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Vikings again evaluating quarterbacks, with deep draft class providing plenty of options

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INDIANAPOLIS - The Minnesota Vikings spent the weekend at the NFL scouting combine pouring over quarterbacks, as thoroughly as any other team in the league.

They're among the frustrated few — well, there's more than a few clubs without a quarterback solution — who badly need this draft to produce a long-term answer at the most important position. The good news for them is that this year's class is considered a deep one.

The Vikings are also in a potentially awkward place with the eighth pick in the first round. None of the top three prospects, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater or Blake Bortles, is likely to still be available to them unless they find a willing partner and use other selections to move up.

As evidenced by the performance of Christian Ponder, the 12th overall pick in a similarly quarterback-deep 2011 draft, there's a risk in reaching even if the position is the biggest need on the roster.

So the Vikings, if they determine the top three are either impossible or unsatisfying for them, are sure to be giving the second and third tiers of 2014 quarterback prospects a hard look as well over the next 2 1/2 months.

"Obviously, the position is a big need in this league. But it's going to be fun, really. I get to look at some of the best guys and try to figure it out," coach Mike Zimmer said. "Let's hit on the right one, and let's go to work."

He added: "I have the utmost confidence in the scouts and the front office people. I feel really good about it. If I didn't, I'd be worried but I'm not."

Zimmer's background is defence. General manager Rick Spielman, responsible for the Ponder pick, has yet to procure a proven franchise quarterback in his time as a lead decision-maker for either Miami or Minnesota. But the Vikings have an ace in hand who will have a heavy influence on the process, offensive co-ordinator Norv Turner.

"Ultimately, that will be my call and my responsibility, but you hire people that are experts in their areas to give a strong opinion on that," Spielman said.

Spielman has provided candid public evaluations this month of Ponder and his failure to establish himself as the unquestioned starter. He said an ideal scenario for this season will be to sign a veteran (Matt Cassel is the favourite, to bring back), keep Ponder (he's the only one currently under contract) and draft a rookie.

"Are we going to force a quarterback at No. 8? We're going to take the best player, unless we're absolutely in love with a guy. If we're in love with a guy, and they might go before us, we may move up in the draft," Spielman said. "If not, I would love to move down in the draft, if we possibly could. There's so many good players that you're going to get good players in the third and fourth rounds, for as deep as this draft class is."

Among the quarterbacks who could fit that strategy: Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois, A.J. McCarron of Alabama, Zach Mettenberger of Louisiana State, Aaron Murray of Georgia and Connor Shaw of South Carolina. Mettenberger and Murray are coming off knee injuries.

"If the rookie doesn't have to play, it's a great advantage for those guys to sit and learn for a year until they're actually ready," Spielman said.

Also over the weekend:

— Zimmer said running back Adrian Peterson's recovery from groin surgery has been quicker than expected and that he should be ready in time for the team's pre-draft minicamp in late April.

— Asked how the Vikings will make sure wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson is fully utilized in the new offence, Spielman said Turner immediately put in 10 plays just for Patterson. "That's the first thing he was doing when he was putting the X's and O's part of it together. He is a unique talent," Spielman said.

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Online:

http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

___

Dave Campbell on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/DaveCampbellAP

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