Minnesota Vikings 2013 Training Camp: Day Twelve Notebook

Another notebook!

Thoughts of the Day

Will is a finite resource.

Every year, players encounter the brick wall that tests their determination and capacity to "power through" the absurd obstacles that face them playing in the NFL. Coaches pull 75 hour weeks as they prepare game plans and might stretch themselves too thin by the time the bye week rolls around.

When hitting these decision points, players, the media and the NFL correctly laud the players and coaches that can fight what their bodies and minds are telling them is the reasonable limit of endurance.

But that's no reason not to make it easier.

We expect many players to flag by the end of games. Some players will get sharper, naturally (Jared Allen comes to mind), but nearly every player is much more prone to mistakes at the end of games than at the beginning.

Most of this is probably attributable to physical fatigue and wear-and-tear, but an underrated and important contributor is the mental fatigue that comes with constantly reading opponents doing their best to deceive you, processing play calls, and remembering the checks, snap counts, audibles, etc.

The mental demand on an NFL player is taxing, even more so because of the stop-start nature of the sport.

There are multiple studies on how to make people give up early. In one experiment, participants were asked to solve an impossible puzzle after being exposed to different levels of temptation (given nothing, given cookies while being told to stay away from radishes and vice versa). Those who faced the most temptation (those given radishes while being told to stay away from cookies in the room) gave up on the puzzle over twice as fast as the others.

From the link above, there are more studies:

In one study, college students divided into three groups. One group had to give a speech supporting raising tuition at their college. A second group chose between a speech for or against tuition hikes. A third group proceeded directly to the second stage - those devious, unsolvable puzzles. This time, the no-speech group and the group that gave the speech with which they likely disagreed both lasted about twice as long as the people who got to choose what they spoke about. The results suggested it wasn't just restraint in the face of desire that could deplete your ego, but any choice at all. The subjects who didn't have to choose a topic were able to allow their volition to take a break, and their ego energy reserves remained intact. Another study had participants attempt to show and feel no emotion while watching video of either stand-up comedy or an actor pretending to die from cancer. They then tried to solve word puzzles along with people who watched the same videos with the freedom to feel whatever they wished. This time, the people who exerted emotional restraint subsequently solved fewer puzzles than those who let their feelings flow.

In a study about active and passive choices, subjects had to find all instances of the letter e on a piece of paper filled with nonsense text. Another group had to find every e that was at least two letters distant from a vowel. Try it yourself in this paragraph and you'll notice the first group's task was way easier and required little effort. The e finders who had to adhere to the vowel rule took much longer as they had to examine every word and double-check themselves. Next, people in each group individually watched a video of a blank wall while holding a remote control. For some people pressing a button would end the video. For others pressing down kept the video running. The subjects then had to watch the boring video until they believed they had seen enough to answer a questionnaire about it. Nothing ever happened in the video, but something might have happened at any moment as far as the subjects knew. Each person was also told as soon as he or she ended the video they would get to watch a clip from Saturday Night Live. The people who first performed the easy task and then had to press a button to end the boring video did so much sooner than the depleted group. They also held the button down longer when letting it go meant ending the clip. The depleted group just went with whatever was the most passive option in either case. If it was to press a button, they procrastinated. If it was to hold a button down, they gave up sooner. The results suggested that focused concentration later made people less eager to make active choices.

Most famously, the Israel parole study found that favorably parole decisions from a three-judge panel who were deciding on parole cases all day were more likely in the moments after a break (in this case the morning, lunch and dinner).

Economix-14hungryjudges-custom1_medium

via graphics8.nytimes.com

In the New York Times piece about the famous study, they wrote

They write that making successive decisions depletes a limited mental facility, just like curling a dumbbell wears out your arms. As people get tired, they look for shortcuts, and one of the easiest shortcuts is to uphold the status quo -- in this case, denying parole.

All of this is to say that no matter what qualities you look for in a player, the ability to concentrate is something that can be managed as well as found. Coaches should seek to do both when approaching the problem of execution. Also related to decision fatigue are the problems of physical energy and general health.

