If the first half of Saturday night’s preseason game wasn’t enough to prove the Kyle Rudolph is one tough dude to cover, Monday’s practice at Winter Park was another convincing argument.
SETTING THE SCENE: Today’s practice seemed flatter as the as the Vikings returned to Winter Park, where the final two weeks of training camp isn’t open to the public. At one point, the offense was moving so slowly that offensive coordinator Norv Turner reminded the players that the particular segment wasn’t designed to be run at three-quarters speed.
YOUR DAILY QUARTERBACK SMORGASBORD: Veteran Matt Cassel’s comfortable, if not insurmountable, lead over rookie Teddy Bridgewater continues to be obvious based on practice reps. Cassel took all of the first-team reps, while Bridgewater ran the second unit. The third unit didn’t see any reps during 11 on 11 segments of practice.
During the first team competition, Cassel went 4 of 5 with a couple of particularly accurate throws that Rudolph caught softly in tight coverage. Bridgewater also went 4 of 5.
In the second team competition, both went 2 of 3. Again, Cassel and Rudolph were too tough to beat on a completion over the middle.
WRIGHT HOBBLED: Bridgewater’s worst throw of the day was a misfire to Jarius Wright, who was surrounded by four defenders. Wright sprained an ankle and didn’t return.
RUDOLPH A TOUGH MATCHUP: As we’ve grown accustomed to seeing, Rudolph is a tough matchup for a defense. The Cardinals got a look at the leaner, faster version of Rudolph on Saturday. The result was a four-catch first half that produced 89 yards, including a 51-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown.
Today, strong safety Chris Crocker had tight coverage on Rudolph on two occasions when it didn’t matter. On a crossing route, Cassel hit the window and Rudolph grabbed the ball as Crocker dived and was left behind. Crocker also couldn’t stop a short out pass despite having good position. Later, while going against the second unit, Rudolph was covered by a linebacker, Michael Mauti. He was fairly tight in coverage, but again, Rudolph caught an accurate ball in stride as Mauti tumbled.
NOISE MAKER: Unlike a lot of coaches, Mike Zimmer said he doesn’t place any more significance on the third preseason game. For a lot of coaches, the third preseason game is the only one they game plan for. They also play their starters into the third quarter. Zimmer said his routine this week “is still about us,” still about focusing on installing the new schemes. He said the coaches aren’t doing any in-depth game-planning for Saturday night’s game in Kansas City. But one thing was different today. As the Vikings prepare to play their first road preseason game of the year, Zimmer had a big speaker on the sideline to blare simulated crowd noise.
INJURY UPDATE: Other than Wright, no other players appeared to be injured while participating in practice today. We updated the other injuries on the blog earlier in the day. Matt Vensel also updated the excused absences of defensive end Brian Robison and receiver Jerome Simpson.
Ten Vikings players were not present or participating in this afternoon’s practice.
One of them was defensive end Brian Robison, who was excused for personal reasons.
Another was linebacker Dom DeCicco, who was placed on waivers with an injured designation. If he clears waivers tomorrow, he will revert to injured reserve. DeCicco had hip surgery last week.
In a corresponding roster move, the Vikings claimed rookie linebacker Justin Jackson off waivers from the Lions. Jackson played his college ball at Wake Forest, where he recorded 193 tackles, seven sacks and three forced fumbles in 36 games. He is listed at 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds.
The other players who did not practice today are CB Jabari Price (arm/shoulder), CB Shaun Prater (concussion), CB Josh Robinson (hamstring), LB Brandon Watts (undisclosed), LB Gerald Hodges (knee), NT Linval Joseph (calf), WR Jerome Simpson (undisclosed), and TE Chase Ford (foot).
In other injury news, wide receiver Jarius Wright injured his left ankle while attempting to make a catch late in practice. His left ankle was taped up by an athletic trainer and he did not return.
The full body of offseason evidence and logic screams that the quarterback competition is over. Yet we continue to ask Vikings coach Mike Zimmer for the official declaration or some sort of cloud of smoke to tell us the Matt Cassel will start on Sept. 7 at St. Louis.
Zimmer just met with reporters and said he’s not ready to name the starter for the regular season opener. But he did say Cassel will start the third preseason game on Saturday at Kansas City. He also said it’s possible that rookie Teddy Bridgewater will see action with the first unit, which is something that didn’t happen this past Saturday against the Cardinals.
In injury news
Zimmer said safety Robert Blanton will practice today. It’s his first practice since pulling a hamstring in the fourth practice of camp.
Cornerback Shaun Prater (head injury) won’t practice today but is expected to practice Tuesday.
Cornerback Jabari Price, who has an injury Zimmer wouldn’t reveal, is expected to miss Saturday’s game.
Linebacker Gerald Hodges (knee) won’t practice today and will not play on Saturday.
Nose tackle Linval Joseph (calf) will do some rehab work today, but is not expected to play on Saturday. He hasn’t practiced since suffering what was described as a minor gunshot wound as an innocent bystander during an incident at a downtown nightclub after the preseason opener.
And, finally, judging by Zimmer’s tone, it might be a good idea for cornerback Josh Robinson (hamstring) to get back on the field pronto. When asked when Blanton and Robinson would return to practice, Zimmer said, “Blanton will go today. The other guy, who knows.”
Every Monday, we’ll take four questions from Twitter for our weekly mailbag using the #VikingsST hashtag.
@MasterStrib Should we be concerned that Blair Walsh has missed 2 – 50yard Field Goals and an extra point? #VikingsST
— Vikeologist™ (@Vikeologist) August 17, 2014
Even though it’s preseason, there should be some level of concern. He should’ve made the extra point, but it won’t be a 33-yard attempt during the regular season. PATs will be chip shots again this season, probably for the last time, with the ball spotted at the 2.
