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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Teddy Bridgewater named to PFWA All-Rookie team

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated January 13th at 6:57pm 288428961

A Vikings player finally received a postseason honor, and it’s none other than quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

The Pro Football Writers of America named Bridgewater to its All-Rookie team on Tuesday. Bridgewater finished with 2,919 passing yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions with an 85.2 quarterback rating in 13 games (12 starts).

He won the award over Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who started the entire season and had 3,270 yards, 21 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a 76.6 quarterback rating.

The Vikings struck out on the PFWA All-NFL and All-NFC teams announced on Monday. They also didn’t have a representative on the AP All-Pro team or the Pro Bowl.

Bridgewater is also up for Rookie of the Year (You can vote here on the award)  with Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans, Bengals running back Jeremy Hill, Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins and Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who was named PFWA’s Rookie of the Year.

Here’s the complete PFWA All-Rookie Team:

Offense
QB – Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings
RB – Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals; Tre Mason, St. Louis Rams
WR – Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants; Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
TE – Jace Amaro, New York Jets
C – Corey Linsley, Green Bay Packers
G – Joel Bitonio, Cleveland Browns; Zach Martin, Dallas Cowboys
T – Taylor Lewan, Tennessee Titans; Ja’Wuan James, Miami Dolphins
Defense
DL – Aaron Donald, St. Louis Rams; Timmy Jernigan, Baltimore Ravens; Kony Ealy, Carolina Panthers; Justin Ellis, Oakland Raiders
LB – Chris Borland, San Francisco 49ers; Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders; C.J. Mosley, Baltimore Ravens
CB – Kyle Fuller, Chicago Bears; E.J. Gaines, St. Louis Rams
S – Deone Bucannon, Arizona Cardinals; Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Green Bay Packers
Special Teams
PK – Cody Parkey, Philadelphia Eagles
P – Pat O’Donnell, Chicago Bears
KR – Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins
PR – De’Anthony Thomas, Kansas City Chiefs
ST – Trey Burton, Philadelphia Eagles

Craig: NFL divisional playoff predictions

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated January 10th at 11:02am 288144081

Well, at least the regular season predictions – 146-90-1 straight up and 125-111-1 – went fairly well.

And the start of last week’s wild-card round went as expected when the Panthers won. But after that, well …

Last week’s final record: 1-3 straight up and 2-2 versus the spread.

The Lions pick was a reach that was understood at the time it was made. Picking the Bengals was a lesson in the value of paying closer attention to key injuries (Note: When all the playmakers are injured, pick the other team, especially if the other team is at home).  And the Steelers losing at home was a surprise that shouldn’t have been a surprise considering Joe Flacco now has an NFL-record seven road playoff wins. Really. Joe Flacco. Look it up.

Here are four more swings at the NFL Divisional playoff games this weekend. All four home teams are favored even though we all know there’s no way all four home teams do what they’re supposed to do over two days in the NFL:

Ravens plus-7 at Patriots: Patriots by 3

Why?: New England has its best defense in years. Tom Brady is, well, Tom Brady. And the Patriots have spent a week being told they’re 1-2 against Joe Flacco in the postseason the past five years.

Panthers plus-11 at Seahawks: Seahawks by 14

Why?: The Panthers have won five straight while holding those five losers to an average of 11.8 points per game. But the Seahawks are 24-2 at home with Russell Wilson at quarterback. And they joined the 1976 Steelers as the only team in NFL history to win its final six regular-season games while holding those six teams to fewer than 40 total points (39).

Cowboys plus-5 ½ at Packers: Packers by 7

Why?: Aaron Rodgers is the closest thing to a mistake-free quarterback the NFL has ever seen. Eddie Lacy provides balance and a power running game. And the defense helped the Packers outscore opponents 93-7 in the first quarter of the last seven games at Lambeau Field. Tony Romo has had a great season as well, but he’s a mistake waiting to happen.

