NFC North: Minnesota Vikings

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings were in the market for a veteran backup quarterback a year ago, believing they needed a steady alternative to Christian Ponder after their first playoff appearance in three years was short-circuited by a disastrous outing from Joe Webb. The Cleveland Browns were looking for the same thing, as new offensive coordinator Norv Turner sought stability behind young starter Brandon Weeden.

Both teams set their sights on former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel, who had needed just four years to go from the ranks of promising young starters to the discard pile. Cassel was seen at that point as an insurance policy who could lend some stability in a pinch -- and was paid as such -- but both Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner hung onto the thought that in the right system, the 31-year-old was still capable of more.

[+] EnlargeMatt Cassel
Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesMatt Cassel seems likely to open the regular season as Minnesota's starting quarterback.
"He'd had some struggles in Kansas City, but he went to the Pro Bowl one year with them," Spielman said. "He came through that whole system with Tom Brady (in New England). That kind of set him apart -- not only the abilities he had, but the experience and the knowledge."

Seventeen months later, as Cassel returns to Kansas City for the Vikings' preseason game this weekend, he has taken a circuitous -- and sometimes bizarre -- route back to the fraternity of NFL starting quarterbacks. It involved a season where Cassel led the Vikings to their first victory of the year, was named the starting quarterback for the next game -- and was deactivated a week later once the Vikings decided to start Josh Freeman two weeks after signing him. The stench of the quarterback situation clung so closely to coach Leslie Frazier that the Vikings fired him after a 5-10-1 season, hiring Mike Zimmer to replace him in January. And after the Cleveland Browns dumped coach Rob Chudzinski and his staff after just one season, Turner -- the offensive coordinator who wanted Cassel in Cleveland -- was hired to work with him in Minnesota.

That chain of events took Cassel from being an afterthought in October to the quarterback the Vikings determined they couldn't lose this spring. He will make his third start of the preseason on Saturday night in Kansas City, and though he hasn't been named the team's starter yet, all signs point to him being on the field for the regular-season opener Sept. 7 in St. Louis. He has developed a productive working relationship with rookie Teddy Bridgewater, intent on paying forward the favor Brady did for him as a young quarterback, and he has a two-year, $10 million contract after opting out of his original 2014 deal in February. As he heads back to Kansas City, Cassel does so in the middle of an impressive reboot of his career.

"We ask a lot of our quarterbacks, and he's able to handle it, plus more," said quarterbacks coach Scott Turner, who was the receivers coach in Cleveland when the Browns were pursuing Cassel in 2013. "He's done a great job of learning the system and really just kind of owning it."

Cassel might have the starting job in his grasp at the moment, but his grip on it is tenuous at best, thanks to Bridgewater's presence. The Vikings didn't trade up to select Bridgewater in the first round in order to keep him on the bench forever, and if Cassel struggles, it could expedite the process of making Bridgewater the starter. Spielman, though, said Cassel, who is now 32, has a unique understanding of his role as a mentor.

"That's what makes Matt so special," Spielman said. "Some guys would probably not be as positive about that situation, but Matt understands where he's at in his career. Even when we signed Matt here, we laid everything out. I don't like to sit there and BS people; this is the circumstance they're coming in. Matt understood everything. There was no question he was going to come in here and compete, regardless, to be our No. 1 quarterback. We're very fortunate to have a Matt Cassel, not only from the ability to play, but also, if that role does reverse, the ability to be a mentor and bring that young one along. That's a hard combination to find."

Cassel is 17-for-22 with a touchdown pass in the preseason, and seems more confident in his role with the Vikings -- to the point where Zimmer has mentioned the need to remind Cassel that while his suggestions are welcome, they don't represent final decisions. In whatever role he's playing, though, the Vikings seem grateful to have him.

"Matt wants to start and play; so does Teddy, and so does Christian," Scott Turner said. "Matt's doing everything he can to prepare himself to be the best player he can possibly be, and that's as far as it goes. I think he understands that Teddy's here, and we think he's going to be a very good player in this league someday. He's not looking into the what-ifs down the road, and I think you've got to commend him for that."

