may not mind seeing that they have graded Everson Griffen the third highest among 4-3 defensive ends during the preseason. They have Griffen down for eight total quarterback pressures in 53 total snaps as a pass rusher.
Tight end Chase Ford was activated off the physically unable to perform list on Monday. He participated in his first practice since minicamp after missing all of training camp and three preseason games with a broken left foot.
“It feels real good to be back,” Ford said.
It was Zimmer’s first chance to see Ford in pads. Zimmer said Ford has been cleared to do everything based on the rehab reports he’s received.
“We’ll have to see what kind of condition he is in, his recall for the plays,” Zimmer said. “He’s been out here and watching but that doesn’t mean that he knows the plays and being able to execute them and what kind of blocking he does. These next 13 days will be important for him.”
While Ford returned, there were 11 players either sidelined with an injury or absent from practice. Wide receiver Rodney Smith, offensive tackle Phil Loadholt (ankle), defensive tackle Fred Evans, nose tackle Linval Joseph (leg), linebacker Gerald Hodges (knee), cornerback Jabari Price and safety Jamarca Sanford (quad) did not participate but were at practice.
Joseph, Hodges and Price all worked on conditioning during the start of practice. While the injury is unknown, Smith landed awkwardly on his neck recovering an onside kick late in Saturday’s game against the Chiefs.
Linebacker Anthony Barr, safety Chris Crocker and linebackers Michael Mauti and Brandon Watts were not on the practice field.
Before Mike Zimmer fielded questions from reporters today, he made a few announcements.
One was that he had picked a QB. We knew that was coming. Another was that a bunch of players were released. We figured that one would be coming, too. But the last announcement Zimmer made came out of nowhere, and it was about one of the most popular NFL analytics sites on the web.
Zimmer aired out his reservations about Pro Football Focus, a website whose data we sometimes use on this blog. While he was polite about it, the Vikings head coach made it clear he has concerns about their individual grades for players, which are done by a grader watching the coaches film.
“I look at the grades and I can’t tell you what a 0.7 is or anything like that,” said Zimmer, who is in his first year as head coach. “I know the people that are grading our games and our defenses and our offenses, they don’t know if the tackle gets beat inside he wasn’t sliding out to the nickel, or who our guys are supposed to cover. I guarantee they don’t know who’s in our blitz package and what they’re supposed to do. I would just ask that everybody take that with a grain of salt, including our fans. We as coaches get paid a whole bunch of money to do the jobs that we do, evaluate the players that we evaluate and grade them how we grade them, not based on something else.”
For a full explanation from Pro Football Focus on how and why they do their grades, click right here.
We occasionally reference their grades on this blog, but we try to be careful about it for the same reason Zimmer stated. In some cases, it’s obvious when a defensive end makes a great play or a receiver drops a pass he shouldn’t have. In other cases, the evaluations get a little murky.
That being said, PFF is a great resource for advanced stats on things like a wide receiver’s catch rate, which linemen the backs run behind most and which pass rushers disrupt quarterbacks most.
Peter King of MMQB wrote today that 13 teams currently have contracts with Pro Football Focus.
The NFL has certainly embraced the use of analytics in chorus with their own scouting and player evaluation, with some teams embracing it firmer than others. Sure, there are plenty of old-school coaches and scouts — I’m not saying Zimmer is one of them — who may always be skeptical of what someone with a calculator tells them opposed to seeing it with their own two eyes. But teams such as the Ravens, Jaguars, Browns, Rams and Bills have dipped their toes into the analytical waters.
The Jaguars even said one PFF study helped convince them to draft tackle Luke Joeckel in 2013.
But when it comes to grading players, Zimmer made it clear that the Vikings will stick with their own grades, though something tells me they won’t be publishing them to the internet like PFF does.
The announcement that came as no surprise to anyone outside of the organization was of no surprise to the two participants as well.
Matt Cassel, were you surprised to be named the Vikings starting quarterback this morning?
“To be honest with you, I worked tremendously hard this offseason to put myself in this position,” he said. “I’m excited that it’s gone the way it has. I played well in the preseason and I’m excited that the coach has given me the confidence and the trust to name me the starter.”
What about you, runner-up Teddy Bridgewater? Are you surprised?
“Not at all,” he said. “Matt has been playing some good football so far. He’s been great at mentoring the guys in the room. It was an overall team decision and I’m very excited for Matt.”
Cassel praised Bridgewater’s play — which includes a preseason with no turnovers and a passer rating of 117.1 — and Bridgewater returned the compliments later on.
“I take my hats off to Matt,” Bridgewater said. “He’s been playing great this preseason. I’m just going to continue to learn under him.”
For Cassel, today’s news was the latest in a wild ride that’s seen him go from Tom Brady’s backup to beloved Pro Bowler in Kansas City, to despised outcast to last year’s three-headed quarterbacking fiasco in Minnesota to redeemed starter heading into the regular season opener at St. Louis on Sept. 7.
“I’ve been through a lot in my career,” he said. “I’ve been through the ups, I’ve been through the downs. I’ve been through the highs and the lows, so at this point, nothing really surprises me in my career. So I think because of those, it calluses you to a few different situations that as a younger player, I might not have taken it as well.”
Meanwhile, Bridgewater, the rookie first-round draft pick, said he hasn’t changed his initial opinion about the Vikings and how he fits into their future.
“As I stated once I got drafted, I felt like this was the perfect situation for me,” he said. “Right now, I’m just able to learn, sit back and continue to learn, but also learn and prepare myself as a starter because as a backup you’re one play away from being out there on the gridiron with the guys.”
Head coach Mike Zimmer just made the big announcement that should have surprised no one.
“Matt Cassel will be the starter going into the season,” Zimmer said after the morning walkthrough.
