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.
Two months ago, rookie running back Jerick McKinnon was looking up at Adrian Peterson and Matt Asiata on the depth chart. Sure, the team had plans for him as a pass-catcher in certain packages. But mostly the thought was that they would ease the electric third-round runner into the offense.
Things quickly changed when the Vikings lost Peterson, the centerpiece of their offensive plans, when his legal issues came to light after the opener. Asiata became the starter with Peterson out and played most of the snaps. But suddenly, McKinnon had to take on a larger role than expected, too.
A few weeks later, McKinnon rushed for 135 yards, the highest total for a Vikings back this season, in a Week 4 win over the Falcons and Asiata struggled the following week in the loss to the Packers.
So the Vikings gave McKinnon the start against the Lions. And while head coach Mike Zimmer said yesterday that he wants Asiata to remain involved in the running game, it looks as if McKinnon, who has quickly climbed atop the depth chart, will be given an chance to settle in as the starter.
“[It has been] a whirlwind,” McKinnon said after today’s morning walkthrough. “Everything happened so fast. I think I prepare myself to be ready for whatever happens. There has definitely been a lot thrown my way, just from a rookie standpoint, going through a whole bunch of different things. But I think it’s helped me in my progression to become a better NFL running back.”
McKinnon rushed for 40 yards on 11 carries against a formidable Lions defensive front in his first start and caught a team-high six passes for 42 yards. His 5.0 yards-per-carry average is inflated by his performance against the Falcons, but McKinnon has brought the threat of explosive plays back to the backfield, something that has been lacking since Peterson was shut down indefinitely.
Asked to assess his play of late, McKinnon said he feels he is becoming a more consistent player.
“I’ve had some mistakes here and there, some mishaps here and there,” McKinnon said. “But for the most part I think I’ve been consistent. I think I’ve showed them that I come to get better in practice every day in and out, so I’m just trying to build upon those things as I go along and find my way.”
McKinnon must handle the extra responsibilities that come with being the lead back, including being asked to do more pass protecting. He didn’t expect it to happen this fast, but he’s eager to do it all.
“I think I’ve accepted the challenge and stepped up to the plate when my number’s called,” he said.
There’s been a lot of discussion about rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s release after he was sacked eight times in the 17-3 loss against the Lions on Sunday.
Bridgewater shouldered the blame, believing he could’ve got rid of the ball quicker to avoid some of those sacks. The stats, and offensive coordinator Norv Turner, say otherwise.
Per ESPN Stats & Information, Bridgewater released the ball, on average, in 2.49 seconds last week. It was the ninth-fastest time in Week 6.
“His release is not the issue,” Turner said.
Turner believes Bridgewater’s first career interception on the first offensive series might’ve rattled him throughout the game. We dissected the play on Wednesday for our weekly Vikings Rewind series. Bridgewater clearly didn’t account for Lions safety Glover Quin, who made the interception and left wide receiver Greg Jennings wide open in the end zone.
“I think after you do that, you can be a little bit too careful,” Turner said. “You can make sure on some throws, and I think on a number of throws where it wasn’t about his release. It was about his anticipation, trusting what you see and turning the ball loose. Detroit did a great job of mixing what they do, and they’re an outstanding defense.”
As for the protection, which has been inconsistent this season, Turner believes the Vikings can fix some of the recent breakdowns along the offensive line. While Bridgewater may not admit it, the offensive line played poorly against the Lions. It’s the second consecutive game where the pass protection hasn’t been great for Bridgewater and quarterback Christian Ponder.
“We believe we can fix them, and the scheme is equip to fix them,” Turner said. “Certainly there’s a time when you want to keep an extra [blocker] in, and there’s times when you want to get everyone out.”
Turner said Bridgewater will face a similar defense this week against the Bills, who are tied for second in the NFL with 19 sacks. The rookie will look to bounce back from a three-interception performance in his second career start.
