It sure felt like a Monday today.
Maybe it was because the Vikings usually have Sundays off during camp. Maybe it was because I got up and left for Mankato the same time I usually leave for work. Or maybe it was because the Vikings eased back into practice like most of us ease back into the work week on Mondays.
I wouldn't say that the Vikings had a full-on case of the Mondays on Sunday, but the first practice after their preseason game against the Houston Texans resembled how must of us we come back to our day jobs after the weekend. Slow, steady, just sort of going through the motions and getting re-acclimated to the daily grind. In fact, Jared Allen and some other defensive linemen moseyed onto the practice field about 10 minutes late for the morning session, prompting a sarcastic cheer from the offensive unit.
Thankfully we all eventually get over the painful start of our work weeks and back to our normal functional selves. The Vikings were no different--there was plenty of good football being played after looking rather lethargic early on. And after a rather lethargic start to this post, I'll give you my notes on everything I observed from the sidelines in Mankato on Sunday.
[Disclaimer: If you're expecting an 8,000-word opus complete with fancy graphs, sabermetrics, and detailed depth charts of the fourth-string punt team like most of Arif's posts from training camp, you're probably going to be disappointed. I have some pretty thorough observations on the offense today (I watched them while Arif looked at the defense Sunday afternoon) but the rest of my takes are of the 10,000-foot variety. I'll leave the posts that leave you saying "Wow, how is this guy not a scout or personnel guy for an NFL team yet?" to the master, Arif. But hey, at least I took some fun Instagram videos!
Oooooooooh. Now enjoy the rest of my notes.]
Let's cover who was and wasn't on the field today. Top Vikings draft pick Sharrif Floyd didn't participate today and had an MRI on his knee. The knee was more sore on Sunday than after the game on Saturday so the training staff took a closer look at it. Thankfully Floyd says it's "nothing to be scared of" and it doesn't sound like he'll miss any significant time. Fellow defensive lineman Christian Ballard was also held out of practice due to some soreness but that didn't sound serious either.
The timetable for the return of Jacob Lacey is a little more significant. Leslie Frazier said that the cornerback will miss 2-4 weeks after getting his knee scoped. Fellow DB Brandan Bishop was ill on Sunday but it didn't stop him from suiting up for practice. Xavier Rhodes and Desmond Bishop were also full participants after suffering some bumps and bruises earlier in camp.
The only other injury of note caught us by surprise. Audie Cole sat out the afternoon session with an ankle injury. We haven't heard anything about the extent of the injury yet. I did see Audie lining up for a couple morning walk-thru defensive formations so I'd be surprised if it was too serious.
Jack Handey Eric Thompson
I'll get to what I thought of individual players in a bit, but here are some random observations I made throughout the day in no particular order:
- It's funny to think that Adrian Peterson is probably working a lot less as a full training camp participant this year than when he was rehabbing last year. Instead of tirelessly running hills with a weight sled attached to him, AP is just waiting in line to run drills like the rest of his teammates this time around.
- Matt Cassel seems taller in person than he looks on TV for some reason. I have no idea why that is; he's only 2 inches taller than Christian Ponder and the same height as McLeod Bethel-Thompson.
- The depth charts on either side of the ball were pretty tough to read at times. The coaches mixed personnel up quite a bit during a lot of the drills.
- The Vikings shuffled their formations around a bunch as well. Among the highlights of quirky formations I noticed:
a) A four-wide shotgun set with tight ends John Carlson and Kyle Rudolph on the outside, Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson lined up in the slot, and Peterson in the backfield;
b) A three-wide set with Jennings in the slot and Jarius Wright at the Z position; and
c) An unbalanced line formation where Phil Loadholt went in motion and lined up directly to the left of Matt Kalil. Unless I'm mistaken I think Loadholt would have to report eligible for that kind of play; maybe something that could be useful or tricky in short yardage and goal line situations?
- I know a lot of people were freaking out on Twitter and the game thread Friday that the Vikings' new jerseys looked blue. After seeing them in person, I can assure you that they are the perfect shade of Vikings purple. I don't know what about the TV broadcast makes them look bluer, but they aren't. As for the helmets and jerseys not completely matching, that's true but not quite as pronounced as it looked on TV. The matte finish on the helmets makes the shades of purple look different, but it's not like the helmets and jerseys were an exact match before the new uniforms either.
- Another uni-related tidbit: the Vikings are still rocking the old white pants from last year in Training Camp.
- I forgot how frickin' hard it is to keep track of 90 players over the course of 3+ hours of practice, especially when some of them have the same number. (I mistakenly tweeted about Brandon Keith and Travis Bond right after I started coverage this morning. Turns out it was their defensive numerical counterparts, Anthony McCloud and Everett Dawkins. Whoops.)
Fortunately I was able to keep track of who was who long enough to take some detailed notes about the offensive side of the ball. When the afternoon practice split in to offensive and defensive drills, I took the offense while Arif covered the defense.
