Thoughts of the Day
When Greg Jennings was pulled aside by Leslie Frazier a few days ago, part of what Coach Frazier was trying to get across was instilling an inward team culture that focuses on personal performance instead of distractions.
Execution is the order of the day at Vikings camp, and the players have had that drilled into them for two years now. When hype was building about the potential one-on-one matchup between Jared Allen and Matt Kalil, both players immediately played down the competitive aspect of it and emphasized the importance of making each other better players.
I'm not so sure this is simple media management-no one would have faulted them for relishing the competition. By itself, that helps in its own way. Other successful teams preach competition as a core virtue in training camp, both among position groups and between individual players (this includes the Seahawks, who run some of the most energetic practices in the NFL).
But the Vikings have chosen to retain "execution" as a core practice principle, something I think Frazier took from Tony Dungy, who emphasized the same thing. That doesn't mean competition goes away, but it is the second priority to fundamentally sound play. Instead of finding ways to beat the person in front of them, players are encouraged to find ways to better themselves as a whole.
This has concrete benefits, of course. Players in camp are not the players they'll play on Sunday, so perfecting a technique that works well in a matchup (say Kalil exploiting Jared Allen's tendency to start off games attacking the edge before moving inside) won't work against the majority of opponents.
The tradeoff, of course, is that competition as a fundamental framework for practice creates an internal and self-sustaining motivation. Execution is boring and winning is not. Beating the person in front of you is really exciting and gets the juices flowing; being told to celebrate that less has to be a little deflating.
In this case, building a solid team culture that finds other areas to motivate oneself is critical. There are probably very few players in the NFL that aren't motivated to do well on Sundays (although Eddie Lacy may be one of those few), but finding players with internal motivation at the end of July is probably a lot harder than it sounds.
Most people who work find fairly immediate results (not in productivity or pay, but in established goals or success metrics) and this short-term reward-be it at the end of the day or week-makes grinding through a work day easier. NFL players (at least those relatively sure of making a roster) don't have that payoff for months and have subjective measures of performance to work with until the stats pile up in September.
When we get shots of a locker room or even a corporate office, we see some signs and posters that tell players or employees to "keep that chin up" or to "hang in there." Pointless, right? Who gets motivated by a poster or a pithy saying? Does that John Wooden quote really force people to kick it into an extra gear or suck it up and run that 40th play in summer weather at the end of the day?
What's interesting is that there's good evidence that this sort of thing does matter. Not in the sense that someone having a bad day will look up and see a picture of a cat hanging from a thread and turn themselves around, but it contributes to a cultural and framing effect that positively changes outcomes. A review of literature on corporate culture reveals that defining expectations and appropriate reactions to information is a critical part of organizational success.
The claim that organizational culture is linked to performance is founded on the perceived role that culture can play in generating competitive advantage (see Scholz, 1987). Krefting and Frost (1985) suggest that the way in which organizational culture may create competitive advantage is by defining the boundaries of the organization in a manner which facilitates individual interaction and/or by limiting the scope of information processing to appropriate levels. Similarly, it is argued that widely shared and strongly held values enable management to predict employee reactions to certain strategic options thereby minimizing the scope for undesired consequences (Ogbonna, 1993).
A lot of it has to do with hiring the right people. Leadership is important as well. But small things like posters and motivational speeches are important signifiers of the culture because of their subconscious effects on attitudes and expectations.
A lot of this may be linked to the neurological process (and psychological concept) of framing. It's a relatively popular if somewhat new (and more difficult to prove than many hard science concepts) notion that simply argues that all of our information is mediated by frames that we can relate to. George Lakoff has advocated it since the 1970s and made a name for himself when he applied it politically to describe the strategic failures of the 2004 Kerry campaign.
The fundamental argument he makes is that our brains are hardwired to accept information within the context of the frame, or larger metaphor, theme or value, and apply that information in that context. People will make different decisions upon the same information, which was demonstrated by the Asian Disease Problem, where respondents selected different programs to combat a hypothetical disease based not on outcomes, but how the outcomes were described.
That's why it's important that Leslie Frazier talk to Greg Jennings about keeping within the core values of the team. Focus inwardly on execution instead of outwardly on perceived slights or flaws of others. One of the key components of framing is unity of message. In order to propose a core ideal under which everything is done, then everything must be accountable to that ideal.
Creating motivation and getting players to operate out of one core value is an important part of making sure that the team can operate without clear rewards or markers of progress. Football in September and November is often won in August. Organizing around the concept of simple, clean and effectively executed football is how the Vikings have chosen to run their training camp. Others, like the Seahawks, Eagles or Dolphins have chosen to treat their camps like competitions, experiments or extensions of the season. Some methods are effective and some are not.
