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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"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.

Ref Wrolstad explains Cardinals' fluky late-game TD

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated August 17th at 6:44pm 271558361

It wasn’t exactly how Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians drew it up, but the Vikings saw their late lead squandered on a bizarre sequence that brought back memories of the old Holy Roller play.

On 4th and Goal from the Vikings’ 6-yard line, Cardinals quarterback Ryan Lindley was unable to field a wide shotgun snap. The ball ricocheted off his right hand and rolled into a scrum of linemen. One of the Cardinals swatted the ball forward and to the left, and Cardinals running back Zach Bauman scooped it up and ran it into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown with 1:11 left.

After a replay review, referee Craig Wrolstad announced that the call on the field would stand.

“Any backwards pass can be advanced by any team, any direction, on any down,” Wrolstad later said. “It wasn’t a fumble because the snap was never possessed by any of the players. The ball was snapped, it rolled around, it was knocked around a couple of times. Nobody ever had control of the ball. Nobody ever had control of the ball, so nobody ever had possession, so it was not a fumble.”

Wrolstad added that he didn’t believe that the Cardinals player who touched the ball, John Estes, intentionally pushed the ball forwards. If he had, the play would not have been permissible.

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said that an official initially told him not to worry about the review because a fumble cannot be advanced on fourth down. But it turned out it wasn’t a fumble.

“Then the official came up to me and said it was a backwards pass because the quarterback never had possession of the ball so it wasn’t a fumble,” he said. “They were able to advance it. There were some other things that happened on that play that probably didn’t get called. The officials in this league do a great job. They really do. We don’t always agree with them, but they do a great job.”

The silver lining was that the play gave Zimmer an opportunity to see rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater run the two-minute offense in a game. And, of course, Bridgewater delivered the win.

It's early, but Cassel, Bridgewater reached some heights not seen in 241 previous preseason games

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated August 17th at 9:43pm 271585981

Who says preseason games are boring?

Let’s not get too carried away with last night’s 30-28 preseason victory over the Cardinals. Then again, let’s also not simply dismiss the record-setting play we saw from the quarterback position simply because it’s preseason, a time when opponents don’t game plan or show their most creative defensive schemes, or keep their best players on the field.

Yeah, the following are preseason passing records, but they’re worth noting and admiring since the Vikings have now played 242 preseason games since opening for business with a 38-13 loss to the Cowboys in Sioux Falls on Aug. 5, 1961:

. Teddy Bridgewater set a team preseason record for highest completion percentage (80.0) in a game with at least 20 passes. He went 16 of 20. The previous mark was 74.1 by Daunte Culpepper against the 49ers in 2004, the year Culpepper would have won league MVP if not for one of Peyton Manning’s finest seasons.

. Bridgewater and Matt Cassel also set a team preseason record by becoming the first pair of QBs to surpass a passer rating of 125.0 with at least 15 attempts apiece. Cassel started and had a rating of 125.3 on 16 attempts. Bridgewater finished and had a rating of 136.9. Christian Ponder didn’t play.

There also was this near record for Bridgewater:

. His 136.9 passer rating came within two-tenths of a percentage point of surpassing a team mark that has stood for 43 years. Bob Lee had a 137.0 rating against the Bears on Aug. 21, 1971.

After the game, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer didn’t announce his starting quarterback for the regular season opener in St. Louis. It will be Cassel, but why come out and name him at this point? Why not enjoy a competition that’s pushed the veteran Cassel to grab onto the job like an Adrian Peterson handshake? Why not enjoy the rookie Bridgewater bouncing back from a poor preseason opener and some rocky training camp practices to lead the Vikings from behind twice with pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes?

“The way they’re both playing right now,” said receiver Jarius Wright, “it’s easy to take your pick.”

The fact that Bridgewater played as well as he did and didn’t gain any ground on Cassel is a tribute to how well Cassel has learned Norv Turner’s offense and how comfortable he is with the talent around him.

And, as tight end Kyle Rudolph noted with a smile, “We have a lot of weapons. And we haven’t even shown our best weapon [Adrian Peterson] yet.”

The fact Bridgewater bounced back from a disappointing preseason opener is a tribute to his work ethic, Turner’s experience with all sorts of QBs the past 30 years and Zimmer’s approach with the rookie.

Zimmer can be a gruff, salty-tongued old-school coach who jumps on players in practice. But he also has shown that he’s got other pitches he can go to in his coaching repertoire. In this case, it was Zimmer who seemed to calm Bridgewater down by telling him the simplest of Pop Warner 101 coaching: “Just go out and have fun” and if he makes a mistake, they’ll correct it and move on.

“I’m a young guy and a lot has been thrown at me,” Bridgewater said. “I tend to overthink things. Coach Turner and Coach Zimmer always tell me to just do what you do best and that’s play football and have fun, so today I was able to go out and play relentlessly and not overthink plays and trust everything they’ve been telling me.”

So, yeah, it’s preseason. But after suffering through the three-headed QB fiasco that helped ruin last season, the Vikings and their fans should be excited about what they saw last night and the potential that was there both now and long-term.

Brinkley, Cole still battling for starting middle linebacker spot

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated August 18th at 6:28am 271559821

Quarterback Matt Cassel maintained his steady play against the Cardinals on Saturday in a competition against rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Strong safety Chris Crocker started at strong safety in a four-way battle with Andrew Sendejo, Jamarca Sanford and Kurt Coleman.

But there’s also an ongoing competition at middle linebacker involving Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole. Both linebackers played well into the second half with Brinkley receiving the start with the first team. Head coach Mike Zimmer said he wanted to rotate Brinkley and Cole every two series, but it was a challenge due to the personnel grouping the Cardinals used on offense for most of the game.

Zimmer said both Brinkley and Cole didn’t get too many reps, likely due to the Vikings countering with the Cardinals’ three receiver sets with their nickel package. Cole had 31 snaps while Brinkley finished with 17. He’ll have the same plan again next week against the Chiefs.

Brinkley finished second on the team with five tackles. Cole finished with two tackles.

“I see mistakes more than I see when everything is perfect,” Zimmer said. “There was a couple of those by both of them but for the most part they were all right.”

Brinkley brings the run stopping ability Zimmer seeks on defense but during a drive in the third quarter was subbed out for Cole on third downs in pass situations. Cole doesn’t have the experience like Brinkley, starting in five games in his previous two seasons, but looks more comfortable at middle linebacker than when used as an outside linebacker. It’s something to keep an eye on over the next week.

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