It’s been a while since I’ve put together a complete notebook, a lot of which has to do with the fact that I was scrambling to clean house on some pre-camp obligations I had while down in Mankato. And then I kept on producing more material (watching football players practice) than I could type in one day. Hopefully this means that the notebooks come in more regularly after this recap.
This notebook is so long that I've decided to take to it publishing "live," which is to say that I'll hit the "update" button every time I'm done with another player so that you all can read what you want before the preseason game later tonight.
With about a week of camp in the books, we’ve seen some pretty significant differences in the way that Mike Zimmer runs a camp, at least compared to Leslie Frazier. The easiest reaction to this is to hail all changes as good and proof that the previous regime is clueless. I wouldn’t necessarily go that far, but some of the changes are at least refreshing enough to be optimistic.
There’s more emphasis on technique this year than there was last year. That is to say that you’re more likely to see Zimmer pull a player aside and go through footwork at the snap or sessions on the field with specific instructions on hand placement than you were in the previous regime.
That sounds like a good thing of course; a lot of the technical work involves tackling technique and changing how defensive backs play receivers—allowing Zimmer to focus on fixing an area of weakness from the defense last year and prep the defense for their new approach this year.
But that does trade off. That means fewer reps in individual and team drills to evaluate players and less time to work on schematic issues, something that’s important with a new scheme for the Vikings to learn. Some of this is ameliorated by the fact that there are slightly more reps in a practice session this year than last (a product of working quicker and sometimes having the 1s and 3s work at the same time) but it’s a conscious tradeoff that may pay off for the Vikings or bite them in the ass.
More than usual, this Vikings coaching staff is even more sensitive to the possibility of injuries derailing a season than even last year’s staff. Though the Vikings haven’t really had much of a problem in the past few years (compared to most of the league) with injury luck in training camp, but it seems like Zimmer doesn’t want to ride that line any more than he has to.
Conversations with a couple of players and members of the athletic staff have led me to believe that this is a particular focus this year, with nearly all of them saying that this year’s approach is "smarter" because of the schedule—more night practices and time off afterwards.
For now, aside from the superficial details about how much more Zimmer "rides players" and is more willing to use colorful language to get his point across, those are the biggest differences I’ve seen in the approach to training camp this year than the last two years.
And yes, he made all 90 players do pushups because of an offsides call, which is deliciously old school. I do not know how effective it is, but it makes for a phenomenal story.
Effective Depth Chart
QB: Matt Cassel, Teddy Bridgewater, Christian Ponder
HB: Adrian Peterson, Jerick McKinnon, Matt Asiata, Joe Banyard, Dominique Williams
FB: Jerome Felton, Zach Line
TE: Kyle Rudolph, Rhett Ellison, Chase Ford*, Mike Higgins, Allen Reisner
WR: Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright, Jerome Simpson, Adam Thielen, Rodney Smith, Kain Colter, Kamar Jorden, Erik Lora, Ty Walker, Donte Foster, Andy Cruse
LT: Matt Kalil, Antonio Richardson, Kevin Murphy
LG: Charlie Johnson, David Yankey, Jeff Baca
C: John Sullivan, Joe Berger, Zac Kerin
RG: Brandon Fusco, Vladimir Ducasse, Austin Wentworth
RT: Phil Loadholt, Mike Remmers, Pierce Burton
* I'm projecting Chase Ford were he to come back soon.
Again, receivers are listed in one order as there has been too much rotation among the three different receiver spots to create real depth charts at each individual receiver spot (Split End, Flanker and Slot).
The official unofficial depth chart lists Wentworth at tackle and Burton at guard, but this is not where they played at for most of training camp until the last two days. With many of the vets out, I did notice Mike Remmers in at guard for a brief period of time.
Jerick McKinnon is listed as the third running back on the depth chart as well, and has taken most of his reps there. But in the past few days, I saw more of him with the second team. It is worth pointing out that as of August 5th, Asiata did take more reps with the twos. Naturally, the situation is fluid.