I think that makes sense, and I think the Vikings have consciously chosen to create their culture. Organizations will have a culture whether or not they positively focus on creating one (probably to the Bengals' and Cowboys' chagrin, whether or not they've realized it).
This should define how we evaluate training camp. I'm not so sure the teaching styles and training methods are as universal as they could (or even should) be. I don't think coaching hires are made with that in mind (perhaps a mistake), so the themes can be a little confused. But for the most part, the Vikings have kept consistent at the top, and that's probably good.
I'm not so sure what to do here in regards to Travis Bond, as he's being moved around a lot and I saw a slightly different offensive line today. Regardless, this is what we have:
QB: Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, James Vandenberg
HB: Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Joe Banyard, Jerodis Williams, Bradley Randle
FB: Jerome Felton, Matt Asiata, Zach Line
TE: Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson, Rhett Ellison, Colin Anderson, Chase Ford
FL: Greg Jennings, Jarius Wright, Stephen Burton, Joe Webb, Adam Thielen, Erik Highsmith
SE: Jerome Simpson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Rodney Smith, LaMark Brown, Chris Summers
LT: Matt Kalil, Tyler Holmes, DeMarcus Love
LG: Charlie Johnson, Jeff Baca, Kevin Murphy
C: John Sullivan, Joe Berger, Camden Wentz
RG: Brandon Fusco, Seth Olsen, Travis Bond
RT: Phil Loadholt, Brandon Keith, Troy Kropog
The only big change I could identify is that Holmes took second-string snaps at left tackle, which is bad news for DeMarcus Love. I'm not so sure how permanent this change is. I also think Bond is set to move up the chart, given that he took snaps at both guard positions and even took some snaps with the second team over Olsen. Olsen did, however, start off the day at second team right guard, so there he is for right now. That could change as soon as tomorrow.
I moved Joe Webb down one spot because Burton took more flanker snaps (including snaps in the slot) with the second team and also took split end snaps.
Andrew Krammer reports that Webb is behind Burton and Brown, although I'm not as sure that's true about Brown.
The order of the running backs looks like it won't change soon.
I paid a lot more attention to the offensive and defensive one-on-ones today for the line, because that's what pads are for.
Brian Robison is a speedy guy, so it made sense that Phil Loadholt had some troubles, but I was still a little disappointed in what I saw. It was about even, which generally means it's a loss for the offense. During drills, Loadholt gave up enough pressure for at least one sack and one forced fumble, had it been a game situation (Robison pulled up both times).
On the other hand, I was surprised at how well Fusco handled Kevin Williams. While Williams bowled him over once, Fusco generally did a good job handling his own.
On the other hand, had I seen Fusco's performance with the assumption that he was an All-Pro guard, I would have been very disappointed. Our expectations drive our judgments, and Fusco performed about as well as a starting guard, but not a good one.
Letroy Guion was consistently stopped by Joe Berger, which is surprising in that 1) Berger is the backup center/guard and 2) that Guion was matched against him at all. He could generate no push against a journeyman who had about three good games in his career (all for the Vikings and all in 2010).
Christian Ballard popped and had a lot of speed, but Charlie Johnson effectively contained him, which is encouraging. Next to him, Matt Kalil and Jared Allen went at it, with Kalil preventing the outside rush but falling prey to Jared's inside moves. Overall a win for Jared, but Kalil's footwork was very good.
Brandon Keith played against Everson Griffen, and it was a fairly clear win for Griffen, whose speed has been a bit hard to handle for a number of the backup linemen. Same for Sharrif Floyd, who put some work on Seth Olsen.
Olsen looks like he's about to lose his spot as the second team guard for the reasons mentioned above, as well as the fact that he lined up against a lineman on the third defensive team (Floyd) in drills.
George Johnson took snaps against third team center Camden Wentz as well as second team guard Jeff Baca. While overmatched against Wentz, who struggled, Baca held his own.
Berger didn't just do well against Guion, but also flashed against D'Aundre Reed, who only made an impact in the final reps of the drills against an offensive lineman whose number I didn't catch (logically, it would be Tyler Holmes who moved to left tackle).
The final rep, however, was given to Lawrence Jackson, who absolutely dominated Troy Kropog. I have the feeling that Jackson and D'Aundre Reed are competing for the final left defensive end spot and that Jackson should be winning despite the fact that he lined up against the third tackle instead of the second. He's not, but I suspect that might change
I did mention above that things may look bleak for DeMarcus Love, but he at least looked good in drills against Collins Ukwu.
