The Vikings players are trickling out to Blakeslee Stadium in Mankato as I write this, but before the final night practice of this year’s training camp, head coach Mike Zimmer gave some injury updates.
The biggest news is that tight end Chase Ford, who suffered a stress fracture in his right foot between the June minicamp and the start of training camp, is coming close to a return. He is off crutches and out of a walking boot, and he was wearing cleats this morning at the walkthrough.
“He’s close. Probably 10 days maybe, I’m guessing,” Zimmer said.
It’s too early to tell if Ford will be removed from the physically-unable-to-perform list before the start of the regular season. Zimmer and the training staff need to see how he responds to running and cutting and things like that. If he starts on PUP, he must sit out the first six weeks. But the fact that he could be back on the field in a couple of weeks bodes well for his chances of avoiding that.
Speaking of tight ends, Zimmer also talked about the decision to sign veteran Kory Sperry.
“This guy’s more of a blocking kind of guy,” Zimmer said. “We felt like we needed a little more power at the point of attack. We worked him out prior to, I guess when we signed [tight end] Mike Higgins, and we felt we needed more without Chase. We were a guy short.”
Elsewhere on the injury front, Zimmer expects safety Mistral Raymond to return to practice and cornerbacks Josh Robinson (hamstring) and Marcus Sherels (hamstring) to continue practicing. Safety Jamarca Sanford (back) and defensive tackle Tom Johnson (bicep) will also try to practice. Sanford sat out the preseason opener and Johnson was injured in that game.
Furthermore, Zimmer expects all safeties not named Robert Blanton (hamstring) to suit up Saturday against the Cardinals, and he said there is a chance that Chris Crocker, who did not play against the Raiders because he was new to the team, could start alongside Harrison Smith.
Zimmer said he is hopeful that he and his staff will finally be able to get a true evaluation of the safety position now that players such as Sanford and Andrew Sendejo are healthy enough to practice and Crocker has knocked some of the rust off after remaining unsigned until a week ago.
“It’s difficult because guys aren’t practicing as much. In the ballgame the other night, we had three safeties that were left playing,” Zimmer said. “I anticipate that they should all play this week [except for Blanton]. So tomorrow we’ll sit down and try to get a much better evaluation of the guys we think we need to see more on tape. And this will be a good test because [the Cardinals] play with four wides and throw the ball around pretty good.”
Two pitchers who have started games for the Twins in August — including one who pitched just two days ago — combined on a no-hitter for Class AAA Rochester on Monday.
What’s that, now?
Yes, Logan Darnell and Trevor May had a combined no-hitter for the Red Wings.
Sure, but what are you talking about?
Ah, here’s the fun part: It was the completion of a game suspended by rain July 24. May started the game and pitched three hitless innings. Darnell actually pitched two days later for the Twins, and again on Aug. 1, but he was since sent down.
The game resumed today, and Darnell threw the next six innings of hitless relief.
@MasterStrib #Vikings #VikingsST Who played better – Manziel or Bridgewater after 1 pre-season game?
— ABQViking68 (@ABQViking68) August 10, 2014
I’d give the edge to Johnny Manziel, but not by much. Here’s how each fared in the box score.
Manziel vs. the Lions: 7/11, 63 yards, 79.0 QB rating; six carries, 27 yards
Bridgewater vs. the Raiders: 6/13, 49 yards, 56.2 rating; two sacks for 16 yards, one fumble.
Both Teddy Bridgewater and Manziel showed flashes of what we were accustomed to see in college. Each had a smooth play-action, rollout pass (Bridgewater to his right and Manziel to his left) that was negated by either a penalty or an incompletion. Manziel was able to do more with his feet, including a 16-yard scramble on third down. Bridgewater was elusive, displaying some of his athleticism to escape pressure in the pocket and extend plays and did a good job selling play actions, draws, fake tosses and counters.
Bridgewater’s fumble on his first drive was the biggest mistake made by the two rookies. Left tackle Matt Kalil got beat by rookie defensive end Shelby Harris. With the pocket collapsing, Bridgewater spun to his right to avoid pressure up the middle and was hit by Harris to cause the fumble. Kalil recovered the fumble, but Bridgewater must protect the ball better in those situations. The 12-yard loss made it 3rd and 19 at the 20. They settled for a field goal on the drive.
