Minnesota Vikings: Player Watch 27 Oct 11

The Vikings already were thin at cornerback and receiver, but that didn’t prevent them from releasing disgruntled receiver Bernard Berrian and suspending troubled cornerback Chris Cook indefinitely without pay.

Both players missed Sunday’s loss to the Packers. Berrian was a surprise last-minute inactive for the second time in three weeks. Cook, meanwhile, was in a nearby jail for an arrest that led to him being charged Tuesday with a felony for domestic assault.

The Vikings called the charge against Cook “disappointing” and “disturbing” in a release that announced Cook’s suspension. According to the criminal complaint, Cook threw, struck and twice tried to strangle his girlfriend of 10 months after discovering that she had talked to an ex-boyfriend.

On Wednesday, coach Leslie Frazier hinted the team might even take it a step further with a 24-year-old player they have expected to become a defensive cornerstone in the future of the team.

“The fact that he will be suspended from our team really lets you know how concerned we are about what happened,” Frazier said. “It is something that we are highly concerned about and very disturbed about and any matter that affects our team in a light that we don’t feel is a positive light, we are going to address those situations as soon as we can. We’ve done that in this case. There could be other things forthcoming as we go forward.”

Without Cook, the Vikings are hoping that starting left corner Antoine Winfield can return from a strained neck and start on Sunday in Carolina. Winfield missed the past three games, but told the coaches he might be able to play Sunday. How he does in Thursday’s padded practice probably will determine whether he can or not.

If Winfield can’t play, Asher Allen, a little-used dime back a month ago, would get his second consecutive start.

Meanwhile, at receiver, Frazier said the decision to release Berrian wasn’t personal. Berrian hasn’t been productive since 2008. He had only seven catches, and the team’s two best offensive performances came with Berrian inactive.

It’s no secret Berrian’s attitude was poor. He was inactive three weeks ago after missing two team meetings. Frazier wouldn’t say why Berrian was inactive last week.

The two met once on Monday and again on Tuesday. Frazier had heard and seen enough. Berrian was released and Stephen Burton, a raw rookie seventh-round draft pick was promoted from the practice squad.

Burton probably won’t have much of an effect on the passing game. The guy who will benefit most with more playing time will be Devin Aromashodu, who had already moved past Berrian in terms of fighting for receptions and making plays down the field.

SERIES HISTORY: 10th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 5-4. The Vikings are 0-2 on the road. Panthers won the last meeting 26-7 in Carolina in 2009.

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NFL Team Report – Minnesota Vikings – NOTES, QUOTES

–Sunday is the six-year anniversary of Daunte Culpepper’s Vikings career coming to an end on the field in a 38-13 loss at Carolina. On the final play of the first quarter, Culpepper took off for 18 yards before CB Chris Gamble tackled him low, blowing out three of the four major ligaments — ACL, PCL, MCL — in Culpepper’s right knee. Coming off a career year in 2004, Culpepper started 2005 with six touchdown passes, 12 interceptions and a 2-4 record heading into the Panthers game. Coach Mike Tice was fired after the season and replaced by Brad Childress, who butted heads with Culpepper immediately. Culpepper asked for more money or a trade. The Vikings traded Culpepper to the Dolphins for a second-round pick. Culpepper rushed back too soon the next season and played only four games. He was never the same player he was before the knee injury.

–Besides the Dante Culpepper injury, the Oct. 30, 2005 game also is known as the day Panthers WR Steve Smith humiliated CB Fred Smoot. Smoot trash-talked Smith in pregame warm-ups. But once the game started, Smith beat Smoot all day long while posting a franchise-record 201 yards and a touchdown. After the touchdown, Smith poked fun of Smoot and the Vikings by sitting on the ground and pretending to row a boat — a reference to the Vikings’ infamous Love Boat scandal from earlier in the season.

“Whatchamacallit was talking to me in the pregame,” Smith said after the game. “When somebody is banging on your door, I am not going to hide in the corner … I am going to open it.”

–The Vikings’ only other trip to Carolina also was embarrassing. On Dec. 20, 2009, they were 11-2 and the Panthers were 6-7. The Vikings had Brett Favre in the midst of one of his best seasons. The Panthers had Matt Mooremaking his third NFL start.

The Panthers scored 20 fourth-quarter points in the Vikings’ 26-7 loss that helped keep Minnesota from earning home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Vikings ended up losing the NFC title game at New Orleans.

LT Bryant McKinnie was awful against Panthers DE Julius Peppers. McKinnie gave up two sacks, several hits and committed two penalties before coach Brad Childress benched him.

