After being at Minnesota Vikings Training Camp for all of one day, I can say without a doubt that I have a definite opinion about each and every player on the offensive side of the ball. Oh, and the special teamers too.
I know, I know. That's a ridiculous statement. I could be at every single practice for the entirety of camp and still not be sure how I feel about certain players. Guys have good days and off days. Ups and downs. Sometimes you can't tell if a receiver ran a bad route or if the quarterback made a bad throw. Other times you can't tell if a lineman whiffed on a block or the guy next to him missed his assignment. Trying to break down the intricate game of football into handy one-off microcosms is an exercise in futility.
But screw it, I'm going to do it anyway! I spent nearly all of Thursday focusing on the offense. I watched position drills along with the 11-on-11 stuff and tried to make notes about every offensive player on the roster. Were a lot of them basically snap judgments based on way too small of a sample size? You bet your ass they were.
So why am I doing this "HOT TAEKS"* version of my impressions of the offense? Because far and away, the most frequent question I get on Twitter and in the Daily Norseman comments while I'm at camp is "How is [player so and so] doing?" Rather than try to address each and every question I get, I'll give you my rapid-fire response to every player I took notes on. Just a quick sentence or two, then boom, onto the next one.
Matt Cassel: Still getting most of the run with the 1's. Not really playing like he deserves to be there. Cassel made some excellent throws but he was alarmingly inconsistent Thursday, often missing badly on fairly easy passes.
Teddy Bridgewater: He probably had his worst day of camp Thursday, yet he was still the best quarterback out there. He threw two interceptions that both made him look like a rookie staring down his receiver a bit too long. (Although the pick Audie Cole made was a pretty great break.) What I liked the most: after each pick, his next pass was a laser right on the money. He's gonna make mistakes--how he reacts to them is what is going to set him apart.
Christian Ponder: Um, yeah. He's the third stringer. I feel bad piling on the guy at this point, so I'll just say this: Sam Ponder was at practice with their new little one in tow. She looked amazing (as always) and was still a good enough sport to pose for pictures with some very happy teenage boys at the end of practice. So at least Christian seems to have a heck of a family.
Adrian Peterson: Yep, still the best. Next!
Jerick McKinnon: His speed is incredible to see in person. As soon as he gets through the hole: whoooooooosh, he's gone. If he can learn to hit the right spot and make the right block in the passing game, he's going to be incredibly exciting to watch.
Matt Asiata: He was featured in the passing game more than anything and did pretty well with it. In fact, he was easily Cassel's favorite target Thursday. Still looks about the same as last year, but that should be good enough to find him a roster spot.
Jerome Felton: He's still a fine blocker, but he took an alarmingly low number of snaps. It'll be interesting to see where he fits with Turner's scheme. If he fits Turner's scheme, that is.
Zach Line: It seems like there's only room for one between Line and Felton, and it was hard to differentiate between the two so far. Definitely a position battle worth tracking through the preseason.
Joe Banyard and Dominique Williams: I probably spent the least time taking notes on the individual running back drills because I knew where everyone else in the group stood outside of these two. But that's OK because I can't see either making the roster. Banyard doesn't look like he has improved since last year and Williams did nothing to make himself stand out. Not good when you're at the end of the depth chart coming into camp.
Greg Jennings: Like I said in the interview earlier, he just makes everything look comfortable and easy-going. I think he's in for a big year.
Cordarrelle Patterson: It looks like he's coming back from his injury a little cautiously, but he'll still flash the athleticism here and there in practice (pun intended). I'm excited to see what Norv has in store for him.
Jarius Wright: Always flying around the field. At times it looks like he should reign it in on some of his routes, but overall I think he could take a big step forward this year.
Jerome Simpson: It kind of bums me out that Simpson hasn't been his usual loud and rambunctious self in camp this year. I understand why with the possible suspension looming over his head, but I don't think the new tight-lipped attitude suits him or his play well. Still waiting for his first "wow" play of camp, which is basically all he's known for.
Adam Thielen: The darling of camp thus far had sort of a ho-hum day on Thursday. I will say I love how he catches the ball--always at its highest point and with his hands in an absolute textbook manner. Let's hope he keeps up his impressive work this week.
