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.
There was plenty to like from the Vikings’ top units in their 10-6 preseason win over the Oakland Raiders eight days ago. The Vikings scored on their first two drives and the defense produced a pair of three-and-outs on the Raiders’ first two drives. Not too shabby.
There were some negatives, though, when it came to both the first-stringers and the backups who played more than three quarters of the game. And some important questions remain unanswered.
The hope is that the Vikings will provide a little more clarity tonight against the Arizona Cardinals, especially when it comes to the all-important quarterback position.
Here are three things I will be watching for at TCF Bank Stadium tonight:
1. HOW WILL CHRIS CROCKER DO IN HIS DEBUT? Head coach Mike Zimmer said the other day that he wants to get a good look at four safeties tonight: Chris Crocker, Kurt Coleman, Jamarca Sanford and Andrew Sendejo. The only one of those four who played against the Raiders was Coleman, and he picked off a pass and played pretty well. Sanford and Sendejo missed the game due to injuries but are expected to play tonight. And Crocker was new to the team, so he did not play. Since last Friday, though, Crocker has seen a lot of time with the first team next to Harrison Smith. I’m curious to see how the 34-year-old plays tonight. Will he make a claim for the position?
2. WILL THE OFFENSIVE LINE PROTECT BETTER? The starting offensive line fared well when it came to run blocking. They got good push at the goal-line on Matt Asiata’s 1-yard touchdown run and gave rookie Jerick McKinnon some room to run before exiting the game. The top group did, however, allow a pair of sacks to the Raiders. And the team as a whole allowed six sacks throughout the game. Afterwards, Zimmer said that two of his biggest critiques were the pass protection and the pass rush, and he feels the Cardinals will be a good test for his offensive line. That group must pass protect better this season to give whoever the Vikings’ quarterback is a fair chance.
3. CAN MATT CASSEL SEIZE THE STARTING SPOT? If the veteran quarterback doesn’t already have the starting gig locked up, it’s pretty darn close. Cassel led an efficient TD drive against the Raiders and followed it up with a mostly mistake-free week of practice. Meanwhile, his competitor, rookie Teddy Bridgewater, had an up-and-down performance in that preseason opener then threw five picks in a span of two practices in Mankato. There is nothing to worry about what it comes to Bridgewater. We’re seeing a young quarterback learn what he can and can’t do at the NFL level. But another sharp performance by Cassel and Teddy seems likely start the season on the bench.
Chris Kluwe’s lawyer said the Vikings and Kluwe have reached a settlement that will prevent a lawsuit by Kluwe against the team.
The former Vikings punter threatened to sue for more than $10 million because the team would not release the full investigation into his claims about what he said was a culture of discrimination.
Lawyer Clayton Halunen, in an e-mail to the Star Tribune, said there would be a joint press conference next week with details of the settlement.
Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer was suspended for three games in the regular season for using homophobic language.
The Vikings, earlier this month, added Ted Wells and Roberta Kaplan to their legal team, either bracing for a lawsuit or to join in the settlement talks.
Wells provided the NFL with a report on the atmosphere of bullying in the Miami Dolphins locker room. Kaplan is best known for her work opposing the Defense of Marriage Act.
Safety Jamarca Sanford has started 41 games over the last three seasons for the Vikings, but he’s in a four-way competition for his starting strong safety spot having to prove his ability.
It’s just another training camp for the seventh round pick in 2009.
“A lot of people told me I wouldn’t last a year in this league,” Sanford said. “Now I’m going into Year 6. It’s nothing different, just another hump in the road I’ve got to get over.”
Sanford will get his first live action on Saturday against the Cardinals after missing the preseason opener against the Raiders with back spasms. He’s had to play catch up throughout the offseason as Sanford also did not participate in OTAs and minicamp.
“It was a setback but that’s part of the game,” Sanford said. “Injuries, it’s a physical game. You always have tweaks. It didn’t help the situation at all, kind of took a step back not being out there and getting the mental reps.”
With injuries to Sanford, Andrew Sendejo and Robert Blanton, the Vikings signed Chris Crocker to compete at strong safety. Crocker has received the majority of the first team reps this week given his familiarity with head coach Mike Zimmer’s defense.
There’s a good chance the newly-acquired safety will start against Arizona. Sanford will get his shot during the game however as Zimmer said he plans to divide the playing time among the four safeties.
The new addition will make his battle to retain that starting spot even more challenging, though Sanford won’t treat Saturday’s game differently.
Sanford has been in similar situations throughout his career, battling to secure a starting spot with the Vikings.
“I’ve been fighting all my life,” Sanford said. “I’m not the prototype safety – 6-2, 220 (pounds). I’m 5-10 — stretching at 5-10 — 200-to-205 pounds. Size goes against me but it’s not about the size. It’s not the size of the dog, it’s the fight in the dog. I know I put a lot of effort this offseason to work my rear end off to come back and help this team.”
Every day On most days, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening that day.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
— Mike Zimmer’s first training camp with the Vikings has come to a close.
— QB Matt Cassel could play most of the first half against the Cardinals.
— Rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater says he needs to stop overthinking things.
— Zimmer second-guessed himself on a pair of decisions from the preseason opener.
— Rookie DT Shamar Stephen has been getting opportunities with the first team.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
— Dom DeCicco (@ddecicco58) August 14, 2014
AROUND THE NFC NORTH
— The Bears won last night, but the Jaguars outplayed their starters.
— The Packers think rookie TE Richard Rogers can make an impact.