Of note, Anthony McCloud did a great job against the third string guards, and he's one to watch for. He has a more diverse moveset than a lot of UDFA defensive tackles, so he'll at least be interesting.
Jerome Simpson took the first reps I've seen him take at punt returner, which makes some sense given his speed, but was new nevertheless. He looked fine in the short amount of time they put him there, catching the ball a lot better than some of the returners who have spent time there.
Just as he was known to do, Simpson drew a pass interference flag in his favor down the field on one occasion, and generally looked OK. He's been able to get open deep against Robinson and Rhodes, although on at least one memorable occasion, Rhodes jammed him successfully (brought him to the ground). Robinson also played the ball well against him and generally Simpson has to work on positioning with the ball in the air. Regardless, he looked good and hopefully this is a sign that most of his problems last year were caused by injury.
Greg Jennings didn't spend a lot of time on the field, but he didn't have to. Seems like every day, he jukes a player in the secondary out of their shoes. He runs a clinic in route-running.
Cordarrelle Patterson showed off more of his speed, but didn't necessarily have a great day. It wasn't bad, but he had a dropped pass here or was completely covered elsewhere. In combo drills (three players in secondary, two receivers running routes) he looked a little better, but still needs to find ways to get open. His body should make that easy, but even a 5'10" corner was able to keep him corralled on occasion.
Jarius Wright had a fantastic day in camp. While I had mentioned once or twice that Wright was limited in which routes he could run and how precise he was, he looked on point today, even when he wasn't getting the ball. Of course, he finished with a highlight touchdown and that helps things. Three times he found himself unusually open, including the final touchdown catch where he faked a release inside and moved outside while cheating in to attack the ball.
For now, it looks like Wright is ahead of Patterson on the depth chart in three wide sets.
Joe Webb was pushed around a little bit today and had none of the highlights that marked his previous two days. He's been working on his release, that much is clear, but he can't sell his routes and defensive backs at camp have learned to either be physical or patient with him. Obviously, it's not a concern in the traditional sense, but any talk that Webb is ready to contribute or somehow less raw than the other receivers should be tempered. He also needs to work on body positioning.
Stephen Burton had a good day, despite being one of many to drop punts (more below). He found ways to get open, although the pass wasn't always directed at him or was poorly aimed. The highlight of the day was a deceptive lateral release that I heard George Stewart call a "switch release". At any rate, it led to an out-breaking route where no defender covered him, allowing him to catch and run in the TD. He caught a second TD in the red zone, boxing out the defenders to create exclusive real estate for the pass.
LaMark Brown looked better today than other days. I've been bagging on him for the past few days, and it's only fair I compliment him for adjusting to the defense in front of him and positioning well to catch a nice looking pass from Matt Cassel in the combo drills. That said, there were other times he struggled to get open on short routes. He's not really doing enough for me to think he deserves a practice squad spot.
I didn't see much of Adam Thielen, who had at least one highlight play in scrimmages, but also had some low moments. In one example, he ran a good route, but dropped a pass that hit him in the numbers. In his defense, the ball was flying far too fast. Still, it doesn't look good.
Thielen was also one of a number of punt returners to drop punts today. The fact that the ball looks like it's wobbling and flips end over end seems to make it difficult to catch (and track) and the only two to do it expertly were Marcus Sherels and Jerome Simpson. Webb also had good hands, making a catch behind the back of his head, grabbing on to the tip of the ball with his fingers. It didn't look like it was possible, but it's also a relative non-event given that this sort of thing is generally non-repeatable and he let the ball get behind him, which is more important.
I saw almost nothing of Rodney Smith, given how much attention I paid to the line drills. In special teams practice, he ran into Locke during the punt blocking drills.
I again didn't see much of Highsmith, but I wasn't looking at WRs today all that much either.
Adrian Peterson performed well, although it wasn't just because he is an all-world running back, as I noticed the linebackers looked a little out of position on occasion. On the other hand, he really has developed his game, and looking at his rookie season is almost looking at a different running back—his patience as a running back is striking.
Toby did well and showcased his speed (his Barnwell Speed Score is above 100 at 112, so it's not surprising that he has some legs) a little, but also got involved in the passing game. It was difficult to make gains and his blocking wasn't the greatest.
Joe Banyard is still getting the third team reps for the most part, although when Matt Asiata plays at halfback, Asiata looks much better. He's able to make more of his holes and consistently gain yardage.
I did not catch much of Jerodis Williams, but what little I saw looked better than Bradley Randle's attempts as a running back. He evidently caught attention for lighting Greg McCoy up (and deservedly so), but did not get it done in the running game. He'll need more than a good preseason game to move up the chart, so now is the time to turn it around.
