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.
Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has carried the offense lacking stability at, well, every position, according to offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
The Vikings have used eight different offensive linemen, started three different tight ends and running backs while their most consistent receiver was a guy that started the season on the Browns practice squad — Charles Johnson.
Turner prefers not to throw a rookie quarterback into this environment, but he feels Bridgewater has thrived even with the heavy burden.
“It’s pretty incredible to me what he’s done, how he’s handled it,” Turner said. “What he’s really done is made everyone around him better and that’s a quality you’re looking for.
“We’re asking him to carry this group, which I’ve never had to do that with a young guy. When I had [Troy] Aikman in his third year he had Emmitt Smith who led the league in rushing. When I had Alex Smith in his second year he had Frank Gore who ran for 1,700 yards and when I had Philip Rivers in his second year starting, I think it was his fourth year in the league, he had LaDainian Tomlinson who led the league in rushing.”
Bridgewater would’ve had running back Adrian Peterson, but he’s suspended for the remainder of the season. Instead, Bridgewater has had to rely on Matt Asiata, Ben Tate and Joe Banyard to help ease the load, which hasn’t been as effective as one of the best running backs in the NFL.
Still, the Vikings threw the ball 41 times against one of the top defenses in the NFL and completed a season high 75.6 percent of his passes. His start was marked by two interceptions on consecutive drives that helped the Lions climb out of a 14-0 deficit, but Turner defended the performance despite the turnovers.
“We’ve kind of had an interesting group and the people we’ve played on offense has been wide-ranging,” Turner said. “To do the things he’s done, it just tells you about the type of person he is, the type of player he is. The thing that excites me is he can make any throw you need him to make.”
— Eric Thompson (@eric_j_thompson) December 18, 2014
I’d give him a shot. He showed some flashes on the second to last drive filling in for wide receiver Jarius Wright. Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater targeted Patterson three times on that drive and Patterson finished with two catches for 16 yards.
Granted, it was during a time in the game when the Lions defense didn’t want to get beat deep, but I’d like to see more of Patterson against a good Dolphins secondary. It’d be a good test to see how much Patterson has actually improved since he was demoted. I’d still start wide receiver Charles Johnson but depending on the game flow, it’d benefit Patterson and the Vikings to give him more than eight snaps with two games remaining.
The best way to describe Patterson is he’s under renovation from a niche offensive player to an every down wide receiver. The Vikings coaching staff has had its hard hat on trying to transition Patterson into that type of receiver, but it’s to be determined whether Patterson will figure it all out.
— Alex Phillips (@Papa_phil) December 18, 2014
I think Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer would be comfortable with a ball of yarn and a paperclip at cornerback. He’s very confident in his technique at cornerback that Zimmer feels he can turn anyone with a speck of talent into a serviceable player at that position. It’s similar to how Eagles head coach Chip Kelly feels about his offensive system rotating through mediocre quarterbacks during his tenure.
But the Vikings actually have three talented cornerbacks in Xavier Rhodes, Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Robinson. Rhodes and Munnerlyn will remain as the two cornerbacks in the base defense next year. Robinson started strong but has been inconsistent as of late. Zimmer said he’d like to see more toughness from Robinson when faced with adversity. We’ll see how the Vikings feel about Robinson, 23, in the offseason when he enters the final year of his rookie contract. Personally, I wouldn’t give him an extension this offseason and give Robinson another year to prove himself.
— Andrew Lowell (@alrmpls) December 18, 2014
I wouldn’t pencil him in as a starter. Considering that he won the job by the default out of training camp after missing time with a hamstring, and there wasn’t a significant dropoff when Adnrew Sendejo started against the Lions, the Vikings will probably view strong safety as a place they can upgrade in the offseason. Sendejo actually made a few good plays in both the run and pass in what was a good performance by the secondary in general.
Someone to keep an eye on is rookie defensive back Ahmad Dixon. He’s someone that was known as an aggressive safety at Baylor, but the seventh round pick was cut by the Cowboys. He doesn’t look someone that will be ready to play during the final two games, but if he sticks around for training camp, I’m very interested to see how he’ll look after an offseason with Zimmer.
— Matt Kalina (@kali0116) December 18, 2014
I question anyone that would want Jay Cutler as their quarterback, fantasy or reality.
As I’m typing this, Cutler threw another interception.
Every weekday, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening with the team that day.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
— John Sullivan is the latest of a long line of quality Vikings centers.
— The Vikings have one of the NFL’s most improved defenses.
— QB Teddy Bridgewater wants to improve his accuracy.
— The Vikings promoted S Ahmad Dixon from their practice squad.