Perhaps coaches should eat healthy, too.

One example of ways to increase execution and direct focus to where it matters (reading the defense) is to simplify complex playcalls whenever possible. The West Coast Offense is most famous for having this problem, where a play-action play can be described thusly:

Ace Right Naked Left Fake 68 Toss Z Fake Smash

Makes sense - a single back formation(Ace)  with the strength to the right (Right), the quarterback bootlegging without protection (Naked) to the left (Left) on a play-action (Fake) to the strong-side (68) while the flanker (Z) fakes (Fake)into a smash route (Smash).

That didn't even include the pass protection call, although most play-action concepts have tagged pass protection that you don't need to spend time calling out, given how redundant it is. In this case, the left tackle and left guard pull as if run blocking to the right and the quarterback rolls out to the weak side on an island.

Also, the "H," "X" and "Y" receivers didn't get route assignments. That's because they had already been tagged for the play-action off to the strong side.

In this case, the "Y" runs a dig, the "H" is blocking and the "X" is running a corner route.

Already, the play call has been simplified with common tags that didn't need to be said. One way to simplify it even further is to eliminate "Ace Right". All "Ace" formations will designate a strength as well as personnel. But once the playcall is in, the personnel has already been determined, so you can simply determine things like Jumbo, Right, Left, Big, etc. with one letter designations. In this case, Ace Right can be Race (with obvious extensions to Lace, Blaze/Brace, Jace, etc.).

Naked Left Fake 68 Toss only makes sense if this is a common run play. Naturally most runs are already determine either by the simple call of the zone scheme (Counter, Stretch Direction, Inside Stretch Direction, etc) or by keying gaps (30/31, 60/61 etc) so they can be complicated by themselves.

But if an offense relies on a few basic runs (all do), then the most common ones can be tagged as well. Bill Walsh had 34 runs in his playbook and used five or so much more often than others. Play action works much more often on these five runs, so the calls for both the runs and play-action passes can be simplified on those five.

This is particularly true because naked bootlegs only work away from the direction of the run. No need to specify direction if you've already specified the strength of the formation.

Further, there's no need to specify "fake" if you've already indicated that the QB is going to be "naked" in protection, because it wouldn't matter otherwise.

If you want to go beyond numeric designations for the five runs, you can simply use countries versus states. If it's a country, the run is to the weak side, while the state is to the strong side. With flips, tosses, pitches, draws, and traditional handoffs, there are a few more things to add, but letter designations can solve that issue.

Nude Texas could replace Naked Left Fake 68 Toss. I got rid of a syllable in "naked" because it's unnecessary. Texas signifies a toss and the fact that Texas is a state means it's to the strong side.

So," Ace Right Naked Left Fake 68 Toss" is "Race Nude Texas". Z Fake Smash can stay as is, because it's an additive tag, although you can easily solve that with a vowel designation. Zane can mean "Z Fake," X-Ray can be "X Fake," Hail can be "H Fake," Rake can be "R fake," Update can be "U Fake" etc, etc. The key is the long a.

Race Nude Texas Zane Smash is six syllables. Far better than Ace Right Naked Left Fake 68 Toss Z Fake Smash, which is thirteen. It can be simplified further if the play-action out of Race is common. Raisin for Naked bootlegs, Trace for traditional play-action, etc. Raisin Texas Zane Smash! Same syllables, of course, but even removing words helps. Ace (ais) Right (R) Naked (in) Left Fake 68 (state) Toss (Texas)

A draw with the strength to the left would simply be Lace Delaware, instead of Ace Left 43 Draw (or worse, Ace Left Right 43 Draw). Lace Denmark would be Ace Left Right 42 Draw (weakside run). Brace Florida is a single back "big" (3TE) set to the right, with a flip to the running back running to the strength. It can be Brace'd for a traditional play-action and Brazen for naked bootlegs.

This ignores run gap designations, but those problems are solved just as easily.