Colts plus-7 at Broncos: Broncos by 3

Why?: The Colts lack the balance offensively to beat a much-improved Denver defense on the road. We say this while whistling past the proverbial graveyard that feels like this could be another one-and-done home outing for Peyton Manning, whose passing rhythm fell out of whack late in the year.

THE WILD-CARD ROUND

Record: 1-3. Versus spread: 2-2.

Final Regular-season Record: Last week/overall: 12-4/146-90-1. Versus spread: Last week/overall: 9-6-1/125-111-1.

Duron Carter: 'I would say Minnesota is probably my front-runner'

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated January 11th at 12:30am 288102611

The Vikings climbed to the top of CFL All-Star receiver Duron Carter’s list of preferred NFL teams to sign with after today’s workout at Winter Park.

“It went really well,” said Carter, the 23-year-old son of Vikings Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter. “I met everybody and it looked really good. I like Minnesota, I like the facilities, I like the coaches and everything. It seems like things are looking up. I would say Minnesota is probably my front-runner right now.”

Carter had already worked out for Tampa Bay, Indianapolis and Kansas City. He said he hasn’t ruled them out and plans to continue his tour of NFL teams with visits to Cleveland, Carolina, San Francisco and Washington. He said Cleveland is scheduled for next Friday, while Carolina could be as early as next week depending on the outcome of the Panthers’ playoff game at Seattle on Saturday.

Carter, who caught 75 passes for 1,030 yards and seven touchdowns for the Montreal Alouettes this season, can’t sign with an NFL team until Feb. 10. That’s the date that CFL players entering their option years are able to jump to the NFL.

“The Vikings are No. 1, but I might as well go around and see what everybody is talking about,” said Carter, a 6-5, 205-pounder who attended the Vikings’ 2013 rookie minicamp as a tryout invitee. “I can’t sign anyway.”

As for what impressed Carter the most about Winter Park, he said, “It was kind of incomparable to the other places I’ve been so far. I was running around that facility when I was a kid. Going back and see some of the same people still there, it was kind of like a homecoming.

“Just talking to [receivers] coach [George] Stewart and coach [Norv] Turner [the offensive coordinator], I seemed a lot more comfortable working out with them and talking to them than a lot of other places.”

Vikings have enough needs for to be very flexible at No. 11

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated January 9th at 1:35pm 288061851

Looking at the Vikings’ CURRENT roster, which includes a pretty good running back who’s, um, well rested, here’s one man’s opinion of the top four needs heading into the first round of the draft, which will be held in what will seem like 3,457 days …

1. Receiver: Not just any receiver. A big, fast, prototypical No. 1-type receiver with some polished route-running skills. (Google: Big receivers/Bears/Lions/really hard to defend). There’s no guarantee Cordarrelle Patterson will put in the work or grasp what is necessary to be an elite receiver, so the train moves on. If he wakes up, great. The Vikings would have two elite big receivers for Teddy Bridgewater to look for.

2. Left guard: The offensive line just flat-out isn’t good enough and another first-round investment might be due. Four of the positions — left tackle, center, right guard and right tackle — are manned by young guys who are either doing a good job, are capable of doing a good job and are here because the team invested heavily in them financially  and/or through the draft. Charlie Johnson won’t be brought back and David Yankey is a fifth-round pick who never saw the field this season. An elite left guard would help the line overall and could steer left tackle Matt Kalil’s career back to the path it should be on.