— DT Sharrif Floyd returned to practice yesterday, but five other starters sat out.
— LB Michael Mauti downplayed the knee injury that put him on IR.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
— MVC Captains (@MVC_Lauryn) December 17, 2014
BEHIND ENEMY LINES
— Dolphins wide receivers want more deep passes thrown their way.
— Four injured linebackers returned to practice for the Dolphins yesterday.
— BREAKING: The Dolphins are going to try to win the game Sunday.
— The Dolphins should be excited about those Harbaugh-to-Michigan rumors.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
The Vikings are sticking with the new Thursday schedule that they switched to last week. Practice will be at 10:40 a.m. instead of right after lunch. And the media access period will be after that.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
ESPN draft guru Todd McShay has released the first of what will likely be several thousand mock drafts before the real deal takes place in April. McShay has the Vikings taking Texas A&M OT Cedric Ogbuehi, who apparently projects as more of a right tackle. What are your thoughts on that? Is injured OT Phil Loadholt on the decline or was this season just a subpar one for Loadholt, who has been a pretty solid right tackle for the Vikings? And I know many fans are ready to give up on Matt Kalil, but should the Vikings, who have other needs, take another left tackle with their top pick?
Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd returned to practice today, but the Vikings were without five other starters, including two new additions to the injury report.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph (knee/ankle) and nose tackle Linval Joseph (illness) did not practice today. Nor did outside linebacker Anthony Barr (knee), safety Robert Blanton (knee/ankle) or left guard Charlie Johnson (ankle), all three of whom sat out Sunday’s loss to the Lions.
Wide receiver Greg Jennings (hamstring), running back Matt Asiata (foot) and defensive end Brian Robison (ankle) were all limited.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes (wrist) and safety Andrew Sendejo (thumb) were listed as full participants on the injury report.
Floyd, meanwhile, was limited, but his presence at practice this early in the week gives hope that he might be able to return to the field — and play four quarters — this weekend against the Dolphins.
Floyd had been playing really well before banging knees with a teammate in practice a few weeks ago. He played but couldn’t finish the wins over the Panthers and Jets before the team decided to hold him out of practice last week and the Lions game as well.
The second-year defensive tackle said being sidelined was tough because he was playing well, starting to live up to the first-round expectations after waiting in the wings as a reserve last season.
“Frustration is an understatement for the past few weeks,” Floyd said. “But what can I do? My body is what keeps me going and when it tells me to stop, sometimes you’ve just got to listen.”
Floyd was asked by another reporter if he has talked through the frustration with anyone.
“I’m my own man,” he said, laughing. “So sometimes you’ve got to talk to yourself.”
(Just don’t do it in public, OK, Sharrif? People will look at you funny if you do that.)
One more practice tidbit for you that I couldn’t get in tomorrow’s notebook: The Vikings have opened the doors to their inside practice facility to let the cold air in to prepare for recent outdoor games. Now, to prepare for the trip down to Miami, they’ll turn up the heat in there.
“Yeah, it will be 80 degrees,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “Not sunny, but it will be 80 degrees.”
I don’t think the temperature got up that high in there today, so I’m not going to show up in a tanktop tomorrow. But it was noticeably warmer than it usually is on days when they keep the doors closed.
Teddy Bridgewater was again on a podium, lamenting his incomplete pass toward wide receiver Jarius Wright in the final minute of Sunday’s loss to the Lions, the one he felt would have put the Vikings in position to win that nail-biter. Different day and different lectern, but same message.
“I missed the throw to Jarius. That hurt us,” the rookie quarterback said today.
There are a bunch of throws from this season that Bridgewater would like to have back — including that one he sailed over Wright’s head and his second interception Sunday, when he was both late and inaccurate while targeting wide receiver Greg Jennings on the sideline.
But for the most part, Bridgewater has been pretty accurate while executing Norv Turner’s offense.
His 63.5 percent completion percentage leads all qualifying rookies. It’s the highest mark for a rookie starter since 2012, when Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson both topped 64 percent. And if it holds up, it would be the fifth-highest completion percentage for a rookie in NFL history.
And as I wrote yesterday, Bridgewater is among the league leaders in accuracy percentage, a stat from Pro Football Focus that accounts for things such as dropped passes, spikes to stop the block and throwaways, unlike raw completion percentage.
According to PFF, Bridgewater has been accurate on 75.6 percent of his throws, which ranks seventh in the NFL and is just ahead of guys like Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. Since Week 9, only Drew Brees and Joe Flacco have been more accurate.