On 3rd and 16, Manziel drew a delay-of-game penalty. Following a quick screen pass that gained 20 yards, Manziel scrambled for a first down on a bootleg play. He stiff armed a defender and gained just enough to move the sticks, but Manziel had fullback Ray Agnew open. It’s a throw he has to make now rather than relying on his athletic ability.
Comparing Bridgewater and Manziel in the preseason though would be like analyzing a sparring session when the fight is less than a month away. There’s some information you can take away from it, but avoid jumping to conclusions one way or the other.
@MasterStrib Thielen seems to be more of a favorite to make the team now. Who’s still actually a dark horse? #VikingsST
— Kristian Vatsaas (@noseonarug17) August 11, 2014
I’d be shocked if wide receiver Adam Thielen didn’t make the team. He’s earned it up to this point and even could be used as more than just a special teamer (more on that later).
I’ll go with undrafted free agent defensive tackle Isame Faciane. He had 20 snaps with 17 against the pass, per Pro Football Focus. Faciane recorded a pass deflection and brought pressure up the middle a few times to stand out along the defensive line in the second half. He’s listed behind Kheeston Randall as the third defensive tackle on the depth chart. His college defensive line coach at FIU was Andre Patterson, the Vikings defensive line coach. The familiarity definitely does help Faciane’s case if he can build off Friday’s performance.
@MasterStrib Does Jerome Simpson have a spot on this team? #VikingsST
— Ky|e DeR!der (@Big_Sex_MN) August 11, 2014
Yes he does, but to what extent and for how long is still unknown. When the Vikings went three wide on the opening drive, Simpson was on the field for both plays. He was lined up outside with Greg Jennings shifting to the slot.
Based off practices, offensive coordinator Norv Turner can always use as many wide receivers as possible with all the different alignments incorporated in the scheme. Simpson is still a productive player, though at times drops have still been a problem, and stretch the field.
Cordarelle Patterson and Jennings are clearly the top two receivers. Wright, like Simpson, can also spread the field with his quickness. Thielen’s stock keeps rising with every rep he gets in practice and will be interesting to see how many reps he gets on offense at the start of the season.
Pending any discipline from the NFL, Simpson will probably begin the season as the third receiver, followed by Wright and Thielen in four and five-wide packages.
@MasterStrib chances Felton gets let go? #vikingsST
— DA Sports (@DA_Sports1) August 11, 2014
It’s a possibility. Fullback Jerome Felton received 10 reps in the preseason opener, though he’s been involved with the offense for a decent amount during training camp. Turner’s offense features a good dose of plays with two running backs, whether split or in the “I” formation. Felton is limited to just a blocker though, where someone like running back Matt Asiata, who looked good on the first drive, can do it all and give Turner more options. Felton is a good blocker, but he doesn’t benefit much from the new scheme as a traditional fullback.
The Twins’ pitching rotation has been, ah, unsettled for a while. We were curious: how many different starters have they used since everything went to [redacted] at the beginning of 2011?
Turns out Tommy Milone, who is slated to start tonight in Houston, will be the 27th different starting pitcher used by the Twins from 2011-14.
Sounds like a random big number you would throw out if you were trying to be mean. But it’s the real number.
Here are the other 26 aside from Milone, in order of the number of starts they have made. Honestly, we had forgotten at least a few of these guys:
Scott Diamond 58
Kevin Correia 54
Nick Blackburn 45
Carl Pavano 44
Francisco Liriano 41
Samuel Deduno 41
Brian Duensing 39
Mike Pelfrey 34
Kyle Gibson 32
Liam Hendriks 28
Phil Hughes 24
Scott Baker 21
P.J. Walters 20
Cole De Vries 18
Ricky Nolasco 18
Anthony Swarzak 17
Pedro Hernandez 12
Andrew Albers 10
Vance Worley 10
Yohan Pino 9
Kevin Slowey 8
Jason Marquis 7
Esmerling Vasquez 6
Kris Johnson 3
Logan Darnell 2
Trevor May 1
Over the past two and a half weeks, we have heard the word “evaluating” a lot. George Edwards has been evaluating his unsettled safety and linebacker positions in camp. Norv Turner has been evaluating his offensive linemen. Mike Zimmer has been evaluating everyone — including himself.
But there’s one player Turner has no interest in evaluating: rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
“I’m not interested in evaluating Teddy,” he said. “I’m interested in coaching him and continuing to help him get better. We evaluated him before the draft and we know what he is capable of doing.”
