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MINNEAPOLIS — Sloppy play, penalties and injuries hurt the Vikings in a 14-10 preseason loss to the Jaguars on Saturday, and the injuries might have a lasting effect as the team prepares for Week 1.

Minnesota had six players leave the game with injuries and not return. Three players were carted off: defensive end Ade Aruna (knee), offensive lineman Cedrick Lang (lower leg) and fullback Johnny Stanton (lower leg).

Cornerback Mackensie Alexander suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter and was listed as questionable to return. Center Josh Andrews injured his ankle at the beginning of the third quarter on an incomplete pass and was ruled out for the remainder of the game. After rookie Jeff Badet caught a 13-yard pass from Kyle Sloter in the fourth quarter, the receiver took a vicious hit to the head that put him in the concussion protocol.

A handful of these injuries appear to be serious, as coach Mike Zimmer said he expects that several players will be lost for the season. He noted postgame that Lang will undergo surgery.

“The list was so long I don’t remember the exact number, so I’ll just wait until we put them on IR,” Zimmer said.

Outside of Alexander, many of the players injured Saturday were fighting for a roster spot.

“Yeah I feel bad for those guys because they come in here and work their rear ends off,” Zimmer said. “We had a huge number of injuries today, you never want your guys to get injured and it was kind of freaky things; we get rolled up on, it was unfortunate things today opposed to, you know [Jeff] Badet got hit in the head.”

Minnesota entered Saturday down four starters on the offensive line: Mike Remmers (ankle), Rashod Hill (ankle), Pat Elflein (PUP) and Nick Easton (IR — neck).

Aviante Collins started in place of Hill before moving to left tackle and subsequently left guard. Cornelius Edison, who started the game at center, had to come back in after Andrews got hurt and played almost a full game.

Players have cited the “next man up” mentality throughout training camp, as injuries have forced the Vikings to continue to shuffle personnel across all positions except left tackle. Building continuity while continually adjusting for new personnel has proved to be the most challenging part of the process.

“We have to get on the stick here pretty quick,” Zimmer said. “I think Remmers will be back next week, which will be good. I think Elflein has a chance to get back here pretty soon. That will help. I don’t know about Rashod yet, so we’ll see. It’s tough, but we’re not the only ones in the league to be having these issues, I’m sure. We just have a few more than we should have at this point in time. That’s life.”

Playing behind a rotating offensive line is something quarterback Kirk Cousins has grown used to over the years. Injuries in Washington in 2017 forced the Redskins to use 36 offensive line combinations.

“You learn to roll with the punches in this league,” Cousins said. “You can’t start to say, ‘Well, that’s not how we drew it up, so now we’re not going to plan on doing great things,’ so you just play and take whatever’s thrown at you, and that’s the only way you have a chance to have success. I think that the players who have come in in place of some of our starting offensive linemen have done a good job and have been ready to play. Coach Flip is doing a really good job with the game plan and playcalling to accentuate our strengths and try to protect us from some of our weaknesses, and that’s what a great playcaller does.”

In his second game with Minnesota, Cousins went 3-of-8 for 12 yards and finished with a 45.8 passer rating. A far cry from his crisp performance in Minnesota’s preseason opener in Denver, Cousins played four series to start the game, with his closest drive ending at Jacksonville’s 27-yard line, which forced the Vikings to settle for a 44-yard field goal.

Cousins had his day end after one series to open the second quarter following an incomplete pass to Stefon Diggs on third down. As a team, Minnesota’s offense finished Saturday 0-for-12 on third down.

“I think he can play a lot better,” Zimmer said of Cousins.

Added Cousins: “Probably not the worst thing in the long run to realize we’ve got a lot of work to do. If you want to call it a wake-up call, that’s fine, but it’ll get us ready to go when we get back on Monday.”

Running back Latavius Murray’s struggles with ball security were uncharacteristic for a player who fumbled eight times over the first four years of his career and lost only two. Murray fumbled two times on his first five carries.

The lone bright spot on offense centered around the competition for the No. 3 running back spot. Mike Boone rushed 13 times for 91 yards and a touchdown, rebounding after an up-and-down outing last week in Denver.

“To be honest with you, I’m glad we didn’t win that game today because we didn’t deserve to win,” Zimmer said. “We didn’t play well enough, and we’re going to get back to work and get going here.”

