Throughout the course of Minnesota Vikings Training Camp, plenty of four-letter words are uttered by players, coaches, and fans alike. Most of them are accompanied by feelings of anger, embarrassment, or frustration. But there's one four-letter word in camp that pleases everyone:
Yes, it was finally time to break out the first fully padded practice of the new season. It's the first chance for the lines to make some spirited contact in the trenches. The pass catchers and their defenders can finally start bumping into each other on the line of scrimmage. The football actually looks and sounds more like football.
When it looks and sounds more like football, the intensity level inevitably ramps up. The coaches were much more vocal on Tuesday, making sure to take every opportunity to loudly condemn any mistakes their guys made. Players' grunts were more assertive as they made the extra effort to beat the man across from them. The fans in attendance could sense it too--various cheers and yelps were heard throughout the afternoon from the bleachers (which is always an excellent source of unintentional comedy).
If my hundreds of words aren't painting the picture for you, how about hundreds of pictures instead? Once again I was fortunate to have Thad Chesley along for the ride, and once again he didn't disappoint. Check out this amazing gallery from Tuesday afternoon's action:
Again, I can't thank Thad enough for the amazing work he has put in over the past couple of days. His pictures have nearly overshadowed my lousy writing! Alas, you're still going to get plenty of that too as there was lots to talk about from Tuesday's practice. And since I covered the defense in detail in my last daily recap, I'll touch on my first-glance reactions of the offensive players this time around. First, I'll share some of my general observations from Tuesday:
- I spotted at least a couple CFL scouts at practice today, who were obviously there to vulture any talent they saw that might get cut from the Vikings roster later on in camp. Because one team's trash is another team's treasure, eh?
- Right as the afternoon started, Mark Wilf showed up and made himself available for reporters. He didn't have anything groundbreaking to say but he did tell us that the team is currently in negotiations with Mankato to extend their contract to keep Training Camp in the city. Wilf said that the team has been happy with Mankato and the players view it as a good team building experience. Like many Vikings fans, their owner is very optimistic about this year's team. While Wilf repeatedly emphasized that there is "still much work to be done", he claimed that this may be the most personally excited he has been about a Vikings team heading into the season since he and Zygi took over ownership over ten years ago. Wilf also expressed gratitude to all the workers and employees that are helping to build the new US Bank Stadium. He had just visited on Monday and is always impressed with how much progress is being made each time he stops in.
- If there was a Hard Knocks-type show that consisted of only Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner berating their players after making mistakes, I would watch it religiously. Both coaches are always teaching when they break out their tongue lashings, even though their delivery is almost in some sort of advanced new swearing language. It's masterful.
- There were still no major mixups in the depth chart, as the team is still giving veterans the benefit of the doubt over younger players. I'm guessing it might stay that way until around the Hall of Fame Game.
- A lot of 11-on-11 was played in the last 90 minutes of practice, and the defense won the lion's share of the battles on Tuesday. This is to be expected since it usually takes offenses longer to get a rhythm at the beginning of camp. However, Teddy Bridgewater didn't have the most consistent day throwing the ball and the Vikings' edge rushers disrupted the flow of a lot of plays.
- Gerald Hodges was disrupting just about everything on Tuesday. He showed up in the backfield early and often, sometimes untouched after exploiting holes in protection. Perhaps his 2002 Ronaldo World Cup haircut is distracting his opponents?
- Blair Walsh still has a rocket-powered leg. At the end of practice he made all eight of his "live" attempts ranging from 30 to 52 yards. He launched a 40 yarder that cleared by so much that he nearly pegged the guy on top of the scissor lift you see pictured here:
- The long snapper battle is still a dead heat from what I can see. Cullen Loeffler and Kevin McDermott have received virtually equal alternating reps and neither has stood out as of yet. You know, because they're long snappers, and the only way you can stand out at that position is by screwing up.
- The non-Thad Chesley picture of the day has to go to Star Tribune photographer Jerry Holt, who captured this gem at the morning walkthrough:
Chad Greenway showed Anthony Barr a dragonfly @ #VikingsCamp Jerry Holt/Star Tribune pic.twitter.com/evvkXWdsVd— Jerry Holt (@jerry_holt) July 28, 2015
As I alluded to earlier, Teddy Bridgewater had some iffy throws on Tuesday, along with a few on Monday as well. Am I concerned? No. There is noticeably more zip on most of his intermediate passes, which are right on the money much more often than not. His deep ball hasn't improved much, but some other facets of his game have--most notably his pocket presence and leadership of the offense and team. Bridgewater is sensing the pressure well and keeping his eyes downfield. Of course that's much easier when you know you aren't going to get hit, but it looks like he's more comfortable making his progressions. In other words, Teddy's gonna be just fine.