“I had an off day,” McKinnie said via Twitter. “This was not a good night for me. There is something we gotta fix this week to put me in better position.”

–Brett Favre absorbed a tremendous beating in that game at Carolina in 2009. It also was a game in which he argued opening on the sideline with coach Brad Childress. After the game, Favre acknowledged that he had a “heated discussion” with Childress. Favre said Childress tried to take him out of the game to avoid taking any more hits from Peppers and the Carolina defensive line. The Vikings had clinched the NFC North title hours earlier, but were still in the running for the NFC’s best record.

“Brad wanted to go in a different direction. And I wanted to stay in the game,” Favre said. “It’s not 70-6, but we were up 7-6. I said I’m staying in the game. I’m playing.”

Childress was angry that Favre revealed details of their sideline conversations.

–RG Anthony Herrera is out for possibly the rest of the season because of a left ACL injury, so rookie sixth-round draft pick Brandon Fusco might get the start Sunday against the Panthers. That’s amazing considering Fusco had never played right guard in his life before replacing Herrera in the second half of last week’s loss to the Packers. Fusco played left guard in high school and center at Slippery Rock, a Division II school. Fusco said the whole ordeal has been surreal. “No offense to Slippery Rock,” Fusco said. “It’s a great school, but this is something else. … I haven’t been in an environment like this ever.”

–CB Chris Cook, who was in jail during Sunday’s game against the Packers, didn’t talk to reporters as he left court after being charged with a single felony count of domestic assault Tuesday. But a twitter account attributed to Cook later that day included the statement, “There’s always two sides to a story!!” About 40 minutes later, the account read, “My apologies to the fans! Vikings ownership, coaching staff, my teammates and friends and family!!”

Police described details of the alleged incident as including a jealous rage that ensued after Cook discovered his girlfriend of 10 months had talked to an ex-boyfriend. According to the criminal complaint, Cook swung the woman onto a bed and choked her. When she grabbed his long hair to free herself, Cook struck her on the side of the head, sending her into a wall. She fled to the living room, where Cook again tried to choke her. It’s Cook’s second arrest in 10 months. He also was arrested for pointing a gun at a neighbor during an argument in Lynchburg, Va. It’s unlikely he’ll play Sunday at Carolina.

–WR Bernard Berrian had missed several recent team meetings and his poor attitude was thought to be a factor in his release from the Vikings along with his lack of production. But Berrian, at least publicly, did not slam his former team following his exit.

“I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of the Minnesota Vikings organization for the past three-and-a-half years,” he said in a statement on his website. “I can’t say enough about my teammates and the experience I have had here in Minnesota. I view this as an opportunity to grow as a player and to bring strengths to a new organization. I am eager to begin the next stage in my career and excited about the opportunity to continue my journey with a new team.”

BY THE NUMBERS: 0 — Number of times in the Vikings’ 51-year history they’ve played a game with two rookie starting quarterbacks. That will change Sunday with Christian Ponder and Cam Newton starting.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Bernard expressed to me he really wanted to be a part of our team and help our team to be successful, but for what we’re trying to do and where we are, it’s just so important that every guy tries to adhere to the way we want to get it done. It’s one thing to say what I’m going to do. It’s another thing to do those things.” — Coach Leslie Frazier when asked if Berrian’s poor attitude contributed to his release.

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NFL Team Report – Minnesota Vikings – STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Vikings will make a number of adjustments this week with CB Chris Cook suspended, WR Bernard Berrian released and RG Anthony Herrera potentially out for an extended period because of a left anterior cruciate ligament injury.

Considering the team has a bye after Sunday’s game, Antoine Winfield could take another week to rest his strained neck. He’s missed the past three games. Cook started two of them before spending last week’s game in jail because of an arrest that led to a felony charge of domestic violence.

If Winfield sits out again, Asher Allen would get his second consecutive start. A month ago, Allen was a little-used dime back. Marcus Sherels, a raw second-year player, would be the nickel back for the second consecutive week. And it’s possible the team would use rookie Brandon Burton as the dime back, if necessary.

Last week, the Vikings ditched their dime packages rather than put Burton on the field against Aaron Rodgers with no practice time during the week.

At receiver, Berrian’s absence doesn’t affect the team in any major way. The Vikings’ two best offensive games — Arizona and Green Bay — came with Berrian inactive because of his bad attitude.

Michael Jenkins would start alongside Percy Harvin, assuming Harvin’s rib injury doesn’t prevent him from playing. Jenkins has become the team’s best receiver. Devin Aromashodu also would see increased playing time. Rookie Stephen Burton was signed off the practice squad, but don’t expect much from him. He had a terrible training camp and preseason.

