Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Vikings get visit from alum Page

As morning walk-through ended Wednesday, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer brought the team to midfield and introduced a speaker: former Vikings' great Alan Page.

Zimmer said he likes to bring in team alums to speak with players, and Page, a Minnesota Supreme Court justice, is a member of the college and pro football halls of fame.

"He talked about what it takes to win and what it takes to be a great player," Zimmer said.

Defensive end Brian Robison acknowledged the some of the players might not have known about Page, a defensive tackle who retired after the 1981 season, but the message was important.

"He told us to always strive for excellence," Robison said. "You want to be the best person you can be. ... It's good for our younger players to to get to know some of the older players."

Zimmer said that he hasn't put any number on the amount of time the starters will play in Friday's preseason game against Oakland.

"I told them to be ready to play the whole game if I feel like it," he said.

Though that's unlikely, he did say that Matt Cassell will be the starting quarterback, but rookie Teddy Bridgewater will get some time with the starters.

"I want our players to be able to play fast and not think about their assignment," Zimmer said. "We'll be very basic in everything we do. We're trying to evaluate our players on their athletic ability."

Robison said he hopes the defense can execute perfectly, or it could be a long night.

"Coach told us that we'll keep playing until he figures things are right," Robison said. "Hopefully, we'll execute right off the bat and get out of there."

Zimmer said that the team will practice in shells Wednesday afternoon, giving the players a break. He must have been happy with Tuesday's practice. He said in the last couple days, he's noticed that the defense is doing a better job with alignments and assignments.

"If they make me happy, I'll make them happy," Zimmer said.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Turner sees positives in Bridgewater

While it may look like rookie Teddy Bridgewater was struggled recently in practice, Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner said it's a matter of perspective.

He said that he is throwing a lot of stuff at Bridgewater to see how he reacts, trying to figure out what he does well and what needs work. Turner said that Matt Cassell and Bridgewater have each thrown about 150 passes in competitive drills, and both has thrown only three interceptions: one because of bad decision, one because of a receiver error and one because of a good play by the defense.

"I think (Bridgewater) is playing at an awfully high level," Turner said.

While not saying it, Turner made it sound as though Cassell will start Friday's preseason game against Oakland, though Bridgewater will get some time with the first team.

"Just manage the game," Turner said. "He doesn't have to be sensational, just make good decisions."

Turner wouldn't say if running back Adrian Peterson would play, only that he was "practicing at a high level." Turner said that would give him extra time to look at backups Matt Asiata and rookie Jerick McKinnon.

Asiata is more of a pounding runner, while McKinnon is more shifty, especially in the open field. "I can see us using both of those guys because they do different things."

Turner said he's eager to see who performs well in the preseason game, which he said would be played to win. He said it's like going out to the two night practices in front of a large crowd, where the intensity is always higher than a normal practice.

"In a game, the tempo goes way up," he said. "Guys have an opportunity to react to that or they struggle with it."

Defensive coordinator George Edwards said that having Chris Crocker in the mix at safety has been a nice addition. Crocker signed Monday and practiced that afternoon. Though he's been here only two days, he's worked in coach Mike Zimmer's defense for the last seven years. Edwards said he coached Crocker in Cleveland when Crocker in 2004.

"He's then ultimate pro, as far as preparation," Edwards said. "He has a long history with coach Zimmer. You know what you're going to get from him every day."

Robert Blanton was working with the No. 1 defense at that safety spot until he suffered a hamstring injury. Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond, Kurt Coleman and Dante Exum have rotated in that spot since.

"That's going to play itself out during the preseason," Edwards said. "We just have to keep pressing forward."

Edwards said that Jasper Brinkley will likely start at middle linebacker, but Audie Cole has been practicing there the last couple of days and will get some time Friday.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Zimmer happy with night practice

Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer told the media Monday that one of the assistant coaches told him that a player had said that the head coach "is tough to please."

Zimmer acknowledged that: "I want to be hard to please. I want my expectations to be higher than anyone else. If we don't do things perfectly, I won't be pleased."

However, he said he was happy with the way the team practiced Saturday night in front of about 9,000 fans at Blakeslee Stadium. Players had the day off Sunday and did classroom work Monday morning.

"It was a great crowd," Zimmer said. "The enthusiasm in the stadium was fantastic. Now it's back to work."

Safety Andrew Zenedjo was activated form the physically unable to perform list and will be eased back into practice. Zimmer said it's important for Zendejo, who has been out with a back injury, to get on the field so he can enter the competion at that position.

"I need to see him," Zimmer said.

Zendejo is expected to join individual drills this afternoon and maybe some team work, depending on how he holds up.

"When you first come back, usually the first couple days you're knocking the rust off," he said. "I'm looking forward to doing that."

As for the other injured players, Zimmer said that safety Robert Blanton will likely miss Friday's preseason opener against Oakland because of a hamstring injury. Linebacker Brandon Watts is also missing time with a hamstring injury.

Tight end A.C. Leonard remains out, suffering from headaches. Zimmer said he's been told it's not a concussion but said that Leonard is undergoing some of the concussion tests. Leonard hasn't practiced since Wednesday.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Zimmer excited for second night practice

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he's excited to have another night practice at Blakeslee Stadium, feeling the players get more interested in the workout when there's more fans in the stands and the lights are on tonight.

