Notebook: Sage Rosenfels' release wasn't his fault, Rick Spielman says
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To hear general manager Rick Spielman tell it, the Minnesota Vikings' decision to release veteran quarterback Sage Rosenfels had more to do with what McLeod Bethel-Thompson did right than anything Rosenfels did wrong.
"We felt very strongly about all four quarterbacks," Spielman told 1500 ESPN on Sunday. "Sage had a great camp and did a great job. The surprise of the camp I think a little bit was how McLeod came along."
Rosenfels was the most surprising name among 22 cuts the Vikings made on Friday and Saturday, in large part because he was less than six months removed from signing a two-year contract that guaranteed him $500,000.
The 34-year-old was supposed to be a mentor to two younger quarterbacks, starter Christian Ponder and backup Joe Webb. Instead, the Vikings decided to hang onto Bethel-Thompson, 24, whose arm strength made him stand out throughout camp.
Rosenfels easily led the group in the preseason with a 122.9 passer rating, completing 17 of 25 passes (68%) with two touchdowns over three appearances. But Bethel-Thompson began climbing the ladder when he completed a bullet off his back foot to Kerry Taylor for a 28-yard gain on third-and-14 in the exhibition opener on Aug. 10 at San Francisco.
"You saw some of the signs in the San Francisco game, but you also saw when he got some lengthy opportunity in that last game (on Thursday at Houston) some of the ability that he has to potentially develop down the road," Spielman said of Bethel-Thompson, a Sacramento State product who signed a two-year deal with a $5,000 bonus in January.
"Those were all very difficult decisions, and we ended up releasing Sage. But Sage is a very good quarterback and has a lot of value and you never know what happens down the road here as well."
Bethel-Thompson finished the preseason 18-of-36 passing (50%) for 242 yards with a touchdown, two interceptions and a 57.9 rating.
Webb, who has sparked the Vikings offense in the past, was just 21-of-41 passing (51.2%) for 199 yards and a 65.0 rating, with no completions longer than 26 yards.
But Vikings coaches made clear in meetings with the scouting staff they wanted Webb to be the No. 2 quarterback entering the regular season.
"He's progressed," Spielman said. "You saw that he played better in the last two preseason games than he probably played in the first two preseason games and he continues, and there's no question about his unique athletic traits, some of the plays that he can put pressure on a defense just knowing what he can do with the ball in his hands, if he has to run and scramble and create on his own."
Ponder played well in the first two preseason games, leading the Vikings into scoring position on all five possessions. But he struggled along with the rest of the No. 1 offense on Aug. 24 against San Diego to finish the preseason 23-of-38 passing (60.5%) for 331 yards, a touchdown, an interception and an 86.6 rating.
"We're very excited about Christian's progress from where it was a year ago," Spielman said, "and we're excited to see him continue to progress and to continue to get better as we head into the season and through the season as well."
Another big body
The Vikings pulled off their trade for cornerback A.J. Jefferson on Friday after a call from the Arizona Cardinals, who were gauging interest in the 24-year-old cornerback.
According to Spielman, the Vikings went back to evaluate tape of Jefferson and were impressed with his performance against them last Oct. 9 and against Pittsburgh two weeks later.
Spielman praised Jefferson's speed and athleticism for his size (6-foot-1, 190 pounds), which fits the mold the Vikings look for in outside cornerbacks in their Tampa-2 scheme.
"We try to get the taller corners that have tremendous speed that can match up with the type of receivers and quarterbacks that we face in this division," Spielman said, "and it's a young corner who we think will continue to grow and develop."
They also released cornerback Zack Bowman (27) on Saturday to make room for Jefferson on the 53-man roster, which includes 40 players (77.4%) ages 27 and younger.
"What we talked about in the meetings and when I sat with Coach (Leslie) Frazier is, if there's a significant difference in a player, where this guy is that much better than the other player, then we have to keep the best players on the 53," Spielman said.
"And we had a lot of discussions with these young guys -- this guy compared to maybe a veteran, and the younger guy may not be there yet, but you can see him closing the gap and can see him continually improving through the offseason, through training camp, through the preseason, where eventually that younger player has some upside to continue to develop and may be better ... down the road.
"So, we really honed in a lot of these young guys and evaluated them -- are these guys leveling off or are these guys continuing to get better and grow in their position? That was a lot of the determination as we went through, because a lot of the veteran guys that we did let go -- those guys, I truly believe, are good enough to play in the NFL and will more than likely be on other teams."
The old guard
The Vikings were awarded one player in the initial cycle of waivers: offensive lineman Mark Asper, a 26-year-old rookie out of Oregon who was a sixth-round draft pick by Buffalo in April.
"He's of the Mormon faith and went on a two-year mission and then finished up his college, so he is a little older," Spielman said. "But offensive linemen are different than especially the skill positions, where they usually don't hit stride until they're 27, 28, 29 years old. He brings a lot of position flexibility."
Listed at 6-foot-7 and 325 pounds, Asper is thought to be a good fit for a zone-based blocking scheme. The Vikings badly needed another versatile backup, with DeMarcus Love landing on injured reserve with a shoulder/pectoral issue and Pat Brown -- waived to make room for Asper on the roster -- struggling during the preseason.
"He can play guard. He played also some center. He has played some tackle through his collegiate career as well," Spielman said of Asper. "We felt it was an opportunity to get a very good young football player that will continue to develop and hopefully, be a part of our future going forward."
They may not done. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Vikings put in a claim on tackle Ty Nsekhe, who was waived by Indianapolis on Saturday. The St. Louis Rams, who rank one spot ahead of the Vikings on the waiver priority list, was awarded him instead.
The Vikings still are carrying only eight offensive linemen. They're heavy at receiver (six including Jerome Simpson, who is suspended until Week 4), tight end (four) and linebacker (seven).
Big week for Peterson
The Vikings still have made no decision, at least publicly, about whether star halfback Adrian Peterson and his reconstructed left knee will be ready for next Sunday's opener against Jacksonville.
"I know he'll get a pretty heavy dose through practice (this week)," Spielman said. "He has had no setbacks since we have taken him off the PUP. We'll see where he's at and I know Coach Frazier said it'll be a game-time decision here as we go through. But this will be a big week of practice for him."
Frazier said on Thursday the team "probably" would wait until inactives are due 90 minutes before kickoff to make the final call. But it's unlikely a pregame workout would do much to sway the Vikings, since they've been monitoring him closely since camp began.
More important is gaining confidence during practice that Peterson -- who took contact for the first time last week but still hasn't been tackled to the ground -- can react and protect himself in traffic. Either way, Toby Gerhart is expected to get most of the carries in the early going.
"We'll look at the whole ... if he does play, what type of workload are we going to put on him, what he can handle," Spielman said. "Do we want to make sure -- because we have the luxury of having a Toby Gerhart-type back who we feel very strongly about -- can we bring him along and what pace to bring Adrian along at?"
• Spielman said it was "very challenging" to parse through all the roster decisions by Friday's 8 p.m. deadline after a 2 a.m. arrival from Houston. The scouting staff spent 38 consecutive hours in the office through the cuts and the first round of waivers, he said.
• DT Trevor Guyton, the only Vikings draft pick who didn't make the roster, remained a street free agent as of Sunday afternoon. Six of eight spots on the Vikings' practice squad were known to be filled. Spielman said some players were flying in on Sunday, presumably for physicals.