Notebook: One position gets clarity

Mike Zimmer “probably” has his leader at middle linebacker, but the weather didn’t help him evaluate the strong safety candidates. Plus, Zimmer defended Christian Ponder, what a 4-0 preseason indicates, and other notes and quotes from Thursday’s win.

A downpour before and during the preseason finale dampened LP Field and possibly some important evaluations as the Minnesota Vikings prepare for the final analysis of players on the roster fringe with personnel meetings on Friday.

NFL teams are required to slice their roster from 75 players to 53 by 3 p.m. Central Friday.

With a heavy rain during the first half of the preseason finale against the Tennessee Titans, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said the wet conditions may have hurt his chances at getting a great last evaluation at the strong safety position, but there is a leader at middle linebacker.

Jasper Brinkley has started all four preseason games and Zimmer said he is probably the leader at that position, despite a solid preseason turned in by Audie Cole. Brinkley was the starter at middle linebacker again Thursday night, but Cole started alongside him at weakside linebacker.

“Jasper’s done a very nice job and I think Audie played well tonight,” Zimmer said. “We moved him back inside and played him at (middle linebacker) in the second part of the ball game and he played well. So, again, I would probably say that Jasper’s got the lead, but I haven’t made any firm decision yet.”

In an earlier analysis of them, Zimmer said Brinkley and Cole were close in ability to stop the run and in pass coverage, but he said Brinkley was a better communicator on the field.

Cole finished the game and the preseason as the Vikings’ leading tackler – five in the finale and 19 for the preseason. Brinkley had two in the game and 13 for the preseason.

With Chris Crocker sitting out along with most of the starters, Kurt Coleman made his second start of the preseason at safety. He also started the first preseason game with Crocker only signing with the Vikings in the week leading up to that contest and not dressing for preseason opener. Robert Blanton started alongside Coleman on Thursday, making his first start of the preseason.

Coleman could be in contention for the starting spot, but Crocker would appear to be in the lead for that position, at least for the regular-season opener on Sept. 7 in St. Louis.

“Unfortunately, some of the weather gave them a little bit of a hard time, but same deal, we’ll make that decision,” Zimmer said. “We’ve got to again go back and evaluate all of this stuff (Friday) and get a real good look at it and kind of go from there. I know Coleman did some good things when he was in there. (Andrew) Sendejo did some good things when he was in there and Blanton did some good things. We just have to figure out what’s the best fit for this football team, not only on defense, but on special teams.”

Andrew Sendejo and Jamarca Sanford are also fighting for their spot on the depth chart at safety, but Sanford has been hurt most of the preseason and Sendejo also missed preseason time with a hamstring injury.

IN DEFENSE OF PONDER


The coaching staff appears to be closing ranks around quarterback Christian Ponder. Last week, offensive coordinator Norv Turner called out the fans for booing Ponder in the preseason opener and receiver Greg Jennings said fans who boo one of the Vikings are booing all of them.

Zimmer joined the chorus, defending Ponder at least three times following Thursday night’s win – first in front of the players in his post-game speech, then in a radio interview on the Vikings Radio Network, and finally in his post-game press conference.

“I’m especially proud of Christian Ponder because I know there’s been a lot of fans and a lot of people that have really been negative towards him and the guy’s been nothing but be a first class guy, works hard every single day and went on to perform well tonight,” Zimmer said at his press conference.

Ponder completed 12 of 15 passes for 121 yards and a 100.3 pass rating, taking two sacks. For the preseason, he was 15 of 22 for 160 yards, no touchdowns or interceptions and an 89.2 rating.

“You’re a damn good football player,” Zimmer told Ponder during his post-game locker room speech.

WHAT DOES THE PRESEASON MEAN?


What does going 4-0 in the preseason mean? It’s hard to read too much into it, but it’s better than the alternative, according to history.

This is the seventh time the Vikings have finished undefeated in the preseason (1964, 1965, 1973, 1992, 1998, 2001 and 2014), and the past indicates a winning preseason helps lead to a winning regular season.

History shows the Vikings made the playoffs in three of six previous seasons that followed an undefeated preseason, with only one losing season – in 2001 when they went 5-11-0. Following the 1973 season they lost in the Super Bowl, and following the 1998 season they lost in the NFC Championship Game.

When the Vikings have finished .500 or better in the preseason they’ve also finished .500 or better in the regular season 78 percent of the time.

“I think the biggest thing in preseason is you want to win games,” defensive end Corey Wootton said. “Everyone says preseason doesn’t matter, but the biggest thing you have to do is go out there, try to get better each week and review your game plan. I thought we did a pretty job in the preseason and we have to carry that into the regular season and take it one week at a time.”

At the NFL level, there are also some encouraging indicators. Last year, the Seattle Seahawks were 4-0 in the preseason before winning Super Bowl XLVIII, and 37 of the 48 Super Bowl champions (77.1 percent) have finished the preseason with a winning percentage of at least .500.

Since 2000, the 14 Super Bowl champions have combined for a 36-20 (.643) preseason record during their championship seasons.

One key is winning the turnover battle. This was only the second preseason in franchise history that the Vikings didn’t lose a fumble, and their one turnover on offense was a preseason first.

The three quarterbacks combined to tie a team record for fewest interceptions – one – in a preseason, equaling the 1977 preseason mark.

NOTES


  • RB Joe Banyard finished the preseason with a 5.9-yard average per carry, fourth-best in Vikings preseason history. Adrian Peterson holds that record with a 7.2-yard average during the 2009 preseason. Banyard’s 111-yard performance against the Titans was the fifth-best in preseason history.

  • QB Teddy Bridgewater ended the preseason tied for third-most attempts (49) in a preseason without an interception. Sage Rosenfels had 51 attempts in the 2010 preseason without an interception, and Fran Tarkenton had 51 in 1961. Bridgewater tied Christian Ponder’s 2011 mark of 49.

  • Zimmer thanked the players for accepting all the changes implemented throughout the offseason by the new coaching staff.

    “Every one of these guys had done everything we’ve asked them to do,” he said. “Coming in as a new organization, part of the way we’ve done things have been such a change, so I have a fondness in my heart for all of these guys. They’ve listened to me complain and yell at them and every other thing and so … I think they’ve gotten better each week and (making cuts this year) is probably particularly hard.”

  • The Vikings didn’t play 27 of the 75 players on the roster. In addition to the starters, sitting out were: Sanford (quad), CB Jabari Price (arm/shoulder), RB Matt Asiata (coach’s decision), LB Gerald Hodges (ankle), LB Michael Mauti (foot), LB Brandon Watts (leg), WR Rodney Smith (back/neck) and TE Chase Ford (foot).

  • Paid attendance was 69,143, but far more seats were vacant than filled.

  • Adam Thielen led the Vikings with five receptions, including a 3-yard touchdown catch, before leaving with a hip injury. TE Allen Reisner led the team in receiving yards with four catches for 33 yards.

  • Julian Posey’s interception was the only one of the game.

  • Jeff Locke averaged 51.5 yards on his two punts, but both went for touchbacks for a net average of only 31.5 yards.

  • With wet conditions throughout, Ponder and Reisner each fumbled the ball, but the Vikings never turned it over. Ponder recovered his own fumble and Reisner’s fumble went out of bounds.

  • The Vikings had 22 first downs compared to the Titans’ 13.

  • Wootton, Justin Trattou and Tom Johnson all had a sack for the Vikings.


    Scott Grams contributed to this notebook. Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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