The New England Patriots have already decided that their six most common plays will be one word, and Chip Kelly's no huddle at Oregon was the same. Peyton Manning has been doing it for years, sticking with the same handful of plays that only have one word attached to them ("Dag" is famously a counter to the "Dig" play).

From what I know, the Vikings don't have the same issues with playcalling that a West Coast team might normally have, simply because Musgrave's coaching background comes from a different terminology (Erhardt-Perkins), even if his philosophical roots are in the West Coast scheme.

The key is to find ways to avoid assuming the status quo. In this case, the offense may see the same look they've seen from the defense all day-a 4-3 under with the Sam linebacker snug up to the line and the two safeties back deep with the corners in press coverage, for example-and may ignore subtle signs that indicate a Cover-1 blitz instead of the Cover 2-man press shell. This could include the Sam with his weight far more forward than it has been all game, a safety rolling on the balls of his feet or a linebacker cheating a few inches to the outside in order to cover the tight end.

Those smaller details are incredibly important in the end of the game, and noticing them will be critical for any offense. Finding any way to preserve that mental energy is key, and one of the best ways to do this might be to reduce the complexity of playcalling.

Defense

Depth Charts

RDE: Jared Allen, Everson Griffen, Lawrence Jackson, Collins Ukwu
UT:
Kevin Williams, Christian Ballard, Sharrif Floyd, Everett Dawkins
NT:
Letroy Guion, Fred Evans, Chase Baker, Anthony McCloud
LDE
: Brian Robison, George Johnson, D'Aundre Reed, Marquis Jackson
LCB:
Josh Robinson, Xavier Rhodes, Brandon Burton,  Jacob Lacey, Marcus Sherels
RCB: Chris Cook, A.J. Jefferson, Bobby Felder, Roderick Williams, Greg McCoy
NCB
: Josh Robinson, Bobby Felder, Marcus Sherels, Jacob Lacey
SLB
: Chad Greenway, Larry Dean, Gerald Hodges
MLB:
Erin Henderson, Audie Cole, Michael Mauti, Stanford Keglar
WLB:
Marvin Mitchell, Desmond Bishop, Tyrone McKenzie
S
: Harrison Smith, Andrew Sendejo, Darius Eubanks
S: Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond, Robert Blanton, Brandan Bishop.

Jacob Lacey's absence sort of changed the depth chart around, so I went with some speculation regarding the CBs. Audie Cole's absence had outside linebackers rotate inside and Stanford Keglar rotate outside to fill their gap (given that Keglar was the fourth MLB, this didn't create new gaps). Again, I went with some speculation that nothing changed.

I mentioned this the other day on my twitter account, but it seemed to catch people by surprise when I tweeted it during practice on Day 12, but Sendejo has overtaken Blanton on the depth chart. Like I've said before, Sendejo's improvement has been massive and could be the third safety on some other depth charts around the league.

George Johnson moved ahead of D'Aundre Reed on the depth chart as well. The defensive end battle is extremely competitive, but this surprised me. Reed looked good in the preseason game from what I saw, although my tracking of the second half wasn't as thorough as it was the first half. PFF thought Reed was the worst player on the defense, however, so I should give them credit for noticing something the Vikings took immediate action towards.

Notably, George Johnson was in on more snaps than any other Vikings players on defense and only behind Travis Bond on offense.

Defensive Line

A fairly quiet day without Sharrif Floyd or Christian Ballard (Floyd with a knee concern and Ballard sitting out, I believe due to sickness), Everett Dawkins didn't get much push against the second-team offensive line in 11s. In one on ones, Dawkins got some pressure against Seth Olsen but was stonewalled by Camden Wentz.

In other one-on-ones, Letroy Guion tried repeatedly to get one over Joe Berger, but couldn't. He used speed rushes, bull rushes and a fake speed rush to get around the veteran backup, to no avail. Anthony McCloud started off struggling against Jeff Baca, but found there was more ground to gain against Seth Olsen.