— Chemistry will be key for the Lions’ safeties.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
Training camp is over, but the Vikings still have to go to work today. They will report to Winter Park and take part in a mock game in anticipation for tomorrow night’s preseason game at TCF.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
RB Adrian Peterson has made a couple of cameos, but he hasn’t touched the ball in a preseason game since 2011, when he carried the ball 21 times for 100 yards over three games. That season, of course, was the one in which he shredded his knee. We won’t see Peterson play tomorrow night against the Cardinals and it seems unlikely this streak comes to an end this preseason.
On the final practice in Mankato on Thursday, Vikings alumni were on hand to witness the end of another training camp at Minnesota State. Matt Blair, Jake Reed, Matthew Hatchette and Henry Thomas all stopped by to watch practice. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer gathered all the players before practice began to say a few words about the alumni as they received a round of applause from the team. Thomas even got a chance during an individual period to do some coaching of his own. He currently trains high school and college players in Houston and wants to get into coaching.
SETTING THE SCENE: You couldn’t have asked for a better day to wrap up practice. The weather, for the most part, was just right throughout camp. Mother Nature saved the best for the last practice on Thursday with temperatures in the mid-70s. The players weren’t in pads but there was still a good tempo to practice. YOUR DAILY QUARTERBACK SMORGASBOARD: Hey, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater didn’t throw an interception! Well, maybe that was due to an altered practice format. Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater faced scout teams during the majority of the 11-on-11 periods. Cassel took all the first team reps and didn’t face the first team defense until a red zone period near the end of practice. Cassel had another crisp practice as he’s expected to have a big role in Saturday’s preseason contest against the Cardinals. FLASH’S CATCH: With all the attention Bills rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins has received from some of his one-handed catches, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson had a similar, eye-popping reception during a team period. He made an outstanding, one-handed grab from Cassel against cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who was in the vicinity. The media can’t shoot 11-on-11 periods. Unless the Vikings have a clip of the catch, it’ll be hard to find a video of the play. RODNEY’S DAY: Wide receiver Rodney Smith has displayed flashes of his ability in training camp, but he has been very inconsistent. He had one of his better days though being on the receiving end of two deep receptions from Bridgewater. The second was the most impressive as Smith snagged the ball right off of cornerback Robert Steeples’ facemask en route for a touchdown. SMALL, BUT TOUGH: If you’re a defensive player and safety Jamarca Sanford is yelling your name from the sidelines, it’s usually a good thing. That was the case for cornerback Marcus Sherels, who is a very tough player despite his stature. Just as it appeared wide receiver Kamar Jorden made a reception on a slant route in 11-on-11, the 5-10 cornerback stripped it right out of Jorden’s hands before completing the catch. INJURY REPORT: Cornerback Josh Robinson (hamstring) did not participate in practice and is doubtful on Saturday against the Cardinals. Linebacker Dom DeCicco (hip) had surgery on Thursday and was not at practice. Safety Robert Blanton (hamstring), tight end Chase Ford (foot) and nose tackle Linval Joseph (leg) were still held out of practice.
|Texas - N. Martinez||11:40 AM|
|Miami - N. Eovaldi|
|Seattle - J. Paxton||12:05 PM|
|Philadelphia - C. Hamels|
|Toronto - R. Dickey||1:10 PM|
|Milwaukee - J. Nelson|
|NY Mets - Z. Wheeler||2:35 PM|
|Oakland - J. Samardzija|
|Atlanta - A. Wood||6:05 PM|
|Pittsburgh - G. Cole|
|Houston - S. Feldman||6:05 PM|
|NY Yankees - M. Pineda|
|Arizona - T. Cahill||6:05 PM|
|Washington - T. Roark|
|LA Angels - G. Richards||6:10 PM|
|Boston - C. Buchholz|
|Detroit - R. Porcello||6:10 PM|
|Tampa Bay - J. Odorizzi|
|Cincinnati - J. Cueto||6:15 PM|
|St. Louis - L. Lynn|
|San Francisco - J. Peavy||7:05 PM|
|Chicago Cubs - E. Jackson|
|Baltimore - W. Chen||7:10 PM|
|Chicago WSox - H. Noesi|
|Cleveland - T. House||7:10 PM|
|Minnesota - R. Nolasco|
|Kansas City - D. Duffy||7:40 PM|
|Colorado - J. De La Rosa|
|San Diego - E. Stults||9:10 PM|
|Los Angeles - R. Hernandez|
|Pittsburgh||8/21/14 6:30 PM|
|Carolina||8/22/14 6:30 PM|
|NY Giants||8/22/14 6:30 PM|
|Jacksonville||8/22/14 6:30 PM|
|Oakland||8/22/14 7:00 PM|
|Chicago||8/22/14 9:00 PM|
|Tampa Bay||8/23/14 3:30 PM|
|Tennessee||8/23/14 6:00 PM|
|Dallas||8/23/14 6:00 PM|
|Washington||8/23/14 6:30 PM|
|New Orleans||8/23/14 7:00 PM|
|Minnesota||8/23/14 7:00 PM|
|St. Louis||8/23/14 7:00 PM|
|Houston||8/23/14 8:00 PM|
|San Diego||8/24/14 3:00 PM|
|Cincinnati||8/24/14 7:00 PM|
|Los Angeles||8:00 PM|
|San Jose||9:00 PM|
|Montreal||8/22/14 7:30 PM|
|Toronto||8/23/14 3:00 PM|
|Calgary||8/24/14 2:00 PM|
|Saskatchewan||8/24/14 6:00 PM|