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Vikings Training Camp Monday Afternoon Roundup: Defense/Special Teams

Hitting and full 11-on-11 was finally back on Monday afternoon.
Hitting and full 11-on-11 was finally back on Monday afternoon.

Monday afternoon's action in Mankato can best be summed up by what Geoff Schwartz said to Matt Kalil as they walked out onto the practice field:

"Damn, it's hot."

It certainly was a scorcher on Monday, but that didn't stop the Vikings from putting in some solid work during their first fully padded practice of 2012. Once again Arif followed the offensive units around, I took the defense, and we both kept an eye on those zany special teamers. For the last hour-plus of practice, we both took a look at the 11-on-11 drills (now with real live hitting! Sort of!). After two and a half hours of heat and a handful of full notebook pages filled with scribbles, we decided to break our posts into two parts: offense and defense/special teams. Here are my highlights from a jam-packed Monday afternoon in the world of the Minnesota Vikings, in a quasi-chronological order:

  • Mike Singletary may have flamed out as a head coach, but as a linebackers coach he still has a ton of attention to detail. He was quarterbacking the scout team offense against the first-line defense early in the afternoon drills. Although all of the players playing "offense" in the drill were defensive players, he would still stop certain plays and instruct the scouts on exactly where to go in order to simulate the best possible play for his defenders.
  • In a development that will surprise absolutely nobody, Jared Allen and Chad Greenway were the chattiest people on the defense throughout the day and it wasn't even close. They each always had something to say whether they were participating in the drill or observing their teammates.
  • Thanks to the defensive line doing most of their drills on the side nearest to the media zone, I got to hear a lot of great insight of how Defensive Line coach Brendan Daly focuses on certain aspects of the game. There was lots of talk about hand placement and getting off the ball with good footwork. He seemed to give D'Aundre Reed, Letroy Guion, and Brian Robison extra reps on making sure they don't over-pursue on certain types of plays like screens and counters. Getting too far downfield seemed to be a problem for the Vikings D-line at times last year so it was good to see them focusing on it today.
  • Something I wasn't that aware of until today: the popularity of the "football on a stick". The coaching tool is used all the time by line coaches to call out a cadence but make sure players don't get off the line until the ball moves. I had seen it a couple times before, but I didn't know how often it was used.
  • One of the biggest standouts on defense during the 11-on-11 drills was Chris Cook. He consistently took excellent angles and didn't allow much space between himself and his receivers. Cook did get beat by Jerome Simpson downfield once or twice, but he was able to bat a few passes down during Monday's drills. If he can finally live up to his potential, it will be a big step in the right direction for the secondary.
  • I'm not sure whether it was the coverage of the secondary or the strategy of the offense, but there were very few shots downfield taken by any of the quarterbacks today.
  • A few young guys that looked good: Ernest Owusu, Trevor Guyton and Reggie Jones. Guyton and Owusu flashed potential in one-on-ones; Guyton beat his man twice and in 11-on-11s also generated good pressure at least twice for the third string. Jones played physically, roughing up WRs at his first opportunity (sometimes with too much contact downfield), but good at forcing WRs off their routes.
  • Audie Cole looks like he can be an effective pass rusher based on what we've seen in one-on-ones. He's definitely a downhill linebacker.
  • Harrison Smith had an excellent drill shutting down fellow rookie Greg Childs. Great footwork and positioning.
  • Antoine Winfield might be the oldest Minnesota Viking on the roster, but he's still blanketing everyone he covers.

So, is that enough information for you? Too bad, because here come some things we noticed when it comes to special teams!

  • Chris Kluwe is in midseason form. During a coffin corner punting drill, he aimed a punt from about 40 yards out towards an intersection of 3 pads laying on the ground. He hit the mark so perfectly that the ball boy shagging his punt tripped over the pads. Believe it or not, the poor ball boy got some grief from Warcraft.
  • Blair Walsh's leg strength? Not a question. The guy was booming 40 yard field goals with lots of room to spare. His accuracy? It might be a question. He only missed one of the eight or so he attempted, but it was a bit of a lame duck that hooked left.
  • The special teams unit ran a smart drill--Kluwe would simulate punts and guys would take angled dives towards the release point of the ball instead of at the punter himself.
  • Jarius Wright is getting more first-team reps at punt returner, but in the limited drills we saw it looked like Bryan Walters was a little more decisive with his returns. Wright seemed to scramble back and forth while Walters took a couple confident cuts and quickly got up the field.

All in all, it was a very busy day, but Training Camp is truly about one thing above all--reps. There is lots and lots of running the same play over and over with different tweaks each time in order to be ready for everything from a certain formation. There is a lot of running a drill, going to the back of the line, and doing it all over again. It might not be as glamorous as the real games, but you can tell that the great plays of tomorrow are made in Training Camp today.

We'll be back on the field tomorrow morning with lots more from Mankato!