After an off day Tuesday, we’re now five full days of practice into the 2016 Minnesota Vikings Training Camp. However, I’ll start with a disclaimer: it was my first day covering everything live in Mankato. Therefore, most of what you’ll read today are my first impressions. I plan on providing you with more detailed notes on each and every player in camp after my time is done following the Saturday evening practice at Blakeslee Stadium. But for now you’re getting a high-level "first day of school" recap of what I saw at Training Camp. I will also pass along some quotes and snippets from the Mike Zimmer press conference and the interviews with Linval Joseph and Jayron Kearse I was able to hop in on after the practices. So grab a snack, your favorite beverage, and let all the Training Camp goodness wash over you.
But first, pictures! We brought back our old pal Thad Chesley to be our resident photographer for Training Camp, and as you’ll see, his work behind the lens is still amazing. Thad was able to capture all of these amazing pictures on the first day we attended, which means you’ll getting much more just like this throughout the rest of the week.
News, notes, and nibbles from the north
- The weather was...sticky...in Mankato on Wednesday. Upper 80's to lower 90's, extremely muggy, and only a light breeze to help ease the sweatiness. The best part of the day might have been this glorious short-lived cloud during the afternoon practice:
- But I'm not going to complain. A beautiful summer day outside covering the Vikings beats a beautiful summer day in an air conditioned cubicle every day of the week, regardless of stickiness.
- The very first person I saw when I took to the practice a field a half hour before morning walkthrough: none other than Scott Studwell. He had already a healthy lather of sweat built up through his trademark gray short sleeved shirt and was lodging a sizable dip between his lip and gums as I walked up. If that doesn’t get you in the mood for some football, nothing will.
- The depth chart didn't undergo any noticeable changes on Wednesday. There was some rotation among the 1's and 2's, but not as much as there has been in previous practices. There was much more switching back and forth between the second and third teams. Here's what I had for a depth chart of the first two teams on Wednesday:
- Some notes about the depth chart:
- Zach Line was dressed Wednesday but I didn't see him in any drills, which meant Blake Renaud got nearly all of the fullback reps.
- Captain Munnerlyn was the starting nickel corner with Mackensie Alexander backing him up. Alexander also got plenty of reps on the outside with the second team.
- Laquon Treadwell did get some reps with the 1’s in both the morning and afternoon practice, mostly on 3 wide receiver sets.
- Matt Asiata would probably the third string running back if Jet participated today. (More on that in a bit.)
- Adrian Peterson is back! After sitting out a few days with a hamstring issue, #28 was on the field for the entirety of both practices and got plenty of touches. No injury scare here.
- But there were still a few lingering injuries holding some key players out. The aforementioned Line, Jerick McKinnon, Mike Harris, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Rhett Ellison were all at both practices but didn't see any action on Wednesday. Line was the only one to wear pads in the afternoon practice but he had a wrap on his knee and didn't take the field for any drills. Taylor Heinicke of course is out for the duration of Training Camp for not understanding what glass does when you kick it.
- This is my fifth straight year in Mankato covering the Vikings. By now you’d think I’d be used to the sheer size of some of these players. And I am to a point, but every year there are new faces that surprise me when I actually see them up close. This year, my "Wow, He’s Even Bigger In Person Than I Thought He’d Be" All-Stars are: Alex Boone, Jayron Kearse, David Morgan, and Willie Beavers. Kearse probably gets the MVP just because seeing a 6’4" safety that’s built like him is so rare. I swear he's about 20 pounds away from being built like a defensive end.
- Teddy Bridgewater has always said and done the right things since arriving in Minnesota just over two years ago. He has been courteous, thoughtful, and fun with all his interactions on and off the field, even if he came across as a bit shy or awkward at times. This year, he feels like the future of the franchise. It’s kind of hard to explain. There isn’t a certain mannerism or quote that you can pinpoint; he just gives off the "big man on campus" aura much more this year. If you took someone that didn’t know anything about football and asked them who they thought was in charge, chances are that person would point to Bridgewater. Whether it’s calmly zipping accurate passes to the corner of the end zone in walkthrough or commanding the line of scrimmage in the padded practice, something just feels different with Teddy this year. And it’s definitely a good different.