George Johnson, who just moved ahead of D'Aundre Reed on the depth chart did struggle against Brandon Keith, who ended up having a good day overall. Opposite him, Lawrence Jackson was consistently beating DeMarcus Love, who didn't have much reprieve.

Collins Ukwu was paired with Tyler Holmes, where he couldn't get much done out on the edge or inside. On the other hand, D'Aundre Reed might not be credited with any pressures against Troy Kropog, but it looked like Kropog was on skates for a short while every snap.

There's not much to add to the defensive line. I didn't see Brian Robison, Jared Allen, Kevin Williams or Everson Griffen really play, although I saw their work in drills. It wasn't very helpful to watch.

Secondary

The secondary didn't have too hot of a day in 11s or even 7-on-7 drills, where the Vikings offense completed pass after pass. Some didn't like my characterization as a "bad day" for the defense when I could have just as easily sad it was a "good day" for the offense, but there are critical differences that are made clear when looking at the secondary.

The offense deserves credit, of course, for making a number of good throws, generally completing the seam routes down the middle in the first team or the sideline routes on the third team. But more importantly, the defense was making critical mistakes with the way they treated their zone coverage, not flying to the ball or playing assignment-sound football.

It wasn't so much that the defensive players were in place and the offense was beating them with smart throws (although the routes and route adjustments were smart—a number of passes were completed in the holes between zones), but that defensive players were out of place or didn't do the things they needed to do to make plays when they were in space.

In particular, Xavier Rhodes got a lot of reps in one-on-ones and was very disappointing. When given the opportunity to use the sideline, he was much more comfortable and even more so when given leeway to be physical. Before those passing drills, Rhodes was able to display one of his better talents, which was to adjust his tackling angles and wrap up ballcarriers—he was the best among the defensive backs in these drills.

Among the worst in the drills was Robert Blanton, who couldn't seem to get the angles correct when approaching the ballcarrier. Along with him, Greg McCoy—who looked awful in coverage as well—never found his way to the ballcarrier, constantly getting to the player a step late. McCoy's foibles were many as soon as quarterbacks started flinging the ball around, including a sideline throw to Adam Thielen that drew a lot of applause, one of Stephen Burton's many catches and an average throw over the middle, once again, to Thielen.

Along with his poor performance in the tackling angles drill, Blanton didn't display much agility in other drills, including drills designed to turn him around. Planting and driving is a skill that Blanton has, but if he's moving, he'll take some time to set himself.

Blanton and McCoy weren't the only ones who struggled in this drill. Brandon Burton, Harrison Smith and Darius Eubanks also set themselves back in this drill, while Marcus Sherels was the only other defensive back besides Rhodes who looked good.

Along with Blanton, Brandon Burton did poorly in the agility drills. While I was surprised in regards to Blanton, Burton's slower showing made sense to me. He's the only corner I've marked in my tracking document as a "Boundary Corner," the designation for a college corner who plays the near hash and uses the sideline to tackle the ball carrier. Everyone else is either a nickel corner or "Field Corner" who largely prioritize in coverage in space.

Tackling angles and agility are less important in those roles and he fits it well. That doesn't mean he won't work in the defense, but that he would just have to be used a bit differently. He won't be, but there you have it. It's not that he's slow (4.5) 40 or that his agility in a vacuum is worrisome (6.93 3-cone), he just might read things a bit slower.

Josh Robinson had a fine day, not often targeted in coverage and doing well when it happened. For the most part, QBs looked away from him to pick on other DBs, so Robinson seems fairly immune to the criticism of the larger defense. In particular, he grabbed more interceptions than the rest of the backs in the tip/interception drill, where the linebackers tipped passes to the DBs.

I always happened to miss Chris Cook in the drills, but he didn't do too well against Greg Jennings when given the opportunity. Otherwise, he was a positive force in the defense, throwing receivers off routes and creating tighter passing windows.

