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2015 Minnesota Vikings Training Camp Notebook: Day One

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There never is much to report on the first day of training camp, but you always find that it sets the tone for the fans and controls a lot of our expectations. I didn’t end up tweeting as much during the day as I have in past practices, and a big part of that has to do with how worrisome it is that one can set a narrative for a player early on in camp that becomes difficult to shake.

Remember Bobby Felder?

There’s a lot to absorb on the first day, but nothing more than the fact that it’s the first day. People intuitively know that the first day is a reason that we can ignore a lot of elements of the bad play from a lot of players as they settle into the system.

We can deaden our criticisms of performance because of the fact that not everything has been taught yet as well as the fact that we have such a small sample from which to base our observations (not to mention that we don’t have the opportunity to review practice film, as the Vikings front office and coaching staff get to do).

Something we don’t discuss and that’s also relevant: we should probably deaden our praise, too. Seriously.

It’s how we get our hyped Stephen Burtons and pre-Arizona Cardinals version of Jasper Brinkley. Pour one out for Rodney Smith.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t leading indicators of course. In 2013, Matt Kalil’s early-camp performance was poor, and that led to poor late-camp performance and we all (me included) dismissed it. Adam Thielen was strong early on, and did enough to make the roster. But for the most part, we can calm down.

Depth Chart

7-26-15 Depth Chart

A lot of movement around the depth chart, and the original depth chart I posted to Vikings Territory isn’t quite accurate in terms of how it played out over the course of the practice. As it is, here’s the most updated chart.

Notes regarding the depth chart: Things are not in flux, yet here we are—

B.J. Dubose has been moving around a lot. I’ve seen him on second-team defensive end, third-team defensive tackle, whatever.

The linebacker rotation has been pretty intense and difficult to suss out. Gerald Hodges has played both Sam and Will linebacker on the second unit, while Brian Peters has played Will on the second and third units. I have seen Josh Kaddu creep onto the second team as well.

The nickel units keep changing as well. The original nickel set had Barr and Greenway on at linebacker with Munnerlyn in the slot, but we got to see a few combinations, with Kendricks and Cole thrown into the first-team mix at times. The second-team nickel was a bit of a mad house, but we saw a lot of Kendricks, Hodges and Kaddu with looks from Peters as well.

Observations

Quarterbacks

I’m not sure how the Vikings are going to figure out the backup situation, because all three of those players do little to inspire confidence. They all showcase weak arms, to the extent that it’s a liability. Shaun Hill, the second quarterback on the depth chart, certainly had the weakest arm in camp and threw floater after floater.

Taylor Heinicke probably had the most arm strength of those backups, and perhaps the least anticipation. While all three had relatively alright ball placement, it seemed like Heinicke didn’t have a good gauge on what the limitations of his arm strength are. He had some misses that showed up in a big way during 11s.

It will be difficult for Shaun Hill to run a vertical offense, so if he ever has to step in a game, it seems like (so far) he will have to be relegated to underneath work.

Oh, you wanted to know how Teddy Bridgewater did? I guess.

There was some concern about some walkthrough interceptions. Ignore them. Forget they ever happened. They are walkthrough passes, which are not meant to be serious and are often thrown lackadaisically down the field at 1/3 arm strength. They are not real.

Bridgewater began the shells practice well, and it was clear that he had by far the most zip on the ball of the quarterbacks. It was good to see a combination of touch (his best throw was a touch pass to Wright with nothing but green in front of him—it arced over Munnerlyn beautifully, with perfect timing).

That early performance generally included good ball placement and solid anticipation, throwing receivers before the break and hitting them in stride. As practice wore on, Bridgewater showed issues throwing deep, generally overthrowing receivers like Patterson, Wallace and Johnson.

For the most part, I would categorize Bridgewater’s performance as neither discouraging nor encouraging. He may once again have to work on quickening his release as it didn’t seem as fast as it was at the end of the year, but it seems like he has more of a live arm than last year. His anticipation underneath is good, and he has good intuition for who will win battles.