Hahahaha James Vandenberg is really bad.
The Vikings also have other quarterbacks on the roster.
Christian Ponder did not have a good day. I would also argue he didn't have a terrible day, all things considered. While I stressed how bad his previous outing was, I do want to temper the poor results of this day of camp with a comment I indicated in my first notebook, which is that bad days are supposed to happen, and this is the type of bad day that I would be less alarmed by. The day before is not.
Warrior80 talked about this and the nature of practices as well, where you test your limits and put yourself in a bad situation. I'm not so sure that Ponder succeeded or did better than he was supposed to, given that he failed on two or three consecutive sets of downs to convert a single one before throwing a TD pass to Wright. At the same time, we saw more velocity on some of the passes, particularly the ones with the toughest angles and a better command of the pocket than in previous days despite the addition of blitzes.
Had he displayed this kind of pocket awareness during the regular season, there would be some problems. But this was the more excusable type of error, given how much less often and significant the errors were today. He did a very poor job moving the chains and could at best take advantage of defensive weaknesses instead of creating offensive space (not a reliable method of winning against NFL teams in the regular season).
So Ponder did not do well. But he did not do alarmingly poor. That said, more performances like this throughout camp are serious cause for concern, and any repeat of the previous day would deserve our ire.
Matt Cassel did not do as well as the numbers I've seen from camp suggest. They look very good, and perhaps an argument could easily be made that he did a better job than Ponder. It's interesting because different teams of units are at different levels of capability. The second team's offensive line is far weaker than the second team's defensive line, but the second team secondary could not match up well against the second team's receivers.
At any rate, Cassel threw some very good passes but was largely pedestrian. His deep ball was good as often as it was bad, but he did a better job than previous days on throwing the ball into traffic. He also benefited from defensive breakdowns. While that's not enough for a starter in the NFL, I think it's probably the best that can be expected of a backup.
This, for the time being, should not put pressure on Ponder.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson is exactly what the shorthand of his scouting report would suggest. Not enough touch, some fire and not the greatest decisionmaking. He threw an interception to Xavier Rhodes after reading the defense (and his receiver's route decision) incorrectly, but also threw a great deep ball.
I never seem to catch them, but what I saw looked good.
Rudolph is still tracking the ball well with sideline awareness and has already re-established chemistry with Ponder. Ponder knows when, where and how Rudolph likes to catch the ball and trusts him to get it.
John Carlson looked good, but nothing popped out at me except an instance where I appreciated his drive on a run block in 9s vs. 7s.
Rhett Ellison looked very good and involved himself with the 2s and 3s successfully, catching a few passes and generating yards. I did not see him lining up at fullback, but I suspect it happened.
I did not see Chase Ford today, but I did see Colin Anderson do well to catch a few passes and receive some praise from coaches. Not nearly as positive a day as yesterday, but good.
The depth chart as far as I could approximate it:
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
Covered in the offensive line section. Floyd should be moving up soon. Evans didn't look as good as I had hoped. Guion looked as bad as I thought.
Here's an example of the "W" Drill that I watched.
W Drill With Devin and Jason McCourty (via STACKVids)
Unsurprisingly, the McCourty twins looked a lot better at it than the linebackers I watched today, but I do have to say that Larry Dean was extremely impressive. He kept his toes pointed in the right direction, moved quickly and planted extremely well.
Michael Mauti looked a little more hesitant than I thought, even knowing he just recovered from injury. I attribute most of this to being unsure of instruction rather than fear of injury, etc. (many times the coaches were distracted by teaching other linebackers, and Mauti did not know whether or not he should proceed with the drill in progress). More importantly, I thought he looked a little slow and stiff in the "W" drill and that he needs some seasoning beyond his rehab to get back to playing strength.
Desmond Bishop's footwork could use some serious instruction, but improved even over the course of one day. I still don't think he has his assignments down, and it's something to watch. I doubt he stays on the second team, however, particularly because Marvin Mitchell didn't have the backpedal or the agility to keep up, I think.
Mitchell was also the linebacker I was most concerned about in 9s vs. 7s, so for now weak-side linebacker is an area of concern until (if) Desmond Bishop gets back to speed.
In coverage drills, Audie Cole had the most to work on, and kept allowing release on outside routes. I didn't note anything positively or negatively about Bishop but I have to say Henderson looked more than passable. In these drills, it is impossible to look "good" because linebackers are used in place of tight ends and are therefore not real tests.