“It’s a growing process for a young quarterback,” Turner said. “He obviously in the Atlanta game got in a rhythm and things just came up unbelievably well for us that day. The ball came out, and he showed what he’s capable of doing. He’s going to go through some periods where you’re not sure, you see a different look, they’re defending you a little different. You got to trust what you see, and you’ve got to go.”
— Rance G (@RanceGizzle) October 14, 2014
For who? Seriously, for who? I keep getting this question, and it’s always the same responses. Joe Berger. David Yankey. Austin Wentworth.
If the Vikings replace any of their starters for one of those three names, fans will still complain when they play poorly. The Vikings don’t have better options at this point, especially with right guard Brandon Fusco out for the season. You don’t bench a player for the sole purpose of making a statement. As much as Zimmer would like to make changes, he doesn’t have that luxury. The Vikings have invested heavily in this offensive line either with extensions or high draft picks. And to be honest, the offense line still has the talent to get it done. As awful as the unit has been, the talent is still there.
Will it ever show on consistent basis? I have no clue. It’s a mental game at this point, and that’s hard to predict.
— Austin Belisle (@austincbelisle) October 14, 2014
Well, we saw a similar regression from the offensive line last season with running back Adrian Peterson. I think it’s more obvious now with the same inconsistencies occurring in consecutive seasons. It’s easy to blame a lot of the problems on offense to the absence of Peterson, but the offensive line isn’t getting a pass this season. Rookie running back Jerick McKinnon rushed for 135 yards against the Falcons. Granted it was a bad defensive line, but the Vikings should still be able to establish the run game with McKinnon and running back Matt Asiata. In their two wins against the Rams and Falcons, the offensive line was able to dominate the trenches and run the football.
— Adam Weart (@adamweart) October 16, 2014
It’s up there with Peterson’s absence. Don’t get me wrong, Peterson is still the best player on the roster, but Rudolph’s presence helps every phase of the offense. He’s a pass threat that defenses must account for, even though Rudolph had quite a few drops before injuring his groin. Rudolph can also help as a run blocker and chip defensive ends on pass protection when he wasn’t lined up in the slot. There’s no other tight end on the roster that can be equally effective in both areas.
Outside of center John Sullivan, the offense couldn’t have lost three more valuable players on offense with Peterson, Fusco and Rudolph.
— Matt Privratsky (@mattprivratsky) October 16, 2014
Josh Robinson has been the Vikings best cornerback. I repeat – Josh Robinson has been the Vikings best cornerback.
He’s been in good position and clearly fits this defensive scheme better. Last year was a disaster for him with the coaching staff asking Robinson to play the nickel cornerback slot, which he’s never done before. He looks more natural now and has outplayed teammates Captain Munnerlyn and Xavier Rhodes.
Rookie linebacker Anthony Barr is another player to point out that has played well so far. I don’t think anyone thought he’d be this good through the first six games of his career. He’s third among rookies with 36 tackles, behind Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley and Bills linebacker Preston Brown.
Every weekday, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening with the team that day.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
— NT Linval Joseph is adapting to what the Vikings are teaching him.
— OLB Chad Greenway practiced yesterday and could play on Sunday.
— Is struggling LT Matt Kalil the biggest bust of the Rick Spielman era?
— Head coach Mike Zimmer doesn’t want to forget about RB Matt Asiata.
— Zimmer says the Vikings need to cut down on sacks and turnovers.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
Ziggy Ansah is the second player to get Defensive Player of the Week honors after lining up against Matt Kalil. Chandler Jones the first.
— Matt Vensel (@mattvensel) October 15, 2014
BEHIND ENEMY LINES
— Bills RB C.J. Spiller is trying to tune out any chatter about a trade.
— Buffalo’s recent woes on offense are testing the team’s morale.
— The agent for WR Mike Williams says he wants to stay in Buffalo.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
The Vikings practice at 12:50 p.m. today. Beforehand, all three of the coordinators will be at the podium for their weekly news conferences and the locker room will be open for interviews.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
E.J. Manuel succeeded Christian Ponder at Florida State and, like Ponder, became a first-round draft pick in the NFL. And, like Ponder, Manuel is a one-time QB of the future turned full-time clipboard-holder. Their numbers are eerily similar. Ponder is 14-21-1 as a starter with a 75.9 career passer rating. Manuel is 6-8 with a 78.5 rating. Both have thrown more touchdowns than interceptions.