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EAGAN, Minn. — Brett Jones changed teams in the blink of an eye.

The new Vikings center was at practice Sunday with the New York Giants when he received word that he had been traded. Jones was promptly pulled from the field and made plans to head to Minnesota.

“It’s been a whirlwind, just getting on the plane yesterday and coming here,” Jones said. “I’m really excited and really happy to be here with the Minnesota Vikings.

“I was at practice … they came out and got me and right after that they said, ‘The Vikings are going to call you to set up the travel.’ The rest is history,” Jones added. “They told me right on the field that it was going to happen. I was pretty surprised but excited at the same time.”

Jones has started 14 of the 30 games he’s played for the Giants in the past two seasons, including 13 of 16 games in 2017.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer offered his assessment of the 27-year-old who is listed at 6-foot-2.

“On the tape, he’s pretty good,” Zimmer said. “He’s stout, strong, real gritty, good in pass protection, solid on the double teams.

“He’s about 315, so he’s short but he’s thick,” Zimmer also added.

Zimmer said he expects Jones to play in Thursday night’s preseason finale at Tennessee, and the lineman said he’s fine at both guard and center.
Vikings Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo said Monday morning that Jones could have an easier transition than most. He has been in an offensive system under Giants head coach Pat Shurmur, who was Minnesota’s offensive coordinator in 2017.

“He’s going to be an interior guy. We’ll see what he knows,” DeFilippo said. “There should be some carryover coming from the Giants with Coach [Pat] Shurmur, I would think.

“His learning curve will hopefully be a little bit quicker than somebody coming from another team that has no idea of kind of what we’re trying to do offensively. It’s going to be a little bit different; some of the protections are going to be a little bit different and the way we’re calling things,” DeFilippo said. “From a run game standpoint, I think that it’s going to be very similar to what he was exposed to in New York. But we’re going to, obviously, work him in to the interior both at center and at guard.”

Said Jones: “One of the things Coach Shurmur told me is that the offense would be pretty similar. There is definitely a lot of similarities, and it’s been a good transition so far for me to catch on to the plays and words and things like that.”

Jones said he’s trying to get up to speed while also not overwhelming himself.

“You try to take it one day at a time and one play at a time in practice,” Jones said. “If you worry about the whole picture, it can get blurry.

“If you take little bites each and every day and just work hard, the rest will take care of itself,” Jones added. “I’m just excited to get with the coaches and keep learning the playbook and get out there and perform. It’s what I was brought here to do.”

Jones hails from Canada, as his hometown of Weyburn is about 700 miles northwest of Minneapolis and is in the province of Saskatchewan.

Jones played at the University of Regina before transitioning to the Canadian Football League for two seasons. He spent the past three seasons with the Giants before heading back north.

But the newest Viking had some Minnesota ties before joining the Vikings.
Jones said Monday that his first-ever NFL game was in December of 2009 when he watched the Vikings get a 30-10 win over the Bengals at the Metrodome.

“I think there’s a lot of Purple up there [in Saskatchewan]. This is probably the closest stadium you could get to,” Jones said. “The first [NFL] game I saw was at the Metrodome … the Bengals at the Vikings.

“I wore a Phil Loadholt jersey,” Jones added, mentioning the former tackle who made 89 starts for the Vikings from 2009-2014. “I was a big NCAA fan on Xbox, so he was a good player coming out [of Oklahoma]. Nobody else had it. I just liked offensive linemen and didn’t think anyone would have that jersey.”

Here are 4 plays of @DHunt94_TX vs Jags in 1 drive! Imagine a whole game like this. #beastmaster pic.twitter.com/rE3VCvpOJG

— Ben Leber (@nacholeber) August 23, 2018
Double trouble

Danielle Hunter has been one of the standouts on the Vikings defense in preseason play, as the 23-year-old has prepared for his fourth season.

The defensive end has a sack and racked up numerous additional pressures, but likely won’t play Thursday against the Titans.

Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards said Monday that Hunter benefits from the fact that he can rush from both sides of the defensive line.

Edwards said Hunter has to adjust his footwork and rushing lane depending on which side he is one, but added the former third-round pick is a quick learner.
“I really think he has made a big jump, feeling comfortable systematically as well as technique and fundamental wise of what we’re asking him to do,” Edwards said “He’s not thinking nearly as much.

