Linebacker Gerald Hodges was one of a few players that stood out to head coach Mike Zimmer after Friday’s preseason opener against the Raiders. He built off that performance with an interception during Wednesday’s practice.
Hodges made a nice play, leaping to make the catch on a poor decision by quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in 11-on-11 period. Bridgewater attempted to throw the ball after he was sacked by defensive end Corey Wootton in the middle of the field next to a receiver where nobody could make a play on the ball. Well, Hodges did.
“He is doing a lot better,” Zimmer said on Wednesday. “Last week, he’s doing much better. He’s got good athleticism, he’s got physicality when he strikes you, he can run and I’m hopeful for him.”
SETTING THE SCENE: It was 81 degrees during practice but definitely felt hotter. Defensive linemen were drenched in sweat during individual drills at the start of practice and quenching for water before the 11-on-11 periods. There were brief moments where it cooled off due to some cloud cover, but it didn’t last long.
YOUR DAILY QUARTERBACK SMORGASBOARD: Bridgewater threw two more interceptions during practice. That’s five interceptions in the last two practices, for those keeping track at home. Along with Hodges, safety Mistral Raymond picked off Bridgewater separate 11-on-11 periods. The rookie did receive a few reps with the first team in 11-on-11, however, unlike Monday night’s practice. He did a nice job selling a play action with running back Adrian Peterson to hit Cordarrelle Patterson in stride on a big gain. Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder didn’t concede a turnover on the other hand. Cassel had a nice deep pass to Greg Jennings for about 45 yards with cornerback Marcus Sherels in coverage for the play of the day.
STEP-HEN UP: With nose tackle Linval Joseph recovering from a leg injury, rookie defensive tackle Shamar Stephen received first team reps at nose tackle. He also received praise Zimmer for his performance against the Raiders and got some valuable extra reps for a rookie continuing to develop. Stephen, who can play both the nose and three-technique spots, still mixed in with the second team as well.
CROCKER EMERGING: Safety Chris Crocker received the majority of the first team reps at strong safety alongside Harrison Smith. The newly-acquired safety did not play in the preseason opener after he signed with the team last week. Crocker is very familiar with Zimmer’s scheme, which was the main reason why he signed with the Vikings.
MR. MANKATO UPDATE: Wide receiver Adam Thielen has made some difficult catches at training camp. He made another one on a rollout play with Bridgewater. Thielen did a nice job adjusting to a small window Bridgewater had to throw. He maintained possession of the ball while sliding before rolling out of bounds. Thielen had a rare, would-be touchdown drop however that caused him to spike the ball in frustration. The Minnesota State alum bobbled a nice ball from Bridgewater on a vertical route after beating cornerback Shaun Prater off the line of scrimmage.
RUDOLPH UNFAZED: Tight end Kyle Rudolph is probably on a short list of players you probably wouldn’t want to try and lay out over the middle given his size. While Hodges had an interception at practice, he tried just that during an 11-on-11 period. The linebacker popped Rudolph after he completed the catch with a legal, but hard, hit. Rudolph hardly moved, while Hodges went stumbled back a few yards after the contact. Lesson learned.
INJURY REPORT: Cornerback Josh Robinson (hamstring) was dressed but did not participate in team periods. He would not disclose the reason why he was limited, but Robinson has dealt with a nagging hamstring injury throughout training camp. Marcus Sherels filled in for Robinson the nickel. Safety Robert Blanton (hamstring), tight end Chase Ford (foot) and Joseph (leg) were sidelined again. Linebacker Dom Decicco (hip) will have surgery on Thursday, Zimmer announced.
Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on Monday night had perhaps his shakiest practice of training camp, throwing three interceptions — two of which were his fault — and having another possible pick dropped by cornerback Derek Cox. Head coach Mike Zimmer wasn’t thrilled about one red-zone interception, but believe it or not, he is happy to see that Bridgewater is taking chances.
“Obviously we don’t want to throw interceptions in the red zone,” he said. “That’s one of our core goals. But it happens. You know, like the DBs, I would always tell them that sometimes you’ve got to get beat in practice to find out how tight you can play them. If you never get beat in practice, you’re probably playing too far off of a guy. If you’re going to get beat, let’s get beat in practice. Let’s learn from what we do out here. And I think that is for everything position. This is where we learn.”
And Zimmer is not concerned about the rookie’s confidence after Bridgewater threw three picks in practice a few days after an uneven preseason debut in which he completed just six of 13 attempts.
“His confidence is not shaken,” Zimmer said. “He’s fine.”
Speaking of quarterbacks, Zimmer was asked after the walkthrough if he is concerned about the state of his secondary with Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers looming early in the season.
“You forgot Matt Ryan and those two receivers they got,” Zimmer said.
While the Vikings are dealing with injuries in the secondary, specifically at safety, Zimmer believes he has seen progress from that group. He acknowledged that they “still have a long ways to go,” but he feels the DBs are contesting passes and showing improvement in bump-and-run coverage.
