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2015 Minnesota Vikings Training Camp Notebook: Day Two

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The last day of no-pads thank god

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

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.

7-27-15 Depth Chart

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

The linebacker rotation continues to be in flux, though part of that is because you’ll see Anthony Barr take his spot in walkthroughs and not the drills. I’ve seen Gerald Hodges take Sam snaps and Will snaps, and presumably he takes more Will snaps in an ideal world, though there simply are too many Will types and not enough Sam types.

Observations

Quarterbacks

Let’s start with the backups again, because I’m still not comfortable with them.

Yesterday, I mentioned that Taylor Heinicke had the most arm strength of the backups, and today’s camp really did not solidify that thinking. It could be the minor differences for a group full of weak arms, but Heinicke really did not let the ball fly out of his hands very quickly. I think there’s a pattern with him regarding his ball placement and velocity, which is that his accuracy increases the more he lets up on his throws. He’s not used to throwing with more velocity, so as he ramps it up and changes his release, his unfamiliarity hurts his ability to put the ball where it needs to go.

I didn’t catch much of Mike Kafka or Shaun Hill except to say that Hill is providing some excellent fodder for the second-team defense to look good at times. Still, he’s doing enough to allow the receivers he’s throwing to separate themselves, which may be all you can ask for from your primary backup. Once again, I thought his ball placement was largely good but it wasn’t as consistent as yesterday.

Teddy time.

I’ll be a little bit happier if and when he starts speeding things up again, but there’s not much doubt to me that his arm strength has improved. Those throws that require a bit more arm strength—deep passing, out routes, etc.—are still somewhat works in progress as far as accuracy is concerned.

That said, there were some pretty good deep passes from Teddy today and I think his accuracy in this realm will generally always be something we’re going to look at. His dime-perfect throw to Charles Johnson for 60 yards into double coverage was certainly exciting, made more exciting by the fact that Johnson had to make no adjustments for it.

The defensive line had a much better time of it today than yesterday, which meant more throws under "pressure." Teddy’s good under pressure and had been for the most part, but his most inaccurate passes definitely came from a compressed pocket, including a high one to Johnson that bounced off of the top of his fingers.

The Vikings are continuing to work on timing and quick decisionmaking for Teddy and it looked like he processed things a little faster today. He’s made a lot of throws in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills, and I’m not sure a single one has been interception-worthy.

Running Backs

Like linebackers, running backs are difficult to evaluate in these drills, especially without tackling and that goes double without pads. Only two backs really distinguished themselves and they were the two at the top of the chart, both making impressive cuts. The best running back move of the day belongs to McKinnon whose jump cut is difficult to describe—running on a zone running play requires the running back to run parallel to the line of scrimmage, and wait for a hole to open up before planting and accelerating through an open lane. What McKinnon did was more than that, running forward, jumping backward and accelerating through a hole that had opened up that he had no right to. It was fantastic.

My viewing angle did not do much for evaluating their pass protection. 

Tight Ends

The best moments for the tight end group came from Kyle Rudolph and Rhett Ellison, both of whom reeled in every target (all intermediate) they got in 7s and 11s, but were even more impressive in individual drills. Though Ellison appeared slow getting out of breaks, he did seemingly improve at this particular skill. Rudolph was a cut above the other tight ends in this respect and really moved quickly off of his route stem.

MyCole Pruitt moved well in these drills too, though not as well as I had hoped after watching Rudolph. I suspect this is in part because he may be learning how routes are run in this system and is playing with a bit more hesitation.

Wide Receivers

It was hard not to watch receivers, even though I promised I’d look elsewhere if possible. Charles Johnson had a beatific day, and his performance both in terms of breaking free of coverage and grabbing passes was very good. He didn’t seem to drop many passes from when I was watching and was able to rise up and over the crowd to haul in a catch. His ability to find space was evident, and it will be important to see if his issues with physicality from last year will still be there this year.

Mike Wallace ran the comeback well enough, though it honestly doesn’t matter. It was one of his best routes in Miami and he gets open because of the threat of his speed, not the precision of his route-running. It will matter more on dig and out routes but for now he ran it well enough and turned quickly enough to adjust to the ball.

Jarius Wright didn’t have much exposure given what I saw, but though it wasn’t concerning, it wasn’t particularly great. He had issues creating space for himself and couldn’t free himself from Munnerlyn on a few occasions. On the other hand, with few targets and even fewer great passes, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity in general. During drills on the comeback routes, Wright moved well but started breaking out of his route too early, especially by lifting his shoulders—a pretty clear signal to defenders that the curl is coming and that they should close on the ball. Wright didn’t attack the ball, either.

I like what I’m seeing so far from Cordarrelle Patterson. I think people are overstating the degree to which he has improved his route-running and I remain skeptical on calling it an improvement over a two-day span, but he certainly seems to be doing a better job generating space for himself than he has in the past. The hope is that he can continue that in press coverage. I remember last year when he got jammed up by a 5’10" 180-pound cornerback in practice.