But if Teddy misses any time this season, feel free to panic, because it's looking pretty ugly behind him. Shaun Hill had a much better day Tuesday and was accurate for the most part, but he still floated a lot of his passes downfield. Mike Kafka has looked incredibly inconsistent, especially with throws to the sidelines. Taylor Heinicke is about the size of Drew Brees without the lightning-quick high release and accuracy of Drew Brees. That is proving to be problematic.
You'll never believe this, but Adrian Peterson looks really good. Like one of the best running backs in the league. Oh you do believe that? Then let's move on.
The surprise of this group might be former Packer DuJuan Harris. The diminutive back has made plenty of catches out of the backfield along with some incredibly quick cuts through holes. I didn't think he would make much noise in Mankato but as of right now I probably have him as the third or fourth best RB at camp.
Harris is still well behind Jerick McKinnon in my mind, who is still doing tons of Jerick McKinnon things like jump cuts and changing direction in ways that defy physics. I know many of us have marginalized McKinnon with the return of AP, but he's going to get more touches this season than some people think.
Matt Asiata looks a little leaner and a little quicker than last year. He's doing absolutely everything that's asked of him in camp. Unfortunately for Asiata, he isn't being asked to do a whole lot at the moment.
Joe Banyard and Dominique Williams round out my running back rankings, respectively. It's not that either has done poorly, but they certainly haven't stood out among their peers. Williams isn't hitting the hole like the people ahead of him on the depth chart.
As for the fullbacks, it sounds like the team is likely to keep one on the 53-man roster. That fullback will not be Blake Renaud. Zach Line looks more sure of his assignments and is clearing the way for the runners behind him without getting in the way.
It's hard to see the Vikings settling on anyone else but the consensus "top 6" wide receivers on the final roster, so let's tackle the guys who aren't in that group first. Jordan Leslie might be my current leader for "first WR on the practice squad". He was quiet at first but made some really impressive catches on Tuesday. He made Harrison Smith completely bite on a double move in 1-on-1 drills and adjusted his sizeable frame well to meet the ball. However, he needs to be more consistent--I have also seen a couple easy drops so far.
I fear that the lack of speed from Donte Foster is going to overshadow his sound route running. Meanwhile, Gavin Lutman's route running looks like his legs are constantly trying to catch up to the rest of him. Local kid Isaac Fruechte has looked pretty average in most aspects of his game. Not awful by any means, but nothing has really stood out either. DaVaris Daniels gets an incomplete since he just got back on the field Tuesday afternoon. I wasn't able to take any notes on him yet.
Which brings us to our "top 6". Buckle up kids, because this group is getting pretty darn exciting.
Mike Wallace has been saying all the right things so far. More importantly, he's been doing all the right things on the field. He has already started to build a pretty strong rapport with Teddy. Labeling Wallace a "deep threat" is kind of accurate and misleading at the same time. How? His speed does make him a threat to go deep at any time, but where he really excels is getting separation underneath defenders that have started to back off. He was getting open at will on Tuesday afternoon on all sorts of short and intermediate routes, and Teddy found him nearly every time. And just to drive home the point of doing all the right things, Wallace and Bridgewater stayed late after practice to run wind sprints. I'm quickly becoming a fan. DON'T YOU BREAK MY HEART MIKE WALLACE!
Charles Johnson was recently ranked by NFL.com in the top 20 players to make "the leap" this year. They were definitely onto something. I'm already seeing Johnson do things he didn't last season, like make adjustments to balls in the air and win more contested passes. He and Teddy seem nearly inseparable, constantly talking to each other between drills and making the walks onto the practice field together. At this rate I'm totally going to draft Johnson way too high as a sleeper in at least one fantasy draft.
As impressed as I have been with Wallace and Johnson, Stefon Diggs has made an even bigger impression. I have yet to see a facet of the game he does poorly. His route running, his speed, his hands, his attitude--all on point. We shouldn't suddenly have visions of him breaking out a 1,000 yard season his rookie year, but I think you can start having visions about how good the rookie can be in the not-so-distant future. Diggs is my current leader for the coveted annual title of Mr. Mankato.
I wish I could see more from Jarius Wright in several aspects. I wish I could see him get more reps and looks. I wish he would line up in places other than the slot more often. And when he does get his chances in practice, I wish he would show more of the big play ability we know he's capable of. There's still plenty of time for Wright to show that in the coming weeks, especially in the preseason games.
