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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Not-so-big Week 2 extends strong safety competition at least another week

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated August 18th at 2:26pm 271720451

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.

Cassel will start Saturday; Blanton returns; Robinson injury testing coach's patience

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated August 18th at 3:30pm 271702971

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

  •  Zimmer said safety Robert Blanton will practice today. It’s his first practice since pulling a hamstring in the fourth practice of camp.
  • Cornerback Shaun Prater (head injury) won’t practice today but is expected to practice Tuesday.
  • Cornerback Jabari Price, who has an injury Zimmer wouldn’t reveal, is expected to miss Saturday’s game.
  • Linebacker Gerald Hodges (knee) won’t practice today and will not play on Saturday.
  • Nose tackle Linval Joseph (calf) will do some rehab work today, but is not expected to play on Saturday. He hasn’t practiced since suffering what was described as a minor gunshot wound as an innocent bystander during an incident at a downtown nightclub after the preseason opener.
  • And, finally, judging by Zimmer’s tone, it might be a good idea for cornerback Josh Robinson (hamstring) to get back on the field pronto. When asked when Blanton and Robinson would return to practice, Zimmer said, “Blanton will go today. The other guy, who knows.”

Vikings 4 Downs: Walsh, Ponder, Mauti, red zone offense

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated August 18th at 10:59am 271687491

Every Monday, we’ll take four questions from Twitter for our weekly mailbag using the #VikingsST hashtag.

Even though it’s preseason, there should be some level of concern. He should’ve made the extra point, but it won’t be a 33-yard attempt during the regular season. PATs will be chip shots again this season, probably for the last time, with the ball spotted at the 2.

However, Walsh is 0 for 2 on attempts over 50 yards so far. He sailed a 53-yard kick wide right against the Raiders and hit the left upright on a 51-yarder against the Cardinals on Saturday. The concern is that both misses occurred at home in a new stadium in Walsh’s first two opportunities to gain confidence on 50-yard field goals at TCF Bank Stadium.

Walsh went 2 for 5 on field goals over 50 yards last season after setting an NFL record his rookie season going 10 for 10 on kicks over 50 yards. He set the bar so high that the recent string of missed field goals makes you wonder if it’s mental at this point. Walsh has looked good at practice and drilled this 70-yard field goal during warmups, but it hasn’t translated on the field yet in preseason.

Quarterback Christian Ponder didn’t play against the Cardinals, which was part of head coach Mike Zimmer’s plan entering the game. Matt Cassel played the entire first half with Teddy Bridgewater finishing the game. With the move, the Vikings appear comfortable using Bridgewater as the backup if Cassel wins the starting job.

They should keep Ponder on the roster unless the Vikings find a trade partner. He’s still a valuable backup, and general manager Rick Spielman can get a head start on piling up draft picks for the upcoming draft with whatever he can get for Ponder. It doesn’t make sense to cut him knowing that other teams like the 49ers don’t have a solid backup option.

Yes, linebacker Michael Mauti is on the bubble and in danger of not making the team. He received just nine snaps on defense, while rookie Brandon Watts, who is ahead of Mauti on the depth chart at weakside linebacker, had 33 snaps against the Cardinals.

During his first season as a defensive coordinator with the Cowboys in 2000, the Falcons in 2007 and the Bengals in 2008, Zimmer carried six linebackers on the roster into Week 1. It’s a different situation as a head coach with a different group of players, but it’s not a good sign for Mauti that he didn’t play much in the second preseason game. If Zimmer decides to keep six linebackers, Mauti appears to be the odd man out behind Watts, Gerald Hodges and Audie Cole.

The Vikings first team offense should’ve had a red zone touchdown against the Cardinals, but tight end Kyle Rudolph dropped a great throw from Cassel. It also settled for a field goal right before the first half ended, advancing 35 yards in seven plays.

While it didn’t score a red zone touchdown, the offense looked good. It shouldn’t be a concern, especially something this specific during the preseason. Most of your worries should be on the other side of the ball at this point and probably throughout the season.

"An-thon-EE!"? As pass rusher, Barr could become "force to be reckoned with," Robison says

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated August 18th at 3:31pm 271671301

The NFL’s ninth overall draft pick is locked in as a starter and is progressing nicely toward his massive potential.

And yet not a single “An-thon-EE, An-thon-EE!” chant could be heard for Vikings outside linebacker Anthony Barr during Saturday night’s 30-28 preseason victory over the Cardinals at TCF Bank Stadium.

Lost in the wake of rookie quarterback Teddy “Ted-DEE, Ted-DEE!” Bridgewater rallying the Vikings from behind not once, but twice in the fourth quarter was another sack and a forced fumble by Barr, the oversized (6-5, 255) 4-3 outside backer who is starting to flash the speed and athleticism that had the Vikings so giddy on draft day.

