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Updated: September 13th, 2012 4:36pm
Notebook: New-look Colts defense is partially an uknown to Vikings

Notebook: New-look Colts defense is partially an uknown to Vikings

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Indianapolis Colts' switch to a 3-4 defense remains a work in progress, but that also could present some issues Sunday for the Minnesota Vikings.

The Bears managed to put up 41 points on the Colts in Week 1 at Soldier Field in their 20-point victory over Indianapolis.

That is the only regular-season game tape the Vikings have of a Colts defense that, according to Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, mixes ideas from the Baltimore Ravens defense with a little bit of what San Diego and San Francisco do.

New Colts coach Chuck Pagano spent the past four seasons as the Ravens defense coordinator and their current coordinator is former Viking Greg Manusky. Manusky coordinated defenses for the 49ers from 2007-10 and for the Chargers in 2011.

The Colts are now known as a 3-4 defense, but have the ability to shift into a 4-3 look at times.

"There's going to be some unknowns," Musgrave said. "There's going to be some unscouted looks that we'll see on Sunday that they've been not willing to reveal up to this point."

The Bears gained 428 yards against the Colts, including 314 passing and 114 rushing. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler completed 21 of 35 passes for 333 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.

Sullivan sits

Center John Sullivan sat out practice on Thursday because of an ankle injury after being limited because of the problem on Wednesday.

Coach Leslie Frazier said he anticipates Sullivan being ready to play Sunday and said the decision to hold him out was, "just a precautionary measure," adding, "there is nothing major going on, he's just a little bit sore from (Wednesday's) practice, so we gave it some time."

Sullivan is expected to practice Friday.

Cornerback Antoine Winfield was excused from practice so he could attend the funeral for his brother, Anthony Travis, who was murdered last week in Akron, Ohio. The Vikings anticipate Winfield being back on the practice field Friday.

Cornerback Chris Cook (biceps) returned to practice on a full-time basis Thursday after being limited Wednesday. Tight end Rhett Ellison (ankle), running back Adrian Peterson (knee) and cornerback Josh Robinson (hip) also were able to take part in all of practice.

Linebacker Marvin Mitchell, safety Andrew Sendejo and wide receiver Jarius Wright, all dealing with ankle injuries, were once again limited.

Freeney still out

Colts linebacker Dwight Freeney (ankle) missed a second consecutive day of practice and it appears likely he won't be able to play Sunday.

Wide receiver Austin Collie (concussion) sat out of practice on Thursday after participating in all drills Wednesday. Right tackle Winston Justice (concussion) did not miss any practice time Thursday.

Two choices

While the no-huddle offense certainly is popular in the NFL these days, Musgrave said the Vikings have a couple of different versions.

Musgrave described one as an "up-tempo, no huddle," and the other as "no huddle where we want to take the air out of the game a little bit, keep their offense stale on the sideline, fatigue the defense."

Musgrave has liked what he has seen from quarterback Christian Ponder in both versions.

"He's done a nice job with our no-huddle components," Musgrave said. "He's done a good job up to this point in all of those facets of the offense and I think he is comfortable with most of them."

So, how much freedom does Ponder get in those situations when it comes to play calling?

"I don't know if there would be more or less than when we huddle up and call plays, but he has a bunch of leeway out there to change protections, change runs to passes, change passes to runs," Musgrave said.

"The play that he threw down to Kyle (Rudolph) on the long pass, he amended our protection and made sure he was blocked up and then had the wherewithal to throw a terrific football down there. He's got a lot of responsibility out there."

That pass was a 29-yard completion to Rudolph down the left side near the end of the third quarter last Sunday in the Vikings' 26-23 overtime victory over Jacksonville. It helped to set up a 20-yard field goal by rookie kicker Blair Walsh.

High standards

After Adrian Peterson passed Robert Smith last Sunday to become the all-time leading rusher in Vikings history, Smith passed along his congratulations in a video played on the Metrodome scoreboard.

Smith, who rushed for 6,818 yards with the Vikings from 1993 to 2000, added in the video that Peterson should now go chase Emmitt Smith's NFL rushing record of 18,355 yards gained from 1990 to 2004 with Dallas and Arizona.

"It's intriguing, because you set goals for yourself that you want to accomplish, and what greater accomplishment to get than the all-time leading rusher in the NFL?" said Peterson, who is in his sixth season. "I think that's something that -- God's willing, I stay healthy -- it'll come with time."

I did that?

Walsh joked Monday about how Peterson gave him such a hard slap on the helmet as he went out to attempt the 55-yard field goal to tie the score late in the fourth quarter Sunday that Walsh's helmet was turned to the side for a moment.

Walsh said he doubted Peterson knew his own strength.

"I didn't realize that. ... I knew I hit him kind of hard," Peterson said. "I was just like, 'You're going to make this kick. You're going to make this kick.' I didn't doubt for one second that he was going to miss it. He went out there and did a great job and put us in a position to win."

Success at safety

Defensive coordinator Alan Williams was pleased with the play of safeties Harrison Smith and Mistral Raymond last Sunday. Smith was taken with the 29th pick in the first round of the NFL draft last April and Raymond was selected in the sixth round in 2011.