Bobby Felder had a poor day, and his poor day was Stephen Burton's good day. Felder seemed to go through a checklist of problems against Burton—sometimes it was positioning, sometimes it was leverage, sometimes it was biting on a fake and at other times he just wasn't fast enough.

A.J. Jefferson looked OK, but I honestly didn't see much of him on the field, only in drills. In those drills, he looked instinctive and aware of the ball, but that doesn't really offset the lingering concern during the season of his play and ball awareness.

I did not see any of Mistral Raymond, Darius Eubanks, Jamarca Sanford (other than some drops in the drive, plant and INT drill), Andrew Sendejo, Harrison Smith or Roderick Williams.

I did see Sendejo play instinctively and Williams get some good coverage on occasion.

Linebackers

Again, I didn't see much of Chad Greenway. Never seem to get around to covering him.

In fact, I didn't really see a lot of the linebackers, and my most notable observation had to do with Keglar, who is still struggling to get things right, even needing some extra tutelage in drills.

So... yea. Audie Cole was out.

Special Teams

Depth Charts

First Kickoff: Josh Robinson, Robert Blanton, Tyrone McKenzie, Larry Dean, Andrew Sendejo, Marcus Sherels, Jamarca Sanford, Gerald Hodges, Zach Line

Second Kickoff: A.J. Jefferson, Bobby Felder, Mistral Raymond, Matt Asiata, Michael Mauti, George Johnson, LaMark Brown, Lawrence Jackson, Rodney Smith, Joe Webb

Third Kickoff: Collins Ukwu, Adam Thielen, Chase Ford, Brandon Burton, D'Aundre Reed, Roderick Williams, Joe Banyard, Greg McCoy, Bradley Randle

It might be interesting to note Line in the first team kickoff unit, which would usually imply a lot of positive things about his ability to make the roster, but with a few players held out of practice—including Audie Cole, who has featured a bit on special teams—it's not a clear read.

Same with Bradley Randle, who finally cracked a special teams roster.

First Punt (no gunners): Tyrone McKenzie, Andrew Sendejo, Marvin Mitchell, Rhett Ellison, Harrison Smith, Larry Dean

Second Punt (no gunners): Mistral Raymond, Zach Line, Matt Asiata, Michael Mauti, D'Aundre Reed, George Johnson, Jerome Felton.

Third Punt (no gunners): Toby Gerhart, LaMark Brown, Joe Banyard, Collins Ukwu, Gerald Hodges, Chase Ford, Stanford Keglar.

Offense

Depth Chart

QB: Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, James Vandenberg
SE: Jerome Simpson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Joe Webb, Chris Summers, Rodney Smith
FL: Greg Jennings, Jarius Wright, Stephen Burton, LaMark Brown, Adam Thielen, Erik Highsmith
SL: Jarius Wright, Greg Jennings, Stephen Burton
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, Matt Asiata, Joe Banyard, Bradley Randle, Jerodis Williams
FB: Jerome Felton, Zach line

Quarterbacks

I didn't watch much of the offense, so you can defer to Eric if you wish.

Christian Ponder did fine, although I think there is a risk of overselling his performance given the fact that there were a lot of completions. Naturally, I'm not one to do that but neither do I think I'm overcorrecting. There were a few well-placed passes, particularly over the middle.

If there's one thing I can say in terms of chemistry, trust and intuitive knowledge of the receiving corps, it's that Ponder knows what he can do to get the ball to Rudolph and no one else. So, as far as chemistry and trust is concerned, I don't think there's any question that Ponder has it with Rudolph. Should he have this feel, latitude and range with other receivers, Ponder will be a great quarterback.

He showed that sort of chemistry with Rudolph in practice, although I obviously feel he doesn't have that with other receivers. It's not a fair comparison—Rudolph's catch radius is enormous and he tends to get lined up with people who don't have the same range. He's not as athletic as he was in college (maybe his hamstring has finally healed up, like it was supposed to have last year?), but he's a dominant enough player at his experience level that it's not a fair comparison for other receivers.