Vikings Thursday practice report

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
3:40
PM ET
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Some observations from the Minnesota Vikings' practice Thursday afternoon:
  • Peterson
    Peterson
    The Vikings were still without running back Adrian Peterson, who missed practice again Thursday after being gone for personal reasons Wednesday. Peterson wasn't going to play in Saturday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs but is expected to travel to the game with the team. Defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who is still recovering from a bullet wound to his left calf, and linebacker Brandon Watts, who is out with a leg injury, weren't seen at practice. Cornerback Jabari Price and linebacker Gerald Hodges were on the field but were not participating.
  • Much of the Vikings' work again consisted of scout-team offensive snaps against the first-string defense, which meant another busy day for Christian Ponder. The third-string quarterback went 7-for-12, throwing one interception in 11-on-11 work. Matt Cassel hit 11 of his 15 throws and Teddy Bridgewater went 5-for-7. Cassel didn't divulge the Vikings' game plan for Saturday night but said he "expect(s) to play a lot" against the Chiefs.
  • Blair Walsh has hit 47 of 50 kicks in team periods since the Vikings started training camp, according to special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who said he wasn't concerned about a pair of Walsh misses from beyond 50 yards in the Vikings' first two preseason games. "I think he may have missed one from 50, or maybe none, in practice," Priefer said. "If it was one of those deals where he was shanking the ball, I'd be concerned. But he's hitting the ball well. There's a couple things he needs to do with his follow-through, to straighten that out. We've already gone back and looked at a couple game tapes from his rookie year and last year. It's one of those things he's just got to continue to focus on his follow-through and the other little small attributes that make him such a great kicker, compared to other kickers in this league."
  • Priefer said the Vikings used 42 different players on special teams in last Saturday's preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals as coaches try to evaluate whose special-teams contributions should help them win a roster spot. The Vikings will start to use more consistent special-teams units on Saturday against Kansas City as they prepare for the start of the regular season. They'll also try to get Cordarrelle Patterson a kickoff return or two, Priefer said.
  • The moment of the day in practice came when Chad Greenway dropped an interception and angrily kicked the ball into the trees just east of the Vikings' practice field. The ball got stuck in a tree, and several minutes later, Greenway walked into the woods with another football in his hand to perform the old throw-one-ball-into-the-tree-to-knock-the-other-one-down trick. "Didn't you guys do this as a kid?" Greenway said. Seconds later, he emerged with both footballs, proclaiming it'd only taken him one shot to dislodge the one he'd kicked into the tree.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- A few observations from the Minnesota Vikings' practice on Wednesday afternoon:
  • With Chad Greenway sitting out of team drills because of an injury to his right wrist, Michael Mauti got most of the work with the first team in Greenway's spot. Greenway had a brace on his wrist, but said he hoped to be back at practice on Thursday. The linebacker also will be in charge of the Vikings' huddle this season, coach Mike Zimmer confirmed on Wednesday; the job typically falls to a middle linebacker, but since Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole aren't likely to be on the field on passing downs, the Vikings gave the job of relaying defensive calls to Greenway because he figures to be on the field most of the time.
  • The Vikings continued looking at several safeties next to Harrison Smith, giving Robert Blanton, Chris Crocker and Kurt Coleman work with the first team on Wednesday. They'll continue their audition process on Saturday night in Kansas City, with Blanton -- who missed the Vikings' first two preseason games because of a hamstring injury -- receiving a fair share of the work so the Vikings can evaluate him.
  • On a day where the Vikings spent plenty of time with their scout teams on the field, Christian Ponder got much of the work at quarterback, facing the first-team defense for good chunks of the practice. Ponder threw one interception, when Harrison Smith picked off a pass underthrown into double coverage, but made some nice throws the rest of the day. "I think that Christian has improved a lot since we have had him," Zimmer said. "I still like a lot of things that he does, his athletic ability, his intelligence. I keep seeing that he doesn’t have a good arm -- that’s wrong, too. He’s got a good arm. He throws the ball beautifully, he just didn’t make as many plays during the OTAs as some of the other guys did."
  • As the Vikings get closer to special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer's suspension at the beginning of the regular season, interim special-teams coach Joe Marciano has spent his time working with Priefer and assistant special-teams coach Ryan Ficken to mold his system into the Vikings' way of doing things. "His system and Mike's system are very similar," Zimmer said. "He’s obviously in all the meetings and everything in with Mike all the time. He’s trying to learn the same terminology that Mike is using that so when we do go to St. Louis (for the season opener) it’s all the same."
  • Wide receiver Kain Colter left with trainer Eric Sugarman in the middle of practice, and appeared to have an injury to his right hand.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It appears another member of the Minnesota Vikings' four Super Bowl teams could be on his way to Canton.

