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.
If the first half of Saturday night’s preseason game wasn’t enough to prove the Kyle Rudolph is one tough dude to cover, Monday’s practice at Winter Park was another convincing argument.
SETTING THE SCENE: Today’s practice seemed flatter as the as the Vikings returned to Winter Park, where the final two weeks of training camp isn’t open to the public. At one point, the offense was moving so slowly that offensive coordinator Norv Turner reminded the players that the particular segment wasn’t designed to be run at three-quarters speed.
YOUR DAILY QUARTERBACK SMORGASBORD: Veteran Matt Cassel’s comfortable, if not insurmountable, lead over rookie Teddy Bridgewater continues to be obvious based on practice reps. Cassel took all of the first-team reps, while Bridgewater ran the second unit. The third unit didn’t see any reps during 11 on 11 segments of practice.
During the first team competition, Cassel went 4 of 5 with a couple of particularly accurate throws that Rudolph caught softly in tight coverage. Bridgewater also went 4 of 5.
In the second team competition, both went 2 of 3. Again, Cassel and Rudolph were too tough to beat on a completion over the middle.
WRIGHT HOBBLED: Bridgewater’s worst throw of the day was a misfire to Jarius Wright, who was surrounded by four defenders. Wright sprained an ankle and didn’t return.
RUDOLPH A TOUGH MATCHUP: As we’ve grown accustomed to seeing, Rudolph is a tough matchup for a defense. The Cardinals got a look at the leaner, faster version of Rudolph on Saturday. The result was a four-catch first half that produced 89 yards, including a 51-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown.
Today, strong safety Chris Crocker had tight coverage on Rudolph on two occasions when it didn’t matter. On a crossing route, Cassel hit the window and Rudolph grabbed the ball as Crocker dived and was left behind. Crocker also couldn’t stop a short out pass despite having good position. Later, while going against the second unit, Rudolph was covered by a linebacker, Michael Mauti. He was fairly tight in coverage, but again, Rudolph caught an accurate ball in stride as Mauti tumbled.
NOISE MAKER: Unlike a lot of coaches, Mike Zimmer said he doesn’t place any more significance on the third preseason game. For a lot of coaches, the third preseason game is the only one they game plan for. They also play their starters into the third quarter. Zimmer said his routine this week “is still about us,” still about focusing on installing the new schemes. He said the coaches aren’t doing any in-depth game-planning for Saturday night’s game in Kansas City. But one thing was different today. As the Vikings prepare to play their first road preseason game of the year, Zimmer had a big speaker on the sideline to blare simulated crowd noise.
INJURY UPDATE: Other than Wright, no other players appeared to be injured while participating in practice today. We updated the other injuries on the blog earlier in the day. Matt Vensel also updated the excused absences of defensive end Brian Robison and receiver Jerome Simpson.
Ten Vikings players were not present or participating in this afternoon’s practice.
One of them was defensive end Brian Robison, who was excused for personal reasons.
Another was linebacker Dom DeCicco, who was placed on waivers with an injured designation. If he clears waivers tomorrow, he will revert to injured reserve. DeCicco had hip surgery last week.
In a corresponding roster move, the Vikings claimed rookie linebacker Justin Jackson off waivers from the Lions. Jackson played his college ball at Wake Forest, where he recorded 193 tackles, seven sacks and three forced fumbles in 36 games. He is listed at 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds.
The other players who did not practice today are CB Jabari Price (arm/shoulder), CB Shaun Prater (concussion), CB Josh Robinson (hamstring), LB Brandon Watts (undisclosed), LB Gerald Hodges (knee), NT Linval Joseph (calf), WR Jerome Simpson (undisclosed), and TE Chase Ford (foot).
In other injury news, wide receiver Jarius Wright injured his left ankle while attempting to make a catch late in practice. His left ankle was taped up by an athletic trainer and he did not return.
Last week, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he was hoping Week 2 of the preseason would be a “big” week for the four strong safeties he said he wanted to take a look at.
Based on one of Zimmer’s press conference answers earlier today, it sounds like it wasn’t a big week for Chris Crocker, Kurt Coleman, Andrew Sendejo and Jamarca Sanford.
Reminded that he mentioned those four specifically heading into the Cardinals game, Zimmer was asked his thoughts after the 30-28 win on Saturday.
“There was Crocker, when he was in there, he didn’t get a lot of action,” Zimmer said. “Coleman did some good things, he missed a tackle. Sendejo did some good things when he was down close to the line of scrimmage.