"I was encouraged, very encouraged," Williams said of their performance. "No matter what you say, it's different going from a preseason ball game to a regular season ball game with the preparation, with the amount of reps you play, with the intensity. The intensity picks up for sure in the regular season. I was very, very pleased with it."

Smith was third on the Vikings with seven tackles and had one pass breakup, and Raymond had three tackles and broke up a pass. Williams said he did not have to scale back the defensive game plan, despite having two young safeties.

"Nope, not at all," he said. "The full menu is open. All the safeties are smart, but we have two smart guys in there and they're working together and we realize there will be some mistakes. But they limited those mistakes they made in the ball game and I always say, 'If you make a mistake, make it full-speed and let the hustle and let the athleticism make up for that.' They did that (and) I was pleased with them."

Simple concept

Williams was the latest person to be asked about what happened to Cook with 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter Sunday when Blaine Gabbert beat the cornerback with a 39-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Cecil Shorts.

"We talk about playing situational football," Williams said. "In those situations, you want to be as deep as the deepest and as wide as the widest and keep the ball in front of you. I think they had 17 to 23 seconds on the clock and you just need to keep those balls in front of you. Tackling those balls is a good thing because time is on your side and if we did that, we would have been in great shape.

"It was a good learning experience. There were a lot of situations in that game that it may take three or four games to actually get, but we had them all in one ball game. It was a good learning experience for us and we'll be better for sure the next time."

Asked to evaluate Cook's overall performance, Williams called it promising.

"He tackled well," Williams said. "For the most part, he covered well. A lay person may look at the ball game and say, 'Oh, wow. Not good.' But we don't look at it that way at all. We still have a ton of confidence in him, and I think that when you see the jump from the first ball game to the second ball game, you'll see what you would expect."

Happy with Jared

Pro Bowl right end Jared Allen had a rather quiet game from a statistical standpoint last Sunday. He didn't have a sack, although one was taken away when Allen was called for being offsides in the first quarter after he got to Gabbert.

"He got off the ball unbelievably the first or second pass that they had," Williams said. "It was tough with their hard counts, the way they were using them and what they were doing and how they were doing it. He had pressure.

"Whenever they have to chip you, turn the protection to you, do those types of things, it leaves other guys one-on-one and it helps the defense as a whole. It may not have seemed like he had a huge effect on the ball game, but he does every time he lines up."

Williams said the Jaguars provided plenty of double-team and chip help on Allen. Williams would not elaborate when asked if he felt the replacement officials blew the offsides call on Allen.

"That's a no comment. Really, it was close," Williams said. "We looked at the tape and he had a good jump on the ball and they called it as it was and that's what it is. We have to live with it and move on and make sure that we don't get those types of penalties."

Good from 60

Walsh's 55-yard field goal would have been good from 60 yards, according to one observer who was right there when the kick went through the uprights.

"My son, Wilson, was the K-Ball ball boy underneath the goal post, (and) he came to me right before overtime and said, 'Dad, that was good from 60,'" special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. "According to my 14 year-old son, it was good from 60."

Priefer had to be especially happy to see Walsh hit on all four of his field-goal attempts, given all the work the two did after Walsh was taken in the sixth round of the draft last spring.

One thing they focused on was Walsh's timing and approach.

"That's what we have talked about since Day One," Priefer said. "I've told him, I said, 'Blair, you have the leg strength to hit those on a consistent basis so you don't have to worry about rushing it. You don't have to worry about lunging into it. You don't have to worry about attacking the ball more because you attack it plenty.'

"I think that, because of all of that work and all of that training we've had since the spring and talking to him about that same situation, he knew going out there he didn't have to do anything extraordinary because he had the leg strength to do that and that's my point. I think (the 55-yarder) was probably his smoothest field goal of the day, believe it or not.

"The other ones, maybe a little bit we're going to coach off of. That one, I can't find anything wrong with it. That thing was perfect in terms of his technique, the snap was perfect, the hold was perfect, the protection was outstanding and it just made it look easy."

Quick hits

• Musgrave said the Jaguars' decision to focus on wide receiver Percy Harvin in the red zone opened up room for Peterson. "We tried to isolate Percy a little bit and that's probably why runs were effective to Adrian," Musgrave said.

• Tight end John Carlson, who did not play in the preseason after suffering a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee early in training camp, looked better in practice on Wednesday, according to Musgrave. "It didn't look like he was wearing the big bulky brace that he has been wearing since he was injured," Musgrave said. "(He) looked to be more confident and hopefully (Thursday) and (Friday) are more steps in that direction."

• Fullback Jerome Felton not only played 32 snaps against Jacksonville in his first regular-season game with the Vikings, he also contributed by giving his thoughts to coaches on the sideline. "He suggested a couple of amendments to our game plan during the game and we took them to heart and they really paved the way for good runs there in the second half," Musgrave said.

• Cornerback Marcus Sherels averaged 11 yards on two punt returns in the opener. It remains to be seen if he will keep the job Sunday. Priefer has been very happy with Wright's returns in practice, even though Wright dropped at least one punt during the media access period Wednesday. "He's continually improving and we'll see where we're at," Priefer said of Wright. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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