Tue Aug 3 8:16pm ET
By DAVE CAMPBELL
AP Pro Football Writer
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Whop Philyor (16) and quarterback Kellen Mond (11) enjoy a good play during NFL football training camp Friday, July 30, 2021, in Eagan, Minn. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen celebrates his catch during NFL football training camp Friday, July 30, 2021, in Eagan, Minn. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)
Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer speaks to reporters during the NFL football team's training camp Saturday, July 31, 2021, in Eagan, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) carries the ball during the team's Back Together Day at NFL football training camp at TCO Stadium, Saturday, July 31, 2021, in Eagan, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws during a NFL training camp Friday, July 30, 2021, in Eagan, Minn. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The absence of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins from practice this week due to COVID-19 protocols and coach Mike Zimmer's deep frustration with his unvaccinated players has created unexpected tension early in training camp.
The Vikings have continued to express confidence in their team chemistry to tamp down any potential internal rifts over the polarizing issue, but they could be in for a lot of work on that front this season.
According to a person with knowledge of the NFL data, the Vikings were carrying the league's lowest vaccination rate Tuesday with 70% of their roster having received at least one dose and 64.5% fully vaccinated. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the NFL is not publicizing team-by-team rates.
The league announced on Tuesday that it hit the 90% mark of players who have at least one shot, with nine teams above 95% and 27 teams above 85% percent.
Those rates leave the Vikings well behind.
''We're very concerned,'' owner and president Mark Wilf said Tuesday. ''I think it's safe to say that our No. 1 priority is the health and safety of our players, our coaches, our staff and, ultimately, the entire community.''
The NFL's chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, made the rounds this summer and visited Vikings headquarters during minicamp in June to provide information and address concerns on the vaccine.
Cousins even complimented the team earlier this summer for being ''on top of it,'' as far as the overall effort to educate about the vaccine and protect from the virus spread.
''Just really making sure that everyone has the full facts, that there's not any misinformation about this and to understand all the ramifications of these decisions,'' Wilf said.
From ownership on down, the organization has been pushing hard not only to improve the team's lagging vaccination rate but communicate as a public service to the general population the benefit, safety and urgency of getting the shots.
The team typically avoids controversy on social media, but the Vikings sent a video clip of one of Zimmer's zingers - ''We could put this thing to bed if we'd all do this, but it is what it is'' - to the 1.3 million followers on their Twitter account.
Cousins, who was dismissive on COVID-19 infections on a podcast last year and later apologized, missed his fourth straight day of team activity under NFL protocols as a high-risk close contact of an infected person. Rookie QB Kellen Mond tested positive.
Unvaccinated players must sit out for five days under the 2020 close contact protocols. Vaccinated players don't have to.
''I think we're all very respectful of one another's decisions. There's never been any kind of division or conflicts,'' linebacker Anthony Barr said. ''It's your choice to make and you live with the results.''
Losing the starting quarterback for even one game during regular season can be a significant setback, one of several reasons Zimmer has been so irritated by the situation.
Cousins, Mond and Nate Stanley remain on the COVID-19 reserve list. Jake Browning, who has been vaccinated, is the only quarterback from the original training camp roster who has continued to practice this week.
Cousins is in the spotlight because of his stature, but he's obviously not alone. Wide receiver Adam Thielen and safety Harrison Smith are two other stars who had not been vaccinated when asked by reporters about their status last month. They cited personal choice but did not elaborate.
Barr said he believes the players respect Zimmer for expressing his frustration.
''He's worried about the team, making sure everybody is available at all times,'' the eighth-year pro said. ''I think that's what he's preaching. His first thought and concern is with the team.''
Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts had an impressive day Tuesday during the team's first padded practice. Pitts made an incredible leaping catch for a score at practice, showing off both his ability to make contested catches as well as his concentration. Contested catches are nothing new for the 20-year-old, as he led all 2021 rookies with 24 such receptions over his last two college seasons. Having lined up on the line, out wide, and in the slot so far in camp, Pitts seems headed for a healthy share of targets in 2021, considering the lack of proven options behind Calvin Ridley. He won't come cheap at a 49 ADP, but the talent and opportunity in front of him could make him one of the more productive tight ends in fantasy football.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley told reporters that his foot is "totally, definitely fixed" at training camp Tuesday. Ridley played through the injury last season, asserting his status as one of the league's best wideouts with a 90-catch, 1,374-yard, nine-touchdown season. The Falcons are understandably working him into camp slowly, as he is now the unquestioned number-one target in the offense with Julio Jones in Tennessee. Now fully healthy, Ridley could command a target share as high as any pass-catcher in the NFL this season, making him an excellent choice as a WR1 for fantasy teams at his current 23 ADP, particularly in PPR formats.
Washington Football Team DT Matt Ioannidis and CB Chris Miller were activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday, Aug. 3.
Green Bay Packers tight end Robert Tonyan's connection with quarterback Aaron Rodgers in practice on Tuesday was described as "unstoppable" by those in attendance. Tonyan enjoyed a breakout campaign last season, catching 52 passes for 586 yards while tying for league lead among tight ends in touchdowns with 11. It may only be a week into camp but Tonyan's connection with Rodgers appears to be in midseason form. Tonyan may be hard-pressed to repeat his touchdown totals from last season but should be a high-end fantasy choice among tight ends based on the targets he should see in the offense.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb is back with his old team and already is making plays in camp. The veteran receiver has made plays over the middle consistently during practice and was seen wide open down the field but failed to connect with backup quarterback Jordan Love. Cobb's numbers dipped in almost every category last season, catching only 38 passes for 441 yards and three touchdowns while also battling injuries. Cobb may not be the player he once was but could be rejuvenated in Green Bay catching passes from future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers.