Former Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff, who made six Pro Bowls and was named to the All-Pro first team five times, was named the lone nominee for the 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame class by the Hall of Fame Senior Committee, which met in Canton, Ohio, on Wednesday. Tingelhoff, who played for the Vikings from 1962-78 and shifted from linebacker to center after signing with the team as an undrafted free agent, started 240 consecutive games, which was the second-longest streak in the NFL behind former teammate Jim Marshall at the time of Tingelhoff's retirement.

He is automatically a finalist for enshrinement, and while he will need 80 percent of the vote when the full nominating committee meets in Glendale, Arizona, before Super Bowl 49, Tingelhoff's nomination from the Senior Committee gives him a strong chance to reach the Hall.

"He was very happy -- not as happy as his wife was, but this is a great day in Vikings history," said former Vikings trainer Fred Zamberletti, who called Tingelhoff to give him the news while the former center was vacationing in South Dakota. "I felt he should have been in there before."

Tingelhoff, whose No. 53 was retired by the Vikings, would be the 13th Hall of Famer who spent a significant part of his career in Minnesota and the 19th who played, coached or worked for the Vikings overall. Coach Bud Grant's Super Bowl teams from the 1970s are responsible for seven of those Hall of Famers, including the coach himself. Tingelhoff, whose perseverance and pain tolerance made him an icon of Grant's teams, would be the eighth.

"We went to training camps that were very hard and brutal. He would be the only center there," Zamberletti said. "We'd line up for full contact at 2 in the afternoon, and go full scrimmage for two-and-a-half hours. Tingelhoff would be the only center; we'd bring in other centers to back him up, and they were always hurt.

"He was a good leader. He led by example. He was everything you'd ever want in a player. He can get lost in the shadows because of those (four) Super Bowl losses. (But) at that time, (Vince) Lombardi recognized Tingelhoff. When you've got him saying nice things about you, that meant a lot."
MINNEAPOLIS -- As elementary as the Minnesota Vikings' game plans have been for their first two preseason contests, the Vikings' wins over the Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals have already seen coach Mike Zimmer and defensive coordinator George Edwards unveil a handful of different defensive looks.

[+] EnlargeMike Zimmer
AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt"Once I feel like we have the fundamentals down and the techniques down, then you can worry about tricking somebody else or disguising," Mike Zimmer said.
Anthony Barr has played linebacker, rushed the quarterback standing up and moved into a defensive end position on passing downs. Everson Griffen has played left end and right end. Brian Robison has rushed from the left end spot and moved inside. The Vikings have dropped several different linemen into coverage, they've shown a three-safety package in their nickel defense and they've been unafraid to blitz safeties such as Harrison Smith.

There's probably more coming from a coach who sent a defensive back on a blitz 75 times while he was the Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator last seasom, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That figure was the 10th highest in the league, and it was nearly double the number of times (41) the Vikings blitzed a cornerback or safety. But as effective -- and as entertaining -- as different looks can be, Zimmer says he won't overdo it to the point he runs the risk of diluting a player's focus.

"It's a little bit of, 'What can the guy do and still be effective?'" Zimmer said. "Once I feel like we have the fundamentals down and the techniques down, then you can worry about tricking somebody else or disguising. You don't always have guys like Griffen, Barr, Robison that can do a number of different things. Those three guys can stand up and drop, play outside linebacker and rush."

Zimmer said the Vikings are getting to the point at which their understanding of defensive fundamentals is strong enough that he can mix in different ideas, but he still knows there's a danger in mixing in too many different ideas. To borrow a musical metaphor, it's no good for a drummer to show off all sorts of complicated fills and complex beats if he can't keep the rest of the band in the groove.