His deep throwing was suspect, but at the very least safe, with no risky deep throws. It really would be nice if he fixed it, though.

Running Backs

Adrian Peterson is clearly glad to be back, and he put a little bit more enthusiasm into the practice than he probably should have. And of course, he slipped in the first walkthrough handoff. If there’s anything to take from his performance, other than the fact that he’s a live wire right now, it’s that his cuts still look sharp. Whether or not that means the same speed or power he had before, we won’t know until the Hall of Fame game.

The most interesting thing with regards to Peterson isn’t his performance, but his usage. His involvement in the passing game (and yes, I know it’s a repetitive story—how many offseasons have we heard about this?) is moving beyond shovel passes (there was one today of those, however, that was both brilliantly designed and completely blown up by Linval Joseph) and "now"-type screens on the edge.

Norv split fullbacks and running backs out wide on "12" and "21" personnel sets (that is one running back, two tight ends and two running backs and one tight end sets) last year, but they both invariable played some version of a screen. Now, Peterson is stemming routes off in the short or intermediate range from the edge. That’s not to say he’ll run a post route or anything like that, but he’s not running the bog-standard running back stuff, either.

Maybe we’ll finally see genuine involvement of Adrian in the passing game. Who knows?

After Adrian is McKinnon, and he didn’t see a lot of time on the field, though I liked what I saw. Much of his reps were at the returner positions, but he did move decisively and with what looked to be relatively good vision.

Matt Asiata showcased pretty good hands and did pretty well as a runner, too. In 11s, it seemed like his protection helped quite a bit. I didn’t catch much of Joe Banyard, but Dom Williams continues to surprise me with his agility. He never looks like the kind of person that can run with sharp, uninterrupted cuts. He moves with a lot of quickness despite what his build seems to imply. DuJuan Harris screwed up a pass blocking assignment, and though he had a moment of excellent agility, did not do a whole lot to impress.

Tight Ends

Without much pass-catching from Rhett Ellison (though his catches as an outlet option were fine), there were really only three tight ends to evaluate as it’s hard to see Brandon Bostick making the roster. Rudolph was largely who you expected him to be, not dropping a lot of passes and finding ways to work on mismatches. He didn’t get open in the same way as some of the more electric tight ends in the league do, but he won contested catches.

His best catch of the day was in 11s when he caught and retained the ball after Harrison Smith tried wrestling it away, a contest that started several feet in the air. He also did well in sideline drills.

Ford, as always, looked functional. While MyCole Pruitt finds ways to steal the show with highlight catches (and yes, he had more of them in camp today), Ford seems to provide reliability (a word often coded to mean "I could find nothing wrong, but he didn’t screw up visibly"), whereas Pruitt still needs help lining up and didn’t as consistently provide an obvious target, like Ford did.

Brandon Bostick was not extraordinarily impressive, but neither did he get too many reps. He certainly didn’t make too many mistakes, though Mauti’s pass deflection could have been contested a little better—a pass that never really should have been thrown in the first place.

Wide Receivers

Perhaps the most fun group to watch and therefore judge, there’s a lot I picked up on the receivers today (which means I’ll try to cover them less tomorrow)

Mike Wallace is the biggest name in camp, and though he did not look like the speed demon he was advertised to be (a relative term, of course—I say this in part because of how well Terence Newman and Xavier Rhodes stayed in-stride with him on deeper routes), he looked like a clean and sharp route-runner who knew how to get open on the few routes they worked with today.

The receivers in particular were determining how to run dig and go routes against differently leveraged cornerbacks—humping inside and underneath cornerbacks with inside leverage and those lined up head-on, while working more on head fakes against outside leverage. Wallace did a very good job with this and maintained his depth throughout the route.

Wallace’s hands were good for the most part, and though he’s not a particularly dominant receiver when it comes to catching in traffic, he didn’t have much problem with that today.