“You can really see his athleticism as we go through the preseason,” Edwards added. “He’s really gotten off of the ball and affected the quarterback, getting him off of the spot, those kinds of things, but he’s also very good versus the run.”

Hunter has 25.5 career sacks, which leads all players taken in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Bring on the blitz

The Vikings offense has seen a myriad of blitzes through the first three preseason games against Denver, Jacksonville and Seattle.

Bring it on, DeFilippo said.

DeFilippo said Monday that he actually embraces teams who blitz in the preseason, as it helps an offense get up to speed once the real action rolls around.

“Yeah, absolutely,” DeFilippo said. “I think if you’re up against a vanilla defense every day, I do think during the season it can shock you if you open up against a team that does like to pressure a lot.

“The teams that we’ve played so far this preseason [have blitzed], and every day in practice we’re lucky enough to have plenty of blitz looks,” DeFilippo added. “And not only blitz looks but really, really difficult blitzes.”

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Minnesota Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman is getting closer to his oft-stated goal of having 10 draft picks after the NFL awarded compensatory picks for this year’s draft.

The Vikings were awarded two sixth-round compensatory picks – a system that hands out 32 additional draft picks in rounds three through seven by weighing free agent losses and gains from the previous year. They will come at picks 213 and 218 overall, giving the Vikings a total of seven selections as of now.

The Vikings were one of seven teams awarded multiple compensatory picks and the only team with two of them. The Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders were awarded four picks each. The Arizona Cardinals and Houston Texans were given three additional picks.

In all, 15 teams were awarded compensatory picks.

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Arizona, Houston, Denver and Cincinnati were given third-round picks while Green Bay, Arizona, the New York Giants, New England and Dallas were given picks in the fourth round. Cincinnati, Dallas (two) and Green Bay (two) were given picks in the fifth round. The other 18 picks fell in the sixth and seventh rounds.

Compensatory free agents are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors. Not every free agent lost or signed by a club is covered by this formula. No club may receive more than four compensatory picks in any one year. If a club qualifies for more than four compensatory picks after offsetting each compensatory free agent (CFA) lost by each CFA gained of an equal or higher value, the four highest remaining selections will be awarded to the club.

The free agents lost that figured into the Vikings formula were Rhett Ellison, Matt Kalil, Captain Munnerlyn, Cordarrelle Patterson, Adrian Peterson and Andre Smith. The free agents the Vikings gained that figured into the formula were Case Keenum, Latavius Murray, Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers.

The Vikings were without picks in the fourth round and seventh rounds because of trades to obtain QB Sam Bradford and CB Tramaine Brock, respectively, over the last two years.

Expect Spielman to trade down at least once during the draft in an attempt to gain a couple more picks and bring the Vikings even closer to his goal of 10 picks.

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Round Round/Overall Selection Team
3 33-97 Arizona
3 34-98 Houston
3 35-99 Denver
3 36-100 Cincinnati

4 33-133 Green Bay
4 34-134 Arizona
4 35-135 New York Giants
4 36-136 New England
4 37-137 Dallas

5 33-170 Cincinnati
5 34-171 Dallas
5 35-172 Green Bay
5 36-173 Dallas
5 37-174 Green Bay

6 33-207 Green Bay
6 34-208 Dallas
6 35-209 Kansas City
6 36-210 Oakland
6 37-211 Houston
6 38-212 Oakland
6 39-213 Minnesota
6 40-214 Houston
6 41-215 Baltimore
6 42-216 Oakland
6 43-217 Oakland
6 44-218 Minnesota

7 33-251 Los Angeles Chargers
7 34-252 Cincinnati
7 35-253 Cincinnati
7 36-254 Arizona
7 37-255 Tampa Bay
7 38-256 Atlanta

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The Vikings-Rams game was knotted at seven in the third quarter, but Minnesota was in the process of taking control of the game because of what its offense and defense was doing on third downs.
Minnesota was 3-for-5 on offense, and its defense limited Los Angeles to 0-for-2. As a result, the Vikings gained 135 yards on 23 plays and possessed the football for 10:53 of the period, compared to the Rams totaling 22 yards on eight plays in the third quarter.
Adam Thielen has established himself as one of the NFL’s tops on third-down catches. He has 22 receptions on third downs, which ranks second in the league through Week 11.
Case Keenum connected with Thielen for a gain of 25 on third-and-2 and also found Jarius Wright and Kyle Rudolph for significant conversions during the third quarter. Here’s a look at all three.

