Thoughts of the Day
I am not the Vikings front office.
That's pretty clear to everybody, and that's probably for the best.
But the larger point is that I don't see what they see, and they don't see what I see. Sure, there's a bit of standpoint theory involved in that I have different experiences than they do when it comes to life and approaching football, but more to the point they simply have different criteria than I do.
Matt Waldman over at Football Outsiders and one of the authors of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio (well worth the money I paid to get it before the draft) makes a critical distinction between a scout (as employed by an NFL team) and a talent evaluator (who does not necessarily report to management in a company structure).
One of the many reasons he makes this distinction is because his evaluation metrics are very general, and have a stated goal: dynasty fantasy drafting. While those goals tend to coincide well for personnel at the very broadest sense—whether or not a skill player or quarterback will productive in the long term is a goal that NFL scouts will address—they do not address things like system fit, coaching, maturity (Waldman makes a very good case for ignoring character almost entirely), etc.
But it shouldn't be surprising that if there's a disconnect between what coaches want and what scouts see as optimal. What happens when a bunch of coaches get players that they had no input in selecting and may even rather not have? What if those coaches are held accountable to the same people that evaluate the players? Would the cut-down to 53 men ever be truly independent then?
What if scouts aren't on the same page? Waldman explores this issue in some detail, but no more succinctly than the following example, which in some ways replicates the old scouting model of using number grades:
Next time you're at work, gather a group of your peers and ask them all to define a simple task in writing: How the receptionist should answer the telephone.
Then pretend you're the receptionist answering the phone while they grade your performance using this 1-5 scale:
1 = Poor
2 = Fair
3 = Meets Expectations
4 = Good
5 = Excellent
Unless your company has very clear guidelines for this process, you'll not only find that each of your peers has a different answer about how the receptionist should answer the phone, but they also will have a very different idea of how well/poorly the job was done. To compound the problem, ask them after the fact how they define each of these grades and you'll likely get a different answer from each person.
This shouldn't be too much of a surprise. Yesterday, I mentioned that it is difficult to motivate people if there aren't clear measures to indicate progress; people flag and could easily lose interest. The process has been explored in depth for some time but no more radically and immediately commercially impactful than in the process of gamification.
Functionally, gamification is the process of creating progress-based awards for what might otherwise be considered dull activities. While it creates problems for defining the notion of "fun," it fundamentally does a good job of getting people to do things they wouldn't do, like playing Farmville—whose model exclusively relies on gamification.
But the second half of the idea of finding ways to reward people for short-term activities (and incorporating clear progress towards long-term goals) is making sure that the measures are a) objective, b) useful, and c) measurable. The last point may be redundant, but it is often ignored.
Scouting, because of its understanding as an "art" rather than a "science" (an accurate if harmful characterization for the purposes of this "thought"), sometimes fails all three of those tests.
For now, I'm going to focus on the second of those tests—usefulness.
So, how do you determine whether or not a scouting method is useful? Define a goal, then define the specifics of that goal, then break it down into the smallest consumable units of action. The general goal is winning games, and more specifically it is constantly winning games. In order to do that, you need to field a team that can win games, and that team must leverage advantages over an opponent while minimizing disadvantages. There are two ways to do this: 1) talent and 2) scheme.
They are in many ways codependent, but they are also independent. There is no place for Red Bryant in the Vikings' defensive system. A 328-pound defensive end that can only two-gap has limited use value in a lot of systems, but not the Seahawks'. If the Vikings did change their scheme to accommodate him, there would be a cascade of changes. I explored a similar issue when talking about putting Sharrif Floyd and Kevin Williams on the field at the same time.
Red Bryant played very well early on in his career and could be considered a very talented player. Scouts for the Seahawks gave him a high enough grade that he was drafted in the fourth round above well-touted prospects like Lavelle Hawkins and Bryan Kehl.
The reasons, of course, involve their grades on Hawkins and Kehl as well as perceived needs at the time. They had two Pro Bowl linebackers the year before, so they didn't need Kehl, and were just one year removed from having signed Nate Burleson, who they thought was worth $7 million a year and the satisfaction of screwing Minnesota to play wide receiver—so they didn't need Hawkins.
