A few minutes ago, we received another sign that the NFL season is, indeed, just a few days away.
The Vikings released their first injury report of the season, and three guys did not practice today.
Linebackers Brandon Watts (knee) and Michael Mauti (foot) did not practice, nor did fullback Zach Line (ankle). Newly-acquired offensive tackle Michael Harris (shoulder) was a limited participant. Cornerback Jabari Price (shoulder) and wide receiver Rodney Smith (neck) were full participants.
It is also an encouraging sign that nose tackle Linval Joseph (calf) right tackle Phil Loadholt (ankle) and outside linebacker and top pick Anthony Barr (ankle) weren’t even listed on the injury report.
As for the Rams, cornerback Trumaine Johnson (knee) and center Barrett Jones (back) did not participate. Four players, including starting left tackle Jake Long (knee) were limited in practice.
Matt Cassel knows that Teddy Bridgewater is waiting in the wings. He knows that the Vikings didn’t draft the kid in the first round to hold a clipboard forever. But as Cassel prepares to start the season opener against the St. Louis Rams, Cassel says he can’t play well while looking over his shoulder.
“You can’t play the way,” the 10-year veteran said today. “You can’t worry that if I make a mistake, what’s going to happen next? You’ve got to go out and play the game to the best of your ability. I think Teddy does have a tremendous future, but hopefully, as long as I’m here, he’s not playing.”
Cassel didn’t falter with Bridgewater nipping at his heels early in training camp. He played well in the first two preseason games to pull away from Bridgewater, who struggled a bit in the preseason opener. Cassel completed 66.7 percent of his preseason passes for 367 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 9.4 yards per attempt — nearly four yards better than what Bridgewater averaged.
Head coach Mike Zimmer knows he must walk a tightrope at quarterback. He wishes he could hold Cassel and Bridgewater to the same standard as he plans to hold the other positions, and go with whoever is playing best at that point in time. But he acknowledged that the ripple effect is more significant when changing quarterbacks than when changing out starters at other positions.
“That’s something you have to consider,” Zimmer said. “With every position, even with the middle linebacker or the safety, you don’t want to make, as you say, a knee-jerk decision just because they don’t play well one day or do the things you think they’re capable of. I think you still have to go on what you see every day in practice and what you see in the preseason.”
That’s why Zimmer said he doesn’t foresee the Vikings making a change early in the season.
“I know the fans are excited about Teddy. I’m excited about Teddy,” Zimmer said. “But we have to do what’s best for the football team at this point in time and what’s best for the future. … As you know, coaches’ futures aren’t necessarily very long. I’m always trying to try to think between the now and the future and what’s best for this organization as we go down the road.”
After weeks of being asked who his starting middle linebacker and strong safety will be, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer beat reporters to the punch at the start of his press conference this morning.
“I know you all want to know who the starting Mike linebacker is,” Zimmer said. “It’s Jasper Brinkley, so I don’t get that question asked anymore. At strong safety, [it's] Robert Blanton. OK? We good?”
Whew. Yes, indeed.
But this might not be the last time this subject comes up. Blanton received far less than a glowing endorsement and Brinkley was pushed hard by Audie Cole, a promising prospect with a different skill set than Brinkley’s.
“It’s a one-week deal; one week at a time,” Zimmer said when asked specifically about the middle linebacker job. “If they play good, they keep playing. So I think the defensive team feels comfortable with Jasper making the calls. He’s been lining up with the first group since the first day. In a game like this, it’s nice to be settling in. Everything nice and smooth and hearing the same voices and stuff like that.
Asked why he picked Blanton, Zimmer answered in a way that won’t hurt his image as a straight shooter.
“He probably made less mistakes than anybody,” Zimmer said. “He’s got some cover skills. And all those safeties, we probably didn’t see them enough because of injuries or whatever. But Robert is a good kid, a smart kid. We’ll see how he does. Hopefully, he’ll do well.”
Brinkley, Zimmer said, got the starting job this week in part because of his run-stopping ability. The Rams lost starting quarterback Sam Bradford to a torn ACL and probably will be leaning more on its running game when they face the Vikings at home on Sunday.