Greg Jennings is listed as my first receiver but the WR2 on the Vikings' roster, with Patterson as the WR1. I wouldn't count the designations as anything regarding "spot" or place on the depth chart so much as role. I wrote on VT that it was a shorthand for designation:
The receivers are listed as "WR" instead of Split End, Flanker and Slot, but it's clear that WR1 is the split end, WR2 is the flanker and WR3 is the slot. Players have been expected to play every position and likely will as the season progresses, but for now there are some interesting overlaps: Greg Jennings, Jarius Wright and Kain Colter are both flankers and slot players, while Adam Thielen is a slot/split end player. There does not seem to be a split end/flanker crossover, so my guess is that WR3 is being treated like I treated the SCB at the bottom of my defensive depth chart.
Unfortunately, this is coming out after AC Leonard's release, but having not seen him on the field since the headaches struck it doesn't really change the notebook.
You've probably heard more about the quarterbacks than anyone else, so I can keep this section (relatively) shorter. Or not.
Matt Cassel is the presumed starter, but that doesn't mean he will be by Week 1 (or more importantly, Week 17). At camp, he's been a quick-strike passer who is more often than not making the correct decision and making it quickly. In addition to quick passes, he's been fine navigating pocket pressure and either sliding up or rolling away—though not a standout in either context, merely good. He has thrown from multiple platforms at different angles, though his throwing on the run leaves much to be desired.
Though he seems unlikely to replicate his performance against Philadelphia any time soon, he's had his moments. Unfortunately, they've been punctuated by poor play. Aside from what look like daily batted passes (usually from Linval Joseph, but a few from Sharrif Floyd, Isame Faciane and Tom Johnson come to mind), Cassel has been lucky to see dropped interceptions keep his "camp statistics" clean—Chad Greenway, Kurt Coleman, Marcus Sherels and Xavier Rhodes (twice).
To go with that, he's had his fair share of overthrows, and reporting them almost seems refrain. Perhaps as a result of those overthrows, he's elected to throw short instead of intermediate when the options present themselves. Whether or not this is by design or a habit of his, I don't know, but it's at odds with his relatively gambling nature from last season. For now, it's a little annoying.
The presumptive quarterback of the future, Teddy Bridgewater, has been fantastic in some areas, and of course has been worrisome in other ways. Starting off with what's been bothersome, his consistently high throws are cause for concern. I broke down what might or might not be causing the problem by discussing it with a number of draft analysts and experts in quarterback mechanics. I encourage you to take a look at it.
Suffice to say that the issue can cause problems with YAC, accuracy, creating completions and marginally increasing interceptions and so on. We'll see later tonight if that translates into a game environment, but it is one of two concerns I have with him so far. The second is that he is a little late getting the ball out, which is why his mechanics and process have been sped up anyway. He has been improving in that speed over camp, but it hasn't been resolved.
His decision-making for the most part has been on-point, and he's been throwing to open receivers, pushing the ball further downfield than either Cassel or Ponder has in practice given similar plays. He's a little bit more diverse in his receiver selection, too. In this case "pushing the ball further downfield" is a bit marginal, as most of his hits are still shallow crosses at a depth of about 6 yards.
He's been expert in navigating the pocket. He slides up well in response to "pressure," and has great footwork in the pocket. He consistently steps up in the pocket, and it doesn't seem like he's walked into a "sack" in camp. I haven't seen issues with his deep ball in camp, but there hasn't been a lot of those for me to get a good look.
When his passes aren't high, they're placed extremely well. Passes rarely are too low, behind the receiver or in contested space—he'll lead the receiver in a space exclusive to the receiver and not the defender. That isn't to say he doesn't throw contested passes; Derek Cox in particular has been able to take advantage of passes that seem open but aren't. He's made some rookie mistakes in some other contexts, too.
One of his Derek Cox interceptions is exactly like Charles Woodson's first interception of Christian Ponder; a defensive back that baited the rookie into passing into a window that was not as open as it seemed.
Again, this isn't to downplay his negatives; if he can't get the ball out quickly enough, he can't play in the NFL. If he speeds up his process, he's clearly the best quarterback in camp. But he hasn't done that yet, and if that alone is the reason Cassel starts over him, that would make sense to me as it is a huge part of the way the offense operates.
But for now, his decisionmaking in the offense is largely good, his understanding of the offense is good and he doesn't seem to have issues that look sustainably bad at this point.