Those needs were defined by their positions and positions are defined by function. If a team has two excellent slot receivers (say they had both Victor Cruz and Wes Welker) but a terrible set of outside receivers (Michael Jenkins and Jabar Gaffney), they would have a need at receiver, but more specifically at split end and flanker.
But if you simply boil down positions to function, then the labels are less useful to scouts (or they should be). Instead, they should simply be told that they need a player that can do specific things on the field, and a different player that can do other things on the field and a third player who can do a completely different set of things.
If you've ever read War Room by Michael Holley, you'll know this is exactly how the Patriots organized their scouting department, both at the professional level and in the college level.
So, who tells the scouts what they need in players? Shockingly, it is rarely the coaches, and instead the GMs. This is the fundamental reason there's a disconnect and why there are so often good players that get drafted and languish in unfit systems with coaches that don't know what to do with them.
The Vikings are not one of these teams:
What Frazier saw as mistakes made in pre-2011 Minnesota, when he was the Vikings' defensive coordinator, set the path for the new group, which was made up simply of some of the old guys promoted into elevated roles.
"I remember, so many times, sitting in those draft meetings," Frazier said, "and feeling like we were on a different page, coaches and scouts."
That wasn't going to continue. Frazier met with Spielman after being named head coach, and the two hatched a plan for coaches to put together tapes and demonstrations on "what a Minnesota Vikings player should look like, from A to Z." Then, in the throes of the 2011 lockout, an internal clinic was staged -- scouts were drilled by the coaches and molds were carved.
"It took a lot of time, man, a lot of time," Frazier said. "But it was worth it, because in 2011, 2012, we had really good drafts. And I think 2013, we had a really good draft. But we went through every position, we talked about the character we were looking for in a player, height, weight, speed, athleticism, footwork -- every little detail.
"And every coach talked to the scouts, we filmed it, and then we wanted to hear back from the scouts what they heard, so no one walked out the room saying, 'Well, I don't remember hearing that. I didn't know you were looking for that.' No, no, no. Let's make sure all of us are hearing the same thing."
What I'm basically getting across in about 1500 words is that I'm not in these meetings. I'm using generic metrics for my understanding of the Vikings offensive and defensive needs. Singletary, Studwell and Pagac know more about linebackers than I do, just like James Saxon understands running backs better and George Stewart has a handle on wide receivers. Even more, they know more about what they need at those positions, even in an imaginary world where I knew as much about those positions as they did.
It's why they traded up to pick Cordarrelle Patterson. I suspect that the Vikings were not too off of the consensus in regards to Patterson, and I'm sure their scouting report didn't differ from mine all too much, either. But they had Patterson as number one or two and I had Patterson as the seventh receiver (a tier two prospect).
Perhaps what I saw as poor habits, they saw as trainable fixes. Maybe what they saw as long-term potential, I saw as too long a timeframe to perform other, important functions. We may have fundamentally agreed on many aspects of Patterson's game (self-flattering speculation), but we disagreed on which parts mattered and which didn't.
So, too, the Vikings will for any and perhaps all of the positions I describe and attempt to characterize.
QB: Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, James Vandenberg
LT: Matt Kalil, Kevin Murphy, DeMarcus Love
LG: Charlie Johnson, Jeff Baca, Tyler Holmes
C: John Sullivan, Joe Berger, Camden Wentz
RG: Brandon Fusco, Seth Olsen, Travis Bond
RT: Phil Loadholt, Brandon Keith, Troy Kropog
TE: Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson, Rhett Ellison, Chase Ford, Colin Anderson
HB: Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Joe Banyard, Bradley Randle, Jerodis Williams
FB: Jerome Felton, Matt Asiata, Zach Line
SE: Jerome Simpson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Stephen Burton, Rodney Smith, Chris Summers
FL: Greg Jennings, Jarius Wright, Joe Webb , Adam Thielen, LaMark Brown, Erik Highsmith
I've constantly preached that bad performances at training camp can be ignored and have even implied that good performances should raise an eyebrow if they're good for the "wrong" reasons. Naturally performances that are bad for the "wrong" reasons should also be criticized, which I did fairly harshly in Day Two.
In that vein, I'll treat Day 3 (a "bad" day) as a success but not progress and yesterday (a "good" day) as neither-not a criticism of Ponder, but not a good sign.