Zimmer told the team this morning that he would go with Cassel over rookie Teddy Bridgewater for the season opener in St. Louis, now just 13 days away. Cassel has started every preseason game, completing 66.7 percent of his attempts for 367 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
“Matt did not do anything to lose the job this preseason,” Zimmer said. “I think he’s played great. I think the team has a lot of confidence in him. They feel good about the veteran leadership and presence, and I had to think about the whole football team. It wasn’t just about the quarterbacks. It’s not always the best player at that position — and I’m not saying that Matt’s not. … It’s all about how everything works together. And at this stage, where we’re at right now, it’s the best thing to do.”
Zimmer had a conversation with Bridgewater about the decision, and he said that the first-round pick handled it well. He pointed out that Bridgewater was in this position his first year at Louisville.
“I told Teddy this morning that I’m so happy that he’s here with us,” Zimmer said. “I’m glad he’s the guy we picked. I love everything that he’s done. It wasn’t anything that Teddy did or didn’t do. Teddy will be still, in my estimation, a great player for this franchise for years to come.”
After an uneven performance in his first preseason game, Bridgewater has been efficient, and he led a game-winning drive in the second. He has completed 26 of his 40 attempts for 266 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions, and his passer rating is 117.3, better than Cassel’s 103.3.
While Zimmer has confidence in Cassel — who has started 68 NFL games, including six here last season — he did indicate that Cassel will have to play well early in the season to hold onto his job.
“We will hold the quarterback position to the exact same expectations as we do every other position. If you perform, you play. If you don’t, then somebody else will get an opportunity at some point,” Zimmer said. “That position, just like the outside linebacker spot, we have an expectation for performance. And as long as those guys perform, they’ll play.”
|Cincinnati||0||Bottom 1st Inning|
|Minnesota||0||Bottom 1st Inning|
|NY Yankees||0||Bottom 1st Inning|
|Philadelphia||0||Top 1st Inning|
|Boston||0||Top 1st Inning|
|Miami - T. Koehler||6:35 PM|
|Atlanta - E. Santana|
|Cleveland - D. Salazar||7:10 PM|
|Kansas City - J. Vargas|
|Detroit - J. Verlander||7:10 PM|
|Chicago WSox - S. Carroll|
|Texas - S. Baker||7:10 PM|
|Houston - B. Oberholtzer|
|Chicago Cubs - K. Hendricks||7:15 PM|
|St. Louis - S. Miller|
|Colorado - C. Bergman||8:40 PM|
|Arizona - J. Collmenter|
|Oakland - J. Lester||9:05 PM|
|LA Angels - J. Weaver|
|Los Angeles - D. Haren||9:10 PM|
|San Diego - A. Cashner|
|Washington - J. Zimmermann||9:10 PM|
|Seattle - F. Hernandez|
|Milwaukee - W. Peralta||9:15 PM|
|San Francisco - R. Vogelsong|
|Green Bay||9/4/14 7:30 PM|
|(21) Texas A&M||52||FINAL|
|(9) So Carolina||28|
|(18) Ole Miss||35|
|(19) Arizona State||45|
|BYU||7||1st Qtr 9:56|
|(6) Jacksonville St||6:30 PM|
|(8) Michigan State|
|Bowling Green||6:30 PM|
|TX-San Antonio||8:00 PM|
|Colorado State||8:00 PM|
|Penn State||8/30/14 7:30 AM|
|Troy||8/30/14 11:00 AM|
|(7) UCLA||8/30/14 11:00 AM|
|Western Mich||8/30/14 11:00 AM|
|(5) Ohio State||8/30/14 11:00 AM|
|Appalachian St||8/30/14 11:00 AM|
|Ga Southern||8/30/14 11:30 AM|
|Boston College||8/30/14 2:00 PM|
|West Virginia||8/30/14 2:30 PM|
|Rice||8/30/14 2:30 PM|
|(17) Notre Dame|
|(10) South Dakota St||8/30/14 2:30 PM|
|Fla Atlantic||8/30/14 2:30 PM|
|California||8/30/14 2:30 PM|
|Marshall||8/30/14 2:30 PM|
|UC Davis||8/30/14 3:00 PM|
|Arkansas||8/30/14 3:00 PM|
|(16) Clemson||8/30/14 4:30 PM|
|Liberty||8/30/14 5:00 PM|
|(23) North Carolina|
|Ohio U||8/30/14 5:00 PM|
|Louisiana Tech||8/30/14 6:00 PM|
|Idaho||8/30/14 6:00 PM|
|Stephen F Austin||8/30/14 6:10 PM|
|(20) Kansas State|
|Fresno State||8/30/14 6:30 PM|
|Southern Miss||8/30/14 6:30 PM|
|Texas-El Paso||8/30/14 7:00 PM|
|North Texas||8/30/14 7:00 PM|
|(1) Florida State||8/30/14 7:00 PM|
|(14) Wisconsin||8/30/14 8:00 PM|
|South Dakota||8/30/14 9:30 PM|
|(25) Washington||8/30/14 9:30 PM|
|Utah State||8/31/14 6:00 PM|
|SMU||8/31/14 6:30 PM|
|Miami-Florida||9/1/14 7:00 PM|
|Arizona||9/4/14 7:00 PM|
|Pittsburgh||9/5/14 6:00 PM|
|Washington St||9/5/14 9:30 PM|
|Sporting Kansas City|
|Winnipeg||8/31/14 3:00 PM|
|Toronto||9/1/14 12:00 PM|
|Edmonton||9/1/14 3:30 PM|
|Brt Columbia||9/5/14 6:30 PM|
|Calgary||9/6/14 6:00 PM|
|Hamilton||9/7/14 12:00 PM|
|Saskatchewan||9/7/14 3:00 PM|