I have never seen a more lackluster training camp from a single player than from what I've seen of Christian Ponder. There's no question that he's worse in camp than he was in camp the previous years, and even James Vandenberg's terrifyingly bad performance in 2013 didn't inspire this much dreary pessimism. Ponder doesn't seem to care, and he threw the worst throw I've seen in a training camp a few days ago, a pass straight to Captain Munnerlyn without any designs on a receiver.
Ponder is slow in his reads, lazy in mechanics and quick to revert to old habits without much recourse. He's even screwed up basic handoffs in walkthroughs. Normally, Ponder would be a great QB3 on any roster, simply because he's talented enough to be a QB2 on most rosters. In this context, I'm not so sure that that's even true.
Adrian Peterson is not taking many reps. He is a very good football player and seems to be proving it again. It is difficult to determine running ability in camp, so instead focusing on pass-catching and pass-blocking is worth it. It's clear that Peterson is learning a different pass-blocking progression and he seems to be picking up on the rules of the progression better than the other halfbacks. As for pass-catching, we may have more there than we thought. His first few days were extremely rough, but he's picked it up since then.
Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like we're seeing a lot of different routes with him—he's not Sproles or even Charles—but he's definitely not just involved in the passing game, but seemingly more skilled than given credit for. When split wide, it seems like they'd rather give him screens than anything else, but I have seen him involved in wheel routes, which is a blessing and was shockingly rare in the old regime. It doesn't seem like they want him to spend time learning route-running, because his route tree doesn't involve a lot of traditional route-running skills. That may change with new installs.
The new kid, Jerick McKinnon, is listed as third on the depth chart, but may see more snaps than Asiata because of the coaches' focus on situational packages. Aside from a first day drop, I saw very little that implied that McKinnon would necessarily be a poor pass catcher. Despite tiny hands that were possibly the smallest at the combine (8 5/8", as opposed to the average receivers' 9 1/2"—a huge difference), he's been able to reel the ball in. He looks the ball in, keeps his hands together, extends away from the frame and adjusts to the ball without having to change stride. It's a significant improvement over his technique at the Senior Bowl and that's encouraging.
McKinnon has had some issues with pass protection diagnosis, but unlike his abysmal draft season showing in pass protection has been holding up well from what I've seen, including a few impressive pickups in the Saturday scrimmage and the Friday prior. That said, we obviously need to see more.
As a runner, McKinnon has been explosive and fluid, and in the few times it's been tested, has exhibited unreal balance. His vision, as far as I can tell, has surprising patience and good decisionmaking. If so, he'll be a threat far sooner than I thought.
Matt Asiata has become leaner and more explosive, though still takes reps with the fullbacks on occasion, though the hope is he never takes a snap there. I'll never call Asiata fast, but he definitely looks faster here. Given what I didn't understand at the time was actually very good vision and extremely talented lane selection and decisionmaking, this might be a better player than people give him credit for. He probably has less power than before—hard to tell in camp—but he has continued to make good decisions at the line, something I didn't realize until recently I complimented him for last season when I argued he was the third-best back at training camp in the notebooks.
I haven't seen him tested in pass blocking, but he seems to be a poorer pass-catcher than Peterson or McKinnon, both from a drops and general technique perspective and certainly does less with the ball in his hands. He has a strong reputation for good pass blocking, though, and I expect that the Vikings are pricing that in.
Joe Banyard hasn't really stood out to me, though from what I can tell, his decisionmaking is not nearly as good as the other three running backs. He's certainly faster than Asiata and probably Dominique Williams, and his change-of-direction is very good as well, but he's too willing to bounce it outside and doesn't exhibit much patience in running lanes. He's a fine pass-catcher.
The small-school Dominique Williams in my limited estimation is better than Banyard. He's displayed more mature vision and though he isn't as agile as Banyard, is a more fluid runner that plays with less stop-start ability than Banyard but smoother change-of-direction. He is a fine pass-catcher as well, though probably not as good as Banyard. Both he and Banyard will fight it out in the preseason, but I doubt either of them can make the roster with the roster rules the Vikings will likely follow—three halfbacks and one fullback.
