Two preseason games have given us a chance to see new Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and his players in action.
Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman will have many difficult decisions over the next two weeks as Minnesota tries to go from its current 90-man roster to the regular-season, 53-man roster. The battle for jobs is on with the Vikings heading into the biggest preseason game, Game 3, on Saturday at Kansas City.
Here’s what’s on your mind, apparently, with two weeks into the preseason and two weeks left before things get serious:
Question: Do you think Shamar Stephen will make the 53 man roster? — Reno, New York
Answer: During my first roster projection last week, Stephen was one of the toughest calls. I think the coaches would like to keep Stephen around, but he could be involved in a roster crunch at the position and the decisions to come at other spots. Stephen is an intriguing player, a seventh-round draft choice who is a 6-foot-5, 310-pound defensive tackle.
Ultimately, I didn’t have Stephen making the final roster, but the past week has only reinforced the idea he could indeed make it. My initial thought was maybe Stephen was a perfect guy to pass through waivers and on to the practice squad. But I see that as less likely as we’ve continued. Minnesota might have to keep him on the active roster if it doesn’t want to lose him. Coaches have spoken highly of Stephen lately.
Linval Joseph’s unfortunate situation — where he was shot in the leg as an innocent bystander in a night-club shooting — has allowed more opportunities for Stephen to prove himself. Stephen was playing with the first-team defense a lot in the second preseason game. Without Joseph, Stephen and Fred Evans were rotating at nose tackle with Stephen coming on in the nickel defense in passing situations.
You’ve certainly hit on one of the more interesting decisions that will be facing Spielman and Zimmer. After another week of seeing how Stephen’s been used, I think he makes the active roster.
Q: I thought they were protecting the QB’s? On the Cardinals scoring drive late, Sendejo was called for contact with the helmet to the QB. Then, watch the Vikings winning drive. On the long pass to Smith – defender goes into Teddy with the helmet! Next play to Colter, an even worse helmet to the chin shot to Teddy. Is this a "break in the rookie" treatment from the officials? Your thoughts! — Rob, Little Falls
A: I don’t think any treatment of Bridgewater in a preseason game had anything to do with breaking a rookie in. I don’t think the officials are interested or involved in any grand belief that rookies need to be initiated into the NFL. Simply, they might not have seen the occurrences or felt that they rose to the same level as the Sendejo hit. I can’t speak for what the officials were seeing or thinking, but I don’t think there is any conspiracy here. It’s the preseason for the officials, too, and maybe they didn’t see the play or didn’t feel it was malicious.
Q: How worried are we about Blair Walsh? — Susie, Minneapolis
Q: Should we be concerned about Blair Walsh? Do you think the Vikings are concerned? — J-Money-Phresh-Sizzle, Minneapolis
A: Let’s tackle these together. The three misses by Blair Walsh certainly are enough to raise eyebrows, but I don’t think there is concern . . . yet. Walsh’s amazing rookie season might have set expectations extremely high. He did have some struggles from longer distances last year but was dealing with a leg injury. Walsh said he feels strong this year and is still confident.
Two of the misses have been from 50-plus yards. After going 10 of 10 from 50 or more yards in his rookie season, Walsh was 2 of 5 last season from 50 yards or more. He said the misses this preseason — the other was an extra-point from the experimental longer distance — were just a matter of hitting the ball better.
There is no concern from the Vikings or Walsh right now. Walsh and punter Jeff Locke put time in at TCF Bank Stadium this summer to track wind patterns, though wind was of little issue in the first two preseason games. It’s just two preseason games and Walsh is trying to work through the issues and get ready for the season. There are no physical issues with Walsh. I wouldn’t worry yet.
Q: Why are some Minnesota sports writers suddenly anointing Cassel the week 1 starter? Did they actually watch the Cardinals game? Cassel was pretty solid again, okay, but Teddy Ballgame (sorry, Mr. Williams) was rather spectacular. I don’t see this QB competition as being over. Do you? Ted-dy! Ted-dy! Ted-dy! Ted-dy! — Doug, St. Paul
A: Well, I’m among those anointing Cassel the starter, so it might be hard for me to react the way you’re hoping. I get the sense the coaching staff is leaning the same way and just doesn’t want to announce the decision yet. When it comes to the starting middle linebacker and safety spots, Zimmer says he’d like to make a decision as soon as possible. When it comes to quarterback, he only cryptically says he has a date in mind on when he wants to announce a decision between Cassel and Bridgewater.
I could be reading into those comments, but Cassel has started every game so far and will do so on Saturday. Cassel has been in control and handled the first-team offense going against the first-team defense. Bridgewater has had one strong half against a skeleton-crew defense for the Arizona Cardinals.
Bridgewater deserves commendation for his work on Saturday and the way he bounced back from an inconsistent showing in his first game. He showed the promise that he holds in bringing the Vikings back. But Cassel is proven and has done nothing to say he doesn’t deserve the chance to start. Bridgewater had a few tough days of practice and admitted to overthinking things.
Cassel owns a 77.3 completion percentage and 122.4 quarterback rating in the preseason. He’s done his part to earn the starting job, which is what he returned to Minnesota in the offseason to do. The Vikings have a good situation of having the veteran Cassel start in the beginning while grooming Bridgewater and giving him time to develop.