Like I said, Ponder did fine, but he just didn't test himself in practice. I won't argue that the practice was disappointing, but I think we let ourselves get away with too much if we see this high percentage, low reward type of practice as progress or movement to quiet questions about his play.

Read between the lines however you want—perhaps I am so biased that a "bad practice" is disappointing and a "disappointing practice" is OK—but I really think we need to dismiss "good" performances where there's no progress or the secondary plays completely out of place. To his credit, he in no way played poorly and perhaps threw one or two bad balls all practice if that. If that's the offense, then he's fine.

Matt Cassel didn't play as well as McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who I thought may have been as close to lights out as you can be against a troubled defense, but neither did he play poorly. He had a few tougher throws than Ponder, but he also had more "easy" throws, if you will. Definitely the beneficiary of the play-action screen pass.

I'm not sure that it's a great play design (the ideal such design moves the screen to the opposite side of the direction of the faked run, which wasn't always the case), so I'm not so sure it's awesome that those passes were completed.

McLeod Bethel-Thompson threw some extremely well placed passes along the sideline, and also really killed those screen passes.

Running Backs

Adrian Peterson was hit once in practice and a few people got yelled at. I won't say who they were, but I will say some were locks for the roster. Naturally, Adrian didn't feel a thing and kept trying to drive.

I have no notes for Gerhart or Asiata

Bradley Randle consistently found himself open, which is nice. He caught a few passes and not just in the flats. He performed as an outlet receiver under pressure without dropping the ball, and may have had the best run of practice—running ten yards before the "tackle" whistles blew. In some ways, that's not quite fair because there's a chance that he would have been "tackled" sooner but the officials couldn't see it. Not just because he's short, but because running up the middle means there's too much traffic to sift through.

I did not note anything about Joe Banyard. Jerodis Williams didn't see much action, but I was disappointed that it took time for him to get up and go once he got the ball on a screen pass—the result of bobbling the ball. He never gained much yardage.

Offensive Line

This was already covered above, in the defensive line.

Wide Receivers

There's not much to add here, as they generally had a good day. Greg Jennings made the most of his extremely limited time on the field, getting open and crossing Chris Cook for a reception.

Wright had one highlight that I saw, which was to beat Rhodes and Sendejo up the seam. There isn't much to add to that, except there were some communication issues between the safety and the corner, but mostly there was a good read of the zone coverage and a good throw by Ponder to get it to him.

LaMark Brown had a good day, although I didn't pay close enough attention to him to tell you why or how—simply that he got open and had some impressive catches for good yardage. Whether it is because of fundamentally good receiver play or bad defensive play I can't say.

Cordarrelle Patterson was doing better today than he has in other practices, although he really shines most in game time, where he can put his elusivity to use. He beat Brandon Burton and Xavier Rhodes for good receptions, but did run into problems when others were more physical with him—notably Rhodes.

Adam Thielen had a very good day. He got blanketed by Roderick Williams once, but he made up for that with a good catch against Greg McCoy, and then later a great catch down the sideline for what looked like a touchdown to me, deep downfield.

Rodney Smith had his moments as well in the 2 vs. 3 drills (wide receivers against CBs and a safety) and generally came out looking ahead.

Joe Webb ended up looking good, too. Despite bobbling a pass in the flats (and allowing Sherels to blow it up), he was able to corral in a good pass in the 2 v. 3s against bracketed coverage and he did move the ball well on a different screen play. Like Patterson, Webb's game won't show up as well in practices as it does in games.

Stephen Burton looked the best out there, partially because of opportunity, but also because of good play. I don't have to detail again how he abused Bobby Felder, but suffice to say he did it through multiple avenues.

Tight Ends

There's not much to add to the tight ends, because I did not see much of Ellison, Ford or Anderson. John Carlson had another great day. Not only did he haul in a good number of catches because of good play, but he showed up in 9 vs. 7s for good run blocking as well.

This is perhaps the Carlson that the Vikings intended to sign, although it is too soon to say.

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