- There were quite a few "wow" plays on both sides of the ball Wednesday. Everson Griffen and Anthony Barr both had amazing interceptions of Bridgewater that they tipped to themselves while securing the pick on the run. (It could be argued that Griff's interception could have been thrown better by Teddy, but Barr's pick went right through the hands of Matt Asiata.) Bridgewater dropped an absolute dime to Adam Thielen about 25 yards down the left sideline right between the coverage of Xavier Rhodes and Andrew Sendejo. Kyle Rudolph made an incredible one-handed catch up the seam with Emmauel Lamur and Harrison Smith draped all over him. Shaun Hill even got in on the act, dropping a deep bomb to Terrell Sinkfield and nearly connecting on another that Thielen probably should have caught. Anthony Harris, Trae Waynes, Sendejo, Anthony Harris, and Terence Newman all had impressive pass breakups in the red zone drills. But the undisputed play of the day came from Stefon Diggs:
- Some punt team minutae: lots of players rotated in and out of the punt coverage and return team. These reports might not be the most interesting, but it could be how some of these guys make the team. Among the coverage gunner combinations I saw were Marcus Sherels/Trae Waynes, Jabari Price/Mackensie Alexander, Moritz Böhringer/Treadwell, and Melvin White/Tre Roberson. The punt returners getting reps were Troy Stoudemire, Marken Michel, Sherels, Thielen, Terrell Sinkfield, and Diggs.
- Stefon Diggs and Xavier Rhodes really seem to enjoy going against one another in practice. Every time they're matched up they give each other their all and end up playfully shoving each other and giving the other a hard time after the play. It's the world's friendliest camp rivalry, and it appears to be making both players better.
- The first team lines battled each other pretty well today, with both sides making plays but neither side dominating the other. (Griffen is still beating Matt Kalil around the edge much too often, but that probably isn't going to surprise anyone. At least he seems to be shoring up his inside blocking with Alex Boone.) The second teams, however, were a completely different story. The defensive line backups absolutely dominated their offensive counterparts, especially along the right side of the offensive line. It was a growing pains kind of day for Willie Beavers and T.J. Clemmings.
- If you don't have the time or patience to read all these words, you can just watch me, Arif, Luke Spinman, and Daniel House discuss Day 5 of Vikings Training Camp for 13 minutes instead:
Linval Joseph interview
I was able to hop in along with a fairly large group of reporters to ask some questions to Linval Joseph as he left the practice field on Wednesday morning. As expected, Linval was excited about the potential that this Vikings team has and is enjoying his time getting back to work.
Joseph actually isn’t a stranger to opening a brand new stadium: he was a member of the Giants when they opened MetLife Stadium (which was called New Meadowlands Stadium at first) in the 2010 season. He recalled the Giants getting a win in their first game at MetLife, something he obviously hopes to repeat with US Bank Stadium in Week 2. He still hasn’t seen much of the stadium but wasn’t too concerned about getting lost or taking a wrong turn in the Vikings’ cavernous new home. "We usually have guys to lead the way for that kind of thing."
Heading into his seventh season in the NFL, Joseph was asked how much knowledge he passes along to the younger players on the team. He explained that while he’s more than willing to answer any questions they have, he enjoys leading by example.
When I was young, I didn’t really ask many questions. I usually watched. I’d watch the veterans, and if they made mistakes I’d learn from their mistakes...if you prepare and just dedicate yourself to this game, you’ll get results. I’ve really dedicated myself and I do everything I can to help this team succeed in the long run.
Joseph also gave credit to the more experienced players on the defense for leading the way at camp:
Most guys in our room have been playing ball for five years or more. We have guys that have been there before. We all want the same thing. Once you have guys that are on the same page it’s so much easier to compete against them, help them out, and just be friends with them.