Q3, 9:01 remaining — Third-and-4 at the Minnesota 20
The Vikings just had a toss to Stefon Diggs that converted a third-and-4 erased by a holding penalty on Laquon Treadwell.
Wright comes in for Diggs and lines up in a bunch formation behind Thielen and Rudolph on the right side of the formation. Thielen and Rudolph run clear outs and create space for Wright to streak across the field on a shallow cross.
Wright fluidly gains a step on Rams former-safety-turned-linebacker Mark Barron, and Keenum is able to hit Wright in stride thanks to a blitz pickup of linebacker Alec Ogletree by running back Jerick McKinnon.
Wright has enough time and space to turn up the field for a gain of 23.

Q3, 7:46 remaining — Third-and-2 at the Los Angeles 49
The Vikings again go to the shotgun formation but have Diggs on the outside left, followed by Thielen and Rudolph. Michael Floyd is at the right of the formation.
Rams backup safety Blake Countess is lined up across from Thielen and four yards off the line of scrimmage.
Los Angeles rushes five defenders, but Minnesota’s offensive line keeps the pocket tidy. Keenum can see Countess bite hard on an inside cut by Thielen, who quickly plants and heads outside with plenty of space. Keenum doesn’t hit Thielen in stride the way he did Wright, but Thielen shows his ability to track the ball with a diving catch for a gain of 25.

Q3, :26 remaining — Third-and-4 at the Los Angeles 6
The Vikings have the same personnel grouping as the play described above but line up with McKinnon wide right and Floyd out to the left. Rudolph is lined up behind Thielen, who is flanked by right tackle Rashod Hill and Diggs.
McKinnon goes in motion to his left, and Rudolph starts by acting like he’s blocking for McKinnon on a sweep before spinning and running to the right.
Rudolph catches the ball two yards behind the line of scrimmage, but he has ample running room that was created by the clever play design. The tight end fights through a hit by Trumaine Johnson and is able to extend the ball beyond the line-to-gain before heading out of bounds on the final play of the third quarter.
The Vikings took the lead for good two plays later when Latavius Murray scored his second rushing touchdown of the day.

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The Minnesota Vikings are 6-2 and deep in the NFC playoff hunt as the team takes a week off during its bye. FOX Sports North looks at several lingering questions as the Vikings gear up for the second half.

USA TODAY Sports Brace Hemmelgarn
Who’s the quarterback?
Who’s the quarterback?
Minnesota has three quarterbacks, all seemingly capable of leading the team to victory when healthy. Call this a good problem to have, unlike, say, the Browns, Broncos and 49ers, who are rotating through QBs trying to find someone — anyone — who can play well. Still, the Vikings and head coach Mike Zimmer will need to decide which horse to ride, especially as the postseason approaches. If Sam Bradford can get healthy, should Minnesota give the reins back to him? After all, the Vikings did trade a first-round pick last year to get Bradford, who completed 71.6 percent of his passes with 20 touchdowns and only five interceptions in 2016. In his brief time in 1 1/2 games in 2017, Bradford is at 74.4 percent, 3 TDs and 0 INT — a 124.4 QB rating. Meanwhile, Case Keenum has filled in more than admirably in Bradford’s stead, completing 63.9 percent of his passes with seven TDs and three picks. Minnesota is 4-2 in Keenum’s six starts. Should they just stick with him? And, of course, there’s Teddy Bridgewater, the past and perhaps future king. Complicating things — beyond Minnesota wanting to win now — is that all three QBs are free agents in 2018.

