The Vikings listed starting defensive end Everson Griffen as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Rams, but Griffen, who sat out the past two days, said he is playing and starting.
“I was sick,” Griffen said. “I’m just getting better each and every day.”
Griffen said he expects to play “a full-time role” against the Rams.
Fullback Zach Line (ankle) and outside linebackers Brandon Watts (knee) and Michael Mauti (foot) were officially ruled out for Sunday, which head coach Mike Zimmer had said yesterday was likely.
Offensive tackle Mike Harris, who was limited every practice this week with a shoulder injury, is questionable. Cornerback Jabari Price (shoulder) and wide-out Rodney Smith (neck) are probable.
Nose tackle Linval Joseph (calf) is expected to start after practicing fully every day this week.
In the nights leading up to his first game as an NFL head coach, Mike Zimmer has had trouble falling asleep. But once he was able to last night, he had a vivid dream he hopes will one day come true.
“I had a heck of a dream last night,” Zimmer said this afternoon. “I dreamt we won the Super Bowl. It was amazing. It felt real, too. I was getting ready to get up on that podium. And then I woke up.”
Zimmer did not pull a Rex Ryan, though, and predict that the Vikings will win the Super Bowl.
But he did say he is proud of the way the team has responded to the coaching staff, and he is excited to finally see his new-look Vikings in a game that counts Sunday when they play the St. Louis Rams.
Zimmer added that he, not defensive coordinator George Edwards, will be making most, if not all, of the defensive calls against the Rams. He experimented with calling the plays while managing the game during the preseason, and evidently he felt juggling both wouldn’t be too much responsibility.
He said after making his preseason debut that he is not a sentimental man. But we’ll see if that changes Sunday for Zimmer, who was repeatedly spurned for head-coaching jobs before this year.
“It hasn’t hit me yet, but it will,” the 58-year-old coach said. “I’ll be nervous. But I’m excited to watch this team play. If we play like we practice and do the things we did, I really shouldn’t be nervous because we’re doing the right things. It’s just my nature. I’m kind of a high-strung type.”
The Vikings’ decision to carry two fullbacks on the roster was a mildly surprising one, considering how the position has fallen out of favor across the NFL. A decade ago, a team carrying two true fullbacks was commonplace. But today, there are some teams that don’t even carry one of them.
So why are the Vikings bucking the trend by keeping both Jerome Felton and Zach Line on team?
“Well, we think they’re both good players. Fullbacks are hard to find if something happens,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “You don’t want to lose good football players if they’re young guys, too.”
And why is a good one so hard to find, beyond the obviously lack of appeal that comes when asking someone to run headfirst into 260-pound linebackers and 210-pound safeties with little fanfare?
“In college, no one has them anymore. They don’t have any fullbacks in college football,” Zimmer said. “So typically you’re taking a tight end — if they have those. There’s hardly any blocking tight ends anymore. So you’re taking them and making them fullbacks or taking linebackers and making them fullbacks. When you find one, if you have a fullback offense, you keep them.”
The Vikings, for example, drafted Rutgers linebacker Ryan D’Imperio in 2010 and converted him to fullback. He played 12 games for the Vikings in 2011 before getting released. He retired last year.
Zimmer added that the Vikings kept two fullbacks because “the need in this offense I think is big.”
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner didn’t use the fullback much a year ago when he was with the Cleveland Browns, but he said in training camp that he wanted a “physical presence” at fullback.
In addition to being the backup to Felton, a Pro Bowler fullback in 2012, Line can contribute on special teams and he does bring a different skill set to the mix than Felton, according to Zimmer.
“They have a little different styles,” he said. “[Line is] probably not a running back. He’s a fullback. He can be in space a little more than Jerome. Really, the position is just hard to find nowadays.”
The Vikings woke up in great shape Friday, tied for the the NFC North lead with the Bears and Lions, a half-game clear of the struggling Packers, who were dismantled 36-16 by the Seahawks in the NFL opener Thursday.
(Full disclosure: We think that game said more about how good Seattle is than how bad Green Bay might be, but it is possible both are true).
Regardless, opportunity is sitting there for the Vikings to claim complete control of their border rivals with a full-game lead if they are able to go on the road and win at St. Louis on Sunday.
You’re saying: The Vikings did not win a road game in 2013, so why should they start now? And we’re saying: Well, um, er … no! … we’re saying: Things have the potential to be different under head coach Mike Zimmer, and this game at St. Louis is the perfect way to start.
Not only did it seem like a winnable game before camp began, but now it could be even more so thanks to Sam Bradford’s injury.
Moreover, the Vikings don’t figure to be facing the same type of hostile environment the Packers went up against on Thursday. That is to say, we don’t imagine police in St. Louis will have to dress like Vikings fans in order to catch unruly Rams fans in the act of bad behavior. For one, there are more important things going on in the area; for another, this game isn’t exactly a hot seller and could feature a bevy of empty seats.