The Pittsburgh Steelers would reportedly like to sign linebacker T.J. Watt to a contract extension before the start of the regular season. Watt, who has 29.5 sacks over the past two seasons, has one year remaining on his rookie deal. Team president Art Rooney II told reporters on Tuesday that he thinks the team will be able to get a deal done with Watt before the regular-season opener. Rooney stated, "Yeah, we'd like to get T.J.'s deal done before the start of the season. That's the goal. I don't like to get into those details in terms of the discussions, but we're going to try to get it done by the start of the season." Watt will play for $10.089 million in 2021 with the possibility to enter free agency following the season, although it appears unlikely that the Steelers will allow their star pass rusher to leave.
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin revealed on Tuesday that Mason Rudolph will be the team's starting quarterback in the Hall of Fame Game against the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday. It sounds as though Dwayne Haskins will finish the first half with Joshua Dobbs finishing the game. Not surprisingly, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will not take the field in the team's first preseason game. Rudolph is still the team's No. 2 quarterback while Haskins and Dobbs are in a position battle for the No. 3 job. That being said, Haskins has reportedly been impressing during camp and could overtake Rudolph if he can play well in Pittsburgh's preseason contests.
Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence (back) passed his physical and was removed from the Physically Unable to Perform list Tuesday, Aug. 3.
Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera was asked if he was concerned with Curtis Samuel's absence from the start of training camp, but Rivera made it known that he is confident Samuel can come in and be comfortable in the offense right away. Samuel is familiar with Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner, as he played in that offense during his time with the Carolina Panthers. Samuel was held out of OTAs with a groin injury which also kept him off the field for the beginning of camp. Samuel was then added to the COVID-19 reserve list, further delaying his arrival at camp. He will need some time to get on the same page with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, but he should have plenty of time to build a rapport prior to week 1 against the Los Angeles Chargers. Samuel should have the biggest role of his career in 2021, making him a WR3 in fantasy with upside for more.
Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera wanted friendly competition for the starting quarterback spot during training camp, as veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick and Taylor Heinicke battled for the starting nod. It seemed it was Fitzpatrick's job to lose, and that continues to be the case as we head into the second week of camp. During the full pad session on Tuesday, Fitzpatrick connected multiple times with tight end Logan Thomas in the end zone and got running back J.D. McKissic involved in the passing game as well. Fitzpatrick is surrounded by a formidable group of skill position players and has been put in a position to succeed under Scott Turner's offensive system. He is a QB2 in fantasy with weekly streaming appeal.
Washington Football Team running back Lamar Miller is having an impressive training camp as he battles for a roster spot. Zach Selby reports that Miller has been taking off for some nice runs and making plays during his practice reps. Miller will need to continue to impress if he wants to crack the Washington roster, as they will likely only have three running backs when the season starts. Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic are locked into the RB1 and RB2 roles, so Miller is battling with Peyton Barber, Jaret Patterson, and Jonathan Williams for the final spot on the depth chart. Even if Miller makes the final roster he won't possess any fantasy value unless Gibson or McKissic miss any time.
Washington Football Team tight end Temarrick Hemingway, who is battling for a roster spot, has built a connection with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick according to team reporter Zach Selby. The 28-year-old has spent time with the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Rams before he joined Washington in 2020. He has seen just two targets in his career, turning it into one catch for 10 yards. Washington is likely only rostering two tight ends, with Logan Thomas having the top spot on the depth chart locked up. Hemingway will battle with Ricky Seals-Jones, Sammis Reyes, and rookie John Bates for the backup role. Whoever wins the backup role in Washington will not have any fantasy value unless Logan Thomas misses some time.
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (thumb) sustained an injury during Tuesday's practice when his thumb struck a teammate's helmet. X-Rays came back negative, which thankfully pointed to nothing more serious. However, he is still expected to miss a few days of practice at a minimum according to a source. As long as this injury remains minor and doesn't linger, he'll have fully recovered by the time the season rolls around.
Arizona Cardinals WR Christian Kirk (undisclosed) has been nursing a minor undisclosed injury recently, but head coach Kliff Kingsbury told reporters Tuesday, Aug. 3, that he expects Kirk back 'soon.'
Chicago Bears RB Tarik Cohen (knee) is 'weeks away' from being activated off the Physically Unable to Perform list, according to comments made by head coach Matt Nagy on Tuesday, Aug. 3.
Fantasy Spin: It appears as though Cohen is not a lock for the regular-season opener, which should give David Montgomery and Damien Williams a slight bump early in the season. The absence of a more definite timeline is troubling, but he should return to his usual satellite role when he is ready. Until then, fantasy managers can feel confident about locking Montgomery in as a high-end RB2.
Updating an earlier report, Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson (foot, ankle) was looked at by the trainers Monday, Aug. 2, for a foot or ankle injury. He was held out of practice Tuesday, Aug. 3, due to the lingering injury.
Fantasy Spin: Watson is a risky low-end QB1 in fantasy while this cloud off the field hovers.
Free-agent RB D'Onta Foreman (Titans) is trying out with the Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday, Aug. 3.
Kansas City Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill (knee) did not take part in practice Tuesday, Aug. 3, due to knee tendinitis, according to head coach Andy Reid.
Los Angeles Rams QB Matthew Stafford (thumb) is dealing with a swollen thumb after X-rays on his injury came back negative Tuesday, Aug. 3. He will likely miss a few days of practice but nothing more.