Of the fullbacks, it seems clear to me that Jerome Felton will win the job. As much as I love Zach Line, I think Felton has made fewer mistakes in camp and plays closer to a "true" fullback in the context of the Vikings offense. Though Norv Turner fullbacks (and he's had a fullback at the beginning of every season, but people forget that Chris Ogbonnaya had to switch duties because of trades and injury) are more involved in pass catching and running the ball than Musgrave fullbacks, their primary duty is still to block for the running back. In that sense, Felton is clearly ahead and nearly textbook. His approach is good, he squares up well and he has strong hands. He'll get inside his opponent's reach, so he's difficult to disengage from.
As a pass-catcher, I think he's been alright, but I think he could stand to attack the ball a bit better. His hands technique in general is fine, but the passes I saw him catch could have been corralled in better by extending his arms away from his frame. That said, pass-catching is natural to him, so it's not a huge concern though he isn't a big threat.
Zach Line hasn't had issues catching the ball or running with it in the few, few times he's had an opportunity to run the ball, but his blocking is surprisingly disappointing from what little I've seen. It is important to caveat that I haven't seen very much of it and that a low sample might be at play here, but the blocking I saw is technically sound from his waist up, but he doesn't angle himself into the block correctly or maintain position—which is very similar to what we saw of him in the two games he played last year for the Vikings. When he squares up to a defender, he's fine, but that's not a common enough occurrence to call him a good blocker.
His vision in camp is untested, but if it's anything like his vision during the season, it will be fine.
To be added.
To be added.
I've combined the OL and the DL into one subsection below the defense section. Big read.
Effective Depth Chart
RDE: Everson Griffen, Scott Crichton, Justin Trattou, Jake Snyder
NT: Linval Joseph, Fred Evans, Chase Baker, Shamar Stephen
UT: Sharrif Floyd, Tom Johnson, Isame Faciane, Kheeston Randall
LDE: Brian Robison, Corey Wootton, Tyler Scott
SLB: Anthony Barr, Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti, Dom Decicco
MLB: Jasper Brinkley, Audie Cole, Mike Zimmer
WLB: Chad Greenway, Brandon Watts, Larry Dean
Outside CB: Xavier Rhodes, Josh Robinson, Marcus Sherels, Derek Cox, Kendall James, Julian Posey, Robert Steeples
Slot CB: Captain Munnerlyn, Jabari Price, Shaun Prater
S: Harrison Smith, Robert Blanton*, Mistral Raymond, Jamarca Sanford*, Kurt Coleman, Andrew Sendejo, Antone Exum, Brandan Bishop
* Robert Blanton has been held out temporarily because of a hamstring tweak. Jamarca Sanford had a back spasm on Wednesday that should keep him out.
Linebackers are particularly difficult to evaluate in training camp in much the same way that running backs are. LB and RBs are particularly subject to needing film review because it is important to determine if they've made the correct decision. For LBs, this means aligning correctly, maintaining gap discipline and so on. Further, they don't get to hit in a real way in training camp, which is bothersome from an evaluation standpoint.
The primary linebacker who has been taking most of the first team snaps is Chad Greenway. You probably know my thoughts on how he has played in the last several years, but I saw good things in camp. In drills designed to work on shedding blockers, he had the best array of techniques, (relying on a bull jerk more than anything else) and has been in position as far as I can tell in the passing game. He's played particularly well in a crowded field.
Anthony Barr has made a number of great plays but is still raw from a technique perspective. Mike Zimmer has mentioned that Barr is misaligned a number of times and I can believe it. Still, he's flashed a lot of movement and agility when playing and has been far better in coverage than I anticipated. His block-shedding needs some work, but he does have surprising instincts, something I would expect he needs to develop even more. Barr has taken reps at defensive end, 9-tech linebacker and (for the vast majority of the time) the bubble-backer spot that the Vikings used to call the weakside linebacker.
That said, his instincts are still worrisome for me, simply because I am not sure they are starting-quality yet—that they've exceeded my expectations does not mean they're of a caliber to restock the Vikings' linebacker corps yet. What has me concerned the most is how well the offensive linemen swallow him up in run blocking.
The most difficult position to evaluate in camp from the angles that the journalists have is the middle linebacker. In this case, it means I don't have much to say about Jasper Brinkley, except to say that he's been getting off of blocks a little better than I remember of him—even knowing that run defense was a relative strength of his, he's shedding players like Sullivan and Felton better than I anticipated. That said, I haven't seen him in the backfield very often. The hope is that Linval Joseph is stealing all his plays in the backfield and that Brinkley is playing a cleanup role in that context (not unheard of, nor am unreasonable expectation).