ESPN.com’s weekly NFL schedule lists the number of tickets available on StubHub for every game, as well as the cheapest price for a ticket to all the games. The Vikings/Rams game has the most tickets available on StubHub (nearly 4,000 as of Friday morning), and also has the cheapest asking price ($14) for a ticket.
It’s a game that could set the tone for the entire season (particularly considering tougher opponents coming up quickly on the Vikings schedule), and in what could be a stagnant Dome, it’s a game in which a fast start could set the tone for the game.
In our first installment of “Behind Enemy Lines,” we talked to Jim Thomas, who covers the Rams for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Here are five questions we asked Thomas leading up to the Vikings-Rams season opener at the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday.
1. With quarterback Sam Bradford out for the season, what changes for the Rams on offense with Shaun Hill?
JT: It’s obvious that Shaun Hill can’t do everything that Bradford could do. Bradford was having a tremendous camp and a very good preseason, which he was really throwing the deep ball well. Overall, he was throwing the ball as well as we’ve seen him here in St. Louis. As part of the rehab process, he couldn’t do any lower body lifting. So he worked on the upper body for weeks and it increased his arm strength.
I don’t think they’re going to have to trim back the playbook really at all, which they kind of had to do with Kellen Clemens last year. Clemens really had trouble consistently throwing the deep ball. I think they’ll have the whole playbook available to him but there’s probably some throws where maybe Bradford threw them well and they’re maybe not going to emphasize as much.
2. How has running back Zac Stacy looked after an impressive rookie season?
JT: There’s high expectations for him. He’s got a little bit of a bowling ball physique and a very good interior runner on the outside, on the inside too. He just seems to burrow into that pile and you think he’s down, but he got two more yards. He’s got pretty quick feet too. He didn’t do a whole lot in the preseason. He looked a little heavy-legged like he had some leg weariness, so his stats weren’t great.
I’ll tell you what, he’s being pushed by Benny Cunningham for playing time. Not for the starting job, but Cunningham, an undrafted free agent out of Middle Tennessee State, had a really good camp. His weight is up, gained about 10 pounds and carrying about 220 [pounds], but he hasn’t lost any speed. Kind of a similar body style as Stacy but has a little bit more speed and a little bit more wiggle, but he was easily the most impressive of the Rams running backs in the preseason. Although Stacy will get the lion’s share of the carries, I suspect you’ll see a little Cunningham sprinkled in.
3. What have you seen from the Rams secondary?
JT: I think it’s the biggest question mark of the team easily. I haven’t done the research around the league, but it’s got to be the most inexperienced secondary in the league. They have 71 combined starts of everybody in their secondary. And now without Trumaine Johnson (out at least four weeks with a sprained MCL), who wasn’t great but has a big body and great athleticism, that’s 15 of those starts. They’ll have rookie E.J. Gaines out of Missouri starting at one of the cornerbacks spots. Another rookie will be the nickel back Lamarcus Joyner out of Florida State, a second round pick. They’re very high on him. He’s a small guy, but he’s very tenacious tackler, good football instincts in college at least.
Janoris Jenkins, I don’t know if he regressed last year but he just didn’t make big plays. A lot of penalties, had trouble tracking the deep ball. Again, lots of potential, but he hasn’t lived up to the full potential so far. The hope is that with [defensive coordinator] Gregg [Williams] coming, he can come in and get those guys straightened out.
4. How have both first round picks, defensive tackle Aaron Donald and offensive tackle Greg Robinson, progressed?
JT: When they did their self-scouting at the end of 2013, they felt they lost up to 10 sacks where maybe [Chris] Long,[Robert] Quinn or both were rushing around the edge and the quarterback was able to step up in the pocket and just scrambled or buy a little time to complete the pass. But here with Donald, who is a classic three-technique interior pass rusher, they’ll put him on rotation on passing downs and he’ll shut that escape dash for quarterbacks. Donald, in OTAs and practice, has looked fantastic; not quite as impressive in the preseason games. Every once in a while he penetrated in the backfield and destroyed some stuff.
[Robinson] really struggled grasping the scheme and just struggled in pass protection. He’s not going to start in the opener. They may work him in there a little bit, but Paul Boudreau, the offensive line coach, he’s not afraid to kind of rotate offensive linemen as a whole in the regular season. So we may see a little bit of him, maybe not.
5. What do the Rams need to do to win the game?
JT: The Rams job No. 1 is obviously to stop [Adrian] Peterson and get [Matt] Cassel in 2nd and long, 3rd and long situations so they can unleash their pass rush. If Peterson’s doing his thing and if it’s 2nd and short, 3rd and short then the Vikings will have neutralized the Rams’ best asset not only of their defense but of their team – the pass rush. The Rams are determined to stop Peterson, which is easier said than done. If they can just keep the lid on, I think they feel pretty good about their chances.