I think at this point I open myself up to the criticism that I'll always find reasons to criticize Christian Ponder, and I think that makes sense. In all honesty, I don't really mind the days when Ponder tries to fit a ball in a tight window or test where a receiver will be and throws an interception as a result. That produces good outcomes for the offense and the defense. But my issue with the second day is that there was no reasonable test that Ponder or the coaches could have been performing that resulted in those passes.
In Day 3, that very well could have been the case. Let me rewrite history and erase the bad taste in our mouths from Day 3, because it may not be warranted.
Day 4 was a safe day for Ponder, who didn't make too many errors. I even noted an interception for him on twitter that wasn't him—it was Cassel. The notable errors of Ponder were his more classic errors. He checked it down when there were open men downfield or he took too long in the pocket, sometimes combining the two.
Right now, Ponder is playing like a one-read-and-go passer. What's curious is that his throwaways were all good decisions, as everyone on the field was covered, which either implies that on those plays he made correct progressions or that there is somewhat of a coincidence happening, where the only times he throws it away-when the outlet and primary read are covered-other players are also covered.
I find both of those to be somewhat implausible, so I suspect that he still has to determine, pre-snap, which half of the field to read, based on the defense he sees and linebacker depth, as well as matchups. Embedded in those suspicions that the offense does not contain enough complexity to adapt to different defensive looks or that Ponder has a fuller field-read than we thought and is being asked to go through progressions fairly oddly.
I've had many issues with the offense before, but this falls entirely within the realm of the type of minutiae I cannot parse without both more repetitions and access to practice tape. So some of the performance that I saw that I didn't like could possibly be attributed to the offense, and some could be attributed to Ponder, with a range of responsibility in between.
But I am not sure what goal he is trying to accomplish when he reads an open receiver and decides to check down anyway. Some of those passes are the type of passes the offense and defense need to practice, especially the offense. Checkdowns never seemed like a concern to me.
Ponder took more chances than he did in the regular season in his poorer games. Good. Ponder replicated his more harmful failures in some degree: bad. Final note, his completions did not often result in first downs.
I suppose this means it was an inconclusive practice, but I think keeping my thought process for why that's true is somewhat valuable. The most conclusive practices are the ones that either result in him doing new things successfully or old things unsuccessfully. Should he string together series after series of unproductive practices, then it will at the very least imply that he's not growing because he cannot accomplish the new things.
Matt Cassel did not look good. Aside from a misattributed interception off of a deflection (a great play by Robinson and a good one by Blanton to maintain awareness to go get it) on a floated pass, he threw some weak passes in scrimmages and even would have been an accomplice to Rodney Smith's murder had this been a full-contact practice, as he led his receiver directly into Mistral Raymond. To top it off, Smith's near decapitation was also met with what was nearly a turnover as Raymond got both hands on the ball but couldn't secure it.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson is still balancing touch and power, and knows when he needs to throw softer passes. Unfortunately, those passes are too soft.
I will never trust James Vandenberg.
Greg Jennings hasn't had a bad day yet, although found himself covered a little better than before, including once being blanketed by Erin Henderson and another time by Marvin Mitchell. He spun around Josh Robinson and didn't make Xavier Rhodes look good either. I'll let you know when Jennings messes up.
Jerome Simpson should have drawn another defensive pass interference flag today (Xavier Rhodes), but the refs were unwilling. Simpson needs to add more moves at the release and get a little bit lower if he doesn't want to get jammed, but also should find ways to create separation that don't just rely on raw speed. He generally makes good decisions reading the defense, but his imprecision hurts him and the offense. Nevertheless, he'll be open a few times a game for a good gain.
He should probably stop taking reps at punt returner. He doesn't have the lateral movement to do well in these exercises and gets popped in drills fairly consistently.
Jarius Wright continues to look excellent and is doing a good job against most coverages, although he can get pushed around in press coverage. His biggest weakness is his size, but that also creates a natural strength in a lower center of gravity and better agility. This doesn't mean his size defines his nimbleness, but here it's probably a factor that combines with other parts of his athleticism that he's able to use in route running to his advantage.
He's nowhere near done developing as a receiver, but sharp cuts are very good. He didn't have quite the day he had in Day 3, but it was a good outing, include one more instance where he found a hole in coverage. He was open more than he was thrown to, and that limited his looks.