However, Walsh is 0 for 2 on attempts over 50 yards so far. He sailed a 53-yard kick wide right against the Raiders and hit the left upright on a 51-yarder against the Cardinals on Saturday. The concern is that both misses occurred at home in a new stadium in Walsh’s first two opportunities to gain confidence on 50-yard field goals at TCF Bank Stadium.
Walsh went 2 for 5 on field goals over 50 yards last season after setting an NFL record his rookie season going 10 for 10 on kicks over 50 yards. He set the bar so high that the recent string of missed field goals makes you wonder if it’s mental at this point. Walsh has looked good at practice and drilled this 70-yard field goal during warmups, but it hasn’t translated on the field yet in preseason.
Ponder staying or going? #vikingsST
— Anthony Marco (@ajmarco65) August 18, 2014
Quarterback Christian Ponder didn’t play against the Cardinals, which was part of head coach Mike Zimmer’s plan entering the game. Matt Cassel played the entire first half with Teddy Bridgewater finishing the game. With the move, the Vikings appear comfortable using Bridgewater as the backup if Cassel wins the starting job.
They should keep Ponder on the roster unless the Vikings find a trade partner. He’s still a valuable backup, and general manager Rick Spielman can get a head start on piling up draft picks for the upcoming draft with whatever he can get for Ponder. It doesn’t make sense to cut him knowing that other teams like the 49ers don’t have a solid backup option.
@masterstrib What is going on with Mauti is he on the bubble? #vikingsst
— Matt Salo (@SisuSalo17) August 18, 2014
Yes, linebacker Michael Mauti is on the bubble and in danger of not making the team. He received just nine snaps on defense, while rookie Brandon Watts, who is ahead of Mauti on the depth chart at weakside linebacker, had 33 snaps against the Cardinals.
During his first season as a defensive coordinator with the Cowboys in 2000, the Falcons in 2007 and the Bengals in 2008, Zimmer carried six linebackers on the roster into Week 1. It’s a different situation as a head coach with a different group of players, but it’s not a good sign for Mauti that he didn’t play much in the second preseason game. If Zimmer decides to keep six linebackers, Mauti appears to be the odd man out behind Watts, Gerald Hodges and Audie Cole.
@MasterStrib should we be worried that we didn’t score a redzone td with the 1st team offense? #VikingsST
— Mark Wilson (@_Neat) August 18, 2014
The Vikings first team offense should’ve had a red zone touchdown against the Cardinals, but tight end Kyle Rudolph dropped a great throw from Cassel. It also settled for a field goal right before the first half ended, advancing 35 yards in seven plays.
While it didn’t score a red zone touchdown, the offense looked good. It shouldn’t be a concern, especially something this specific during the preseason. Most of your worries should be on the other side of the ball at this point and probably throughout the season.
The NFL’s ninth overall draft pick is locked in as a starter and is progressing nicely toward his massive potential.
And yet not a single “An-thon-EE, An-thon-EE!” chant could be heard for Vikings outside linebacker Anthony Barr during Saturday night’s 32-30 preseason victory over the Cardinals at TCF Bank Stadium.
Lost in the wake of rookie quarterback Teddy “Ted-DEE, Ted-DEE!” Bridgewater rallying the Vikings from behind not once, but twice in the fourth quarter was another sack and a forced fumble by Barr, the oversized (6-5, 255) 4-3 outside backer who is starting to flash the speed and athleticism that had the Vikings so giddy on draft day.
Barr leads the team in sacks (1 ½) and has its only forced fumble through two preseason games. His multiple skills also have allowed the Vikings to tinker with a variety of pass rushing packages. And this is the preseason, when teams don’t show everything that’s coming when the games start counting.
“He can give us that versatility on defense to where we can all kind of move around and have different parts of the defense and allow us to keep offenses offbeat,” left defensive end Brian Robison said. “[Offenses] can’t key in on one guy. If they have one guy they need to take care of, they can’t because they don’t know where he’s going to be.
“So whether it’s myself, [right end] Everson [Griffen] or Barr, you are not going to know where those rushers are coming from. You might be on the right side one time, you might be on the left side one time, you might be inside one time. You might be blitzing from the back end one time. You just never know where you’re going to be.”
On Saturday, the Cardinals had a third-and-two from their 13-yard line. Barr dropped into a three-point stance at Griffen’s right end spot. Griffen moved to Robison’s left end spot. And Robison moved inside to tackle, a spot where he first stood out as a pass rusher when Ray Edwards was the starter on the left side.
Robison and Barr got a good rush. So did Griffen, who ended up chasing down quarterback Drew Stanton, who essentially threw the ball away near the goal line.
“As a defensive end, you want to rush from the end,” Robison said. “But, bottom line, it creates mismatches. And if you can create mismatches, it gives your team more chances to win. Bottom line is I’m about winning games around here.”
Robison, 31 and in his eighth season, was asked to evaluate Barr, 22 and only three years removed from being a fullback at UCLA, as a down lineman rushing the passer.
“I think he’s got a little bit of a learning curve there,” Robison said. “He’s not used to having his hand in the dirt, but his willingness to learn is refreshing to see.
“He’s always coming up to me or Everson or [defensive line] coach Patterson or [assistant defensive line coach Robb] Akey. He’s always trying to learn. That’s what you see. He’s got such raw talent with just his speed and stuff. If he starts learning some of the hand techniques and stuff like that, he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.”