I have not seen Brinkley tested in pass coverage, but he hasn't made a lot of plays in either the pass game or the run game. Further, he has done a better job in scrimmages than in drills of shedding blocks, which may point to sustainability issues.
The fastest riser as backups go is probably Gerald Hodges. He's been as good as advertised in coverage it seems, though he hasn't made as many plays as you'd expect, working more on maintaining depth and position when in coverage. Almost all of his reps with the first team come exclusively in nickel packages, and when Barr takes those reps, he'll be with the second-team in nickel.
Hodges' needs to disengage better, but he's clearly an athlete. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the plan was to use him as a safety/linebacker hybrid, as they've asked him to lose weight. It shows, as he moves with a lot of fluidity and can track the faster players on the roster.
Again, perhaps the most important things I can tell you about these linebackers cannot be evaluated—their instincts and ability to fit alignments with sound tackling is not something I have very good access to.
More to be added.
The only cornerback anyone can be sure of is Xavier Rhodes. The second-year player finished the year relatively strong for the Vikings and has been playing well in Zimmer's scheme. He's generally in position and has adjusted well to the ball in the air. His footwork in the new scheme has been top notch, and he's rarely in a position to be deked out of a play mid-route.
He's also dropped a few interceptions in camp, which is annoying, but at least he's been there to make a play on the ball. He's had a few instances of play where he's been taken out of the route, but for the most part his recovery speed is impressive.
The new scheme relies on a level of hip fluidity I'm still not sure he has, but it's working well for him and I don't see him getting beat often. When he does get beat, it's usually an extended route that carries him across the middle or over the top with limited space. Yes, it sounds ghostly familiar—a defensive back who's in position but doesn't make the play—but he's done a better job deterring throws than his failed former Vikings contemporaries and has put his hands on the ball to deflect it or gather it better than they have.
I look forward to how his press coverage has improved in camp with a rehash of the technique, as well as what it means that he can fully leverage more physical play in games like the preseason one against Oakland.
Perhaps the next player people are looking forward to is Captain Munnerlyn. A top ten slot corner from Carolina, he hopes to prove his worth playing in the outside, but only recently has taken snaps on the outside with any of the teams, much less the first team. In part, this is due to a small injury that kept him out of camp early, but it looks like he's caught up.
One of the few players in camp that can keep up when Greg Jennings is in the slot, Munnerlyn has done a good job of exhibiting high level footwork in space. CB is one of the few positions where being "flat-footed" is a good thing, and Munnerlyn has the hip fluidity and patience to read the play before committing, while still doing a good job of playing with reactiveness. That said, he can still lose his way and has been beaten over top and to the edge by receivers.
I haven't seen enough of Munnerlyn to really form a strong opinion of him.
The biggest surprise of the defensive back corps to me is Marcus Sherels. He's adapting well to new techniques, perhaps improving more than any other defensive back because of the coaching. That isn't to say he's the best or anything, but it seems like he has moved from being the marginal slot corner fans would worry about a year ago to a reasonable starter.
Something I hadn't noticed before noting that it seemed to be a critical physical requirement for outside corners in the system is Sherels' hip movement. He flips his hips easily and loosely—allowing him to give up inside leverage and cheat outside by opening the gate early without giving up an in-breaking route. It's pretty tough and a lot of the DB coaching in camp has focused on this specific ability, one that Sherels seems to have down.
What's most interesting is that Sherels has more than one interception against Cordarrelle Patterson and a few pass deflections. Naturally, a lot of these are on plays where either the ball was underthrown or it wasn't a height-relevant play—closing in on a leading ball over the middle on an in-breaking route—but it's still impressive that Sherels has the ability to make these kinds of plays. His awareness in route seems to have improved dramatically, and he can finally use his closing speed to make plays.
I won't say I'm sold on him yet, but I think the arrow is pointing up.
The player I've mentioned most in my tweets has been Derek Cox, who right now is mired on the second team, but shouldn't stay there for much longer. He has recorded a number of pass breakups and interceptions in elevens and sevens. His recovery speed is extremely impressive—once losing Rodney Smith, who played a bad route, before closing in on the ball to make the deflection.