Cordarrelle Patterson's best chance of becoming a starter don't have to do with leapfrogging Wright, but Simpson. Today there were more short passes for him, or simply screens, and he looked fine in them. The Vikings continue to practice plays where he, Simpson and Webb engage in reverses or end-arounds (as well as fakes). I haven't seen a good gain from it yet, but I think it's because they cannot fully display their skills in "thud" practices, where refs blow the whistle on arm contact.
More of the same with Patterson, in that he needs to continue to develop, etc.
Patterson was one of two players that I thought really looked good in practice kickoffs and kickoff drills. The other player that I liked in those drills is a defensive back, so more on that later. But to clarify, I think Patterson has vision, burst and an ability to hit the seam with authority.
Stephen Burton on the other hand looked like an average at best returner. I don't think he can keep moving upfield when using his agility to change direction and has a limited ability to hit a second gear.
Burton seems to be playing mostly the split end snaps even though he was a flanker in the offense last year. I don't think that's a good fit for him, because he still needs to work on creating separation at the snap. He got stonewalled by Rhodes and needs more buildup to get to his speed. He still looked good as a blocker (even getting Desmond Bishop on what was probably a cheap shot after the whistle, but also the right thing to do in a game situation), and I suspect his best contribution on special teams will be clearing the way for other ballcarriers.
As bad a receiver as I think LaMark Brown is or could be, he's a fine special-teamer. It's hard to get off his blocks and he pops into them well. For the most part he seems to understand his assignment and coordinates well with other members of the units to create seams. On the other side of the ball, he also can lay in some punishment.
Had I paid more attention to the receivers, I could give a more complete picture of his day, but my intuition was that it was better than it was worse, even when eliminating his special teams contributions.
It looks like Rodney Smith was briefly going to moonlight on the second kickoff unit after starting the day in walkthroughs on the third unit, but evidently forgot. That error aside, Smith looks to be—as far as anyone can tell on the sideline—more committed to improving his game than some of the other receivers on the roster, Erik Highsmith and Chris Summers in particular. He lost the battle against Raymond in the air for the ball, which is in some part on him, but it looks like he's incorporating some work into his break. I think there's some long-term improvement in his future—naturally a wild prognostication.
Joe Webb is looking alright in special teams. As a return blocker, he seems to be on point, but is still working on communication and getting his assignments. I'd call those mixed, but upward-looking reviews.
I didn't catch much of him as a receiver today, but he did drop the first pass I've seen him drop so far (again, haven't watched him like a hawk), but that was less on him—he dove for it and palmed it with one hand without making the catch, which looked like a batted pass. Hardly a drop under most people's definitions.
I also did not see much of Adam Thielen, but I do note he cracked a special teams unit. That is good for him, but he'll have to move from the third kickoff unit to something more meaningful.
Chris Summers did not look impressive to me. Despite his size and speed, he didn't look explosive throughout his routes and even dogged it a little. I don't want to overstate that, but he didn't fight for his routes.
Erik Highsmith looked much the same, and he didn't run through his routes with the speed that he has or should run with.
Adrian Peterson broke off some runs, but we know he'll be fine and he didn't get too many reps.
Toby Gerhart was the unfortunate victim of the first play, when Erin Henderson broke through the line with ease and crushed him. Otherwise, Gerhart looked OK, running a little faster it seems than last year. In 9s vs. 7s, it didn't look like he was getting to the edge with the speed he wanted, but he for the most part read his blocks well. He exhibits patience, but could do with better change-of-direction.
Joe Banyard looked great. Watching his film from college, I was worried that he might not stick it through the tackles and get difficult yardage, and this particularly concerned me on what was actually a positive play, when he bounced around to the outside and gained serious yardage until the third team safeties stopped him. But in goal line drills and other situations, he showed a willingness to run into a mess and even attempted to move the pile. Didn't do a bad job at all.
Bradley Randle moved ahead of Jerodis Williams, but while he shows perhaps a bit more as a punt returner I want to see more of him from scrimmage. He's quick but still seems to get caught up in tackles. He's always gaining a couple of yards because he can fall forward without many who stop him from doing so, but he's not making space for himself.
As a punt returner in drills, he looked fairly decent. He didn't gain as many yards as Jerodis Williams looked to have, but Williams has more bad habits that he might need to break.