What about the running game?
What about the running game?
Rookie Dalvin Cook gave Minnesota a burst of energy before he went down with a torn ACL. Cook averaged at least 5.08 yards per carry in three of his four games and in the other he rushed for 92 yards and caught five passes for 72 yards. In Cook’s absence, the Vikings running backs have been … adequate. Latavius Murray had a big game against Baltimore, rushing for 113 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. However in the other three games since Cook’s injury, Murray has 46 carries for 98 yards (2.13 average) with no TDs. Jerick McKinnon had some success running the ball in his first two games after Cook went down — 95 yards on 16 carries at Chicago and 69 yards on 15 carries vs. Green Bay — but in the last two games he has a combined 97 yards on 28 rushes (3.46 average). Like Cook, McKinnon does present some danger as a pass-catcher, with 20 receptions over the last four games. The Vikings did add former Washington running back Mack Brown on a waiver claim last week, however his role is underdetermined and he seems more like a depth addition. Either way, is this team good enough to grind out the yards, especially when the weather turns colder?

Associated Press AP
Will Kai Forbath cost the team a game?
Will Kai Forbath cost the team a game?
This might be a strange one to mention, after all Forbath has been rock solid on his field-goal tries, connecting on 21 of 22 as had made all nine attempts from 40+ yards (including 4 of 4 from 50+). But Forbath has made just 12 of 16 (75 percent) extra-point attempts. Only two players have a worse extra-point percentage in the NFL this season: Philadelphia’s Caleb Sturgis, who was 1 of 2 before heading to injured reserve, and Dallas’ Jeff Heath, a safety who made 2 of 3 in an emergency situation after Dan Bailey was injured and couldn’t kick. Only one other kicker is below 80 percent this season — Nick Folk, who was cut by Tampa Bay a few weeks ago. Forbath’s gaffes haven’t cost Minnesota — yet. But if he can’t get it straightened out, it’s only a matter of time before it does.

USA TODAY Sports Brad Rempel
Is there enough defensive depth?
Is there enough defensive depth?
Minnesota has been able to survive — and thrive — despite injuries to key offensive players quarterback Sam Bradford, running back Dalvin Cook and wide receiver Stefon Diggs. The defense, for the most part, has not had its depth tested. That’s probably a good thing. The backups include a number of untested players, such as defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson, safety Jayron Kearse, defensive end Stephen Weatherly and linebacker Eric Wilson, as well as players who haven’t thrived when given chances previously, such as defensive backs Mackensie Alexander and Anthony Harris.

Associated Press Jim Mone
Can the Vikings be road warriors?
Can the Vikings be road warriors?
Minnesota is not only in the mix for a playoff spot, but also potentially a first-round bye as a 1 or 2 seed. At 6-2, the Vikings enter their bye with the second-best record in the NFC. However, there are three teams at 5-2 who could match Minnesota this weekend — the Rams, Saints and Seahawks. The Vikings path to a bye, the playoffs or even the NFC North title will be carved out on the road. Five of Minnesota’s final eight games are away from home, including a could-be-rough three-game stretch at Detroit, Atlanta and Carolina starting Thanksgiving. The Vikings also play at Washington coming out of the bye and in Green Bay (in which Aaron Rodgers just possibly could play) in the second-to-last game of the year. If Minnesota can win at least two of its three remaining home games (vs. the Rams, Bengals and Bears), that’s eight wins — so figure at the least needing two more wins and 3-4 to get help ensure a bye. How the Vikings do on the road will determine their January plans.

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MINNEAPOLIS—The quarterback who had to do everything on fast-forward last year — learn a new offence eight days before the season, deliver the ball in two seconds or less behind a ramshackle line — had the perfect metaphor for his first year with the Vikings.

“(It’s) like the first time you drive a car — you’re freaked out,” Sam Bradford said. “I was comfortable; you have to be comfortable to be out there to go play. But last year, there was still a lot of thinking going on. I just said 15 words in the huddle, but what do those words mean?

“Now, when you get to the line, you can skip steps 1 through 3. You can start at step 4.”

Read more:

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If what the Vikings have planned for this offence works, it won’t only be Bradford taking giant strides. When Minnesota hosts New Orleans on Monday night, the offence will be calibrated, for the first time in a decade, around something other than a preternaturally talented running back in Adrian Peterson.

The two newest members of the Vikings’ three-man backfield — free-agent addition Latavius Murray and second-round pick Dalvin Cook — will be expected to log frequent shotgun carries, catch passes out of the backfield and pick up blitzes, all while being compensated at prices just above (in Murray’s case) or well below the NFL average.
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The $36.8 million the Vikings guaranteed tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers was meant to shore up the team’s 32nd-ranked running game, yes, but it was done in the hope that a balanced offence would give Bradford more time to throw downfield.

