Monday, July 27, 2015

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Per Adam Caplan at ESPN, the Vikings will sign former third-string quarterback McLeod John Baltazer Bethel-Thompson to the practice squad. The scouting report on him is well known—big arm, still raw.

Bethel-Thompson has quite a career in terms of where he’s gone and who he’s been with. After going undrafted at Sacramento State in 2011, he played in the Arena Football League for the San Jose SaberCats, then joined the San Francisco 49ers to be on their practice squad. Shortly after that, in the same year, he went on to play for the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the United Football League. He ended up starting the last two games for them, the only games they won (it was a five-game schedule). Interestingly, he was coached by Denny Green.

Later that year, he signed on to the Miami Dolphins practice squad.

He was on the Vikings’ roster from 2012 to 2013, beating out Sage Rosenfels for the job. He was cut midway through 2013 for Josh Freeman. After that, the San Francisco 49ers picked him up and kept him on for a month before waiving him to their practice squad. He last throughout the 2014 offseason before getting cut in the first round of cuts.

After that, the New England Patriots signed him to their practice squad for about ten days, where he was cut from it on September 9.

And now he joins the Vikings once more.

It’s unclear who will be cut to make room, though Matt Vensel speculates it means that Chase Ford could get promoted. The easiest situation is if a player goes on Injured Reserve-Designated to Return, so that no one will have to be truly “cut.” If it’s Kyle Rudolph, that would make a lot of sense—promote a tight end up, sign MBT to the practice squad as functional depth at quarterback while Cassel recovers and move on.

The Designated to Return designation means that a player can return to the team but not count against the roster while he’s on the reserve list. He will be out for six weeks, whereupon he can return to practice. After eight weeks, he can be cleared to play. The issue for players is that they remain on the reserve list with a smaller salary, so they’d rather be declared “out” for six games. It’s also less flexible in terms of their recovery time.

To me, what’s most likely is that it’s Brandon Fusco who is actually potentially subject to this designation, given the fact that he will be seeking a second opinion for his injury.

If no one is moved to a reserve list, then expect a player to be cut, either from the practice squad or the roster in order to make room for a promotion (again, likely Chase Ford). If it’s a practice squad player, Josh Kaddu makes sense as he was the most recent signing. If it’s the roster, I would not be surprised to see receiver Charles Johnson go. While the Vikings can cut Charles Johnson, per the 2011 CBA, as a member of another team’s practice squad, he is entitled to three weeks’ pay as if he was on an active roster and also counts against the 53-man roster whether he’s on it or not. So they can’t cut him to make room. Thanks to Twitter user @aggromagnet and Daniel House at Vikings Corner for pointing that out!

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After Kyle Rudolph’s in-game groin injury and Brandon Fusco’s pectoral injury, there were concerns inside and outside the organization that the Vikings would not be able to use them this season for some time. Albert Breer reports that Rudolph will undergo a sports hernia surgery that will take him out for six weeks, and Matt Vensel confirmed it.

Mike Zimmer’s presser didn’t get into much detail, but Brandon Fusco will get a second opinion about his pectoral injury—some of those can last for some time. Wanting a second opinion usually isn’t a good sign (i.e. the team’s prognosis is a longer recovery), but don’t read into it too much. Depending on the grade of the strain, Fusco could be out for anywhere between a couple of days (Grade 1) to a couple of months (Grade 3). Don’t be surprised if it’s a Grade 2 tear, because a Grade 3 would be detected in short order and a Grade 1 would likely not force a second opinion. Grade 2 tears take anywhere between 2-6 weeks to recover.

Matt Cassel will see a foot specialist. If it’s an acute metatarsal fracture, like most broken foot injuries to athletes, it would take six to eight weeks to really heal, and longer to get on a field.

Chad Greenway has a broken rib. Asked if he could play with that and a broken hand, Mike Zimmer said, “not the way he did yesterday.” Zimmer took responsibility for putting Greenway out there with little practice.

