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Vikings Roundup, 8/19: Defense Perplexing Passers

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Blame it on the moisture, or maybe on the wind?

How about the defense?

More footballs hit the practice field turf at Winter Park in a short period on a cool, wet and breezy Wednesday afternoon for incompletions than they did when Vikings quarterbacks were fireball hot Saturday in broadsiding the Buccaneers.

Teddy Bridgewater opened 7-of-8 passing for 86 yards, Shaun Hill followed with an 8-of-9 clip for 104 yards in the second quarter, and undrafted rookie Taylor Heinicke completed 12 of 16 passes for 103 yards in the second half for a collective 27-for-33 (81.8 percent).

"It means they're executing the way the coaches know they can," cornerback Terence Newman said of the blazing performance. "They've got confidence in each other, and they're confident about what they're doing.

"We've gone at it the last couple of weeks with our offense and have made each other better. That's evident," Newman said. "You watch our practices, and we get after it pretty good, so just to see that progress and guys getting better, it's starting to show up in games."

It's not uncommon, especially in the preseason, for players on one side of the ball to say how the teammates they face in practice help them through competition. Turns out, the Vikings offense might benefit in the regular season by not having to face the Minnesota defense.

The opposing passers the Vikings have faced so far this preseason — Pittsburgh's Landry Jones and Tampa Bay's Jameis Winston, Mike Glennon and Seth Lobato — have been relatively inexperienced.

Their general lack of playing time might be the strongest contributing factor to their combined 36-of-71 totals (50.7 percent), but the numbers could be another sign of continual improvement by the Vikings in pass coverage.

Minnesota went from allowing 287.2 passing yards (31st in the NFL) on a 64.7 percent completion rate in the 2013 regular season to 223.3 yards (seventh) on a rate of 66.1 percent in 2014, the first year under Head Coach Mike Zimmer.

Glennon faced the Vikings last season in Tampa Bay and completed 19 of 28 passes for 171 yards with one touchdown, an interception by Captain Munnerlyn and a rating of 81.1.

Jones finished the Hall of Fame Game with a 61.3 passer rating, and the Tampa trio combined for a rating of 61.2.

Vikings regular season opponents in 2013 had a passer rating of 98.6, which was reduced to 92.8 in 2014 with remaining room for improvement.

Minnesota will host second-year pro Derek Carr and rookie receiver Amari Cooper when the Raiders visit the University of Minnesota at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Carr vs. Barr:It would be an understatement to say Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr is looking forward to this game, which could be his first live action since Nov. 30. Barr suffered a knee injury in the Vikings win over the Panthers that day, ending his promising rookie campaign with 12 starts to open his career. He's worked back into the mix this week, and is likely to play Saturday, Zimmer said this week.

"I can't wait. It's going to be a great experience for me, good to get back out there and get my feet wet again," Barr said.

"The physical part (of being injured) is obvious," Barr said. "You're not able to do what you want to do, and mentally it takes a toll on you. It's frustrating because you want to be out there and do what you know you're capable of doing, and when that's, I don't want to say taken from you, but put on hold a little bit, it's frustrating, so I'm getting close to 100 percent. I feel great, and right now I've got to continue to do the things that have gotten me to this point."

Barr said he's been watching other Vikings linebackers the most while he's been sidelined. He credited the solid start by the defense to its success at stopping the run.

"It's been a focal point of this whole offseason, and we've done a good job so far in the preseason games," Barr said. "I'd like to continue to build on that."

Pittsburgh (without playing Le'Veon Bell) rushed 25 times for 68 yards, and Tampa Bay totaled 89 yards on 26 carries for a combined average per carry of 3.1.

Study Habits: Teams don't install nearly as much game plan during the preseason on offense or defense as they do in the regular season, but linebacker Audie Cole said there are still learning opportunities.

"We'll definitely study, especially as players," Cole said. "You've got to go into the game knowing what you're playing and what you're going to be facing. I think all the guys have been studying pretty good, even the games before. We may not have had as much of a game plan as the regular season, but everyone is tuned in and ready to go with the Raiders."

Cole is one of four players taking reps at middle linebacker. He's started the first two games of the preseason before the Vikings have brought in Eric Kendricks. Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti are also working at the middle linebacker spot.

Practice notes: The Vikings worked on some situation specific drills like hurrying onto the field for a field goal attempt, punt coverage and kickoff return Wednesday.

They also took some snaps to air it out with Bridgewater having notable completions to Rhett Ellison, Mike Wallace and Charles Johnson against tight coverage, and Hill connecting with Adam Thielen on a perfectly placed throw. Hill also drew a roar from teammates when the 35-year-old QB scrambled and gave a playful stiff-arm to a defender several yards down the field.

Injury updates: Zimmer updated members of the media off camera Wednesday on several injuries, including surgeries of Shamar Stephen and Carter Bykowski. Click here to see their tweets from the session.

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