Bridgewater completed 68.4 percent of his passes in college and completed 71.0 percent during his final season at Louisville. Even though he had an erratic pro day, accuracy was considered one of his biggest strengths as a prospect. So it’s no surprise that accuracy is translating to the pros.
“I have been pleased, but at the same time I’m not going to sit here and say I’m satisfied with it, because the expectation for this team and for me is pretty high right now,” Bridgewater said.
While Bridgewater has struggled with the trajectory on his deep balls this season, he has been accurate overall, in part because Turner is asking him to make shorter throws to his receivers. Only 47.9 percent of his 2,451 passing yards have come through the air (the majority of them have come after the catch), according to Pro Football Focus. That’s the fifth-lowest rate among qualifying QBs.
Still, being Bridgewater, the rookie sees plenty of room to improve. He is already talked to Norv Turner, the offensive coordinator, and Scott Turner, the quarterbacks coach, about some of the passes he’s sailed — like that one to Wright on Sunday — and what he can do to fix any flaws there.
“It’s all about finishing throws, whether it’s my follow-through or stepping into throws,” he said.
|LA Clippers||7:30 PM|
|San Jose||9:00 PM|
|Ark-Little Rock||1:00 PM|
|Central Conn St|
|Southern Utah||2:00 PM|
|Green Bay||3:30 PM|
|Lewis & Clark||4:00 PM|
|SC State||4:30 PM|
|North Dakota St||6:00 PM|
|UT Martin||6:00 PM|
|SE Louisiana||6:00 PM|
|Florida A&M||6:00 PM|
|Eastern Ky||6:00 PM|
|IUPU-Ft Wayne||6:00 PM|
|Norfolk State||6:00 PM|
|Mount St Marys|
|Long Island||6:00 PM|
|Northern Ill||6:00 PM|
|William & Mary||6:00 PM|
|MD-Eastern Shore||6:00 PM|
|East Tenn St||6:00 PM|
|Va Military||6:00 PM|
|Alabama A&M||6:00 PM|
|New Orleans||6:05 PM|
|Long Beach State||6:30 PM|
|Southern U||7:00 PM|
|Char Southern||7:00 PM|
|North Florida||7:00 PM|
|NC Central||7:00 PM|
|Central Mich||7:00 PM|
|Coppin State||7:00 PM|
|SE Missouri St||7:00 PM|
|Weber State||7:00 PM|
|Grambling St||7:00 PM|
|Incarnate Word||7:00 PM|
|Chicago State||7:00 PM|
|Tenn Tech||7:05 PM|
|Murray State||7:05 PM|
|Oral Roberts||7:05 PM|
|Jacksonville St||8:00 PM|
|Coll of Charleston||8:00 PM|
|North Dakota||8:00 PM|
|Northern New Mexico||8:00 PM|
|New Mexico St|
|UC Santa Barbara||8:00 PM|
|Kent State||8:00 PM|
|UC Davis||8:00 PM|
|Lewis-Clark State||8:05 PM|
|Walla Walla||8:05 PM|
|TX A&M-CC||9:00 PM|
|Cal State Fullerton|
|Boise State||9:30 PM|
|UC Riverside||10:00 PM|
|San Diego St|
|Loyola Marymount||10:00 PM|
|Nebraska||12/23/14 12:00 AM|
|Marshall||12/23/14 5:00 PM|
|Navy||12/23/14 8:30 PM|
|San Diego St|
|Central Mich||12/24/14 11:00 AM|
|Fresno State||12/24/14 7:00 PM|
|Illinois||12/26/14 12:00 PM|
|Rutgers||12/26/14 3:30 PM|
|NC State||12/26/14 7:00 PM|
|Cincinnati||12/27/14 12:00 PM|
|Duke||12/27/14 1:10 PM|
|(15) Arizona State|
|Miami-Florida||12/27/14 3:00 PM|
|Boston College||12/27/14 3:30 PM|
|(25) Nebraska||12/27/14 7:00 PM|
|UMass Lowell||10:15 AM|
|Georgia Southern||11:00 AM|
|Eastern Michigan||11:00 AM|
|(22) West Virginia||1:00 PM|
|St Bonaventure||1:00 PM|
|New Hampshire||1:00 PM|
|Eastern Washington||1:30 PM|
|UC Davis||4:00 PM|
|Washington St||4:00 PM|
|Sacramento St||4:00 PM|
|San Jose St|
|George Mason||6:00 PM|
|Abilene Christian||7:00 PM|
|UT Martin||7:00 PM|
|Florida State||7:00 PM|
|Murray State||7:00 PM|
|Fla Gulf Coast||7:05 PM|
Poll: Which is your favorite among Billboard's current top 10 holiday songs?