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.
INDIANAPOLIS —- The Vikings and 31 other NFL teams are eyeing up offensive linemen at the combine today. They just got to watch a bunch of 300-pounders run the 40-yard dash, which might not be all that useful to some teams but it does make for some quality entertainment for us.
After the offensive line struggled for much of last season, the Vikings will look to upgrade there this offseason, and the draft is probably the best way to do it. There doesn’t seem to be an elite, top-10 line prospect in this year’s draft, but that could work out well for the Vikings, who might be in position to pick the lineman of their choice at No. 11, if they are interested in that sort of thing.
General Manager Rick Spielman said a couple of days ago, though, that he likes the depth in this offensive line class, which is highlighted by potential first-round picks such as Iowa’s Brandon Scherff, LSU’s La’El Collins, Miami’s Ereck Flowers and Pittsburgh’s T.J. Clemmings.
Scherff, who ran the 40 in 5.05 seconds, didn’t hurt his stock while participating in drills today. But he did hurt his hamstring, apparently tweaking it in a movement drill and is done for the day.
Flowers impressed on the bench yesterday, pumping out 37 reps, tops among offensive linemen.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you which of those guys is the better prospect, because I can’t say I have watched them play much. But it seems like the real draftniks have their personal favorites out of the group. On NFL Network this morning, Mike Mayock compared Scherff to Cowboys Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin and Daniel Jeremiah believes Collins is the most impressive of the group.
A couple of linemen outside of the first-round conversation have impressed the draftniks, too.
Florida State’s Cam Erving is a player that Spielman mentioned yesterday. The Seminoles moved him from offensive tackle to center this past season, and he tested well here in Indy. ESPN’s Todd McShay tweeted that Erving reminds him of former Vikings center Matt Birk, so there’s that.
Hobart’s Ali Marpet was viewed as a sleeper prospect heading into the combine, but I doubt anyone is snoozing on him anymore. Marpet, a Div. III All-American who projects as a guard, had the best 40 time among linemen at 4.98, but his impressive 10-yard split of 1.74 seconds is even more relevant.
These results are just part of the puzzle for the Vikings as they evaluate prospects. The results often confirm what they saw on tape. If they don’t match up, they’ll go back and take another look.
I think it’s safe to say the offensive line is a high-priority need for the Vikings. They need a new starting left guard and they might also draft a tackle to compete with Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt.
INDIANAPOLIS —- In another year, perhaps Minnesota’s David Cobb would be in contention to be one of the first few running backs selected in the NFL draft. But in a deep 2015 class, the bruising Gophers back might not even be one of the first few Big Ten running backs off the board.
Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon could become the first running back to be selected in the first round in three years. Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah and Indiana’s Tevin Coleman are regarded as second-day picks, and Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford could go in that range, as well. Draft analysts have Cobb pegged as a mid-to-late-round pick, but a strong showing in spandex could boost his stock.
Anyway, Cobb was asked yesterday if he felt overshadowed by Gordon and those other guys.
“[I wouldn’t say] overshadowed because those guys deserved as much exposure as they got. It definitely was great to see that competition,” Cobb said. “You can’t relax. You can’t take a week off because you have four or three other guys in the Big Ten just as good as you are or better, so it definitely was a great feeling to compete every week and actually get a chance to play those guys.”
Cobb, the focal point of the Gophers offense, rushed for 1,626 yards and 13 touchdowns during his senior season. That came after he rushed for 1,202 yards and seven touchdowns his junior year.
“I just pride myself on being confident and not being tackled by one person,” Cobb said.
That mentality got him an invite to the Senior Bowl, and he generated some buzz down in Mobile with his hard running. He also showed he has some third-down ability, too, by catching passes and pass protecting. Cobb believes he is more than a power runner, that he can be a three-down NFL back.
The Vikings are doing their homework on Cobb. He says they talked informally here this week.
Cobb liked watching the Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks rely on one workhorse back on their way to the playoffs, and he thinks he is capable of being that kind of player someday, too.
First things first, he has to get drafted. He knows he won’t be the first back off the board and that he might see a few of his Big Ten peers get scooped up before him. His moment will come, though.
“My goal is what it’s been since I was little — to play in the NFL,” Cobb said. “So first or seventh [round], it doesn’t really matter to me. … Whenever my name is called, I’ll be ready to come.”
While Vikings decision-makers are taking every opportunity to publicly state they would like suspended running back Adrian Peterson to play for the team this season, Peterson himself is apparently “uneasy” about the prospect of returning the Vikings.
Peterson said in an interview with ESPN on Thursday night that he felt the team’s decision to work with the NFL to get him put on the commissioner’s exempt list in September was an “ambush” and stated that it has made him question how much support he has from the Vikings.
“It shows you can have all the loyalty toward someone and toward an organization, a fan base, but when things really shift and it’s you or the empire, they’re gonna put you out on a leash,” he said.
His comments come two weeks after he said “of course” he would love to return to the Vikings.
“I said, ‘Of course.’ I said it,” Peterson said. “But my emotions, as far as those things I feel, those are for players like [outside linebacker] Chad Greenway, those guys that play the game just like me, that have the same passion I have, the same goal I have, to win a championship. That’s where it comes from. It don’t come from the organization. I’m not in a good place when it comes to that.”
Yesterday, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said he “expects” Peterson to play for the team in 2015 and predicted he would come back with something to prove. Head coach Mike Zimmer again voiced his support for Peterson this morning and vouched for him as a person.