Jason Cole reports at the Bleacher Report that a source close to Adrian Peterson and a source within the team told him that “they believe he will return this season and that eventually he will get his legal woes fixed in the state of Texas and that he’ll be able to play again this year.”

Cole buffered that with a warning that some people, especially in the league office, who are wondering about whether he’s subject to the personal conduct policy and suspended for the rest of the season. Cole says if that happens, there’s a chance the Vikings will move on from Peterson altogether.

Naturally, this doesn’t square with earlier reports from Chris Mortenson that the Vikings have already planned for his long-term absence.

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Full game recap at Vikings Journal. Some snippets:

Blanton himself had a very poor day. Though logging ten tackles in the game book, he was exposed in coverage against Jimmy Graham, Josh Hill, Brandin Cooks and Benjamin Watson, and was somewhat culpable on other throws. More than that, his tackles were abysmal—better described as a passenger along a ride instead of a tackler. Dragged for additional yards by Pierre Thomas, Jimmy Graham and Robert Meachem (as well as others), Blanton couldn’t bring ballcarriers down.

The offensive line in particular needs a harsh look. There is no question that the worst-performing player on either team was Matt Kalil, who gave up sacks, hits and hurries at an alarming rate for both quarterbacks, and needed to be schemed help, help that sometimes meant sliding away from the blitz that was being shown and isolating Loadholt against two rushers.

Kalil ended up getting help from tight ends and running backs, and sometimes that wasn’t enough. He didn’t get much movement in the running game, either. He has an unfortunate inability to gain positioning on run blocks, and he often angled defenders into the lanes ballcarriers were assigned to go to. It’s negative blocking value.

Speaking of Harrison Smith, he was clearly the best player on the defense. Though he only logged four tackles (two combined), he had three pass deflections in the air and forced a three-and-out with his critical tackle on third down on the edge. He put pressure on the quarterback on one of his few blitzes. The biggest criticism of Smith comes on the Josh Hill touchdown, where he and Blanton needed to combine for coverage to prevent the play from happening, and neither were in place.

Enjoy,

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After Matt Cassel left the game limping, it was discovered that he had fractures in bones in his foot, forcing him to remain out of the game as Teddy Bridgewater took backup duties. The team did not release a timetable for his recovery, though it looks like Teddy will be the starter for the immediate future.

Matt Cassel wasn’t the only player who left the game. Brandon Fusco left the game because of a pectoral injury (these are usually muscle tears), Josh Robinson with a hamstring injury (which bothered him at camp) and a rib injury for Chad Greenway, who was limited in practice this week because of his ribs as well as a broken thumb. Kyle Rudolph suffered a groin injury and will have an MRI. “Something popped”, per Brian Murphy of the Pioneer Press.

Their replacements were, respectively, Vlad Ducasse, Jabari Price, Gerald Hodges and Marqueis Gray. While Ducasse was questionable at best, Hodges was very good. Price seemed to be up-and-down, though I can be convinced otherwise. Teddy Bridgewater looked very good, but did not get much help from the offensive line. Gray did not seem to have much of an impact.

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There will be a full game recap later at Vikings Territory, but for now we half quick reactions to the first half. With Teddy Bridgewater in the game, there’s a new atmosphere for fans and possibly the team itself.

Offense

With Teddy Bridgewater in, there’s not much to say about Matt Cassel‘s play. He did very poorly, in part because of consistent pressure. He got knocked down or sacked on almost half of his plays, and pressure on other plays. Even in the scant plays he had without pressure, he did poorly. Interesting if bad choice to flip the ball up early on in one clean pocket, and had a bad throw to Rudolph on a later play.

Teddy Bridgewater has looked decent, but there hasn’t been much opportunity to be explosive, in part due to the number of clean plays and in part due to the conservative playcalling. He had a late decision on the first throw, but a completion to Jennings was more than the Vikings had seen so far. Good work on the QB draw, bad work on the scramble. Has been handling pressure better than Cassel has. It does not seem as if he’s calling the protections, but we’ll see.