Charles Johnson had an up-and-down day. He did well to get open deep and had a good time tracking the ball, but had the occasional issue with a drop and had to re-run a few routes in individual drills. He’ll have to be consistent about maintaining the route’s timing while still earning separation.

Jarius Wright is someone who I’ve grown to like as a receiver but have criticized as stiff and somewhat at issue with in-breaking routes. I’d like to see more before I come to change that conclusion, but he did do well today against Trae Waynes cutting inside. He also had a different one-on-one with Waynes on a corner route that would have been an excellent highlight catch were it not for an errant foot on the sideline. I was too far away to see if this was a result of Waynes pushing Wright out or because of ball placement, but it is at least a strength of Waynes, so it makes sense.

Cordarrelle Patterson was tough to get excited about either way. There are many who say he’s running better routes now and I’d like to see more to get a judgment on that, but that seems to be the case, at least a little bit. He did get open quite often, but had a lot of issue with reeling in the pass. There were quite a few drops. He still had issues, despite his speed, getting open deep.

We’ll have to see how he does on his release, but I saw positives and negatives in that regard and for the moment am more willing to believe the negatives. Still, it should be noted that he won a few jump-balls, a weakness of his last year (against multiple defensive backs).

Stefon Diggs is an exciting receiver that’s grabbed a lot of attention for the Vikings and their fans, and the early returns are definitely positive. Diggs seems to be doing an excellent job carving up zones and sitting in spaces that are predictable for the quarterback but still exploit the defense. He too beat Waynes inside an a very well-run route that Waynes couldn’t do much about. He didn’t line up against Jabari Price or Xavier Rhodes all that often, but his time against Terence Newman seemed neither positive nor negative for either player. Diggs found ways open, but not in ways that defenses do not typically do and not for a lot of gain.

Diggs still has a lot to work on, and in particular needs to find ways to catch the ball that enable YAC, not kill it. He jumps for the ball too often or contorts his body unnecessarily, and it will hurt arguably his greatest asset.

The next-best receiver would be hard to sort out. While it’s assumed (safely) that Adam Thielen has the lead for the fifth or sixth receiver spot, he didn’t have a good day, also dropping a few passes and having some minor issues with his release.

Donte Foster doesn’t necessarily look all that bad, but he’s pretty slow and I’d be surprised to see him make the practice squad. He’s the only receiver that looked like he was laboring to get to the relatively easy speed provided in the drills. Still, he had a moment where he forced Sherels inside with a disguised route and broke outside quickly enough for Sherels to fall over. He had another moment where he competed with Exum in the air for a ball and lost.

Gavin Lutman had a very bad day, and had to repeat drills multiple times before succeeding. His route-running is odd and not in an effective way—he seems to leap a little bit to his plant foot before cutting inside, which is massively inefficient.

Jordan Leslie didn’t quite perform up to speed either, but not in a way that made me question his athleticism. He’s not getting the lion’s share of time by any means , so I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s playing a little bit slower just so he can be more easily integrated into the system. He had some issues getting the proper route depth but did have some good moments, including wresting the ball away from Robert Blanton in the middle of the field.

Local kid Isaac Fruechte doesn’t look like he’s going to make the team. Aside from drops and discipline errors, Fruechte doesn’t have a lot to offer. He needs to break better off the snap and hold on to the ball once he catches it—Waynes closed on him quickly enough to force a fumble or incomplete pass.

Offensive Linemen

There’s not much to report with offensive linemen. They’re not in pads nor is anyone going full bore. Except Adrian. One thing to note in terms of the depth chart above is that Zac Kerin and Tom Farniok were switching off snaps, so third/fourth is not much of a distinction at center.

Matt Kalil seemed to have looked good. He didn’t give up a ton of pressure, even against stunts. Fusco looked rock-solid. Berger gave up a little bit of pressure and had issue containing Linval Joseph on the run.

