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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Notebook: Matt Cassel gets second start, but Josh Freeman is on deck

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier told the media on Friday what he had already told former starting quarterback Christian Ponder – that reserve Matt Cassel has passed him in the pecking order and will start Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.

Frazier wouldn’t say what the plan is for former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman, who the Vikings signed over the weekend.

“Now that we’re done through this week and everything has kind of worked out from an injury standpoint, we can make a decision…Matt Cassel is going to be our starting quarterback on Sunday,” Frazier said. “Christian [Ponder] is going to back him up.”

“Have not decided at this point what we’re going to do with Josh [Freeman]. We don’t see him being able to play this ballgame yet, based on where we are and where he is with our offense.”

Freeman began a crash course in the team’s playbook on Monday. Coaches apparently gave Freeman a limited version of the condensed playbook for this week, but he’ll likely be inactive on Sunday.

Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave coached with Freeman’s former college coach Ron Prince at the Unviersity of Virignia. Freeman said this week their schemes have similarities and that should help his education of the offense.

But the Vikings are timid with their quarterback situation, refusing to commit to a starter longer than the Friday before a Sunday game. Now that they have named Cassel the starter against the Panthers, Frazier remained careful not to make a false commitment like he did when saying Ponder was the starting quarterback when healthy.

Not given a solid endorsement, Cassel said he’s not looking past Sunday’s game either.

“To be completely honest I’m not thinking about any of that stuff right now because once you start concerning yourself with that it takes away from what you have to do on the field,” Cassel said. “My sole concern has to be how can we beat Carolina on Sunday.”

Frazier wouldn’t say if Freeman would be available for the Oct. 21 game against the New York Giants, but both Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman have said Freeman is being prepared to play soon.

For now, Cassel is the starter. But he’ll likely need a career performance on Sunday to keep it that way.

“We’ll see how Matt does. But we’ll see how it plays out over time,” Frazier said. “I think we need to sit back on Monday after the game and evaluate things and see where we are. Let’s see how it goes.”

No changes

The Vikings’ only change in the bye week appears to be the quarterback addition as they won’t make any personnel changes to one of the worst pass defenses in football.

Cornerback Josh Robinson keeps his starting role despite being the most targeted cornerback in the NFL after the first four weeks. Robinson will still retain his nickel cornerback duties, where the second-year cornerback has struggled the most since switching to that role in the offseason.

“We’re still sticking with Josh,” Frazier said.

Robinson, who never played slot corner before this year, has allowed 35 receptions on 38 targets for nearly 400 yards in four contests as the Vikings have allowed 326 passing yards per game, which was worst in the NFL before their Week 5 bye.

“We knew there was going to be a learning curve. Through OTA’s, minicamp, we knew Josh [Robinson] had never played inside before,” Defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. “I think people think the nickel spot is just where you put your third corner. But really, that’s where you put one of your best corners. You have to have a large skill set.”

“That position comes with a huge learning curve, as we see, Josh is learning day-by-day, game-by-game. He is improving.”

Cornerback Chris Cook (groin) and safety Jamarca Sanford (groin) will return to action after sitting out the Sept. 29 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in London. Cook played just three snaps in the Sept. 22 loss to the Cleveland Browns before sitting out.

Cam Newton, the pocket passer?

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is only on pace for 80 rushes, 492 yards and four rushing touchdowns this season – all career lows for the freakishly athletic talent.

Despite getting sacked 15 times already, which is a league-high in only four games, Newton seems to have embraced a pocket-passer mentality, which Vikings defenders have noticed.

“I feel like he’s definitely making a conscious effort to stay in the pocket now, this being his third year now,” Cook said. “He took a lot of hits during his first two years.”

Newton is on pace for a career-high 24 touchdown passes, but he’s tied with Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as the most-sacked quarterback that’s already taken a bye week.

“I think he’s really doing a good job in the pocket and a lot like Big Ben [Roethlisberger], where he’s a big body, so he’s able to shrug off tacklers and get outside the pocket and create plays down the field to throw the ball,” defensive end Jared Allen said. “He’s not necessarily peeling out of there looking to take off running down the field. He’s doing a great job of escaping the pocket and making throws down the field.”

Extra points

• Kicker Blair Walsh did not practice on Friday and is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. Frazier said after Friday’s practice that punter Jeff Locke is the backup option should Walsh not be able to go. Frazier: “We’re going to list him as questionable just because of that tightness and not sure how he’s going to be. We need to see some things before the game, but he should be able to go. Just to err on the side of caution, we’re going to list him as questionable for the game.”

• Locke traded his #12 jersey to Freeman, who joined the team this week. Locke said the deal is for Freeman to buy his family all new #18 jerseys, Locke’s new number, and for him to donate money to a charity of his choosing.

• Rookie linebacker Michael Mauti made his NFL debut against the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 22 with H-back Rhett Ellison (knee) out. Ellison should return to action this Sunday, but Mauti is still taking first-team reps on punt and punt return teams.

Andrew Krammer covers the Minnesota Vikings for He previously covered the Gophers men’s basketball team for the Minnesota Daily.

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