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Updated: July 30th, 2014 11:51pm
Zulgad: Bridgewater making an impression; Ponder not in the plans?

Zulgad: Bridgewater making an impression; Ponder not in the plans?

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

MANKATO, Minn. -- Five days into the Vikings' training camp, here are five observations, and opinions, from southern Minnesota.

Teddy time?

Those who watched the Vikings minicamp practices in June aren't surprised by what we've seen so far. It's my contention that the Vikings should open the season with Matt Cassel as the starting quarterback and first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater behind him, but that doesn't mean that coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner agree.

Guess whose vote matters?

Bridgewater received some snaps with the first-team offense on Wednesday - Cassel did get the majority of the snaps with the top unit - but it's impossible to say the job is definitely going to be Cassel's.

In the night practice Monday, Cassel worked with the first team but Bridgewater got the most reps and completed 12 of 13 passes with the second team. Every day you watch Bridgewater it becomes more and more clear that the coaching staff might not start him on opening day but he isn't considered to be very far away.

What about Ponder?

While Cassel and Bridgewater get the majority of the work, Christian Ponder has been relegated to the role of spectator. Once in a while, the 12th-overall pick in the 2011 draft gets a snap with the third team.

It's safe to make the assumption that Zimmer and Turner are going to be comfortable with Bridgewater being either the starter or the backup to Cassel. And if the comfort with Bridgewater is there, Zimmer should tell general manager Rick Spielman that it's time to sever ties with Ponder.

There are many examples of NFL teams going with two quarterbacks in recent years and given how much coaches' value every spot on the 53-man roster, it would make more sense to keep a potential contributor around than it would to have Ponder serve as a third-string quarterback.

Even if Ponder eventually finds success in the NFL, it's never going to be in Minnesota so what's the incentive to keep him around? There is none.

The Vikings should go with Cassel and Bridgewater and if something happens to one of them you can always find another QB.

A 5-foot-9 weapon

Among the offensive weapons Turner will have at his disposal, rookie running back Jerick McKinnon could be the one who causes the most headaches. At least initially.

McKinnon, a third-round pick out of Georgia Southern, played quarterback, wide receiver, running back and cornerback in college. His athletic ability and speed has been on display at practice - he appears far more comfortable catching the ball in stride than Adrian Peterson - and he has shown an elusiveness that is going to mean teams can't sleep on his abilities.

The issue is that the 5-foot-9, 208-pound McKinnon is going to be an unknown because the Vikings are only going to run basic plays with him during the preseason. That means Turner's real ideas for how to best utilize McKinnon won't be unveiled until the regular season begins.

Eventually, opponents are going to have enough film on McKinnon to predict how he will be used. But until that happens, McKinnon's presence on the field is going to mean defenses are going to have to guess about whether he's going to be handed the ball, thrown the ball or, in some cases, given the go-ahead to throw the ball.

Patience is essential

Anyone who has been to training camp has seen that Turner is serious about getting the ball to Peterson through the air. That means they also have witnessed Peterson dropping the football.

Get used to it.

Peterson is not a great receiver. It's fairly obvious that he isn't nearly as fluid when it comes to catching and running as he is when it comes to simply being handed the ball and running.

But that isn't going to stop Turner from working Peterson into the passing game and hoping that he continues to make strides. So get ready to see Peterson drop some passes this year and then be thrown the ball after those miscues.

Eventually, Peterson will catch a pass and break a long run. At those moments, Turner will look like a genius.

Plenty of incentive

Left tackle Matt Kalil made the Pro Bowl as a rookie but took a step backward last season in part because of a knee injury that required offseason surgery. The fourth-overall pick in the 2012 draft appears determined to rebound and he has plenty of incentive to do so.

Tyron Smith, Kalil's former teammate at Southern Cal and now the starting left tackle for the Dallas Cowboys, signed an eight-year contract extension on Wednesday that will run through 2023 and carries a total value of $110 million, according to ESPN.com.

Smith, who lined up at right tackle at USC because Kalil was the left tackle, is guaranteed $40 million and will get a $10 million signing bonus. Smith, taken with the ninth pick of the 2011 draft, had two years remaining on his previous contract after Dallas picked up the fifth-year option of his rookie deal in the spring.

That means Kalil figures be in the same situation, at least from a contract standpoint, come next summer. Now all Kalil has to do is return to form.

"I'm not worried about that," Kalil said of potentially getting a big payday. "That clouds certain things and certain goals. You work hard and you get better every day and those things come by themselves. So, it's not really focusing on my contract. It's playing the best I can." 

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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