At right guard, rookie sixth-round draft pick Brandon Fusco is expected to start. Fusco came from Division II Slippery Rock and had never played right guard in his life before replacing Herrera in the second half last week. Fusco didn’t make any glaring errors as the Vikings posted a season-high 435 yards of offense.

PLAYER NOTES

–QB Christian Ponder has converted 10 third-down situations passing the ball in six quarters of play this season. Donovan McNabb converted 14 third downs passing the ball in 23 quarters of play this season.

–FS Husain Abdullah has regressed in recent weeks. He’s second on the team in tackles. He’s also improved as a tackler. But his coverage skills have been lacking. He lost sight of Packers WR Greg Jennings on the 79-yard touchdown reception that Jennings was wide open for last week. Abdullah had deep half coverage, but didn’t see Jennings and then bit on a pump fake by Aaron Rodgers.

–DE Jared Allen leads the NFL in sacks (11 1/2) by 3 1/2 sacks. This is his sixth season with double-digit sack totals, including his fourth since coming to the Vikings.

–WR Devin Aromashodu’s playing time should increase now that Bernard Berrian has been released. He earned his first start as a Viking last week when Berrian was a last-second scratch. Aromashodu only caught one pass for 13 yards, but that could be a result of not practicing all week as a starter in Christian Ponder’s first week as a starter.

–NT Remi Ayodele has been mostly invisible as the replacement for long-time run plugger Pat Williams. Ayodele plays only a limited number of snaps and has only eight tackles in seven starts.

INJURY IMPACT

–C John Sullivan passed his third-party concussion test and returned to practice. He’s expected to start on Sunday.

–SS Jamarca Sanford passed his third-party concussion test and returned to practice. He’s expected to start on Sunday.

–CB Antoine Winfield, who has missed the past three games because of a neck strain, said he wants to try to play this week. What he does in Thursday’s padded practice — the only one of the week — will be the biggest determining factor in whether he plays Sunday.

–RG Anthony Herrera (knee) sustained an injury to his left lateral collateral ligament and isn’t expected to play Sunday. With C John Sullivan expected to return this week, backup Joe Berger, who started at center last week, is expected to start at right guard.

–WR Percy Harvin (ribs) is doing better, but will be monitored daily. He’s already had two games in which he hasn’t been able to finish, including last week’s game against the Packers. He missed practice Wednesday, but is expected to play on Sunday, however.

–RB Adrian Peterson (ankle) missed practice Wednesday, but is expected to play Sunday.

–TE Visanthe Shiancoe (foot) missed practice, but is expected to play Sunday.

GAME PLAN: It’s pretty simple. The Panthers are 29th in the league in run defense (133.4). The Vikings have the NFL’s leading rusher, Adrian Peterson, who is averaging 4.9 yards per carry with a league-high eight rushing touchdowns.

Christian Ponder will be making his debut NFL road start, but he showed poise in relief of Donovan McNabb in the fourth quarter at Chicago two weeks ago. With Ponder, the Vikings have a quarterback capable of getting outside the pocket and making more plays downfield. The Vikings need more of that Sunday to loosen up the Panthers’ defense the way they did last week against Green Bay.

Defensively, the Vikings need to pressure QB Cam Newton, even though he’s obviously a huge running threat. Newton throws more picks (nine) than TDs (eight), so a little heat will help Newton’s indecisions. The Vikings then need to hang on to potential picks.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Vikings CB Cedric Griffin, who has been burned many times this season for big plays, vs. Panthers WR Steve Smith, who has crushed the Vikings in their only two trips to Carolina — Smith has 23 catches for 358 yards and two touchdowns in those two games played in 2005 and 2009. He’s leading the NFL in receiving yards this season (818) and has a 21.0-yard average per catch. Griffin isn’t the only corner who will be responsible for Smith. With left corner probably down to Asher Allen because of Chris Cook’s suspension and Antoine Winfield’s neck injury, Smith probably will line up some on the right side as well.

Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, who leads the NFL in rushing with 712 yards and eight touchdowns on 146 carries (4.9), vs. Panthers SLB James Anderson, who leads the Panthers in tackles with 68 — It’ll take a heck of a lot more than James Anderson to slow down Peterson, who’s coming off one of his best games, a 175-yard effort against the Packers. The Panthers give up 133.4 yards per game, but only 3.6 per carry. MLB Dan Connor, who is second on the team in tackles, also needs to plug holes that Peterson finds up front.