This of course underscores the problem. When Cox was complimented in a press conference, Coach Zimmer took care to point out that Cox has had some technique issues that are holding him back, and that the ability to make plays isn't necessarily indicative of good, sustainable play. He's let receivers go and he's had some issues in transition.
Regardless, I haven't found Cox too out of position that often, and he does a fantastic job battling for the ball in the air, as well as baiting quarterbacks to throw. It seems like right now that he's his Jacksonville self instead of his San Diego self. I've reached out to a few San Diego football natives about whether or not he was very good in training camp before his dumpster fire of a season there, but I think there's reason to be excited.
To be added.
Line Battle (Offensive and Defensive Linemen)
Brian Robison has had a good three days. After some initial issues in pads getting around Phil Loadholt in drills and scrimmages, he's been explosive off the edge and does a good job consistently getting off the tackle into the backfield, without having to worry too much about overrunning the play (though this has happened from time to time). The general rule of thumb for getting to the quarterback is that hitting a sack on one of every 20 passing plays means very good pass-rushing play, and Robison has been doing a good job of that so far.
As of now, he's relying more on speed than technique and power to get to the quarterback, but he's been supplementing that with dip and a standard rip-and-dip move. It would be interesting to see him try to power through Loadholt instead of just getting around him, but there's a reason he chooses the other approach.
Despite all this, I wouldn't characterize Phil Loadholt's camp as "bad" so much as "not up to standard"—a standard he's set for himself with the past two years of play and his healthy contract. In run blocking drills and in games, he's displayed his usual impressive drive, and continues to win angle blocks and straight-ahead road grading. A false start on Day 6 brings in mind the penalty problems he's had nearly every year, and hopefully he gets out of it soon. for what it's worth, the false start came on one of the few reps with Teddy at the helm instead of Cassel, but that's not an excuse.
The defensive linemen tend to be ahead of the offensive linemen early in camp, so expect him to tighten up his game.
Though not playing as explosively as Brian Robison these past couple of days, Everson Griffen has been playing extremely well regardless. He hasn't quite been hitting the one-for-twenty rule, but still showing very good signs as a pass-rusher against Matt Kalil. Unlike Robison, he's using a wider variety of moves to get to the quarterback, sometimes powering through the tackle, sometimes clubbing inside and occasionally letting his acceleration give him the advantage on the edge.
Sometimes, it's easy to notice that Griffen's arms aren't "ideal" in terms of length only because he can't lock out properly and add to his pass-rushing reportoire, but it hasn't really been an issue yet.
Unlike Loadholt, I would characterize Matt Kalil as having a troublesome camp so far. In drills, it seems like he's improved his technique in the run game, as well as his power. Per his struggles last year, he's still getting beat inside more than outside (which may explain why Griffen is using a wide array of moves) and isn't holding on to his run blocks as well as he should.
Hopefully this isn't a sign of a repeat performance, but rather another indication of OL being behind the DL.
Also displaying both power and speed is third-round pick Scott Crichton. He's mostly been matched up against Antonio Richardson, and it's been a good battle. Crichton has played inside on some nickel downs, but has shown a lot as an edge rusher as well. In one-on-ones and in play, Crichton has frequently found his way into the backfield.
He's not playing with as much speed as the starting ends, but he hasn't been any less effective because of it. So far, he's played run/pass diagnosis fairly well, though not as well as the starters, and does a good job maintaining gap integrity to bring down the ballcarrier. Running to his side has been fairly ineffective for the second team.
He's lined up opposite Antonio Richardson, who—like Loadholt—doesn't look worse for Crichton's good play. When lined up in one-on-ones against other defensive ends, Richardson does a good job locking down the edge rushers. When lined up against other tackles, Crichton has had consistent and frequent success. Against each other, the battles are a bit more even.
On the other side, Corey Wootton has been doing well, rounding out a significantly talented defensive end group. Though not an impact starter, Wootton has been able to make plays on the edge, doing a better job of containing the run more than anything else.
That said, I think much of Wootton's success has to do with Mike Remmer's struggles at tackle. My hope is that someone steps up to replace Remmers, though I'm not necessarily confident of the tackle depth beyond Tiny Richardson. He's been worrisome not just in pass sets protecting the quarterback, but also as a drive blocker. he isn't generating much pop in the run game, and seems to be missing out on technique, as well.