"You don't want to hurt other guys by trying to fit some other guy in something he's not comfortable with," Zimmer said. "There's a cause and effect with everybody."

The Vikings will have plenty of chances to get creative with their personnel this season, simply because of how many versatile players they have in their front seven, but Zimmer's defense is built on sound fundamentals and good communication across the defense more than it is energized by anything exotic. If the Vikings can't handle the basics this season, we probably won't see as much variety in Zimmer's defensive looks.

Vikings Tuesday practice report

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
6:35
PM ET
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Some observations from the Minnesota Vikings' practice on Tuesday afternoon:
  • A day after coach Mike Zimmer hinted Josh Robinson needed to make a prompt return to the field in order to stay in competition for a roster spot, the cornerback did just that. Robinson, who hasn't played in the preseason because of a strained hamstring, did some individual work on Tuesday, and appeared closer to returning to full-team work. The Vikings seem set on moving forward with Captain Munnerlyn as a starting corner in their base defense -- not that that should have ever come as a huge surprise -- but Robinson can keep himself in the running for the third cornerback spot if he gets back in time to show something in the preseason.
  • It was a bit of a sloppy day for the Vikings' quarterbacks on Tuesday; Matt Cassel hit 12 of 20 passes, but had one intercepted by Harrison Smith after it went high off Cordarrelle Patterson's hands, and had another pass batted down at the line of scrimmage. Teddy Bridgewater, who got some work with the first team on Tuesday, hit 15 of 18 throws, and had one dropped by Allen Reisner, but also had to be bailed out by his receivers on a couple completions, like one that Jerome Simpson snared after it was behind him. Christian Ponder got just three plays, carrying the ball himself on one after Jerick McKinnon missed a handoff. He threw one pass, overshooting Kain Colter.
  • Chris Crocker continued to work with the first-team defense on Tuesday, lining up at safety next to Harrison Smith. Andrew Sendejo and Kurt Coleman got some work on the second team, and the Vikings again unveiled their three-safety look in a nickel package.
  • Blair Walsh hit 7 of 8 kicks in a field goal period, connecting from 54 yards on his final attempt of the day. Considering Walsh has missed both of his kicks over 50 yards in the preseason, it was an encouraging sign for the Vikings to see him hit from long range on Tuesday.
  • Greg Jennings probably had the best day of all the receivers, outrunning Captain Munnerlyn on a perfectly-thrown deep shot from Cassel and making a nice catch in front of Xavier Rhodes on a sideline throw from Bridgewater. Rodney Smith, who caught the game-winner from Bridgewater on Saturday, was a frequent target for the rookie; Bridgewater hit a long touchdown throw to Smith, beyond Sendejo and Derek Cox.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It appears Adrian Peterson's streak of preseasons without a carry will hit three this year.

Peterson
Peterson
Coach Mike Zimmer said the running back is unlikely to play again on Saturday night in Kansas City, adding "I really don't see the need" for Peterson to play at all in the preseason. The Vikings have shifted Peterson's role in their offense, making him a bigger part of the passing game than he's been in the past, but he's gotten enough work in practices, Zimmer said, that he doesn't necessarily need to get any game action before the Vikings kick off the regular season Sept. 7 against the St. Louis Rams.

"We’re grabbing at the ball pretty good. We’re not tackling him or anything," Zimmer said. "He’s doing a great job with the protections and the routes and obviously he runs really good. The only concern you have is he might not have been hit enough. But our guys are grabbing at the ball a lot. They’re punching at the ball as he’s running in there. I talked to him about those things.”

Peterson didn't sound terribly distraught about sitting out the exhibition season, either. He said it didn't matter to him if he played on Saturday, adding he feels comfortable enough in the Vikings' offense to miss the game. "I'm wired up (for the season)," he said. "I'm ready to go."