Kyle Rudolph dropped another pass, even if it was a bad ball, but has been blocking adequately in the run.

The running back battle between Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata may statistically favor Asiata, but there’s not much to say that one is definitively better at this point, really. Asiata has not been a poor decision-maker so far, though one or two instances his speed showed up to slow down the potential gain. He had a huge gain on a dumpoff. It was well-blocked and schemed open, but solid.

McKinnon hasn’t shown up in terms of reaching his hype quite yet. Some of it is opportunity—free defenders getting to him on his only run and a high pass on one of his two targets. The other target was off as well after Teddy adjusted his throwing lane in response to pressure from the left. His pass protection so far has been good.

Phil Loadholt has been blocking well on the run, though not a lot have gone in his direction. Has been largely fine, though pressure given up because of the protection calls—being forced to block two defenders and so on.

Brandon Fusco needs to show some more awareness and he’s not quite getting it done. I’ve counted at least one pass pressure and a miscue in the running game as well as too-late help on a pass-rush.

John Sullivan has been blocking well, but if some of the extra pressure is due to some miscommunication errors, that’s on him. He seems to have drawn a difficult assignment as he’s often asked to block Brodrick Bunkley one-on-one instead of with help.

I have not seen much of Charlie Johnson, but Matt Kalil has been nothing short of abysmal. When left alone, he’s given up pressure on nearly every play, and himself looked to have sacked Teddy Bridgewater. He has been responsible for a few knockdowns and a lot of the scrambles. He has been the worst player on the field for either team so far.

Defense

Linval Joseph hasn’t shown up much today, and was pushed around a little bit on the first drive. The pressure packages from the Vikings means he’s getting rotated out a little more than we would expect. Since the third drive, he has anchored well. Sharrif Floyd has had some issues reading the play and getting pushed out. He hasn’t been particularly great so far.

On the other hand, Tom Johnson has been getting the rare interior pressure the Vikings have produced so far and had a hand in the Anthony Barr sack late in the half. He showed up with a tackle in the run game as well, though the Saints got the required yardage to convert at this point.

Everson Griffen hasn’t really shown up much. He may have put one or two pressures on the quarterback, but so far it doesn’t look like it. He also allowed a running lane to open up more than once. For a defense that asks its defensive ends to contain first, rush second, that’s pretty bad. At least he blocked the extra point. Brian Robison has been a little better definitively, forcing Brees to move around in the pocket, but nothing has been all that great.

Outside linebacker/defensive end Anthony Barr did show up with his first sack of the season, but he’s had some issues. He’s been exposed in coverage once and missed a run assignment another time. With that, he also hasn’t been able to get off blocks all that well in the running game.

Chad Greenway has missed at least two tackles so far in the running game and has been a nonfactor otherwise. Hodges has had fewer snaps (when Barr was a defensive end) and hasn’t done much.

Harrison Smith continues to play like a Pro Bowl-caliber safety, with two pass breakups (one should have been an interception) and a key third down stop. He’s been all over the field and it’s almost all been good, excepting getting frozen by a pump fake by Brees to get a Josh Hill touchdown.

Robert Blanton, on the other hand, has been abysmal. There was a string of three successive failures, giving up a reception to Brandin Cooks, Jimmy Graham (and getting destroyed on the run after catch), and getting dragged on a Pierre Thomas run. After that, he was judged (by me) to have given up the touchdown to Josh Hill, though Harrison is at fault, too.

Josh Robinson has done well as a corner, both preventing targets from heading his way and tackling to prevent gains. Xavier Rhodes hasn’t been tested much, and Captain Munnerlyn has been mixed, allowing a reception or two but doing well in the run game to get off blocks and get to the ballcarrier.

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