Outside linebacker Chad Greenway not only suited up for practice today, but was a full participant for the first time since breaking his ribs and his left hand in the Week 2 loss to the Patriots. His presence at practice this early in the week was a positive sign that he could return this weekend.
Gerald Hodges, the man who replaced him in the starting lineup, did not practice today after injuring his hamstring in Sunday’s loss to the Lions. During the second quarter of that game, he was briefly replaced by Audie Cole while he was checked out by trainers but returned to finish the game.
Cornerback Jabari Price (hamstring), defensive end Corey Wootton (lower back) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (sports hernia surgery) were the three other Vikings players who did not practice today.
Defensive tackles Sharrif Floyd (elbow and ankle) and Linval Joseph (ankle) were limited in practice.
Safety Harrison Smith (ankle), tight end Chase Ford (foot) and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (hip) were listed as full participants. Ford was a new addition to the injury report after this weekend.
And, finally, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was officially removed from the report. He was dealing with a stomach bug yesterday and may still be today, but his ankle issue appears to be behind him.
|San Diego||10/23/14 7:25 PM|
|Detroit||10/26/14 8:30 AM|
|(22) West Virginia||41|
|(11) Kansas State||31||FINAL|
|(13) Ohio State||56|
|(8) Michigan State||56||FINAL|
|San Jose St||27||FINAL|
|New Mexico St||17||FINAL|
|(3) Ole Miss||34|
|(7) Notre Dame||27||FINAL|
|(2) Florida State||31|
|(14) Arizona State||26|
|San Diego St||20|
|Arkansas State||10/21/14 7:00 PM|
|Connecticut||10/23/14 6:00 PM|
|(18) East Carolina|
|Miami-Florida||10/23/14 7:00 PM|
|So Florida||10/24/14 6:00 PM|
|Troy||10/24/14 6:30 PM|
|BYU||10/24/14 8:00 PM|
|(6) Oregon||10/24/14 9:00 PM|
|North Texas||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|UAB||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|Rutgers||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|Maryland||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|Texas||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|(11) Kansas State|
|Minnesota||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|Memphis||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|North Carolina||10/25/14 11:30 AM|
|San Jose St||10/25/14 12:00 PM|
|Northern Ill||10/25/14 12:00 PM|
|(25) UCLA||10/25/14 1:00 PM|
|Akron||10/25/14 1:00 PM|
|Massachusetts||10/25/14 1:00 PM|
|Ohio U||10/25/14 1:00 PM|
|Ga Southern||10/25/14 1:00 PM|
|Kent State||10/25/14 1:30 PM|
|Oregon State||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Fla Atlantic||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Louisiana Tech||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|(1) Miss State||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Georgia Tech||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|(22) West Virginia||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Texas Tech||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Michigan||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|(8) Michigan State|
|Boston College||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Central Mich||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Vanderbilt||10/25/14 3:00 PM|
|Old Dominion||10/25/14 3:00 PM|
|UNLV||10/25/14 3:00 PM|
|Temple||10/25/14 4:00 PM|
|(15) Arizona||10/25/14 5:00 PM|
|Texas-El Paso||10/25/14 6:00 PM|
|Wyoming||10/25/14 6:00 PM|
|Syracuse||10/25/14 6:00 PM|
|Texas State||10/25/14 6:00 PM|
|(3) Ole Miss||10/25/14 6:15 PM|
|(4) Alabama||10/25/14 6:30 PM|
|So Carolina||10/25/14 6:30 PM|
|(13) Ohio State||10/25/14 7:00 PM|
|(20) USC||10/25/14 9:00 PM|
|(14) Arizona State||10/25/14 9:45 PM|
|Nevada||10/25/14 10:59 PM|
|Red Bull New York||1|