Cordarrelle Patterson is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. There will be roughly 329 articles written about Flash in the coming weeks with titles like "Can Patterson Make It Work?" and "Is Cordarrelle a 'Flash' in the Patterson Pan?", so I'll spare going into detail here. We're all familiar with how frustratingly inconsistent Patterson is. I would say the good has outweighed the bad thus far at camp. He has made some truly impressive plays and seems to be taking Mike Zimmer's very vocal advice to heart during drills. Yet the general feeling is that there will be some good days and some bad days with Patterson. And if you want to be an impactful receiver in the NFL, we can't describe you like you're a recently widowed grandmother. ("Since Edgar passed, there have been good days and bad days...")
Adam Thielen, AKA Mr. Mankato 2014, had a bit of a slow start to this camp but seems to be coming around. He's still heavily involved in special teams and he looks solid in his technique.
I've been slightly surprised at how little we've seen Kyle Rudolph utilized at the beginning of camp. He looks leaner and quicker (and inkier), but he isn't getting every third pass like he has in previous camps. (Probably a testament to the offense and Bridgewater becoming more versatile.) Whatever. We know the main goal for Rudolph this season is staying healthy. If he does that, he'll make a big impact in the offense.
Lots of folks are talking about rookie MyCole Pruitt, whose athleticism and propensity for the crowd-pleasing catch has made him an early fan favorite. I think his route running needs to be a little more consistent before I join the crowd. He is pretty darn fun to watch though.
Chase Ford and Rhett Ellison are much less likely to get "oohs" and "aahs" from the crowd, but that's not what Ford and Ellison are built to do. They're built to make some catches and make even more blocks. And they're doing just that very well so far.
Brandon Bostick AKA "Mr. Boom-Bostick" AKA "Green Bay Buckner" has been just OK. I don't really see a spot for him at the moment, although I'm sort of rooting for him now after making up two pretty solid nicknames for him.
Since I have been getting asked about him more than the rest of the offensive line combined, I'll start with Babatunde Aiyegbusi. Yes, he's ginormous. Yes, he's working hard and absorbing as much as he can from the coaches at every opportunity. However, he's still woefully behind his peers when it comes to technique. There is a practice squad rule that states Babs could be on the PS without counting against the team's allotted ten spots since he's international; right now that's the only thing that will save him.
Matt Kalil is noticeably bigger and looks slightly better off the snap. But Zimmer has already said he needs more work on consistency and finishing plays, which has been reflected in what I saw. Brandon Fusco and John Sullivan have been solid in the middle, as expected. I didn't notice them get beat in the 11 on 11's. Mike Harris has been serviceable at right guard and quicker off the snap than I expected. He still needs better push once he makes initial contact though. The book on Phil Loadholt is about the same: a road grater for the run, fairly steady against the pass, but susceptible to getting beat around the edge by speed rushers, which happened a couple times in pads on Tuesday. (Still excited about Scott Crichton by the way.)
If Harris loses his job to a backup like many anticipate, I think there are two solid candidates to replace him: Tyrus Thompson and David Yankey. Perhaps my built-in bias toward all things Thompson is clouding my judgement but I liked what I saw from Tyrus. He looks strong and fluid. Everything Yankey has done so far has been sound; I just wish he would have done more that stood out.
T.J. Clemmings has looked like a rookie tackle. He's showing potential but getting beat a lot by veterans and coaches are giving him a lot of individual attention. Let's allow him to get his feet wet before we analyze him too much. Joe Berger has looked solid as backup center. He's the perfect utility lineman. Tom Farniok looks strong but he might have too many guys to pass up on the depth chart to stick around. Carter Bykowski plays big, because he is big. Solid if not spectacular. Isame Faciane and Austin Shepherd were getting beat pretty consistently when they lined up on the right side together. And to be honest, I didn't see Zac Kerin and Bob Vardaro take enough reps to form an opinion on them, which probably doesn't bode well for their NFL futures.
I think that just about covers it for the offense. I'll be back in Mankato on Wednesday but in a different capacity. I'll be spending the morning touring the new US Bank Stadium thanks to the Vikings Biggest Fan sweepstakes. (I will be attending as an "influencer", not as a winner. Another perk of the Daily Norseman gig!) I won't have a fancy camera man with me but I'll be sure to share everything I see on Twitter. After the tour we'll be heading down to Mankato to watch the late practice from the lavish VIP tent. You are allowed to be incredibly jealous.