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.
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.
Vikings linebacker Michael Mauti described his right knee procedure as a “speed bump” and a minor scope that placed him on injured reserve last week.
Mauti dealt with three torn ACLs in five seasons at Penn State before he arrived to the Vikings last year as a seventh round pick. He expects to recover from surgery in four weeks.
“I’m kind of over that; it’s part of the game at this point,” Mauti said of his knee injuries. “It’s encouraging for me after talking with the doctors. When he went in there and looked around, he said, ‘I couldn’t believe you’ve had the surgery that you’ve had because all your cartilage looks perfect.’”
He tweaked the meniscus on a kickoff during the third quarter. It’s unrelated to Mauti’s last torn ACL, which occurred on his left knee in 2012. Mauti was upbeat about the procedure and said he walked away the day of the surgery.
“I knew it wasn’t serious,” Mauti said. “I know what it feels like to have some things go wrong down there, unfortunately. I think the most encouraging part was that it’s not that serious. He cleaned up it up, and I walked out of the surgery that day. If this was during the year, a couple more weeks, and I’d be good to go again.”
Mauti has played nine games this season, mainly used on special teams. He finished with four tackles.
The Vikings are promoting safety Ahmad Dixon from the practice squad. He will fill the open roster spot created yesterday when the team waived offensive tackle J’Marcus Webb.
Dixon, a rookie, started the season with the Cowboys, who drafted him in the seventh round. He made the team out of training camp, but was waived in September, reportedly because he had been late for a couple of team activities.
He has since spent time with the Vikings, the Bears, the Dolphins and the Vikings again. He only played in an NFL game for the Bears, getting special-teams snaps in five games for them.
“I think he’s a talented guy,” head coach Mike Zimmer said today. “He’s been bouncing around on some different practice squads for a little bit. He’s a guy to look at for a possibility in the future. He played pretty good on special teams. We knew him coming out in the draft and then when he was with Dallas in the preseason, the couple games I watched he looked pretty good.”
Starting safety Robert Blanton missed Sunday’s game with an injury, and while cornerback Shaun Prater can potentially play safety, the Vikings have only three healthy safeties right now.
In other news, the Vikings added guard Jordan McCray to their practice squad. McCray, an undrafted rookie out of Central Florida, spent time on the Packers’ practice squad this season.
He was one of multiple players the team had in for tryouts today. That’s because in addition to promoting Dixon, the Vikings lost cornerback Chris Greenwood, who was signed by the Ravens.
|Denver||12/22/14 7:30 PM|
|North Dakota St||52||FINAL|
|San Jose St||53||FINAL|
|BYU||12/22/14 1:00 PM|
|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|
|(1) South Carolina||84|
|Mount St Marys||49|
|William & Mary||51|
|South Dakota St||64||FINAL|
|(5) Notre Dame||64|
|(4) Texas A&M||65|
|Sam Houston St||55||FINAL|
|Coll of Charleston||72|
|(19) Oklahoma St||66||FINAL|
|(6) North Carolina||85|
|SE Missouri St||73|
|No Dakota State||54||FINAL|
|Cal State Fullerton||49|
|(18) Michigan State||89||FINAL|
|(21) Miss State||68|