Rodney Smith: Zimmer praised him by name this morning as someone who is coming on lately, and I can see it. He looks a lot more comfortable running his routes and catching the ball than he did last year, and I think the coaches have noticed his improvement as well. He could F around and actually make this roster.
Kain Colter: He seems to have the all the athleticism but his route running is real suspect. He got chewed out about it on more than one occasion Thursday. Weird, it's like he only caught 63 passes and played a lot of quarterback and running back at Northwestern or something.
Kamar Jorden: Yikes did he have a bad day. He looked lost on routes and had a couple bad drops in the drills. It makes me question why the team asked him back to camp this year.
Ty Walker, Erik Lora, Andy Cruse, and Donte Foster: Meh. I didn't see much either way out of this group because none of these guys got many snaps. With so many wideouts in camp ahead of them, I can't see any of these guys making it to the final 53.
Kyle Rudolph: You forget how freaking big Rudolph is out on the field because he makes everything look so smooth and effortless. And then you remember when he walks by you after practice and looks like an NBA power forward with Hamburger Helper hands.
Rhett Ellison: He probably won't ever catch 60 passes in a season, but he can line up all over the field and does everything he's asked to do well. He's the reason why the team will probably keep only one fullback and feel comfortable about it.
AC Leonard and Chase Ford: Both out with injuries (Ford's walking boot much more serious than Leonard's apparent headaches) so I obviously have to give them an incomplete. I hope Leonard is back soon because he sounds pretty intriguing.
Allen Reisner and Mike Higgins: I'm putting these two together because they were surprisingly similar. I thought the more experienced Reisner would easily have a leg up, but Higgins is hanging around and making a couple impressive plays here and there.
Matt Kalil, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Brandon Fusco, and Phil Loadholt: I'm bunching last year's starting five together because it certainly looks like they'll be this year's starting five, at least to begin with. The coaches love the consistency and there is something to be said about the cohesion of trotting the same five guys out there. The left side of the line (Kalil and Johnson) looked great in the drills, but struggled in the 11-on-11. It was the other way around for Fusco and Loadholt. As for Sullivan? Oh he's just fine thanks. Still the same top-tier center we know and love. Expect another very high PFF rating for him at the end of the 2014 season.
David Yankey: Many people thought he'd overtake Johnson in camp, but he certainly hasn't earned it yet. He's amazingly quick off the snap--he just needs to learn where to go off the snap more consistently before he can be a starter.
Antonio Richardson, aka Tiny: He walks around between drills like a top-heavy baby giraffe, but he's pretty damn solid once you snap the ball. He is literally a huge presence that doesn't necessarily need to move all that well to be effective.
Vladimir Ducasse: Vlad is a prototypical veteran backup. He might not be the quickest or biggest guy out there but his technique always seems to be spot on. He'll be great for depth this year.
Joe Berger and Jeff Baca: I didn't get to see a ton of them in the unit drills. They both looked just OK from the bit I saw (and heard) of them otherwise. A certain knowledgeable bearded blogger I know said he wouldn't be surprised if Baca doesn't make the team--something to think about.
Pierce Burton and Mike Remmers: These guys looked and played pretty similar in my mind, from their builds down to their reverse 76 and 67 numbers, respectively. Both had good footwork and decent technique but got bowled over pretty often against the bull rush.
Zac Kerin: Who? Exactly.
Kevin Murphy: He got beat around the edge a lot. That kinda seems like a problem if you're a tackle.
Austin Wentworth: If you look up "camp body" in the dictionary, you'll see a picture of Austin Wentworth. (Was that too harsh?)
Blair Walsh: He was bombing field goals of 45+ into a slight breeze with about 10 yards to spare. But what's new, right? I think he may have missed one field goal. But as Thorny said in Super Troopers: "That little guy? I wouldn't worry about that little guy."
Cullen Loeffler: He has one job. He's still good at that one job.
Jeff Locke: He didn't see much action on Thursday, so we'll just skip him. After all, haven't we all had enough punter talk for a while?
So there you have it folks! HOT TAEKS on all 46 offensive and special teams players currently in camp with the Vikings. I hope you all learned a little, but didn't read into it too much. See you Friday morning for another exciting day in Mankato!