And, at the heart of it all, is Bradford, who has the offensive co-ordinator (Pat Shurmur) who groomed him in both St. Louis and Philadelphia, and perhaps the best supporting cast of his nomadic seven-year career.

“You want to see the desire to constantly improve, to constantly get better, and when they’re adding pieces throughout free agency, throughout the draft, it gets you excited to get back and get to work,” said Bradford, who turns 30 in November.

There’s still the question, of course, of whether it will all pan out.

The first-team offence is coming off a tepid pre-season, having produced only three points in 12 drives. Bradford completed 74.4 per cent of his passes but was sacked five times, as lingering injuries prevented the new starting offensive line — from left, Reiff, Nick Easton, Pat Elflein, Joe Berger and Remmers — from playing together.

Of those five players, only Berger, who got five starts at right guard last year, is in the same place he ended 2016.

If an overhaul was needed, there was no point in being subtle about it.

“We got to a point last year where our passing game was essentially an extension of our running game,” Bradford said. “We were calling pass plays that were essentially designed to be effective run plays. We were calling pass plays to gain five yards, to gain six yards. I think there will still be some of that, but I really think this offence is going to be more balanced this year.”

It was clear well before Feb. 28, when the Vikings announced they wouldn’t exercise Peterson’s $18 million option for 2017. Minnesota, with Shurmur, wanted its running backs to do more than one thing.

“Defences are too good,” Shurmur said. “So if they know there’s a player in the game that can only do one thing, and can’t do another, it kind of tips the scales in their favour.”

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MINNEAPOLIS — The first major pursuit of Latavius Murray’s spring is drawing to a close. The new Minnesota Vikings running back, who had surgery in March to clean up an ankle injury he suffered last fall, has been doing pool workouts and running on a specilaized treadmill as part of his rehabilitation process. He said Wednesday that he should be able to start running on the ground next week, and he figures to be ready for training camp.
“I think right now is the time to get better for everybody, and once the season comes around and it’s time for training camp, that’s when the real battling is going to come in,” Latavius Murray said of the Vikings’ running back competition. Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports
“My rookie year, I had the same injury on the other foot,” Murray said. “I’ve dealt with this rehab and dealt with this surgery. That’s been a benefit for me because I’m feeling great, but I also knew what to expect. The rehab process has been really good.”

Murray’s other big endeavor this offseason is still a ways from concluding. He’s working toward earning a Master of Business Administration at Syracuse by taking online classes while attending the Vikings’ offseason program in Minnesota. The night the Vikings were finishing Murray’s contract, they set him up in a conference room with a laptop so he could finish some coursework. He got two Bs during the spring semester and said he is on track for an A and a B in the summer semester.

Murray said Wednesday that he could be done with his graduate degree in a year’s time. But as with many NFL players pursuing advanced degrees, Murray’s challenge will be setting aside enough time to earn the necessary credits.
“It’s hard because I want to do summer classes,” the 27-year-old said. “But once training camp comes around, that’s really the nitty-gritty time for me, football-wise and school-wise. That’s when the finals will start picking up, at least in that semester. During the season, could I take maybe a class? I don’t know. I have to do the bulk of it in the offseason.”

Should Murray have a productive season in Minnesota, he’ll be in line for a big raise in 2018, when he’s scheduled to make $5.75 million. That substantial figure, coupled with the presence of second-round pick Dalvin Cook, means Murray must put together a strong season to stay with the Vikings beyond 2017.

“When I was brought into Oakland, I had two guys before me that had made an impact in the league,” Murray said of having Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew ahead of him on the depth chart during his rookie season with the Raiders. “I’m sure Dalvin looks at his situation the same way for me. The more competition in one room, the better off the group can be. We have that right now, bringing Dalvin in and ‘Jet’ [Jerick McKinnon] already being there. I think right now is the time for everybody to get better, and once the season comes around and it’s time for training camp, that’s when the real battling is going to come in. That’s when everyone’s got to bring their best to separate themselves. I’m going to do everything I can, like I have in the past, to separate myself, and I’m sure those guys are going to do the same.”