The Vikings first held Peterson out of preseason action in 2012, after he was returning from knee surgery, and the plan worked so well -- before Peterson's 2,097-yard season -- that former coach Leslie Frazier decided to keep the ball out of Peterson's hands before last season, too, playing him for one series in the team's third preseason game but not giving him the ball. Now, as Peterson enters his eighth season, he should be as fresh as the Vikings can get him.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- You know that discussion we were having about Christian Ponder's future? Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer effectively put an end to it.

Ponder
Ponder
When asked on Tuesday how many quarterbacks he would be comfortable keeping on the roster, Zimmer said, "I don't think we'll be two quarterbacks, if that's the question you're asking."

By saying the Vikings would be unlikely to drop to two QBs, Zimmer effectively confirmed Ponder will be on the team's opening-day roster. Things can always change, of course, but despite how little the Vikings have used Ponder in camp, they still see value in keeping a third quarterback for emergencies. As we discussed earlier, retaining Ponder would give the Vikings a veteran option in case Matt Cassel were injured or ineffective and the team wasn't ready to put Teddy Bridgewater on the field yet. There's a valid line of thinking that such an insurance policy is worth a roster spot, especially when the most important task the Vikings have in the next few years probably is managing Bridgewater's development correctly.

The trick, of course, is valuing that insurance policy in comparison to other roster construction options, and the Vikings apparently put a high enough premium on it to sacrifice some flexibility elsewhere. They've always had three QBs on their opening-day roster with Rick Spielman as the GM, even as some teams changed their philosophy once the league eliminated a rule in 2011 that effectively made a third quarterback a free roster spot on game days.

So there you have it; barring some kind of change, it appears the Vikings will have three QBs on the roster this season. And it's safe to assume, at least at this point, that the third one will be Ponder.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- We discussed the reasons the Minnesota Vikings might have for parting with Christian Ponder, and why the return they could receive -- either in the form of trade compensation or additional flexibility on their roster -- might outweigh the risks of carrying only two quarterbacks.

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner used an example from his not-so-distant past to illustrate those risks, and he scolded fans for booing Ponder in the Vikings' first exhibition game.

"I think he's done everything he can do, and he's working his butt off," Turner said Tuesday. "He's a guy that's going to be valuable to our team. The thing in Cleveland [last season], we had three different guys have their career-best games in three different situations, and we didn't win the game because we gave up a touchdown at the end of the game, or something kept us from winning the game that was out of the quarterback's hands. I thought that happened to Christian a number of times last year. Having three quarterbacks, if that's the way we end up going, that's extremely valuable to me."

Ponder
Ponder
Fans didn't get a chance to react to Ponder during the Vikings' second exhibition game, of course, because he didn't see the field, and he didn't throw any passes in full-team work during Monday's practice. As we discussed on Monday, there's a valid reason to keep Ponder; not many teams have a third-string quarterback who has led a team to the playoffs, and he could be useful if Matt Cassel gets hurt or is ineffective and the Vikings want to control the circumstances in which they put Teddy Bridgewater on the field. In the end, the Vikings will have to place a value on those benefits, and determine whether it exceeds the value of parting ways with Ponder and adding a roster spot.

"There are advantages to going both ways," Turner said. "We'll adjust to whatever. I think we have a pretty good quarterback situation right now."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Wide receiver Jerome Simpson was back at the Minnesota Vikings' practice facility on Tuesday morning, confident he'd made his case that the NFL should lift his three-game suspension as best he could. But until the league makes a final decision on whether it will suspend Simpson for a drunken driving arrest last November, the Vikings have to hedge their bets about whether they'll have their No. 3 receiver at the start of the season.

"You have to have a varied plan," offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. "Unfortunately in this game, guys miss [time]. If it's a case where someone misses because of an off-the-field thing, that's one thing, but we could be in the opening game, and someone we're counting on to play a big role sprains his ankle on the third play. We have to have a plan to go play and do the things we want to do. There's certain plays that 'Simp' is really good on, and there's other guys that have to fill in if he's not in for that play."

