The Tuesday morning walkthrough at day three of Minnesota Vikings Training Camp was dreary and soggy after rains pounded most of southern Minnesota in the early hours of the morning. There wasn't a ton of new information to glean from watching the team literally go through the motions today. Thankfully we got a lot of great nuggets of information from Mike Zimmer and Mike Priefer, so I'll rush through my notes before getting to the recaps of their press conferences.
- There were no discernible changes in the team rotations on both offense and defense. The "up for grabs" positions are still going to the veterans for now. Mike Harris is still with the ones at right guard, Audie Cole is still at middle linebacker, and Robert Blanton is still getting the safety reps. However, as you'll find from Zimmer's press conference, you might not want to read into the depth chart much yet.
- The Vikings lined up with "11" personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end, 3 wide receivers) a lot again today. It's already one of the most popular packages in the league, but Minnesota has historically been among the teams that use it the least often. That might be changing this season. And why not? Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph, Mike Wallace, Charles Johnson, and Jarius Wright seems to be a pretty potent personnel group.
- Trae Waynes (who had his family in town watching the practice today) is still getting a lot of reps at the slot corner position with both the first and second team. This is officially a trend. Anthony Barr and Chad Greenway are still the main linebackers in the nickel package with Captain Munnerlyn coming in as the extra defensive back.
- Before Zimmer's press conference Arif and I were starting to get a little worried about the status of Anthony Barr. Both the team and player had been pretty tight-lipped about his status throughout the week. It's always a bit of a concern when there's talk of a player missing out on conditioning while not providing much detailed information about what's ailing him. But again, Zimmer eased some worries in his press conference.
- A bunch of us chatted with Linval Joseph after practice and he seems really excited to show what this defense can do. "You're about to see what this defense will be about this year...you might see everything but I can't tell you what you're going to see [yet]." He emphasized the attention to detail the defense has focused on since OTAs. "We call it small ball. Everybody's gotta do their job. Nobody's trying to take the homerun hit. Your play will come to you when it's time for you to make a play." Joseph also praised the play of his linemate Sharrif Floyd, saying that his development heading into his third season should pay big dividends.
Before being asked a question, Coach Zimmer said that Barr will be more involved in the practices heading forward. "He's feeling good, he'll just keep working on his conditioning...we'll get him going a little bit more." Zimmer explained how Monday's practice was better and smoother than Sunday, but he doesn't expect the first padded practice on Tuesday afternoon to be 100% crisp either.
Zimmer was asked about the future role of Captain Munnerlyn and he gave his usual Zimmer line of "you can never have enough corners". He still expects Munnerlyn to compete for a starting role but has acknowledged that Waynes is doing better learning "He's understanding the principles a lot more." Zimmer explained how he likes to give younger guys "a lot to do" at first in order to find out his new players' strengths. "Regardless of if [Waynes] plays [in the slot] ever again or not, I think it'll be good for him."
I asked him if finding out what the younger guys can do is leading to the veterans currently sitting on the top of the depth chart for some positions; he was quick to dismiss any perceived starters this early in camp.
I'm really not so worried about the starting jobs at this point in time. It's still about evaluation. The veteran guys have been here and they've been going through this stuff so typically we just line them up there first. But that doesn't mean that by the time we get to September 9 that it means anything.
Zimmer pointed to Barr starting as a rookie last year as an example, who didn't get his first team reps this early in camp either. But for the guys who are currently in backup roles, the coach said how important it is for those players to be efficient in the limited amount of reps.
One of those backups is Shaun Hill, a veteran who Zimmer joked "needs an extra can of oil on his arm every day" before practices. But he went on to compliment Hill's smarts and familiarity with Norv Turner as well. Zimmer also assumes that the team will keep three quarterbacks this season but that isn't "set in stone". "We want to keep the best 53 guys for this particular football team."
When asked about Matt Kalil, Zimmer was careful about choosing his words on his progress. I think cautiously optimistic would be a fair way to explain how Zimmer described what he has seen from his left tackle. The coach still has some concerns about how Kalil is finishing plays and making sure he can still move well with the weight he has put on since last year. As for exactly what Kalil needs to work on? "I'll keep that between us."
Zimmer complimented his new old guy, cornerback Terrence Newman. "He's an older player but he's still a good football player. He plays with good technique; he's tough." But who sought out who during free agency this offseason? "Terrence and I go back a long long way and we've always had a good relationship...I knew he was going to be a free agent this year and I think he did too. We'll just leave it at that."