Sullivan and Loadholt were a little bit more difficult to evaluate, but it didn’t seem like Loadholt struggled too much. The offense in general was not well-prepared for blitzes, and determining responsibility at this point is nearly impossible.

Babatunde Aiyegbusi had a pretty terrible day, which is to be expected. Even against raw players like Danielle Hunter, the depth of his inexperience shines through. He had one bad false start and another play where he probably should have been called for one. Of the second and third-string linemen, the most notable performance may go to Tom Farniok, the third-string center, who pancaked (but not really) Chigbo Anunoby. Isame Faciane didn’t do very well, either, and had a false start as well as some pressures given up. If I recall correctly, T.J. Clemmings did not have an extraordinary outing, either.

Defensive Line

Like I said with the offensive line, difficult to evaluate, especially without pads or a proper view. The interior players—Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd—both appeared to play very, very well. On the edge, Everson Griffen was quiet, but Robison seemed more active and did a great job containing an end-around from Mike Wallace.

Naturally, given that Danielle Hunter went up against Babs in practice, it’s difficult to evaluate the actual talent that Hunter can bring to the fore.

Generally speaking, it seemed like an alright performance from a defensive line that confounded the run blocking of the offense and did a decent but not amazing job rushing the passer. Of the second and third-string players, it’s worth noting that Leon Mackey got the best of Austin Shepherd at least twice throughout the scrimmages.

Linebackers

Chad Greenway looked pretty good for the most part, reading keys well to find himself in the right places and blitzing well, too. He had a pass deflection and covered his zone with confidence. He did have one big mistake—getting sucked in on play action on a play, and biting hard. It luckily didn’t matter as Teddy was flushed out of the pocket (one could blame Phil Loadholt here, but either Teddy took too long or there was no one open).

On the second team, it seemed like both Audie Cole and Eric Kendricks were playing excellently and intelligently, and both communicated well. Edmond Robinson may have had the best day of all of them, as he rushed the passer with success, stopped passes to the flats, and met runners at the line of scrimmage.

Defensive Backs

I'd normally split this up into "cornerback" and "safety," but it was difficult enough as it is to evaluate the safeties, besides Antone Exum, who did an excellent job. Exum won 50-50 balls, forced errant throws and blitzed the quarterback and grabbed a high-flying pass deflection in process.

As for the other safeties, Blanton was not ideal in coverage and he suffered for it. Harrison Smith played an aggressive game, going for interceptions and rushing the passer if possible, but it sounds like he should have done what he did: hurdle.

Terence Newman does not look 37 years old. He seems to have many of the trappings of youth, but importantly he has the speed (for now) to make a difference. He's keeping up with the players in camp, even holding down sideline routes to Patterson and Wallace without giving ground. That kind of ability is valuable.

Xavier Rhodes did a good job as well, and his ability to keep up with receivers was barely tested by targets.

Behind the two starting cornerbacks are some surprising depth and serious talent. Trae Waynes is on the second team, as is Jabari Price. Price had an excellent first day, with only two passes that raised some eyebrows. The first was a tight end seam that was designed to stretch the response ability of the two deep coverage players; the other one was a deep throw to Adam Thielen, who juked him out of the play almost immediately (Thielen dropped it).

Price has been good, and he's been good against the better receivers in the camp; it's possible they keep him. He stayed in-stride with receivers going deep and physical enough to buy some intimidation on intermediate routes.

Trae Waynes is struggling a lot more in camp, having issues with interior routes and man coverage. Waynes has been more successful in zone coverage, but that's not really how the Vikings roll; they mix coverages and introduce some fairly new ones. Having the play develop in front of him may be his best bet. We'll see if the struggles continue.

Marcus Sherels didn't have a particularly great time out there either, getting deked out of his shoes on one play, with a defensive pass interference on the next.

There are obviously more defensive backs to cover and more detail to go into, but I did not do a very good job recording them (this time) to provide adequate analysis through that roster.

There are your notes!