Jerodis Williams had some shining moments as a runner, but not enough, I think, to reinstall him ahead of Randle just yet. He gained a few more yards (net and gross) but also had more tackles for loss that were on his decisionmaking.
It's the same story with him as a punt returner, where he's far too willing to cut back and back and back before moving forward.
Jerome Felton was gone, so it was time for Zach Line to step up. But instead of putting him in first or even second snaps consistently, they flexed tight ends. Still, Line looks like a more natural blocker than I expected but he still has some fundamentals to work on. His footwork looks like it's getting better.
Did not make notes on the offensive line.
Kyle Rudolph is developing into the full package as a tight end. Well known for his pass-catching, Rudolph excels in a lot of phases of the passing game, including route-running, use of hands to create separation, ball tracking and an excellent catch radius. Those were all on display, and he looks much more precise than other tight ends. He will want to drill on getting his hands up even later to catch balls and getting out of tighter man coverage, but he's been doing well.
As a blocker, Rudolph is playing with better leverage than the beginning of 2012 and more careful about his hand placement, both in pass protection and run blocking. I didn't see him do this at full speed, so it's a concern he should resolve when I look for it again.
John Carlson is a more imprecise runner than I thought, but also a better pass-catcher than I thought. Carlson is better than the other tight ends below him in keeping his footwork throughout the route and placing sharp cuts, but it still surprised me. He has demonstrated great hands in practice and he knows how to secure the ball without using his body.
Getting open in team drills gives room for optimism regarding Carlson's season. He looked somewhat fluid as a blocker, but still looks like he needs to think through the block.
Rhett Ellison still needs to develop in catching passes, but is an excellent blocker (to no one's surprise). I noted that while Ellison found ways to create some separation at the break by sinking and planting, he still has to play with much more disciplined route-running.
Chase Ford looked bad in the drill, double-catching more than one pass and definitively dropping two. He didn't have a lot of passes thrown his way, so it looks a fair bit worse. But when it came time for plays from scrimmage Ford was relatively impressive, and caught two touchdown passes, one of them relatively deep. He also saved a bad pass from Vandenberg to score the touchdown.
He got hit hard during drills and was slow to stand up, but is fine.
Colin Anderson is more precise than Ford as a runner and that could be the difference. Ford looked a little better at blocking, too. Anderson will need to step up.
RDE: Jared Allen, Everson Griffen, George Johnson, Collins Ukwu, Marquise Jackson
UT: Kevin Williams, Christian Ballard, Sharrif Floyd, Everett Dawkins
NT: Letroy Guion, Fred Evans, Chase Baker, Anthony McCloud
LDE: Brian Robison, D'Aundre Reed, Lawrence Jackson
CB: Josh Robinson, Xavier Rhodes, Jacob Lacey, Roderick Williams, Greg McCoy
CB: Chris Cook, A.J. Jefferson, Brandon Burton, Bobby Felder
SLB: Chad Greenway, Larry Dean, Tyrone McKenzie
MLB: Erin Henderson, Audie Cole, Michael Mauti
WLB: Marvin Mitchell, Desmond Bishop, Gerald Hodges
S: Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond, Andrew Sendejo
S: Harrison Smith, Robert Blanton, Brandan Bishop, Darius Eubanks
I'm starting with safety, because why not.
I didn't see much of Harrison Smith, so there's not much to write.
Jamarca Sanford looked generally good, but did give up one good pass (forgot who it was from, probably Ponder). He seems to have improved in coverage in general, but would be much more highly regarded if he didn't keep dropping interceptions.
Both Sanford and Smith looked solid in the run fits, and alternated between who played in the box and/or manned the alley. Neither of them really made a play as far as I could tell in the 9s vs. 7s, and not to their detriment. The linebackers were playing very, very well.
I saw Mistral Raymond everywhere, but never in a play situation. That sort of thing happens, but I was baffled when I got to my notes of him and only saw special teams notes, where he and Gerald Hodges had serious communication issues and he in particular did not block the backside of the returners very well.