A much younger player that Zimmer also likes is rookie wide receiver Stefon Diggs. "I think he's got a chance to be really good. He runs great routes, he's got excellent speed, he catches the ball as well as anybody I've seen, very easily. And he's been model citizen. That's important, especially for young guys." Zimmer wouldn't commit to putting Diggs only in the slot position on offense, explaining that Diggs is bigger than a lot of people think.
Finally, Zimmer emphasized how important it is not to do "dumb things". (For example? "Jumping offsides is pretty dumb.") He didn't name names, but he pretty clearly referred to the skirmish between Kalil and Everson Griffen on Monday afternoon. "We had a little disagreement on the field that kind of escalated. If one of my guys would have punched the other guy that would have been dumb. But he walked away, so he did a smart thing." Zimmer pointed to a couple examples of how players gave the wrong answers in team meetings to illustrate the attention to detail that he demands from everyone.
(One example? A player thinking the team only needed to get to the 50-yard line for a game-tying field goal. I mean, Blair Walsh is good, but c'mon.)
(And no, Zimmer wouldn't tell us who that player was. We asked.)
Isn't it nice to have a nice lack of drama surrounding Vikings training camp for once?
The Vikings Special Teams Coordinator is back for his fifth training camp and started his press conference complimenting how good of a job Mankato does putting it on every year. Priefer is dealing with something for the first time in his tenure with the Vikings this season--a long snapper competition. He explained that Cullen Loeffler and Kevin McDermott are getting equal reps to make the competition as fair as possible. Priefer said that both the incumbent 12-year veteran Loeffler and the challenger McDermott are handling their challenge like true professionals.
Loeffler isn't the only veteran special teamer that is fighting for his job. Priefer said that the punt returner job still belongs to Marcus Sherels for now but "there will be competition for him as well". Priefer acknowledged how the competition is nothing new to Sherels: "Every year he's earned his job. That's why I respect him so much, because every year he's showed up ready to roll and he's earned that spot."
Priefer praised the special teams play of Adam Thielen, calling him "one of our top five special teams performers from a year ago". He also acknowledged that there's still a lot to learn for last year's Mr. Mankato but likes his studious mentality. Priefer also likes how Diggs is willing to learn as a returner since he didn't have a ton of exposure to special teams in college. Priefer explained that the preseason games will be crucial for Diggs' future role on special teams.
Of course the Vikings already have a dangerous returner other than the rookie. Priefer is excited about the potential of Cordarrelle Patterson becoming even more dangerous. "He's got a lot more reps under his belt now, I think he's got more confidence as a return man. I'm excited about his continuing development. Because there are some things he can do a lot better than he did." Priefer said that he was just as frustrated as Patterson when teams avoided him on kickoffs, but he explained how Patterson needs more consistent focus when he does get those opportunities.
There were times last year where he was frustrated, and they did kick to him, so he wasn't ready, he didn't hit the seam, he wasn't fully engaged and we got out to the 20 or 22 yard line...he needs to think every rep is an opportunity for a big play. If he has that mentality he'll do better with the opportunities he does get.
For any returner that happens to be back there for the Vikings, Priefer told us that ball security is the top priority for anyone. He'll accept things like calling fair catches when you shouldn't, but not losing the ball is absolutely paramount. With so many short kicks going against his team, Priefer said
The kicking game is a big part of what Priefer coaches and he said how happy he was that Blair Walsh got a contract extension. Priefer didn't think Walsh's handful of misses last season were due to overthinking. He did acknowledge that Walsh may have spent a little too much time studying the winds at TCF stadium, but was quick to point out that two of Walsh's kicks were blocked and a few other misses were from very long range. "I think he's one of the most reliable guys I've been around. I don't think he'll skip a beat this year."
I asked Priefer if the increased distance on extra points results in more practice of PATs. He said that the first thing they practice every session is extra points, and his explanation was pretty sound: "we hope we're kicking a lot of PATs." Now they just practice them further back. Priefer did say that he expects a lot of kickers to put their kicks on one of the hashmarks instead of straight in the middle, saying that it's easier for the holder to line up and a lot of kickers prefer one side or the other.
Finally, Priefer explained that he expects a better year out of his punter Jeff Locke. He didn't think that Locke had as bad of a year as many perceived, citing that Locke has already broken the team net punting record. Priefer said that "trying to kill the ball into the wind" was one of the big problems Locke had last year and said Locke has been working on a "cut ball" that should travel further into the wind and help him keep his approach steps more compact.
Up next for the Vikings--PADS! Stay tuned for a recap of the Tuesday afternoon practice, a breakdown of the offensive side of the ball, and more excellent pictures from Thad Chesley.