“I’m not concerned about it,” Zimmer said. “We’re going to come out there and challenge receivers and hopefully play very, very good. My expectations are always high. I know that stretch is a tough stretch, but it is what it is. They’re not going to cancel the games. And neither am I.”
Finally, Zimmer announced that linebacker Dom DeCicco, a rookie free agent from Pittsburgh who is a longshot to make the team, will have hip surgery tomorrow. Zimmer would not offer a timetable for when DeCicco will return, but one figures he could be a candidate to be placed on injured reserve.
So what was Mike Zimmer’s advice to son, Adam, when he got the itch to become a football coach?
Beat it, kid.
Well, it wasn’t quite like that. But Mike, the Vikings head coach and former longtime NFL assistant, didn’t think it would be good for Adam if he simply hopped on dad’s coattails.
“I felt like, No. 1, he should go earn his own stripes, so to say,” Zimmer said. “And No. 2, he was fortunate enough to be with Gary Gibbs, Romeo Crennel and Gregg Williams as defensive coordinators. And with me.
“Not saying I’m great. But he can figure out eventually when he gets to that point, `All right, I like what Gregg Williams did better than what I did.’ He can figure those things out.”
Adam, 30, began his career at Trinity University in Texas in 2002. He was there through 2005 before joining the Saints as defensive assistant in 2006. He was promoted to assistant defensive backs coach in 2009.
Adam moved on to Kansas City as defensive assistant and assistant linebackers coach from 2010 to 2012 before joining dad with the Bengals in 2013 and the Vikings as linebackers coach this season.
“I think if you’re going to have nepotism, it’s, in my opinion, better to go out and earn your way and learn and learn from other people and kind of come up with how you are as opposed to he comes with me the entire time,” Mike said.
“I know the perception, too. But I also think it’s more beneficial for him. He’s seen four different ways to do things now. He’s 30 years old, so that’s a good start. And won a Super Bowl.”
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner adheres to the same philosophy. His son, Scott, the Vikings quarterbacks coach, spent his first five NFL seasons coaching in Pittsburgh and Carolina before joining his dad in Cleveland last year.
The Vikings are in the midst of one of those great sports dilemmas — the kind where there is no perfect answer, we can talk in circles for hours, and most of it is meaningless [redacted] serving as a pleasant diversion from riots, wars and deadly viruses.
The interesting thing about the Teddy Bridgewater vs. Matt Cassel debate is that for all the dalliances the Vikings have had with QB controversies, we can’t remember one that had quite so many good arguments on both sides — at least when it comes to the question of “who should be the week 1 starter?”
When Christian Ponder was a rookie first-round pick in 2011, he was coming off a lockout shortened offseason. There was no good reason for him to start right away (even if the default alternative was Donovan McNabb). Ponder was the clear starter in 2012. The Vikings went to the playoffs that year, so he was the incumbent in 2013. The job was Brett Favre’s, of course, in 2009 and 2010. The years before that but after Daunte Culpepper were mostly starter-by-default scenarios, where the Vikings had to choose between the lesser of two mediocrities.
You could argue they’re in somewhat similar territory this year with Bridgewater and Cassel, though we would argue it’s more of a legitimate competition: a rookie deemed to be close to NFL-ready coming out of college and a veteran who showed reasonable competency in 2013 and in previous seasons as a starter.
Cassel looked better in the preseason opener. Bridgewater has by many accounts looked quite good in most practices.
Our best guess still is that Cassel starts the season with the No. 1 job, but we also think the decision will be an interesting indicator of the mindset of Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner. Do they go the safe route and go with the veteran early against a tough schedule, or do they go all-in on a rebuild with the rookie?
Maybe it’s as simple as the best player for the job will win it, but if it’s a virtual tie it gets more complicated.
Every day On most days, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening that day.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
— Matt Cassel is confident he’ll remain the Vikings’ No. 1 quarterback.
— WR Greg Jennings says the Vikings offense can be successful if players are unselfish.
— Rookie G David Yankey and rookie S Antone Exum played a lot against the Raiders.
— Check out some photos from Vikings training camp.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
It is incredible how how close these numbers are. @azcardinals pic.twitter.com/BMRPn4MQr8
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) August 12, 2014
AROUND THE NFC NORTH
— The Packers traded disappointing DE Jerel Worthy to the Patriots.
— The Lions activated DE Ziggy Ansah from the PUP list.
— The Bears are optimistic after breaking training camp.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
The Vikings are back in Mankato. Their walkthrough is at 10:30 a.m. and practice is at 3:00 p.m.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
Pro Football Focus recently released its ranking of the NFL’s offenses, and the Vikings came in 11th, surprisingly ahead of teams such as the Bears, Falcons and Cowboys. PFF ranked the team’s offensive line as the NFL’s second best — due in large part to their run blocking — and they said their running backs were the third-best bunch in the league. The receivers, which included tight ends, came in at 12th. But you can probably figure out what the missing piece is in their eyes; they ranked the team’s quarterback group 27th in the NFL. But it brings up an intriguing thought: How good will this offense be if the Vikings figured out their quarterback situation?