“But for me evaluating the safety is not when they are down by the line of scrimmage. It’s when they are back and when they have to cover guys and when they have to get in there and we didn’t get in as many of those situations the other night as I had hoped, whether it was because of what they were doing or what they were calling.”
Zimmer was interrupted with another question before he got to Sanford.
Later, Zimmer was asked what he looks for in a strong safety.
“About the same as the free safety,” he said. “I mean, we try to be interchangeable the best we can. Our guys have to be up in run support, they have to be back in coverage, they have to be able to get on some slot receivers, they have to be able to blitz.
“We aren’t looking for one-dimensional guys. We’re not looking for the old in-the-box safeties. Then they have to have intelligence. Really, we want all of our guys back there to be basically the same guys.”
Robert Blanton, who was handed the job to lose at the start of camp, returns to practice today for the first time since pulling a hamstring during the fourth practice. He’ll join the others at a position that’s still open.
If one had to venture an educated guess, Crocker would be the frontrunner because he’s been with Zimmer going on eight seasons and has essentially come out of retirement three straight years to play for him.
Of course, Zimmer first has to determine how much is left in Crocker’s 34-year-old legs.
The full body of offseason evidence and logic screams that the quarterback competition is over. Yet we continue to ask Vikings coach Mike Zimmer for the official declaration or some sort of cloud of smoke to tell us the Matt Cassel will start on Sept. 7 at St. Louis.
Zimmer just met with reporters and said he’s not ready to name the starter for the regular season opener. But he did say Cassel will start the third preseason game on Saturday at Kansas City. He also said it’s possible that rookie Teddy Bridgewater will see action with the first unit, which is something that didn’t happen this past Saturday against the Cardinals.
In injury news
|Houston - LP: D. Keuchel||0||FINAL|
|NY Yankees - WP: B. McCarthy||3|
|Cleveland - LP: C. Kluber||1||FINAL|
|Minnesota - WP: P. Hughes||4|
|Detroit - LP: D. Price||0||FINAL|
|Tampa Bay - WP: A. Cobb||1|
|Arizona - LP: O. Perez||0||FINAL|
|Washington - WP: R. Soriano||1|
|San Francisco - LP: R. Vogelsong||1||FINAL|
|Chicago Cubs - WP: T. Wada||2|
|Atlanta - WP: J. Teheran||8||FINAL|
|Cincinnati - LP: D. Holmberg||0|
|LA Angels - WP: M. Shoemaker||2||FINAL|
|Boston - LP: R. De La Rosa||0|
|San Francisco - WP: M. Bumgarner||5||FINAL|
|Chicago Cubs - LP: T. Wood||3|
|San Diego - LP: T. Ross||1||FINAL|
|Los Angeles - WP: C. Kershaw||2|
|Carolina||8/22/14 6:30 PM|
|NY Giants||8/22/14 6:30 PM|
|Jacksonville||8/22/14 6:30 PM|
|Oakland||8/22/14 7:00 PM|
|Chicago||8/22/14 9:00 PM|
|Tampa Bay||8/23/14 3:30 PM|
|Tennessee||8/23/14 6:00 PM|
|Dallas||8/23/14 6:00 PM|
|Washington||8/23/14 6:30 PM|
|New Orleans||8/23/14 7:00 PM|
|Minnesota||8/23/14 7:00 PM|
|St. Louis||8/23/14 7:00 PM|
|Houston||8/23/14 8:00 PM|
|San Diego||8/24/14 3:00 PM|
|Cincinnati||8/24/14 7:00 PM|
|(21) Texas A&M||8/28/14 5:00 PM|
|(9) So Carolina|
|Wake Forest||8/28/14 6:00 PM|
|Boise State||8/28/14 7:00 PM|
|(18) Ole Miss|
|Tulane||8/28/14 7:00 PM|
|Temple||8/28/14 8:15 PM|
|Rutgers||8/28/14 9:00 PM|
|Weber State||8/28/14 9:30 PM|
|(19) Arizona State|
|Montreal||8/22/14 7:30 PM|
|Toronto||8/23/14 3:00 PM|
|Calgary||8/24/14 2:00 PM|
|Saskatchewan||8/24/14 6:00 PM|
|Ottawa||8/29/14 6:30 PM|
|Winnipeg||8/31/14 2:00 PM|
|Toronto||9/1/14 12:00 PM|
|Edmonton||9/1/14 3:30 PM|
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