One week before players are set to report for the Wild's training camp, Nino Niederreiter agreed to terms on a three-year, $8 million contract Thursday. Niederreiter, 22, scored a career-high 14 goals and 36 points in 81 games last season.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said cornerback Xavier Rhodes (groin) and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (shoulder) have a “good chance” of playing on Sunday against the Patriots. Zimmer said the team will have a better idea over the next two days.
Rhodes was limited in practice after not participating on Wednesday. Floyd was held out for a second consecutive day. Along with Rhodes, offensive tackle Mike Harris (shoulder), left guard Charlie Johnson (ankle), fullback Zach Line (ankle) and linebacker Michael Mauti (foot) were all limited on Thursday.
“He was all right,” Zimmer said of Rhodes. “We’re just getting him in some of the stuff.”
Linebacker Brandon Watts (knee) did not participate again. Running back Adrian Peterson was the only addition to the injury report. He did not participate, though it’s not injury related. Peterson was present at practice, however.
For the Patriots, tight end Rob Gronkowski (thigh), defensive linemen Michael Buchanan (ankle), defensive tackle Chris Jones (ankle), defensive tackle Sealver Siliga (hand) and offensive lineman Ryan Wendell (knee) were all limited for a second consecutive practice. Linebacker Jamie Collins (thigh) was a new addition to the practice report as he was limited as well.
The toughest guy to cover on the Patriots might not be the man they call Gronk, the one who spikes footballs hard during the season and apparently slams shot glasses even harder in the offseason.
Yes, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is back in the lineup after last year’s ACL injury, will be a major threat to the Vikings defense. His sheer size and strength, in addition to respectable speed and a punishing style of play, have made him arguably the best all-around tight end in the league.
But Patriots running back Shane Vereen poses a potentially tougher challenge for the Vikings. He is New England’s answer to Darren Sproles, and the Vikings might not have a linebacker or safety capable of keeping up with him, especially if the Patriots go with a spread passing attack Sunday.
Vereen, now in his fourth season, has shown a knack for being able to get open whether he starts out in the backfield or lines up at receiver. He had 47 catches for 427 yards and three touchdowns in eight games last season, though he had just five for 35 against the Dolphins last weekend.
“He went out last week [against the Dolphins] and you could see they’ve really got him running a lot of routes — wheel routes and option routes and those kind of things,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “You can just tell they’re very comfortable with him in their package and getting him out in space and getting him against ‘backers and trying to get him one on one.”
Vereen averaged 2.14 yards per route run last season, second among running backs to only Sproles. Only 11 qualifying wide receivers averaged more yards per route run than Vereen.
The Patriots use Vereen, who is capable of running many of the outside routes NFL wide receivers typically run, to create matchups in the passing game. If defenses cover him with a linebacker or safety, the Patriots try to exploit that mismatch. Or if they put Vereen out wide and a cornerback lines up across from him, quarterback Tom Brady knows to look for a favorable matchup elsewhere.
“He’s an excellent back out of the backfield,” Edwards said “He has good hands. He runs good routes. He’s got the speed to take you vertical. His option routes and things, he does all the little nuances that you would want out of a back as far as leverage and coverage and being able to beat it. It looks like Brady has all the confidence in the world to throw him the ball.”
While Vereen typically only gets five to seven carries as a runner — he has averaged 4.3 yards per carry in his career — he is a key player for their offense, especially when the Patriots go no-huddle.
“He’s a guy that can do it all,” safety Harrison Smith said. “So you have to keep your eye on him.”
It will be interesting to see how the Vikings respond when the Patriots put Vereen and Gronkowski on the field together. Rookie outside linebacker Anthony Barr, who has the size and speed to physically man up with Gronkowski, may take on that challenge when the Vikings use man coverage concepts. But who covers Vereen? Outside linebacker Chad Greenway? A safety such as Smith?
“I trust in Coach Zimmer’s scheme that he has put together,” outside linebacker Gerald Hodges said. “I think he has us well prepared — we’re not finished getting prepared yet, but we’re well on our way — and he knows offenses in and out. As long as we pay attention to detail, I think we’ll be fine.”
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes returned to practice today in some form or fashion, increasing hope that he will be able to play against the Patriots on Sunday.
Rhodes injured his groin in the third quarter of the season-opening win over the Rams. He missed practice yesterday and was non-committal about his status for Sunday yesterday. But he was back on the field, helmet in hand, during the portion of today’s practice that was open to the media.
Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was not participating in the open portion of practice.
I asked him before practice if he planned to practice today.
“Coach’s decision. It’s up to him. Not my call,” he replied.
But does Floyd think his shoulder will be good enough to play Sunday?
“Coach’s decision, not mine. I’ve got no word on that,” he said.
So there’s that.