Erin Henderson hits hard. No one was taken to the ground in live drills, but he was the most consistent about moving the tackling dummies and hitting hard when the practices allowed him to.
Chad Greenway was the best in the stack and shed drills and I did not watch him in coverage drills.
Each linebacker received a lot of instruction in keeping the facemask up during tackles instead of the crown. Of course, once they started doing that, they widened their base too much, and had to correct that. And then they had to change their necks to prevent injury.
It looks like new crown of the helmet rule will be pretty hard for tacklers to adjust to as well.
Reports from camp today seem inconsistent, but some say it was a good day for the offense. I won't take a stand on that specifically (see the section on quarterbacks) but I will say that the secondary largely did well.
Harrison Smith made no big mistakes and actually did a very good job in the combo drills. I'm not sure I saw an interception from him today, but good solid coverage. Worth recognizing even if I don't have a statbook for it.
I think the same can be said for Jamarca Sanford, although I don't think it was as solid as Harrison Smith's day, given one or two mistakes.
Robert Blanton needed to play with some better positioning, but I didn't note any major errors.
It looks like I didn't pay attention to the safeties very much, because I don't have anything on Brandan Bishop, Darius Eubanks or Andrew Sendejo. My initial impressions so far would put Sendejo ahead of Bishop, who is ahead of Eubanks.
As for the cornerbacks, Roderick Williams surprised me the most, given his solid coverage of the receivers he lined up against, including Cordarrelle Patterson.
I saw the most of Robinson, who for the most part did well, even breaking up a well-thrown ball to Jerome Simpson. He also made some mistakes and needs to consistently maintain leverage against wide receivers. I don't want to see him as a punt returner because of how long he takes to secure the ball. He juggles the ball too often.
I wasn't a big fan of what I saw from Greg McCoy, but I did not see much. Jacob Lacey looked good again, although his best play was against the convert, Joe Webb.
Xavier Rhodes still hasn't cracked the first team, although I suspect this won't be an issue for too long. His duels with Simpson were good to watch, sometimes losing to Simpson's speed (a short area route that ended up being an out with velocity to Ponder) and couldn't get position. At other times, his press was impressive, and he ruined the go route to Simpson by throwing him off the line and into the ground.
He looked great in tackling drills. Catching the interception against McLeod Bethel-Thompson was also a good play.
I didn't catch much of Cook. Sorry.
1st Punt Unit: Andrew Sendejo, Larry Dean, Marvin Mitchell, Rhett Ellison, Tyrone McKenzie, Brian Robison, Harrison Smith
2nd Punt Unit: Mistral Raymond, GeraldHodges, Christian Ballard, Toby Gerhart, George Johnson, Brandan Bishop, Matt Asiata
3rd Punt Unit: Michael Mauti, D'Aundre Reed, Zach Line, Joe Banyard, Chase Ford, LaMark Brown, John Carlson, Darius Eubanks
Those are without the gunners. The gunner depth chart, as it were -
1st Gunners: Bobby Felder and Josh Robinson
2nd Gunners: Jamarca Sanford and Marcus Sherels
3rd Gunners: Joe Webb and Rodney Smith
Of note here, I think, is Bobby Felder's spot. It could signal additional value that the coaches see in him and could lead to a roster spot. I didn't see Adam Thielen or Greg McCoy, which could be troubling for their prospects. Particularly because neither of them look like they could be punt returners.
1st Punt Return: Robert Blanton, Chris Cook, Tyrone McKenzie, Christian Ballard, Larry Dean, Marvin Mitchell, Rhett Ellison, Darius Eubanks, Andrew Sendejo, Josh Robinson.
2nd Punt Return: A.J. Jefferson, Mistral Raymond, Gerald Hodges, George Johnson, Audie Cole, D'Aundre Reed, Zach Line, LaMark Brown, Adam Thielen, Xavier Rhodes
I did not see a third punt return.
Random and Inconsistently Awarded Accolades
Bubble player of the day: No great candidates today, but I have to say I didn't see Roderick Williams get beat too often.
#90: James Vandenberg threw some puzzlers, and sometimes threw balls that no receiver could have gotten to, regardless of speed.
Eat Crow: I did not expect Jarius Wright to progress in route running so quickly. Looks like I was off on that one.
I Called It: Not sure I called anything today.
As Expected: Everson Griffen is one hell of an athlete
Step Up: Letroy Guion needs to be a better player, regardless of whether or not he ends up being designated the backup.
Pleasant Surprise: Jarius Wright has massively improved his route-running
Uh Oh: Nathan Williams seemed really frustrated with his recovery progress in the brief minutes I walked by it.
Sorry for the delay.