Justin Trattou has been better than I expected, and largely seems to be getting to the runner or passer with speed. He also finds a way to create space despite lacking, at least in a traditional sense, arm length. Locking out works well for him, and he can use a one-arm stab to control the offensive lineman and read the play. He's a more than adequate third-string end who has been effective against both sets of offensive plays.
I've seen very little of Jake Snyder, Tyler Scott and (before he got waived) Rakim Cox. None of the three had been able to get past the third string offensive tackles with any real regularity. Cox has the most speed and it seems like the most power, and Snyder is relying on flexibility he doesn't seem to have. Scott simply gets bottled up. That said, Cox hasn't been maintaining lane discipline and saw his reps decrease over time in favor of Scott.
Opposite them are Pierce Burton and Kevin Murphy. Of the two, Murphy has been the better tackle. His pass blocking has improved considerably since 2012, and his footwork allows him to get to the edge and contain the rusher. He mirrors well with his feet and loses the handfighting battle significantly less often than he did before. That said, he's not a starting quality tackle and seems to lack the strength necessary to consistently make plays, especially in the run game. He has to work on body positioning and angles, too. He's won more than lost his OL vs. DL drills, but that's not saying much.
Burton is behind on his technique and gives up far too much as a result of error. Error is more correctable than strength or speed, but it's still a reason he'd be behind Murphy in any competition to hold on to a spot. I wouldn't argue that his speed in camp has been anything to be impressed by in camp, and though he has done a decent job against power moves, he doesn't have the power at the POA to consistently hold up against the run, especially not when compared to those above him on the depth chart.
On the interior, John Sullivan has looked better in camp thus far than he had at this point last year and better than his worrisome play from the beginning of 2013 would imply. Hopefully, that's a signal. His angles and blocking technique are excellent and he does a good job peeling off of double teams to hit linebackers at the next level, all while moving his legs to sustain his blocks. He's had issues with Linval Joseph, as have Brandon Fusco and Charlie Johnson. The hope, of course, is that Joseph doesn't represent the typical nose tackle the Vikings will have to play against in the coming weeks. Against other defensive tackles, he's generally done a fine job and is doing a very good job in individual drills.
Brandon Fusco has entered camp with higher expectations than before and is playing like it. There are technique issues he still has to get down, but generally speaking, he's handled himself well. His run blocking is strong, but he can be controlled a little bit more than you'd like from an offensive lineman. He could stand to generate more power with a straighter back and he needs to be more cognizant of block-shedding moves form the defensive tackles. In pass protection, he'll usually win the first second after the snap, but may fall prey to second efforts from Linval Joseph, Sharrif Floyd and Tom Johnson. Quickness still seems to be a skill that gives him trouble.
I can't say I've been too impressed with Charlie Johnson, though it would be disingenuous to argue that Linval Joseph has been generating most of his pressure by playing through him than through the other offensive linemen. Up to this point, I haven't seen an issue with him in run blocking, but he seems to be doing a poor job keeping set in pass protection, and there has been some quick pressure up the middle.
They've largely been going up against Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd. Floyd is looking better than he did last year, perhaps as a result of losing weight and gaining quickness. He seems to be making plays on a semi-regular basis and making the most of his sophomore year. Right now it doesn't feel like he's the same player that many projected to go in the top three picks of the 2013 draft, but he certainly seems to be coming into his own as an impact starter at 3-technique. He did get the best of Charlie Johnson in one of three attempts he was given in ones.
Joseph is looking fairly incredible and may be having a better camp than anyone else. Not only is he getting a batted pass against Matt Cassel every single day, he has very good backfield penetration and seems to be making plays in the running game (hard to tell without tackling) and in the passing game, notching up a touch sack in nearly every practice.
There is something to be said about Joseph losing some one-on-one battles, though, something he did early in camp against Sullivan twice.
Tom Johnson is showing more than I thought he would, as I didn't expect him to be a very good player coming off his New Orleans Saints campaign. But he's more than proven his worth (he was signed to a minimal one-year contract worth $845,000) so far with solid play from the three-technique position. I haven't noticed his play much against the run, but it certainly seems like he's producing pass-rush pressure. He beat Fusco in the one-on-ones I saw last week, but lost to David Yankey.