[+] EnlargeJerome Simpson
AP Photo/Ric TapiaJerome Simpson has made his appeal regarding a three-game suspension and now awaits word.
Simpson's attorney, David Valentini, said on Monday night that he was one of two attorneys representing the wide receiver at his appeal at NFL headquarters in New York, where the attorneys argued Simpson's suspension should be lifted after he pleaded guilty to lesser charges of careless driving and refusing to submit to a chemical test. The receiver, who was arrested Nov. 9, registered a blood-alcohol level of .095 on a breath test, which was above Minnesota's legal limit of .08, when an officer stopped him on Interstate 394 in Minneapolis, but Valentini has contended that if Simpson had taken a blood test the morning of his arrest, he would have passed it.

The receiver has completed his community service requirement after pleading guilty in January, and if the NFL decides not to officially hand down the three-game suspension, Simpson would be available at the start of the season.

For his part, Simpson said on Tuesday that his meeting with the league "went great" and he's now ready to move on. But if the league decides to suspend Simpson, it could put the Vikings in a bind at the beginning of the year, especially after wide receiver Jarius Wright left practice with an ankle injury on Monday.

Adam Thielen and Rodney Smith have been battling for a fifth receiver spot -- and Turner said the Vikings could keep both of them if they're playing well enough -- but neither has caught a pass in a regular season game. The Vikings would also miss Simpson's downfield presence; the receiver might be the most natural deep threat on the Vikings' roster.

"I think we have a lot of guys who can stretch the field and get deep. Some of them do it in different ways," Turner said. "Greg Jennings has caught some deep balls out there against our top corners [in practice]. A lot of it depends on coverage, a lot of it depends on the play we have designed, but I think we have a number of guys that can make big plays down the field."

Vikings Monday practice report

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
7:05
PM ET
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- A few observations from the Minnesota Vikings' Monday practice:
  • Safety Robert Blanton was back at practice, but the Vikings were still using Chris Crocker as their first-team safety alongside Harrison Smith. Blanton is listed atop the Vikings' depth chart, but he'll have to earn his way back into the race for a starting spot after missing time with a hamstring injury. Coach Mike Zimmer said Crocker didn't see enough action in Saturday's preseason game for the Vikings to evaluate him properly, but the Vikings seem to want to take a longer look at the 34-year-old. Zimmer said on Monday he's evaluating players like Andrew Sendejo and Kurt Coleman as much for what they do in pass coverage as what they're able to do near the line of scrimmage. That'd explain why Crocker is getting a long look, and why Blanton had put himself in the mix for a starting job before his injury. We'll see if he can reassert himself now that he's back.
  • Tight end Kyle Rudolph, who caught a 51-yard touchdown pass during the Vikings' preseason game on Saturday night, was back at it on Monday, snatching passes away from Crocker and Michael Mauti in tight coverage over the middle. At 6-foot-5, Rudolph is already an inviting target for quarterbacks, and he's shown several times already how much it helped him to drop 15 pounds in the offseason in an effort to be a bigger downfield threat in Norv Turner's offense.
  • In 11-on-11 work on Monday, quarterback Matt Cassel hit 8 of 11 passes, getting one batted down at the line of scrimmage and throwing one away downfield. Teddy Bridgewater went 8-for-10, with his only misses coming to Rodney Smith and Jarius Wright -- who sustained a left ankle injury while trying to catch Bridgewater's sideline pass in tight coverage. And Christian Ponder, who didn't play at all on Saturday night, didn't throw a pass in full-team work during Monday's practice.
  • The Vikings made one roster move on Monday, cutting linebacker Dom DeCicco, who had hip surgery last week, and claiming linebacker Justin Jackson off waivers from Detroit.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Matt Cassel will start the Minnesota Vikings' preseason game on Saturday night against the Kansas City Chiefs, but coach Mike Zimmer still isn't ready to announce a decision on a starting quarterback for the Vikings' regular-season opener.

Cassel, who has completed 17 of his 22 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown in the preseason, would seem to have the inside track on the job over Teddy Bridgewater. Zimmer said it's a possibility Bridgewater could see some time with the first team on Saturday, but wouldn't say for sure whether that will happen. The Vikings have been operating as though Cassel is their starting quarterback, but Zimmer said after last Saturday's game against the Arizona Cardinals that he wanted players to keep competing, so he could be delaying an announcement to encourage competition.