Rookie outside linebacker Brandon Watts (knee) also appeared to be sidelined again today.
Remember when Kyle Gibson was 6-5 with a 3.25 ERA in mid-June?
Or, at the very least, do you remember when Gibson was 11-9 with a 3.93 ERA less than a month ago?
And remember how there were outings where Gibson was simply unhittable, which made up for the (fewer) times he was shelled and knocked out of a game early?
Well, what was a promising season has turned to rubble. Maybe it’s not a total loss since we can still see the makings of a good pitcher in there, but if you were thinking a month ago that Gibson had the makings of a solid mid-rotation pitcher for years to come, you might be adjusting that expectation now.
Sure, this is still just his first full season. But in his last five starts, he’s allowed 22 ER in 25 innings — including three innings, 7 ER in the brutal first game of a doubleheader Thursday — and watched his ERA bloat up to 4.58.
He has an incredible eight starts this season of at least 6 innings and zero earned runs allowed. But bad Gibson has crept up more and more as the season has gone on, to the point that you have to wonder exactly where Gibson fits into the 2015 plans.
Watching Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson used on two jet sweeps plays was an interesting, and effective, wrinkle incorporated by offensive coordinator Norv Turner during the 34-6 victory over the Rams in Week 1 on Sunday. Turner used Thursday’s press conference to temper expectations, however, noting that those types of trick plays aren’t reliable on a weekly basis.
“Those plays I think when they happen are exciting and they’re great; you can’t count on those,” Turner said. “A guy like Cordarrelle is capable of doing that with his physical ability.”
Patterson said the jet sweep isn’t new to him. It’s a play he’s done since junior college and his one season at Tennessee. He’s not even sure if he’ll get a carry this week against Patriots given the unpredictably of Turner’s offense.
“You just can’t focus on one guy,” Patterson said. “Like me, I might not get no balls or no kickoff returns this week. It really don’t matter to me as long as my team’s successful and as long as we win. We know we’re going to be good. You can’t worry about yourself all the time, you’ve got to think about your team.”
But it’s a good tool to break out for the Vikings, as teams have to account for running back Adrian Peterson and Patterson on the play. Here’s a good breakdown on those plays and how the Seahawks used wide receiver Percy Harvin on fly sweep plays against the Packers in a similar fashion.
While Patterson’s 67-yard touchdown run has been replayed constantly on sports highlight shows, Turner was more impressed with his two jet sweep runs that went for 23 and 13 yards.
“Those first two runs were physical runs where he was physical at the line of scrimmage,” Turner said. “He had to break a tackle. We got him going, the offensive line, backs, Matt, all those guys, the tight ends on that long run, like a kickoff return, they got him 15, 18 yards downfield before he had to go to work. If you can get him that much room, you’ve seen him more than I have on those kickoff returns, on those space plays where he just takes off and goes.”
The NFL has a trust problem.
Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe Americans will just keep watching games, setting our fantasy lineups and throwing down beers to wash the week away. If there was a smart bet, actually, it would be on this exact thing happening after the NFL is done recoiling from the colossal mess it has made of the Ray Rice investigation.
But maybe it does matter because, honestly — strangely — this is the first time we’ve really looked at the NFL with the kind of glance that says, “eh, maybe we don’t really need this?” And we don’t think we’re alone.
It didn’t happen with other scandals. We said “strangely” in that last paragraph because it probably should have happened to us with all the news of brain injuries and how the NFL has handled that. But it didn’t. Maybe this feels more front-and-center. Maybe, as we’ve noted before, perceptions change when you become a father. Maybe there’s just enough outrageous behavior and concrete evidence mixed with suspicion that the league is making things up as it goes along — ingredients that make it impossible to ignore.
If you never questioned the NFL before, that has likely changed. If you had a vague distrust of the league before, that has likely escalated. And if you’ve been suspicious of the league for a while, you are ready to welcome others onto the bandwagon.
The league says until this week it never saw the full tape of Rice knocking his then-fiance out with a punch on an elevator. The AP refutes that with a source, and anything the NFL says beyond that is flimsy at best.
The league says it will conduct an independent investigation of the handling of this entire matter … and then names TWO NFL OWNERS as the ones who will oversee it.
As Alec Sulkin tweeted perfectly, “I wonder if the NFL will let the NFL get away with this.”
The NFL couldn’t have gotten the tape if it wanted to because it was illegal? Wrong again!
If you dig a hole deep enough, maybe you wind up back at the top?
It stands to reason that we shouldn’t believe anything the NFL has said or done up to this point in this matter. And that calls into question whether we should ever believe anything league says or does ever again.
That’s a trust problem. Can we still support a league we don’t trust? Can we separate the failures at the top from the game that is so ingrained in us? Should we even want to?
Those are questions we will legitimately struggle with going forward.