But he also said he's looking for improvement, noting his disappointment with the how the team practiced on Friday.

"I'm looking for a better performance," he said. "We have an expectation level that we need to meet."

He said he was happy with the progress of the offensive line, especially in run blocking. He said he's a little disappointed with the defense's ability to line up in the proper positions.

"I'm not happy, but satisfied," he said. "I'm never happy."

After tonight's practice, so of the focus will shift to Friday's preseason opener against Oakland at TCF Bank Stadium. Zimmer said that some of the coaches have already started looking at the Raiders, but he's been doing more work on game situations and strategy, such as replay challenges and use of timeouts.

He said he started working with general manager Rick Spielman on 15 scenarios Saturday and has four more days to work on those things.

He said that the first preseason game is more about coaching and evaluating his players and less about tricking the Raiders.

Zimmer said that safety Robert Blanton, who had been working with the No. 1 defense, will be out a while with a hamstring injury, while cornerback Josh Robinson is close to returning from a hamstring injury, though he won't participate tonight.

Tight end A.C. Leonard is still undergoing tests for a headache that has caused him to miss the last three days.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Rookie Barr making good strides

Rookie linebacker Anthony Barr, the team's No. 1 draft pick, seems to be getting more opportunities with the starters at every practice, filling in at strongside with Jasper Brinkley in the middle and Chad Greenway on the outside.

Defensive coordinator George Edwards said that Barr is showing all the skills that he saw at UCLA, prompting the Vikings to use the ninth pick in the draft on him. He has shown the ability to run with the backs and rush quarterbacks off the edge.

"I'm excited where he is," Edwards said. "He's shown a lot of flashes."

Another guy who got some first-team reps Friday was cornerback Marcus Sherels. Primarily known for his punt and kick return skills, Sherels was the outside cornerback across from Xavier Rhodes, with Captain Munnerlyn in the slot.

"I'm just trying to take advantage of the opportunity," said Sherels, who is from Rochester. "I just want to show (the coaches) that I can compete and make plays."

Edwards noticed: "If you want to cut up (video) of how you want things done, he's the guy out there doing it right."

Safety Robert Blanton continues to miss time with a hamstring injury that could cost him a month of practice. Edwards said that he's hopeful that Blanton returns soon.

"You never want to see anybody get hurt," he said. "That's a tough break for Robert."

Special teams coach Mike Priefer said he's started preparing for the NFL's experiment with the longer PAT, which becomes a 33-yard kick, and he said it will affect games, though he's not sure how.

"If (the NFL) wants to do it, we have to accept it," Priefer said. "I hope it affects our opponents more."

He also said that kicker Blair Walsh and punter Jeff Locke have already spent a lot of time practicing at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium, where the Vikings will have home games for the next two seasons, to prepare for any tricky wind patterns that might develop there.

"Our opponents will only have 30 minutes to figure it out," he said. "We'll have had months to prepare for it."

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Zimmer not concerned about new rules

There will be a new rules informational meetings for the Vikings beat writers today, but coach Mike Zimmer offered a preview of what's to come.

He said that illegal contact and holding in the defensive backfield will be a points of emphasis this season. He added that there will be some technique work that the defense can do to avoid penalties, and "we will play within the rules."

When asked about some under-the-radar guys who have had a good first week of training camp, Zimmer cited cornerback Jabari Price, the team's seventh-round draft choice, and receiver Rodney Smith, who was on the roster for a few games last season.

"(Price is) covering guys pretty good," Zimmer said. "He's tough. Sometimes, young guys come in a little tentative.

"The last three, four days, (Smith) has shown up a lot better. He's running better routes."

He also mentioned fullback Zach Line and tackle Antonio Richardson.

The linebackers continue to be a work in progress, though Zimmer said that veteran Chad Greenway will likely settle in at weakside, his natural position. He had been playing some in the middle as the team tries to find its best combination, and he will likely be in the middle in nickel packages.

Zimmer said that rookie Anthony Barr has looked good at outside linebacker, as well as being used at defensive end in some pass-rushing situations.

"We're just trying to get the best 11 players on the field," Zimmer said.

He added that while receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn are both working their way toward full participation at practice, they will continue to take things slowly

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Same job, different offense

With a new head coach and new coordinators in charge, nearly every Vikings player is learning a new scheme this preseason.

Fullback Jerome Felton said Turner's offense is complex with “a lot of motions and shifts; that's different than in the past.” However, he said that doesn't mean his job changes a whole lot.

“(Turner) wants to run the football. He wants to power run the football,” Felton said after Wednesday morning's special teams walk-thru. “That's what I do. The basics of what I don won't change.”

For Felton, the best part of camp came on Sunday when players put the pads on for the first time.

“As a fullback, when you don't have the pads on, you can't show what you're about. I think it's been important the last two days to come out here in pads to show what I can do.”

Turner said some, but not all, positions need that look during camp.

“Tight ends, linebackers, offensive linemen, the full backs – seeing those guys in full pads helps you evaluate.”