Bridgewater went 16-for-20 on Saturday night, throwing for 177 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including the game-winner to Rodney Smith in the final minute.

"I thought he played well," Zimmer said. "He was calm, poised. You could tell he was kind of feeling it the whole way. He was getting the ball out in the right places and getting the protections down. I think he’s feeling more comfortable. Like he’s told you, it’s better when he doesn’t overthink things and let the game go. We go out, practice hard and try to be perfect in practice. I’ve told the team this that we don’t want you thinking about those things when you’re playing the game. "
MINNEAPOLIS -- In time, the Minnesota Vikings' 30-28 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday night -- a preseason game in which both Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater played a full half, and each fashioned a passer rating better than 125 -- could come attached with an ignominious footnote: It could be the night when Christian Ponder's chances of appearing in another home game as the Vikings' quarterback were permanently snuffed out.

Ponder
Ponder
Coach Mike Zimmer said last week that Cassel could play as much as a half in the Vikings' second home preseason game, and after the game, he added that the plan all along was to give Bridgewater the whole second half. That meant the Vikings effectively went into the game planning not to use Ponder, who was firmly entrenched as the team's starting quarterback at this time last year. This came on the heels of a training camp where Ponder never got more than a cursory look, and as the Vikings make decisions about their roster composition, it raised this question: Would the Vikings be better off parting with Ponder before the season?

There's a danger in only carrying two quarterbacks, as the Green Bay Packers found out last season, and I've long thought Ponder carried some value for the Vikings this year, in the sense that he could step in if Cassel were injured or ineffective and the Vikings didn't feel the time was yet right for Bridgewater's debut. But their use of Ponder to this point speaks to how marginalized he's become, to the point where the value of his roster spot -- or the return he'd fetch in a trade -- might exceed what he could provide as an emergency option.

The San Francisco 49ers, for example, were facing questions about their backup quarterbacks after a 34-0 defeat Sunday, to the point that coach Jim Harbaugh had to give them a vote of confidence. The 49ers shipped a sixth-round pick in 2014 and a conditional draft choice in 2015 to Jacksonville in exchange for Blaine Gabbert, who was picked two spots ahead of Ponder in the 2012 first round. They also have McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who was the Vikings' third-string quarterback until the team signed Josh Freeman last October. Could San Francisco -- or a team in similar straits -- part with a seventh-round pick for Ponder, whose mediocre career has still featured more success than Gabbert's or Bethel-Thompson's?

The fact the Vikings haven't traded Ponder to this point would suggest they haven't yet found a team willing to pay that modest price, or that they put a higher value on the quarterback than that. But even if the Vikings cut Ponder at the end of the month, it would seem there's a good chance that he'll sign with another team, which would offset some or all of the Vikings' responsibility for Ponder's $1.76 million base salary through the language in his rookie contract.

As rookies like defensive tackle Shamar Stephen and second-year undrafted free agents like receivers Adam Thielen and Rodney Smith make their push for roster spots, the Vikings might find themselves in need of a little extra flexibility. They could get it by parting with a quarterback who's never looked like more of an afterthought in Minnesota.
Examining the Minnesota Vikings' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
The Vikings could free up some roster space if they carried only two QBs and traded Ponder for a late-round pick at some point; he didn't play at all in the team's second preseason game against Arizona, and it's possible the Vikings could cut him if they can't find a trade market. Ponder could still have some value in an emergency, if the Vikings aren't ready to put Bridgewater on the field and they need someone to fill in if Cassel is injured or ineffective.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

Asiata has played well during training camp, and is listed ahead of McKinnon for the No. 2 running back spot behind Peterson at the moment. At the very least, both could have distinct roles behind Peterson, with Asiata as a downhill runner and McKinnon as a threat in the passing game.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman singled out Thielen -- who spent last year on the Vikings' practice squad -- as a player who had improved from last year during the Vikings' minicamp, and the Minnesota State product has been the darling of training camp so far. Undrafted free agent Kain Colter got an $8,000 signing bonus from the Vikings, but the 6-foot-5 Smith sneaks in ahead of him to give the group a bigger target; he showed on Saturday night what his size can do for him, when he caught the game-winning touchdown from Bridgewater on a fade route.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