3. Strong safety: Free safety Harrison Smith should have made the Pro Bowl and would have gotten more All-Pro consideration if the team had been better. Now imagine placing another elite, first-round caliber safety next to him. Someone with the same instincts, tackling ability and versatility. Might come in handy for those Green Bay games against a QB who is about to win his second MVP award and has thrown 477 passes and 38 touchdowns since his last pick at Lambeau Field

4. Cornerback: Josh Robinson, for the most part, played better than expected as the No. 3 corner in his first season with Mike Zimmer and his staff coaching him. But he’s a shaky No. 3 in the NFC North. Plus, there’s no guarantee the Vikings will remain as healthy in the secondary as they were in 2014. Anyone who saw the team play in 2011 and 2013 knows what happens to a defense when the secondary is ravaged by injuries. Also, Captain Munnerlyn was an upgrade from Chris Cook, but he didn’t reach a level that screams automatic starter for 2015. So if things line up a certain way and corner is the top talent on the board in Round 1, take him and move Munnerlyn to the No. 3 nickel slot spot if you have to.

Although the top four needs were listed in order, we aren’t saying automatically take a receiver first, a guard second, etc. The Vikings have enough needs that every position, except quarterback, should be in play when they  pick 11th overall. Just pick the greatest talent and make the necessary adjustments.

Four rookies made the Pro Bowl this season. All four were selected below the 11th pick. Any one of them would fit with the Vikings, even the one who is a defensive tackle because, well, he’s that good and those big fellas don’t play every snap.

The Giants got receiver Odell Beckham 12th overall. He’s going to win offensive rookie of the year. The Rams took defensive tackle Aaron Donald  13th overall. He’ll likely win defensive rookie of the year.

At No. 16, the Cowboys got guard Zack Martin. All he did was earn All-Pro honors. At No. 17, the Ravens took linebacker C.J. Mosley, a playmaker who helped Baltimore’s defense go on the road and win at Pittsburgh in last week’s wild card round.

Obviously, the Vikings also did well for themselves, picking up linebacker Anthony Barr at No. 9 and Bridgewater at No. 32. Whether the Vikings give Barr help on defense or Bridgewater help on offense should come down to the best player, not a preconceived notion of which position should be filled by which round.

Warner, Pace, Seau are Hall of Fame finalists in first year of eligibility

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated January 9th at 7:02am 288001411

First-year eligible nominees Kurt Warner, Orlando Pace and the late Junior Seau are among the 15 modern-era finalists that will be considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015, the Hall announced tonight.

Joining them are nine modern-era players and three coaches, including former Gophers quarterback and Vikings defensive coordinator Tony Dungy, a finalist for the second straight year. Those 15 finalists are joined by two contributor finalists – former team executives Bill Polian and Ron Wolf – and former Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff, who was announced as the senior finalist in August.

Kicker Morten Andersen, who scored a record 2,544 points during a 25-year career, played one season (2004) with the Vikings. The other 10 modern-era finalists are running backs Jerome Bettis and Terrell Davis; receivers Tim Brown and Marvin Harrison; coaches Don Coryell and Jimmy Johnson; linebacker Kevin Greene; defensive end Charles Haley; guard Will Shields; and safety John Lynch.

The Hall’s 46-member board of selectors will meet and choose the Class of 2015 in Phoenix on Jan. 31, the day before Super Bowl XLIX.

The senior candidate and two contributors will be discussed separately and voted on. To be selected, they need 80 percent of the vote.

The modern-era candidates will be discussed. The field will be trimmed from 15 to 10 and then to five. Those five will be voted on and will need at least 80 percent of the vote to get in.

Warner was a two-time NFL MVP who took two teams – the Rams and Cardinals – to three Super Bowls. He won Super Bowl MVP honors while helping the Rams beat the Titans.

Seau played 20 years for the Chargers, Dolphins and Patriots. He made 12 Pro Bowls and was Associated Press first-team All-Pro six times.

Pace, who played left tackle for the Rams when Warner took them to two Super Bowls, played 13 seasons and was a seven-time Pro Bowl pick. He was first-team AP All-Pro three times.

Although they’ve been eligible before, this is the first year as a finalist for Davis, Johnson, Polian, Wolf and Tingelhoff.

Tingelhoff played from 1962 to 1978. This is his 32nd year of Hall of Fame eligibility.

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