Robert Blanton is quick becoming a favorite of mine, and his interception return (probably a touchdown) was an instance of being in the right place at the right time, as well as knowing how to react. He has generally reacted well to the quarterback and the ball thrown in the air, breaking before the ball leaves the quarterback's hands. It makes it look like he's abandoning coverage when he's really just reading well and playing how a zone player should play.
Andrew Sendejo has looked good in the past, but I did not see enough of him today to do an accurate report. In kickoff drills, he did make a few mistakes that would have led to a play downed inside the 20. That needs to be corrected soon for him.
I noted that Darius Eubanks took snaps with the second team in 9s vs. 7s, but he did not take those snaps in walkthroughs, simply rotating with Bishop on the third team. Until he takes those spots in walkthroughs, I'll just assume the coaches are finding creative ways to make sure that players at the bottom of the roster are getting reps, and against good competition.
He's a guy I want to see more of in the run game simply because he has the background for it as a larger safety who used to be a linebacker. I didn't see enough to comment, however.
At cornerback, I have fewer notes on coverage and more on special teams. I still haven't seen anything bad or good from Chris Cook, but this is largely coincidence (I swear) four days in because he never lines up on the side of the field I am on or have a good angle to watch. Jennings is getting the best of him for the most part, but the other receivers don't seem to be giving him trouble.
Josh Robinson is fun to watch. He's been doing a good job breaking up passes and getting to the ball, and playing much better than his rookie season. Today, some decent work on positioning and at least one deflection. Like I mentioned above, he has to read the fakes better, and Greg Jennings works him when he has the opportunity. Robinson isn't afraid of size, but definitely needs seasoning.
As a returner, Robinson was OK today in drills. I was not close enough or attentive enough to see if the bobbling problem continued, so I just looked at his running. It was not bad, but it wasn't great. A reasonable option at kick returner if Patterson or the other good returner can't do it for whatever reason.
This is the first day I've noticed problems with Xavier Rhodes, and credit goes to a friend from camp for actually drawing my eyes to it. While Rhodes continues to be dominant in press coverage, (like I mentioned with Burton above), he needs to do a better job maintaining coverage principles when in "off" assignments, whether or not is in man or zone. He's too willing to push around receivers, and that will lead to flags until he learns to hide it from officials (think Charles Woodson or Darrelle Revis).
It's not so much that he has difficult with leverage and angles, but he's not doing a good job reading the receiver out of the snap and seems to make up for it by pounding them. Once he has a read, he's generally pretty good. I like the attitude, but he needs to learn when it's appropriate.
A.J. Jefferson is turning from decent depth into excellent depth, if his performances in four days of practice are any indication. He's stayed in position throughout routes, played on the ball and helped create turnovers with deflections and if I recall correctly an interception on a previous day.
Jefferson was also an adequate option at returner. If Robinson's slight catching issues are a problem, then Jefferson is the next best option, and that's not a problem in my eyes. I don't think he'll light up any kickoff units, but neither will he disappoint the Vikings.
Marcus Sherels and Greg McCoy were players I missed in scrimmage and drills. Sherels is the next best kick returner to Cordarrelle Patterson and may even look a little bit better right now because of Patterson's slower decisionmaking at the breaking point.
That's not to say that Sherels should be the primary kick returner even if he isn't a liability at cornerback, but that Patterson has areas to improve even in the areas of his game considered strengths.
I also missed really getting to evaluate Bobby Felder, and Jacob Lacey.
I saw a little bit of Roderick Williams, and I still think he looks like a smart player, but nothing I can recommend too strongly.
Brandon Burton keeps showing up in my notes, but never as a player who did anything good or bad. It's mostly "27 on the field." I thought he was among the best kickoff return blockers for a player his size (which would exclude players like Floyd or Brown), creating good seals and holding tight some of the interior kickoff players (like Camden Wentz, big dude).
I did not evaluate any defensive linemen.
Erin Henderson had a great day and repeat performances like this in camp will go a long way into keeping me content until the preseason. He continuously got into the backfield to make plays against the run, both in 9s v. 7s and proper scrimmages. He hits with force, but also solid fundamentals. We did not see much of the linebackers tested in coverage, but somehow Henderson got matched up with Greg Jennings. Henderson made sure that Jennings wasn't open. He was also crucial in the goal line stands, either making it impossible for receivers to break free in the end zone or tackling running backs.