Barr leads the team in sacks (1 ½) and has its only forced fumble through two preseason games. His multiple skills also have allowed the Vikings to tinker with a variety of pass rushing packages. And this is the preseason, when teams don’t show everything that’s coming when the games start counting.

“He can give us that versatility on defense to where we can all kind of move around and have different parts of the defense and allow us to keep offenses offbeat,” left defensive end Brian Robison said. “[Offenses] can’t key in on one guy. If they have one guy they need to take care of, they can’t because they don’t know where he’s going to be.

“So whether it’s myself, [right end] Everson [Griffen] or Barr, you are not going to know where those rushers are coming from. You might be on the right side one time, you might be on the left side one time, you might be inside one time. You might be blitzing from the back end one time. You just never know where you’re going to be.”

On Saturday, the Cardinals had a third-and-two from their 13-yard line. Barr dropped into a three-point stance at Griffen’s right end spot. Griffen moved to Robison’s left end spot. And Robison moved inside to tackle, a spot where he first stood out as a pass rusher when Ray Edwards was the starter on the left side.

Robison and Barr got a good rush. So did Griffen, who ended up chasing down quarterback Drew Stanton, who essentially threw the ball away near the goal line.

“As a defensive end, you want to rush from the end,” Robison said. “But, bottom line, it creates mismatches. And if you can create mismatches, it gives your team more chances to win. Bottom line is I’m about winning games around here.”

Robison, 31 and in his eighth season, was asked to evaluate Barr, 22 and only three years removed from being a fullback at UCLA, as a down lineman rushing the passer.

“I think he’s got a little bit of a learning curve there,” Robison said. “He’s not used to having his hand in the dirt, but his willingness to learn is refreshing to see.

“He’s always coming up to me or Everson or [defensive line] coach Patterson or [assistant defensive line coach Robb] Akey. He’s always trying to learn. That’s what you see. He’s got such raw talent with just his speed and stuff. If he starts learning some of the hand techniques and stuff like that, he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.”

Access Vikings morning walkthrough: Bridgewater, Cassel, even a little Ponder... and more

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated August 18th at 7:27am 271661021

Every weekday, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening with the team that day.

WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

— Are the Vikings realizing the error of drafting QB Christian Ponder?

— QB Teddy Bridgewater’s final drive Saturday shows that he is making progress.

— Bridgewater and fellow QB Matt Cassel put up some pretty impressive numbers.

— The battle at MLB between Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole is not yet over.

TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY

AROUND THE NFC NORTH

— The Bears and WR Santonio Holmes appear to be a good fit.

— Rookie WR Jeff Janis had a memorable Packers debut.

— DT Nick Fairley could be the Lions’ last chance to salvage the 2011 draft.

TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE

After a day off, the Vikings are back at Winter Park today. Practice starts at 2:45 p.m.

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

While Bridgewater has done most of his damage in the preseason within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage — he’s 20-of-25 for 161 yards and two touchdowns on such throws, according to Pro Football Focus — Cassel has completed more  deeper throws. He is 7-for-10 for 156 yards and a touchdown on throws 10 or more yards downfield, including his 51-yard touchdown Saturday.

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Texas - WP: N. Martinez 5 FINAL
Miami - LP: N. Eovaldi 4
Seattle - LP: J. Paxton 3 FINAL
Philadelphia - WP: C. Hamels 4
Toronto - WP: R. Dickey 9 FINAL
Milwaukee - LP: J. Nelson 5
NY Mets - WP: Z. Wheeler 8 FINAL
Oakland - LP: J. Samardzija 5
Atlanta - LP: D. Carpenter 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: M. Melancon 3
Houston - WP: S. Feldman 5 FINAL
NY Yankees - LP: D. Huff 2
Arizona - LP: E. Marshall 2 FINAL
Washington - WP: R. Soriano 3
LA Angels - WP: C. Rasmus 8 FINAL
Boston - LP: C. Buchholz 3
Detroit - WP: R. Porcello 6 FINAL
Tampa Bay - LP: J. Odorizzi 0
Cincinnati - LP: J. Cueto 3 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: L. Lynn 7
San Francisco - WP: J. Peavy 8 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - LP: E. Jackson 3
Baltimore - WP: W. Chen 4 FINAL
Chicago WSox - LP: H. Noesi 3
Cleveland - WP: T. House 5 FINAL
Minnesota - LP: R. Nolasco 0
Kansas City - LP: D. Duffy 2 FINAL
Colorado - WP: J. De La Rosa 5
San Diego - WP: E. Stults 4 FINAL
Los Angeles - LP: R. Hernandez 1
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Carolina 8/22/14 6:30 PM
New England
NY Giants 8/22/14 6:30 PM
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Jacksonville 8/22/14 6:30 PM
Detroit
Oakland 8/22/14 7:00 PM
Green Bay
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Miami
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Kansas City
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Cleveland
Houston 8/23/14 8:00 PM
Denver
San Diego 8/24/14 3:00 PM
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Arizona
Los Angeles 4 FINAL
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