It was hot and muggy in Mankato on Monday afternoon for the second full day of Minnesota Vikings Training Camp. This is not a complaint; I am a firm believer that Minnesota residents should never complain about weather that is warmer than room temperature. We only get a few precious moments of summer every year and we should enjoy it.
Similarly, I only get a few precious days to cover camp every year as a pseudo-journalist, so I know how to appreciate the fleeting moments I get to cover our favorite football team up close and personal. But the bonus this time around is that you get to enjoy the coverage even more. As I mentioned in my Monday morning recap, I brought a photographer along this year. And our guy Thad Chesley did not disappoint. Here's a gallery of some of our favorite shots that Thad took throughout the day on Monday. Take your time to look through everything. Don't worry, I'll wait.
Amazing stuff, right? We're truly privileged to have Thad contribute to our coverage. Now if you're expecting analysis to match the photography...
Let's get started with some general notes and tidbits about the Monday afternoon practice:
- The Vikings broke out a new fashion wrinkle I hadn't seen before: yellow numbered vests on special teams drills in addition to the "shower cap" helmet toppers that we see throughout training camp. The numbers didn't coordinate with the players wearing them, making personnel tracking incredibly difficult. (And if you didn't fall asleep reading this thrilling update, I promise they get more interesting!)
- Marcus Sherels, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Stefon Diggs all traded reps at kickoff returner early in practice. All three looked solid but Diggs really stood out. He was incredibly fast with his cuts through the first line of defense; he makes shifting into high gear look completely effortless. I can't wait to see Diggs in live game action.
- Joe Banyard, DuJuan Harris, and Adam Thielen all got a few looks in simulated punt returns. Jerick McKinnon was also there early but left the drill to take handoffs with the other running backs. Harris had a bad drop on a return, but other than that he and everyone else involved looked smooth and confident in their returns.
- A fun moment that helps show how much more comfortable Teddy Bridgewater is this season: as Arif and I were snapping photos with our phones, Bridgewater jumped out in front of us and pretended to interfere with our view. I'd say Teddy is playing loose so far.
- As for Bridgewater's play, he didn't have a perfect day throwing the ball but showed improved zip and touch on his passes. He missed high on a couple passes early, most notably on a crossing route to Charles Johnson when he was under a bit of pressure from the defense in 11-on-11 drills. But he settled in and made some great throws after that, including a perfect rainbow of a deep ball to Johnson that dropped in over Harrison Smith and Terrence Newman. The crowd really appreciated that one.
- Norv Turner has talked about emphasizing the inside run more this year, and the practice reflected it. All offensive units ran plenty of plays between the tackles mixed in with some short passes before stretching the field later in the day.
- Patterson had a very impressive practice at receiver, making a few deep catches that required adjustment while the ball was in the air. His best play of the day came against Jabari Price. Price had position on a deep ball that was a little underthrown but Patterson made a great adjustment to get his body between Price and the ball for the completion. Flash celebrated while Price cursed at his missed opportunity.
- Rick Spielman spent a good portion of practice taking notes on a small notepad while lining up behind plays in the full-field drills. The Vikings GM appears very involved in all facets of his team.
- Matt Kalil and Everson Griffen had a small dust-up later in practice. Kalil took umbrage at Griffen going a little hard at T.J. Clemmings in a drill and the two locked up each other's facemasks as seen here:
The exchange ended with Kalil popping Griffen's helmet off. There was a bit of a standoff but teammates quickly intervened and cooler heads prevailed. Nothing wrong with players getting a little feisty in the dog days of summer, right?
- In case you missed it in the gallery, this actually happened. Just Arif and I leading our troops into battle. (Or just walking in front of a group of very large men, but the picture is still pretty great.)
- Since I started my notes with a fashion observation, I'll end with one: I really wish the color-tinted visors that players are wearing were legal in the regular season. Because they look awesome.
Watching these guys run drills is truly a sight to behold. This is one of the deepest units on the team right now and it is stockpiled with some crazy athleticism. Nearly everyone on the D-line is tall, lean, and long. They look like a bunch of NBA power forwards.
The starting group of Brian Robison, Linval Joseph, Sharrif Floyd, and Everson Griffen looks pretty set right now. We already know how good they are, but the talent doesn't stop with them. Tom Johnson looks leaner and more explosive than last year. Scott Crichton looks really quick around the edge. (I said that about him last year as well but he won't have to spend the start of the year in Zimmer's dog house for showing up late to camp like he did in 2014.) Justin Trattou looks like he belongs in the rotation as well but I haven't seen many flashy plays from him yet.
Right now Trattou looks to be slightly ahead of Danielle Hunter on the depth chart, who has unquestioned athletic ability but spent a lot of the practice getting coached up on his initial positioning and first step off the line. Hunter looked much better in 11-on-11, where he repeatedly blew by the second- and third-team tackles. Leon Mackey spent even more time with the coaches throughout the individual drills. He has an NFL build but he'll need to be a very quick learner to catch on. Chigbo Anunoby has been getting quite a few reps with the second team but I haven't seen much to merit that yet. He looked good in individual drills but seemed to get lost in the shuffle during the full team activities. Anunoby's extra reps may simply be a result of Shamar Stephen's injury. Stephen was on the field for individual drills but only in a shadowing capacity.
B.J. Dubose has to stand out more from what I saw--he can't just "hang" with everyone in the drills and expect to make an impact in this group. Chrishon Rose has some decent size but he looked a little slower than the guys in front of him. Caesar Rayford is really tall and long but his 6'7" frame seems to work against him. He keeps his hips too high in his stance and took a let of extra steps in his pursuit.