On the other hand, I haven't seen much of nose tackle Fred Evans, a player who has constantly been a backup for the Vikings and never a starter at nose tackle. This may be the first year, however, that he deserves to be the backup. Certainly, it doesn't seem like he's putting in the kind of production at camp that Joseph is and may even be performing at a level below the nose tackle behind him on the depth chart (albeit against a better line). He's been relatively quiet with not much in the way of positive play, but no obviously negative play either. He did beat John Sullivan in the one drill I saw them line up against each other recently, but lost to Fusco.
They're up against Joe Berger, Vladimir Ducasse and David Yankey. Of the three, the biggest underperformer is surprisingly David Yankey, who's having issues leveraging his strength into pass protection ability, but is doing a fine job in general in creating good running lanes and drive blocking in drills. There is a difference between his play in one on ones and in the evening scrimmage, where his awareness allowed him to pick up plays others would not have. His play in one-on-ones hasn't been all bad. He was clean for a few days, and one of the days I was able to pick up on two distinct drills—one against Tom Johnson and the other against Isame Faciane, both of which he won.
Ducasse so far doesn't look like he did in New York (a good thing), but neither does he seem like someone who is fulfilling his vast physical potential. Ducasse is a dark horse to be a surprise inclusion on the roster. He won his one-on-one matchups, one of which was against Isame Faciane. Joe Berger isn't standing out one way or the other either, but seemingly is continuing his role as a solid backup who can slot in at any moment without an enormous dropoff. He's driving people off the ball in the run game in a way you don't typically see from centers and his ability to keep the pocket clean has sustained itself, evidently, at this point in his career.
Behind them are Zac Kerin, Jeff Baca and Austin Wentworth. Kerin hasn't shown the drive he had at Toledo, but is flashing in individual drills and even took some reps away from Joe Berger. Though I have no ability to discern line calls, but I have not been impressed with how the third team interior line has held up—though Kerin himself is holding up fine. In individual drills, he won both matchups I saw, one against Shamar Stephen and one where I didn't catch the other player.
Baca won both of his matchups last Thursday, but since then hasn't been doing as well as Kerin or Ducasse. He's been driven back into the quarterback on more than one occasion and seems to contribute to his fair share of missed assignments.
Austin Wentworth has taken a scant few reps at tackle that have been pretty bad, but his play at guard has been alright. He did not do particularly well in the one-on-one matchups I saw, but did a better job against players in live scrimmage than Baca did. At this point, I would not expect Wentworth to make the roster, but he might turn out to be a better guard than Baca.
They've gone up against a rotating corps of Shamar Stephen, Kheeston Randall, Isame Faciane and Chase Baker. Shamar Stephen is a player I did not do a very good job of tracking. He has had some issues penetrating (and in fairness, he's playing as a nose tackle) and his run defense hasn't been stellar. He didn't have much play in one-on-ones and it wasn't particularly good—getting stonewalled by Zac Kerin. Still, he has been in on a play here and there and gets to the sideline with surprising speed, so he's worth a look.
Kheeston Randall is a familiar face for Mike Zimmer, having played for him in 2013. That doesn't seem to grant him extraordinary advantages, however, as I haven't seen enough out of him that in my mind stands out as either disappointing or exciting. I didn't even log him in the one-on-ones. Most recently his last two days have caught my eye with a play or two, but nothing to get up for.
On the other hand, backup three-technique Isame Faciane is one of my favorites. He initially caught my eye when reviewing his play to construct the training camp guide, and he's stuck with me since. His handfighting on film was extraordinary, and he continued that in camp, with the addition of above-average strength for his position and a particular viciousness in his game. At Florida International, he was a nose tackle but with the Vikings, he's listed as a three-technique with the likelihood of being the kind of versatile DT that Chase Baker was last year, playing both UT and NT positions in the defense. It took him a little bit of time before flashing in camp, but he's been good in the past few days-as opposed to the first set of DL/OL drills, where he couldn't get past David Yankey or Vlad Ducasse. Since then, he's been a terror in individual drills and a difficult player for the third offensive line to deal with, even making splashes against the ones when given a chance.
Chase Baker doesn't look like the player I thought was an intriguing developmental guy last year, and that may be because the DL has different talents and are overshadowing him. Part of that may be because I am unfortunately missing out on seeing him.