But Peterson believes some people in the organization do not want him back, and he questioned how Vikings fans and local media treated him after he was charged with child abuse in September.
“This came from the state I love so much, that I wish to bring a championship to? This is how they treat me when I’m down and out? You kick me?” Peterson told ESPN. “My wife [and I], we’ve had several conversations about me returning to Minnesota, what the best options are. If I left it up to her, I’d be somewhere else today, and that’s with her weighing everything. It’s a lot for me to weigh. She understands that. But there are some things that I’m still uneasy about.”
Peterson also said that he has been complying with the NFL’s requirements for reinstatement from his suspension, including talking to the psychiatrist the NFL required him to speak and set up a counseling and treatment plan. Peterson is eligible for reinstatement on April 15.
INDIANAPOLIS —- Notre Dame kicker Kyle Brindza entered 2014 with his eyes on the NFL. But his senior season with the Fighting Irish did not go as he planned. He missed 10 of his 24 field-goal attempts after converting 75.4 percent of his attempts in his first two seasons in South Bend.
His confidence shaken as he began preparing for the NFL scouting combine and pre-draft workouts, Brindza reached out to a fellow kicker who could relate to what he was going through — Blair Walsh.
Brindza and Walsh first met four years ago, before Brindza headed to Notre Dame for his freshman year. Both kickers were working with Brandon Kornblue, a kicking consultant in Naples, Florida.
“[Walsh is] actually a pretty close friend of mine,” Brindza told a group of reporters yesterday at the scouting combine at Lucas Oil Field. “Just how he went through his senior year at Georgia, I kind of went through the same struggles. He’s been able to coach me through everything and help me.”
In that senior year at Georgia, Walsh split the uprights on just 21 of his 35 field-goal attempts, and his 60 percent accuracy rate was well below how he performed as a sophomore and junior. Walsh regrouped after the season and convinced the Vikings to spend a 2012 sixth-round pick on him.
Walsh was one of the NFL’s most accurate kickers that season, making the NFL’s All-Pro team as a rookie. Meanwhile, Brindza was taking over as the primary kicker for the Fighting Irish.
Now, he, too, is trying to make it to the NFL and credits Walsh for helping him get his groove back.
“I’m not going to put  behind me just because I learned so much,” he said. “As Blair Walsh has told me, you learn from your past. Learn from what you did your senior year and never do it again.”
INDIANAPOLIS —- DeVante Parker wouldn’t mind reuniting with Teddy Bridgewater again.
In their three seasons together at Louisville, Bridgewater connected with Parker 113 times for 1,920 yards and 28 touchdowns, including a dozen touchdowns during Bridgewater’s final season.
Bridgewater, of course, left for the NFL and finished strong in his rookie year with the Vikings.
“We all knew what Teddy can do. He was prepared all the time,” Parker said Wednesday at the NFL scouting combine at Lucas Oil Field. “People doubted him and he’s proved everybody wrong.”
Parker’s numbers took a dip in 2014 without Bridgewater, but he is in the conversation over this draft’s top receivers and is considered by draft analysts as a lock to go in the top 20 or so picks.
Some of those analysts projected him to the Vikings at pick No. 11 in their early mock drafts.
It’s safe to say Parker and Bridgewater will be pleased if that’s how April’s draft plays out.
“That would be real good, to reunite with him again,” said Parker, who was measured today at 6-foot-3 and 209 pounds. “We had a good connection from college and it would be a good thing.”
Bridgewater has been in the ear of General Manager Rick Spielman, vouching for his college teammate and advocating that the Vikings take Parker. Spielman has also asked Bridgewater about Alabama’s Amari Cooper, Teddy’s high school teammate. This is a common thing, though. Spielman often asks players about old teammates, but that doesn’t mean they have say in his decisions.
“They had a great career together but that has no influence on who we’re looking at,” Spielman said yesterday morning in his chat with Twin Cities reporters. “We’re going to look at who’s best for us regardless. You have to look at the best football player, who fits your scheme the best and what you’re trying to get accomplished. That has no part of the equation.”
Still, consider the Vikings interested in Parker. He said today that he spoke with them out here.
|Fla Gulf Coast||67||FINAL|
|Mount St Marys||74|
|William & Mary||66|
|Utah Valley U||44||FINAL|
|East Tenn St||64||FINAL|
|Central Conn St||66||FINAL|
|South Dakota St||64||FINAL|
|San Jose St||51||FINAL|
|Miss Valley St||49||FINAL|
|Cal State Fullerton||47||FINAL|
|Long Beach State||70|
|SE Missouri St||89|
|Coll of Charleston||56|
|San Diego St||46|
|New Mexico St||0||Postponed|
|Stephen F Austin||102||FINAL|
|Sam Houston St||59||FINAL|
|UC Santa Barbara||54|
|Sam Houston St||52||FINAL|
|Central Conn St||77||FINAL|
|East Tenn St||42||FINAL|
|South Dakota St||82|
|San Diego State||58||FINAL|
|Miss Valley St||54||FINAL|
|SE Missouri St||67|
|Mount St Marys||68|
|San Jose St||81|
|Stephen F Austin||69||FINAL|
|Utah Valley U||68|
|UC Santa Barbara||57||FINAL|
|(7) Oregon State||73|
|(21) Fla Gulf Coast||78|
|Long Beach St||69||FINAL|
|Cal State Fullerton||62|
|New Mexico St||80|
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