Q: Do you not have to control a ball before you can pass or fumble it. — Steve, Michigan
A: That was a rather interesting play which gave Arizona a temporary lead last week. However, you don’t have to control the ball before you fumble it. Simply put, think of the situation as a dropped snap. That would be considered a fumble in any case, and is similar to what happened when the Cardinals’ quarterback was unable to control the snap.
A fourth-down fumble cannot be advanced except by the fumbling player. It can be argued whether the roll by the offensive lineman purposely went forward but the referee told a pool reporter after the game the reasoning behind the call.
Referee Craig Wrolstad said: "The ball was snapped, it was a backwards pass. The snap is considered the backwards pass. Any backwards pass can be advanced by any team, any direction, on any down. It wasn’t a fumble because the snap was never possessed by any of the players. The ball was snapped, it rolled around, it was knocked around a couple times, nobody ever had control of the ball. Nobody ever had control of the ball, so nobody ever had possession, so it was not a fumble."
A strange play, no doubt.
Q: Looks like the defense got exposed by a good offensive team. . . . Is it realistic to think this defense can hold up to the high powered offenses of the Patriots and Saints or will it be up to the offense to be able to match each team score for score? . . . It looks like this defense, as it is now, can still be picked apart by good QB’s. — Linda, Gilette
A: We’re still in the preseason, so I wouldn’t read too much into the Cardinals having a good offensive game, particularly after they were really good in Week 1 of the preseason against the Houston Texans. Not to mention, I think everyone needs to give Mike Zimmer time to implement his defense and have players adjusting and reacting the way they should in the new schemes. It’s a work in progress.
So too is first-round pick Anthony Barr, who continues to be moved around. The Vikings haven’t shown us everything they might do defensively yet and there are some growing pains to be expected. I would believe Minnesota’s defense would improve as the season continues. Unfortunately, New England and New Orleans are part of the early schedule, with the Patriots coming to town in Week 2 and the Vikings traveling to New Orleans in Week 3.
The biggest concern, at this point, would still be the secondary and some of the questions still to be resolved there. Adding Captain Munnerlyn should settle the cornerback situation down some and the coaches are high on Xavier Rhodes. But injuries have hit the secondary this year and Zimmer is still looking for players to step forward and win jobs.
Safety Robert Blanton appeared in line to start at safety and then missed a lot of time with a hamstring injury before returning this week. Safeties Jamarca Sanford and Andrew Sendejo dealt with injuries early that even caused them to miss the offseason program. Cornerback Josh Robinson has been on and off with a hamstring injury. Cornerback Jabari Price is out now with an undisclosed injury. Shaun Prater has just returned from a concussion.
Minnesota should be better in the secondary, and Zimmer’s roots are as a defensive backs coach, but there is a lot still to be determined on the back end of the defense.
Q: WHY! in the cornbread hell did Vikings get rid of the beast Jarod Allen ? — John Smeby, Palmdale, CA
A: This was an entertaining question. I can’t say I’ve ever heard that reference before. Frankly, Jared Allen isn’t the beast he used to be. His play had begun to decline since his 22-sack season in 2011 and Allen is now 32 years old. Minnesota didn’t get rid of Allen. Both sides just mutually parted when Allen became a free agent this offseason and Allen left on good terms.
Zimmer had entered with a change in scheme — one which doesn’t rely as much on ends simply speeding off the edge as pass rushers — and the Vikings’ defensive line needed to get younger. Allen wouldn’t have been able to simply pin his ears back and rush the passer in Zimmer’s system. Zimmer relies on his ends to hold the edge of the pocket while also rushing, and being strong in run defense.
Allen will always be celebrated for his time in Minnesota, when he was one of the league’s best pass rushers. But the time had simply come to an end. Both Allen and the team understood the situation. Allen never missed a game in his time with the Vikings but injuries had also begun to slow him. He had 12 sacks in 2012 and 11.5 last season.
The part that might hurt the most is seeing Allen twice a year with Chicago. The matchups between Allen and Minnesota left tackle Matt Kalil should be fun, though.
Q: My bet is that the 3rd cornerback to be on the field when Captain moves to the slot is not on the roster. Who do you see that is on other teams that might get cut and would fit into Zimmer system? — Steve, Milton
A: Very possible. I can see Zimmer and Spielman watching the two rounds of cuts very closely over the next two weeks to see if they can infuse a little more talent into Minnesota’s defense. But, it might be tough to see a cornerback coming in and becoming a key contributor right away as the third cornerback. Perhaps someone who has played for Zimmer in the past could be an option, someone who knows the defense.
I do believe the Vikings will be looking intently as teams make cuts and very well could bring in some new players at the end of the preseason. I can’t say I would be able to identify any cornerbacks who are possible cuts by their current teams who could come in and immediately become Minnesota’s third cornerback. It will be interesting to see how the Vikings go about forming their roster for Week 1, Sept. 7 at St. Louis.
Thank you for your submissions. We will return for our weekly mailbags in the regular season. I hope we continue to hear from you in the future. Be sure to check FOXSportsNorth.com for upcoming mailbags.