"Accurate if not adventurous." That's how I described the quarterback play in a tweet and it fits rather well for the performance of Ponder, Cassel, and MBT. (I guess I should include James Vandenberg here too, but James Van Der Beek has a better chance of making the team at this point. "Playin' football in the Metrodome was your dream Daddy, not mine. I DON'T WANT...YOUR LIFE.")
All three Vikings passers looked more crisp and accurate on Sunday, but none of them took a ton of chances down the field. Check downs were the norm in nearly every drill. There were a few flashes of brilliance including some nice long seam throws by Ponder and a couple solid sideline touch passes by Cassel. I want to see more of those in the coming days before I upgrade my evaluation from "definitely competent" to "noticeably improved".
To be honest with you, I really don't have much to add that Arif hasn't already said throughout the past ten days. There weren't any changes with the depth chart. Barring injury, your starting five will be Kalil, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Brandon Fusco, and Loadholt. They're a solid unit that should only get better with the continuity they're building.
If there is an injury, the Vikings could be in a bit of trouble. The second unit played pretty well during running plays but they still aren't doing Cassel and MBT any favors during passing drills. DeMarcus Love, Travis Bond, and Troy Kropog all stood out for me in a bad way, much like they did on Friday against the Texans.
Adrian Peterson is the best. That is an undeniable fact. Moving on...
Bradley Randle is the poor man's version of Darren Sproles. He's tiny but incredibly quick. His blocking could still use some work--running backs coach James Saxon had Randle and Jerodis Williams redo a couple of the pad blocking drills to emphasize better technique.
I watched most of the RB drills from about 3 feet away. The sound that Jerome Felton makes when he hits things is just...louder than the other backs. Getting blocked by the Vikings Pro Bowl fullback has to just suck.
Toby Gerhart continues to go mostly unappreciated. All he does is work hard, make smart decisions, and get completely overshadowed by AP. You have to respect how he goes about his business while knowing that he'd be doing a lot more if he was on any other team.
Zach Line is a great story and it was fun to chat with him about his big day after practice on Sunday. However, he's still not getting a ton of reps at any position in the backfield. Line is obviously making the most out of his chances but he knows that he still has an uphill climb on the depth chart.
Speaking of not enough reps...Joe Banyard everybody! I honestly didn't see enough of him to form much of an opinion either way.
The standout of the day had to be Stephen Burton. I'm definitely not the only one that noticed: Judd Zulgad wrote a piece
about him on Sunday along with a few other beat writers. Maybe his performance against the Texans flipped a switch in Burton; maybe he's finally grasping the offense better in his third training camp. Perhaps it's his noticeably leaner physique. Whatever it is, it's working for him now. Burton looked unstoppable on intermediate and crossing routes all day. He was getting open at will. He made the proper adjustments when passes to him weren't right on point. If Burton keeps this up, I don't see how the coaching staff can leave him off the final roster.
Cordarrelle Patterson had an impressive game on Friday; seeing him in person was no less striking. He's incredibly strong and agile yet always in control of what he's doing. He consistently attacks the ball at its highest point. But he isn't perfect by any means--Rhodes and other DBs knocked Patterson off his routes a little too easily on press coverage in 11 vs. 11 drills.
Greg Jennings and Jarius Wright seemed to have a pretty light workload on Sunday so it was tough to thoroughly evaluate their performance. Then again, it's not like anyone is really worried about those two. Jennings seems to have integrated seamlessly with his new team; he was constantly chattering with teammates when it wasn't his turn on the field.
Joe Webb was running some crisp routes, but I didn't see many passes thrown his way outside of one dazzling catch he made in 1-on-1 drills. He looks like just another guy when he doesn't get the opportunity to showcase his athleticism.
"Just another guy" is an excellent description of Chris Summers, Erik Highsmith, and Rodney Smith. They really appear to be roster fillers at this point. One guy I expected to join that group was LaMark Brown, but he actually had a really good day. No, that's not a typo. I really mean it. Brown had a noticeably excellent day of practice. He didn't get particularly good separation but he was good at going after the ball. He caught a ton of passes on Sunday. I'll be watching him Monday to make sure he isn't a one-day camp wonder.
Which leaves us with one of our cult heroes of Vikings Training Camp, Adam Thielen. He made a great leaping grab to get the oohs and ahhs going from the bleachers. Unfortunately for all his new fans, I still don't see him making the team based on the low amount of reps he sees in practice.
It was a pretty uneventful day for this group with all the wacky formations that the Vikings were trotting out. Kyle Rudolph is still a cut above the rest, but it was promising to see John Carlson get so many looks in practice. Rhett Ellison seems entrenched in his H-back/special teams role. As for Colin Anderson and Chase Ford? I had to look them up on the roster to make sure I wasn't missing any other tight ends. That should tell you how little of an impact they made.
That's all I have from my notebook for now. Stay tuned for much, much more on Monday and Tuesday as Arif and I continue to provide coverage straight from Mankato. We'll be tweeting up a storm at @ArifHasanDN and @eric_j_thompson respectively.