Turner did say that for the most part, he liked what he saw from Bridgewater in Friday night’s 10-6 win over the Raiders. Bridgewater completed six of his 13 attempts for 49 yards, took a couple of sacks and fumbled in the red zone, only to have left tackle Matt Kalil dive on the ball to bail him out.
“The thing I [saw was] that he has all the things that he needs to be a quarterback in this league,” Turner said. “When he did things right, he was quick with the ball and made good decisions. For the most part, he got the ball out quick. He’s very elusive. It shows offs his athleticism. He’s going to have great escapability and I think it’s hard for a guy to rush you when that’s the case.”
Turner acknowledged that there were “a couple of times” when Bridgewater was pressured by the Raiders, took too long to process the play and didn’t get the ball out fast enough. He thinks it was a good experience for Bridgewater and that he will make quicker decisions the more snaps he gets.
So how many snaps will Bridgewater get Saturday against the Cardinals? Zimmer and Turner haven’t said, but reading between the lines it looks like Cassel will get another start, and Turner said today that Cassel is going to play more snaps than he did in the preseason opener.
But Turner pointed out that even though Cassel started against the Raiders, both quarterbacks got the same number of plays — 10 — with the first-team offense and led the Vikings on scoring drives.
Besides, Turner said evaluating players based on which teammates are on the field is “overrated,” though it must be noted that last week he said he wanted to see Bridgewater play behind the starting offensive line in the preseason. Still, his point was that quarterbacks have to make the right decisions regardless of who is blocking for them or trying to catch their passes.
“That’s so overrated,” he said. “You get an evaluation of the guy when he plays. The things that happened to him with the second-team, the same exact things are going to happen with the ones.”
Joe Mauer is slated to come off the disabled list in time for tonight’s game against the Astros. It sounds as though either Trevor Plouffe or Oswaldo Arcia could go on the DL to make room, which is a nice relief because it means the Twins are going to fiddle with big Kennys Vargas (not that they would, anyway, since he’s been batting in the middle of their order and doing just fine).
We don’t know what this will mean for the lineup as a whole, but we do know this: the Twins have 46 games left in this season, and they are an important 46 games for Mauer. For all the jokes about Mauer’s durability and not playing in day games after night games, he appeared in at least 130 games in five of six seasons between 2005-2010. Since then, he’s done it only once — in a quite good 2012 season. Otherwise, it was 82 games in 2011, 113 last season and 76 so far this year.
Saying “Mauer needs to stay healthy” is a little too simple because nobody *tries* to get injured. But considering the Twins still owe Mauer $92 million from 2015-2018 — half of his eight-year contract — it is important to see a healthy, productive Mauer as the Twins play out the stretch run.
He’s still the team’s most accomplished hitter, by far. At 31, he might be at the start of a decline. How sharp that decline is, though, will of course determine just how much value the Twins will get for that large chunk of payroll — and be a significant factor if and when the Twins’ top prospects arrive en masse and potentially help engineer a real turnaround.
A productive Mauer always figured to be part of the plan for the team to contend in 2015/16 and beyond. Even if Mauer could return to 2013 levels for the rest of 2014 (.880 OPS), it would be a good sign. He was showing flashes of that before this last oblique injury; a consistent stretch of it would be a very welcome, and perhaps critically important, sight for the Twins as they prepare for the future.
Every day On most days, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening that day.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
— NT Linval Joseph is expected to be back by the season opener.
— The Vikings have named an interim replacement for Mike Priefer.
— The Vikings signed veteran TE Kory Sperry.
— The offensive linemen have work to do after Friday night’s game.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
Math equation for you today: <12hrs + awesomeness x lots of teeth = @SharkWeek !!!!!!!!!
— Brian Robison (@Brian_Robison) August 10, 2014
AROUND THE NFC NORTH
— Bears TE Martellus Bennett is back from his suspension.
— The Packers have reasons for optimism with their offensive line.
— The Lions used rookie TE Eric Ebron all over the field in his debut.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
The Vikings have their walkthrough at 10:30 a.m. before holding their final night practice of camp in Mankato. The practice runs from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. and the players will be in full pads.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
The Vikings defense forced just 20 turnovers last year, which ranked 27th in the NFL, and the team finished with a negative-nine turnover differential that was among the league’s worst. New head coach Mike Zimmer hopes to change that. His Bengals forced 31 turnovers last year, trailing just the Seahawks and Chiefs, but Zimmer didn’t pick off those passes or force those fumbles himself.