The starters seem to be pretty established in this group as well--at least for now. Chad Greenway always know the right place to be, which should surprise nobody at this point. We might not see the Greenway of five years ago but he looks healthy and spry along the front seven. I think we could see a mini-resurgence from him this season. Anthony Barr was a participant for all of practice but he's definitely not going full speed yet. He spent a lot of time with head trainer Eric Sugarman on the side when not walking through drills. Our only concern about Barr at this point is getting him completely healthy, so it's fine if he's not flying around the field on the second day of camp. Audie Cole was noticeably more vocal and demonstrative both before and after the snap. It's a sign that the middle linebacker is becoming more comfortable with reading the offense rather than simply reacting and attacking the ball. He's going to need to improve that area of his game a lot if he hopes to keep his current spot on the depth chart. Because Eric Kendricks is coming.
Kendricks has really impressed me so far. He's quick off the snap, he looks comfortable in short zone coverage, and he is reacting well on the ball. Kendricks is even saying all the right things. In a quick Q&A with the press after practice he explained how he's simply trying to learn as much as he can to get familiar with the defense and is deferring to the coaches as much as they can. It's still really early but the Vikings might have quite a second round steal on their hands.
Like Cole, Gerald Hodges looks to be trying to take more of a leadership role in the linebacking corps. He could be heard often throughout practice and even pulled younger guys aside a few times to give advice. He's still taking most of his reps on the second team though. Hodges' usual outside counterpart on that team is still Brandon Watts, who looks...well, pretty much exactly how I remember him last year, which is a bit disappointing. I was hoping to see Watts take a bigger step forward this preseason but I haven't really seen it yet. (Then again, he still has p-l-e-n-t-y of time to change that.)
Speaking of returning second team linebackers: is this the last year that the Michael Mauti truthers will get to fantasize about #56 fighting his way up the depth chart and into our hearts? Mauti looked "fine" to me but I haven't seen anything that would vault him over the people ahead of him. It still looks like special teams will be the only way Mauti stands out.
Right now I'd have to give Josh Kaddu and Edmond Robinson grades of "incomplete". I honestly haven't even seen enough of them to make a snap judgement. Both look like they know what they're doing in coverage in the handful of reps I saw. Other than that I can't tell you much. Finally, Brian Peters--a former Arena League and CFL safety--looks pretty small out there. He got shoved around quite a bit.
I spent the most time trying to evaluate this group during my short time at camp so far, yet I have the worst feel for it. This is due to the sheer number of defensive backs in camp (17) and the fact that it's really hard to judge guys that can't hit or go all out in coverage yet. I'll suspect we'll know much more about these guys after some padded practices and preseason games. So here we go anyway.
Terrence Newman has probably been the most pleasant surprise of the first couple days of camp. The 13-year veteran definitely doesn't play like his age (36). Hell, he doesn't even play like his number (30). It's very obvious that he's a Zimmer guy and I have been thoroughly impressed with how well he has kept up with the Vikings first team wide receivers. If he can give Trae Waynes time to develop while permanently moving Captain Munnerlyn to the slot and giving Xavier Rhodes a good bookend, this secondary will be in very good shape.
Speaking of Munnerlyn, he has been lining up almost exclusively in the slot so far. Unsurprisingly, he looks more comfortable there than on the outside. Speaking of Rhodes, he's solid. He's confident. The team looks to be A-OK in that position. Same with Harrison Smith at his safety spot. So there really isn't much of a need to elaborate more with those two.
I have been surprised to see how much Waynes has lined up in the slot early in camp. The knock on Waynes coming in was that he had trouble covering underneath routes. It looks like he still tends to turn his hips up field a bit early and get beat underneath a lot, so I'm not completely sure what the logic is there. But as George Edwards said in his press conference Monday, the team worked a lot with Waynes in the slot in the offseason, so they likely see potential strengths of his there.
Antone Exum Jr. looks to be reacting a little quicker and in turn more comfortable in coverage. I was impressed with his single coverage against the Vikings' big tight ends in 11-on-11. Andrew Sendejo also had a nice day of practice, and not just because he rolled up his jersey sleeves as much as possible. He had a nice interception in 7-on-7 and looked very active in the secondary. Perhaps Exum or Sendejo can do enough to usurp Robert Blanton, who looked slightly smoother in coverage than I remember but out of position at times. Again, it's really tough to read too much into safety play at this point in camp because Blanton rarely hit full speed these first two days.
And now we've reached the part I like to call "Eric gives one-sentence reviews of the rest of the secondary players because they were shuffled around more than the cards at your grandma's weekly game of Hearts". Ready? Good.
- I'm not sure how Jalil Carter is able to use his impressive size yet.
- Justin Coleman had a couple solid coverage plays down the sidelines in 11-on-11.
- Josh Thomas doesn't have the size or reps as the other guys on this list.
- I saw Anthony Harris cover a few crossing routes really well and get beat on a few seam routes.
- As far as I can tell, Shaun Prater is still a member of the Minnesota Vikings.
- Jabari Price has had a real hit-or-miss performance thus far.
- Marcus Sherels better hope he makes the team on special teams again because he isn't getting any reps in the secondary right now.
- DeMarcus Van Dyke has played almost exclusively scout team, which probably doesn't bode well for his chances.
- Josh Robinson is on the PUP list and probably gets reminded of an old adage about clubs and tubs a lot.
Whew. I think that's enough for Monday. Check back for plenty more on Tuesday as I'll take a closer look at the offense. We'll also have plenty more pictures from Thad, press conferences from Mike Priefer and Mike Zimmer, and any other sound bites I can pick up along the way. There's rain in the forecast, so pray that we won't have to move into the boring old fieldhouse. We want padded practice!