“Jasper is a little bit more of a thumper in the running game and I think this week,” Zimmer said. “[St. Louis] has got a good running game. So I think their offensive line does a nice job in run blocking. So I think it will be a good match for him.”
Zimmer also said he expects to use Cole in some defensive packages along the way this season.
“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “And just because these guys aren’t starting doesn’t mean they won’t be playing in some packages that we have in the game. We just have to put 11 out there to start with.
“Audie has made a lot of plays and does a lot of jobs. Sometimes, special teams come into play on these decisions, too.”
Rams coach Jeff Fisher spoke with the Twin Cities media via conference call this morning. Yeah, he was asked about undrafted rookie defensive end Michael Sam, the first openly gay player signed by an NFL team, the Rams, and, as of Saturday, released by an NFL team, also the Rams.
“Well,” he said, “it’s just what I said several days ago. We had needs at other positions. We have nine defensive linemen, five defensive ends, five linebackers on our active rosters. I have several other people who are injured and can’t practice, and we made a football decision. It’s no different than the football decisions we’ve made in years past and will continue to make.”
Reports that Sam soon will sign with the Cowboys sounded like good news to Fisher. As for any of the distractions that some have speculated will follow Sam wherever he goes, Fisher had this to say about his team’s experience:
“It wasn’t a distraction at all,” he said. “On draft day, obviously, there was a lot going on. But [he] was just another guy, just another player. There may be some attention given if someone gives him an opportunity. But beyond that … I heard [signing] with the Cowboys was a possibility. If he does, then he’ll be treated, after things settle, no different than any other practice squad player. ”
The Rams play the Vikings at noon in Sunday’s regular season opener at the Edward Jones Dome.
Each Wednesday, beat guy Matt Vensel will highlight five Vikings stats that really mean something.
98.2 — rushing yards allowed per game by the Vikings from 2008 to 2013.
Head coach Mike Zimmer and the Vikings overhauled their defensive line in the offseason, most notably saying so long to Jared Allen and Kevin Williams. Everson Griffen and Sharrif Floyd will take on bigger roles and the team is banking on newcomers such as Linval Joseph and Corey Wootton. The new group has quite a reputation to live up to. From 2008 to 2013, the Vikings allowed just 98.2 rushing yards per game, ranking only behind the Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens. They were also fourth in the NFL over that span in yards allowed per carry (3.8).
53 — sacks for the St. Louis Rams in 2013, which ranked third in the NFL.
Only the Carolina Panthers (60) and Buffalo Bills (57) had more sacks than the Rams last season. The Rams had five guys with at least five sacks, and with 19 sacks himself, All-Pro right end Robert Quinn was second in the NFL behind Indianapolis Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis. The Rams, who will be even richer on the defensive line if first-round tackle Aaron Donald pans out, will be a tough test for left tackle Matt Kalil and a Vikings offensive line that gave up 44 sacks in 2013.
78.4 — quarterback Matt Cassel’s accuracy percentage during the preseason.
It is probably wise to take most preseason stats with a grain of salt, but it is worth noting that Cassel, who has been erratic throughout his NFL career, was pretty accurate during the exhibition season. According to Pro Football Focus, Cassel had an 78.4 percent accuracy percentage, which is essentially what his completion percentage would be if not for drops. That ranked ninth among qualifying QBs. His career high of 76.9 came during his breakout 2008 season in New England.
five — consecutive games with a touchdown for wide-out Cordarrelle Patterson.
Patterson was used sparingly on offense during the first half of his rookie season, leaving him to make an impact only on special teams. But once they carved out a sizable role for him on offense, the first-round pick sure spent a lot of time in the end zone. Patterson scored a touchdown in each of his final five games — three as a runner and two as a receiver — to give him nine total in Year 1.
12,240 — net yards for running back Adrian Peterson in his Vikings career.
With 171 net yards against the Rams on Sunday, Peterson can pass former Vikings wide receiver Cris Carter for the most in franchise history. Peterson has a combined 12,240 yards as a runner, receiver and returner in his seven NFL seasons. It took Carter, who was productive enough to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, a dozen seasons in Minnesota to pile up his 12,410 career net yards.