Ford is still working his way back from a broken foot, but coach Mike Zimmer has sounded more optimistic about the timetable recently, and it's looking more likely he won't have to begin the season on the physically unable to perform list. If he is still hurt, that could open the door for Michael Higgins, who caught two passes for 27 yards in the Vikings' preseason opener against the Raiders.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)

The Vikings seem set with their starting five from last season, which means Yankey would have to wait for a chance to push Johnson at left guard; everyone from coach Mike Zimmer to offensive line coach Jeff Davidson seems to like the continuity the Vikings have enjoyed on the line. Richardson was not wearing a knee brace in the Vikings' second preseason game on Saturday night, and seems to be getting healthier after another player rolled up on his leg during training camp. If he's not healthy enough to be the Vikings' swing tackle, Mike Remmers or Kevin Murphy could win the last spot.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)

This might be the deepest position group on the Vikings' roster, and in Mike Zimmer's defensive line rotation, they could all play. Wootton and Crichton give the Vikings a pair of versatile backups who can play inside or outside, and Johnson and Evans figure to be the primary backups at three-technique and nose tackle, respectively. Johnson has also seen time at three-technique tackle in the Vikings' nickel rush package. If there's one player on the roster who could compel the Vikings to make room somewhere else, it might be Shamar Stephen, the seventh-round pick who has impressed Vikings coaches throughout camp and has seen time at both the three-technique and nose tackle positions.

LINEBACKERS (6)

In Cincinnati, Zimmer had linebacking groups of just six and five players after training camp the past two seasons. If the position is similarly staffed this season, it could mean the Vikings will cut seventh-round pick Brandon Watts. There are plenty of questions at the position overall -- none of the three spots in the Vikings' base defense is completely solidified -- but in Barr, Hodges, Mauti and Cole, the Vikings have some young talent to work with.

DEFENSIVE BACKS (12)

There's a large group of defensive backs on the roster, but with as many prolific passing attacks as the Vikings will face, it makes sense to keep a large group of them -- especially in light of how many three-safety looks Zimmer has employed in camp and how many young players he could try to stash on the roster. Price has been one of the pleasant surprises of camp; he's been willing to compete at slot cornerback, and earned a reputation as a solid tackler in run support from his days at North Carolina. The Vikings still have a logjam at safety, and the next two preseason games -- as well as special teams involvement -- could lead the team to part with one of the veterans next to Harrison Smith (Sanford, Sendejo, Coleman or Blanton).

SPECIALISTS (3)

The group returns unchanged from what the Vikings had on their roster last year. Locke punted better toward the end of the season, and has already put in some work getting to know the wind patterns at TCF Bank Stadium.
MINNEAPOLIS -- As the Minnesota Vikings continue to try and establish a pecking order at safety, it appears they'll give Chris Crocker every chance to wind up at the top of it.

The 34-year-old, who signed with the Vikings earlier this month and came out of retirement to play his eighth consecutive season for coach Mike Zimmer, will start alongside Harrison Smith on Saturday night against the Arizona Cardinals. Zimmer said the Vikings want to take a long look at four safeties -- Crocker, Jamarca Sanford, Kurt Coleman and Andrew Sendejo -- on Saturday, in hopes of sorting out the position.

That Crocker will start, however, speaks to what could eventually land him the starting job; he's more familiar with Zimmer's defense than anyone else on the roster, and can lend some stability to a position where no one has established a firm hold on the job next to Smith.

Robert Blanton, who is still listed at the top of the Vikings' depth chart at strong safety, will miss Saturday's game with a hamstring injury. Cornerback Josh Robinson -- who's still battling a hamstring injury and appears to be ceding ground to Captain Munnerlyn in the race for a starting cornerback job -- will also sit out. Tight end Chase Ford (broken foot) and defensive tackle Linval Joseph (bullet wound to calf) are the other Vikings players who won't dress.

Fred Evans will start at nose tackle for Joseph, and Matt Asiata will again start at running back in place of Adrian Peterson, who will sit out for a second consecutive week.

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