Chad Greenway, like Adrian, did not much participate in scrimmages or drills. He still does a very good job shedding blocks and occupying the run game.
I didn't see much of Marvin Mitchell, but to his credit, he rarely abandoned his gap responsibility.
As much as the Vikings are saying Desmond Bishop isn't as rusty as they thought, I don't mind keeping him on the second team for some time to season him within the system. I still think he has yet to reach his full athletic capability, and I saw some of that when he had to chop back for run support.
He doesn't seem to have a problem reading keys, but he's still getting a feel for the assignments as he transitions back to a "bubble" system of run defense instead of one of working opponents at the block. It's one he's more used to, but that's fine.
Audie Cole looked like he may have been playing with a bit too much depth in the running game, but overall looked instinctive against the run. I didn't see as much pass coverage against him, but he was good in the scrimmages at redirecting runners when need be.
Gerald Hodges was all over the map for me. Sometimes look great in the run game, I saw miscues in special teams play. Other times, I saw Hodges lose his landmark in zone coverage, but blanket a receiver on the next play. Overall a positive performance by Hodges, but not one I'd put a star next to.
Michael Mauti seems more tentative than he should be, although at the NFL level, "tentative" is a relative term. He's laying hits (which is good to see) and sticking blockers, but he still looks like he needs to absorb a bit more to be confident in his assignment despite clearly having a command of the scheme (as well as you'd expect at this point). He was pretty crucial in the defense's goal line stand against MBT and Bradley Randle, so that is to his credit.
I did not see much of Tyrone McKenzie, either.
Larry Dean looks bigger than he is. He's fast and can penetrate when need be, but he's really more of a (great) special teams guy. He looked a little like Erin in 9s, cutting into the backfield and getting to the running back, but not with nearly the consistency or pop of Erin Henderson.
First Kickoff Unit: Marcus Sherels, Stephen Burton, Jeff Baca, Christian Ballard, Rhett Ellison, Larry Dean, Robert Blanton, Tyrone McKenzie, Andrew Sendejo, Josh Robinson
Second Kickoff Unit: Bobby Felder, Mistral Raymond, Joe Banyard, George Johnson, Gerald Hodges, LaMark Brown, Zach Line, Matt Asiata, Marquis Jackson, Xavier Rhodes
Third Kickoff Unit: Adam Thielen, Joe Webb, Brandan Bishop, Jarius Wright, Collins Ukwu, Rodney Smith, D'Aundre Reed, Larwence Jackson, Chase Ford
I am missing one on the third kickoff unit. These special teams assignments are changing quite a bit, and it looks like the coaches might like what they see in players like Bobby Felder. Should linebackers Tyrone McKenzie or Larry Dean make the team, special teams would be the reason.
First Kickoff Return: Christian Ballard, Joe Berger, Rhett Ellison, George Johnson, Matt Asiata, Jerodis Williams, Robert Blanton, Andrew Sendejo, Marvin Mitchell, Audie Cole
Second Kickoff Return: Josh Robinson, Brandan Bishop, Zach Line, Seth Olsen, Sharrif Floyd, Chase Ford, Brandon Keith, Gerald Hodges, Joe Webb, Bobby Felder
Third Kickoff Return: Jarius Wright, Marcus Sherels, Stephen Burton, George Johnson, Christian Ballard, Larry Dean, Robert Blanton, Joe Berger
I didn't catch the final two people on the third unit. Knowing that Jerome Felton is on the first unit usually and he was absent, I might really only missing one, but that might also not be the case because Berger is on two units.
Random and Inconsistently Awarded Accolades
Bubble player of the day: Chase Ford looked like he was going to be a dud when I finally got the chance to evaluate him in drills, but he came out ahead by the end of the day.
#90: Erik Highsmith did nothing.
Eat Crow: I was definitely wrong to be hyper critical of Rodney Smith
I Called It: Does talking about Bradley Randle before he moved up the chart count? I'll count it.
As Expected: Kyle Rudolph is getting more and more refined as a tight end.
Step Up: Jerome Simpson needs to contribute more when he's being lined up against second and third-string corners.
Pleasant Surprise: Erin Henderson may fit at MLB.
Uh Oh: Two stingers! Jamarca Sanford and Chase Ford both went down to hits, but got up and walked off fine.
Sorry for the longer delay.