He’s still working on some of the more advanced routes and had to run a few again because of how exaggerated his route-running moves are. Like Johnson yesterday, it sometimes takes too long to execute his moves and really hurts timing.

Stefon Diggs had a predictably good day and it should be exciting to see him do more in kick and punt return drills, because we haven’t really seen enough of him in that arena. What surprised me most about today was that he was a little slow changing direction on the comeback route, but he did a good job accelerating out of it and attacking the ball.

Adam Thielen had a good day today as he had a bad one yesterday, if that makes sense. He was consistently finding separation against the second defense and showing off a wider catch radius than he had in the past. He ran a fantastic whip route in drills and showed off in the scrimmage practices as well.

Donte Foster still looks slow, but his change of direction is actually very good. He needs to accelerate better out of his breaks, but that was a decent set of drills for him.

I think I figured out why Gavin Lutman’s route-running threw me off and seemed very inefficient: he’s a long strider that can’t gather his feet at the stem. That’s why it seems like he’s taking a gathered leap into his break and why it takes so long for him to get back up to speed out of it.

Isaac Fruechte had a better day on the second day, and he had a few moments of good sideline catching and solid route-running, especially on a stutter go route.

Not much of Jordan Leslie today.

Offensive Linemen

No pads means no great marker of offensive line play. I will say that Matt Kalil didn’t look as good as yesterday and neither did Mike Harris. In particular, Harris looked quick getting off his block on the screen but didn’t seem to have an aiming point or good balance. Babatunde Aiyegbusi looks out of his depth still, but it wasn’t as thorough of an issue as it was on the first day of camp. I liked the movement of all three centers—John Sullivan, Joe Berger and Tom Farniok—to move to the second level and they all did a good job for their part on double teams. Zac Kerin once again rotated with Farniok for third-team reps, but I did not gauge much. T.J. Clemmings did not have a great outing and got bull-rushed pretty conclusively by Scott Crichton.

Defensive Line

Same with the offensive line. Matt Kalil’s more troublesome day had something to do with Everson Griffen’s more successful day (though not in entirety). Sharrif Floyd also looked very good and seems to have retained a lot of the burst and general explosiveness that allowed him to turn it on last year. His punch in particular seems strong. Leon Mackey's length is obvious and he uses it well, while Caesar Rayford takes far too long to uncoil and set himself—

Linebackers

The linebacker drills did not provide a lot of opportunity for evaluation, but the extent to which they emphasize technique has certainly allowed the coaches to identify which players aren't performing the way they need to perform. A lot of gap-sliding drills to get off blocks against zone-style systems was done today and perhaps the best job was done by Eric Kendricks. His footwork taking on blocks coming out of the draft was one of the "fixable" concerns I had and it certainly looks like he's doing what's asked of him, at least at half-speed and without pads.

Chad Greenway played to his scouting report, which is to say he had excellent technique, but felt slow coming off the block. I don't think he actually was slow, though—there were two real ways to exit the block, and one way seems slower than the other. Stabbing the defensive lineman with an arm creates separation and provides some easy disengagement, but is also a little harder. Greenway and another linebacker employed more of a "bull jerk" pass-rushing move (something I've noticed Chad do a lot in camps) where they start by trying to control the blocker by moving him back and then pull down as the blocker puts up resistance. It looks impressive when executed properly.

Anthony Barr has seemingly improved so far in this respect (and hey he participated in individual drills, yay!) but still needs some work. Audie Cole's length was a huge asset and I was pretty disappointed by Josh Kaddu, who had to redo the drill a couple of times and never really got the feel for it, putting the wrong foot forward or angling himself into the wrong gap and so on.

I couldn't tell you much about scrimmage.

Defensive Backs

Xavier Rhodes and Terence Newman continued to be impressive, but Charles Johnson was able to do more against them today than he was on the first day. Rhodes has done a good job keeping with routes, but with so much of his game dependent on physicality, it could be that some of the routes he did have trouble with today—mainly underneath—would have been easier to defend. He didn't do as much to contest passes (perhaps a reason Johnson looked good) but was willing to use his length and the quickness he isn't supposed to have.

Newman was a bit quieter and a bit harder to evaluate, but it's worth noting he had excellent positioning against Johnson on Teddy's deep ball. The two spots that the defense could have improved on in that route would have been leverage from Newman early on in the route and Harrison Smith moving a half step closer to the ball. As it was, both did a good job, but there was still a window to thread the ball into.

Jabari Price continues to excel, but his day wasn't as profoundly good as yesterday and there were moments that Patterson beat him, and not necessarily because of the size difference between the two.

Shaun Prater and Trae Waynes were on occasion out of position (one at safety, the other at cornerback) and Waynes is still figuring out in-breaking routes. I do not remember much of Blanton or Exum from the day, but Sendejo did a good job, and it wasn't just his interception. Positioning on a later route allowed him to deny a pass and he did a decent job staying on top of coverage or driving as needed.