Notebook: Brandon Fusco has 'got to be smarter,' but no less physical
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MANKATO, Minn. -- Brandon Fusco has heard the cracks about his overaggressive play as a rookie.
"I had more personal fouls than plays, yeah," the Minnesota Vikings' second-year guard said with a smile between Monday's practices. "So, that ratio's got to come down a little bit."
In reality, Fusco played 25 snaps on offense last season and took only one personal foul, a late hit over a pile after relieving Anthony Herrera at Washington. He also had two in the preseason, contributing to his reputation for playing a little too close to the edge at times.
But his mean streak is one reason coaches like Fusco, a natural center out of Division II Slippery Rock who remains the favorite to start at right guard in his second NFL season.
"I'm going to be a lot smarter player, but stay on the physical side," Fusco said. "I've got to be smarter, or I won't be here for long."
His primary competition entering camp, Geoff Schwartz, is scheduled to undergo sports hernia surgery on Tuesday and could miss "anywhere from four weeks to eight to 10 weeks," coach Leslie Frazier said.
Frazier stopped short of naming Fusco the starter, though, saying practice-squad holdover Chris DeGeare and veteran Joe Berger also figure to get turns at the position as coaches evaluate their options.
"We're not quite ready to say Brandon is the guy opening up (in the Sept. 9 opener) against Jacksonville," Frazier said. "We want to see him in some game situations against other teams in the preseason and then make a declaration as we go. So, we'll continue to have some competition at that position."
Fusco admits he's been "up and down" in camp but credited daily matchups with veteran undertackle Kevin Williams for helping to transform him from a player who wasn't even a lock to make the team a year ago until an encouraging performance in the preseason finale.
"Geoff's my competition right now, but I'm sure Joe or Chris will be right there behind me competing for that job," Fusco said. "Right now, it's my job to lose and I've just got to keep coming out here with the right attitude and just the great mindset, coming out here to improve each day and become a great player."
If he does that, Fusco surmises, he no longer will have to hear about being that developmental sixth-round draft pick who hits guys after the whistle.
"I still think there's people that doubt me, coming from a smaller school," Fusco said. "I'm trying to prove to all these people I can play. I've played the same way in college: physical. It's never been a problem for me. It's the way I've played my whole career. I've just got to come out ... and improve each day."
Griffen 'sporadic' at linebacker
The great Everson Griffen experiment could end this weekend, depending how he fares at linebacker in Friday's exhibition opener at San Francisco.
"He's been kind of sporadic," Frazier said. "He's had some good moments and he's had some other moments where we'd like it to come a little bit faster. But we're going to give him a little time and see how he does throughout this week and even in the San Francisco game, and then we'll sit down and evaluate things after that game."
Griffen was back at his usual spot for parts of Monday's practice, playing left end in the nickel defense -- a unit he figures to be a part of this season regardless of where he's playing. Frazier said Griffen has "shown sparks at times that he can get this done" at weakside linebacker, too, but the jury is out until he does it in a game.
"I'm excited just to prove myself," Griffen said. "I've been doing well. There's always room for improvement for anybody. I've just got to get out there and keep up the hustle and keep up the good work."
Smith moving up?
But just as he did on Saturday night, Smith got a few turns with the starters on Monday, playing alongside Sanford in the nickel defense during one team (11-on-11) period.
Monday might have been the defense's best practice of camp. It definitely was the offense's worst.
The defense had its way in the short-yardage and goal-line, where all three offensive units came up short.
Five no-huddle series also went to the defense, with Ponder's group going three-and-out against their fellow starters and then also coming up short against the third-string defense, thanks in part to a rare drop by tight end Kyle Rudolph.
The second string's two no-huddle series ended with Joe Webb gifting an interception to linebacker Marvin Mitchell and having a checkdown pass for halfback Derrick Coleman broken up by cornerback Chris Carr, respectively.
Ponder was 10-of-17 passing in team drills with the interception to Raymond. He also took two sacks. Webb was 6-of-14, Sage Rosenfels 3-of-3 and Bethel-Thompson 6-of-8.
It's safe to say middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley is sick of being asked if he has any questions about his health.
"Oh, no," Brinkley said. "I never did and never will."
Friday will mark Brinkley's first game action since lat Aug. 20 at Seattle, where he was clearly hampered by the hip that eventually required season-ending surgery.
He then spent June's minicamp on the sideline with a groin strain but has taken all the reps in this camp with the No. 1 base defense at middle linebacker.
"I'm very excited, man. I'm kind of like a kid at a birthday party," Brinkley said. "I'm just blessed to be able to go out and continue playing and just keep going each and every day, keeping the approach of every practice like it's my last practice. At the end of the day, I can say I gave it my all."
Asked if he feels he has a lot to prove, Brinkley said, "The coaches know what I can do. As far as trying to prove anything, I'm just going to continue to be myself. I feel like when you try to prove things, that's when you try to play outside of yourself and bad things happen for you."
Tight end John Carlson (knee) was seen jogging for the first time since suffering a Grade 2 sprain of his right medial collateral ligament in Tuesday's practice. He had a notable hitch in his gait, though, and continues to wear a large brace on the knee.
Frazier has said Carlson should miss only a week or two, but a Grade 2 MCL sprain is generally considered a two- to four-week injury and there's no point rushing back Carlson this week, since he's not playing Friday's exhibition.
Safety Robert Blanton (hamstring) also has resumed jogging. His timetable remains unclear.
Halfback Jordan Todman (left ankle sprain) and tackle Pat Brown (knee) were in pads for the first time since their respective injuries, but it was unclear how much, if any, work either player got in team drills.
Tackle DeMarcus Love (pectoral) didn't need surgery but still may need another week or two to regain strength, Frazier said.
Receiver Kamar Jorden (wrist/hand) also remains sidelined.
Halfback Adrian Peterson (knee) was absent from both practices to attend a court hearing in Houston on the resisting arrest charge stemming from his July 7 arrest. Frazier said Peterson will remain on the active/physically unable to perform list until at least next week.
• WR Greg Childs posted on Twitter around 3:30 p.m. Monday he was heading to surgery for the two ruptured patellar tendons he suffered on Saturday night. "A special thanks to all of you that sent prayers my way," Childs wrote in a separate post. "I will be fine." He was waived/injured on Monday -- a precursor to placing him on injured reserve.
• The Vikings have no plans to let HB Toby Gerhart carry a heavy load on Friday. "We'll get him in there some," Frazier said, "but we're not going to hand it off to him a lot, not in the preseason. He'll have limited reps for sure." Lex Hilliard and Coleman figure to carry the ball extensively, along with Todman if he's healthy and fullback Matt Asiata.
• Marcus Sherels, Jarius Wright, Bryan Walters and perhaps Josh Robinson will get chances on punt returns on Friday, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. Those four, as well as Stephen Burton, will be in the mix on kickoff returns, since Percy Harvin won't be taking any of those in the preseason.
• Signed late Friday night, G Grant Cook became eligible and practiced in pads for the first time.
• Former Vikings coach Les Steckel is attending practices this week.