While excited about the prospects that this season has, Joseph wasn’t about to give predictions about how the season might turn out. "I’m just riding the wave to see how far it’s gonna go."
Jayron Kearse interview
Toward the end of the morning media gauntlet, a few of us writers were able to snag a more personal interview with Jayron Kearse. He started by explaining how much fun he’s having in his first camp and how excited he is to be playing football at this level. He’s trying to learn from everyone he can but doesn’t have a particular player or two he has really followed around thus far.
It’s not really just one guy I’ve been following around. We’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of different things and points I’ve taken. Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith, Captain Munnerlyn. I’ve just been following those guys and asking them a lot of questions about what I should be looking for as a rookie, what I should be doing as a rookie.
Kearse knows that his 6’4" frame is a unique weapon as a safety and counts it as one of the better attributes that he can bring to the game. He also realizes that his stature presents some unique challenges.
I cover a lot ground whether it’s [against] the run or in coverage. The minus of it is me being so tall I have to sink my hips when I come in for a tackle, when I’m coming out of a play, I have to have my shoulder pads down. It’s definitely something I’m working on.
Having a college teammate, fellow rookie Mackensie Alexander, has been a huge help for Kearse’s first Training Camp.
It’s always football when we talk...having him out there on the field with me gives me another level. When I’m out there on the field knowing I got a guy I played with, being with on the same page 9 times out of 10. It’s definitely a big advantage.
Kearse insists there is no friendly rivalry for Clemson bragging rights between him and Alexander. He said they’re just there to help each other. "There hasn’t been any competition between us. We’re teammates again and we’re just trying to come out here and be great."
The rookie safety said he isn’t really affected by the expectations the Vikings are facing this season.
I’m just going out there and trying to play football. It’s what I’ve been doing my whole life since I was 5. I’m just going out there and playing for this team. I’m sure everybody sees this team as a great team with a lot of high expectations going into the season, but we’re just out here trying to get better and be great. Build that team bond, that chemistry, so when we step on the field we can live up to everything.
Kearse enjoys the current structure of Training Camp, explaining how the things he learns in the walkthroughs help him execute in the afternoon padded practices. He’s also motivated by how sliding into the seventh round has given him motivation, but not for "revenge" on teams that passed over him.
It was a surprise to slide, but after sitting around and talking to people, I realized that me being mad isn’t going to help the situation. I’m just coming out here trying to get better every day. I looked like guys like Captain Munnerlyn who were drafted in the seventh round that started from day one. I know if I come out here and do my job everything will take care of itself.
So does Kearse himself to follow in Munnerlyn’s footsteps and be a seventh rounder that earns a starting gig?
I’m a competitor, so I’m definitely trying to win the starting job. But that’s up to the coaches and how they feel. So to start the season off, the preseason, whatever it is, the starting safety is their decision.
As I already touched on, Kearse is surprisingly big for his position—heck, for any position. I think winning the starting gig right away is still a long shot but the rookie has acquitted himself quite nicely in his first week of NFL Training Camp.
Mike Zimmer’s morning press conference
After the morning practice, Head Coach Mike Zimmer took the podium and took questions from reporters. He sees the team moving in a promising direction so far:
We need to get in the heat a little bit and keep grinding. I think it has been a good first two days after reviewing those two practices in pads. We still got a long way to go, but I still see improvements in some areas. But we still got a long way to go.
Zimmer claimed he does have a depth chart, but he isn't exactly sharing it yet. "It's sitting in my office," he explained. Next he talked about the potential he sees in Joseph:
He was rehabbing all offseason basically, but he looks good. Right now, he's strong and powerful...I really believe this guy has a chance to be really, really dominant in a lot of areas. The one area we're trying to get him to use his ability more is in the pass rush. There's times when he shows it, and there's times where he just wants to hunker down. He loves playing the run, but if he could ever develop that mentality of when it's time to pass rush, I think he could go do the next level.
The head coach believes that getting to the quarterback more often will help the team create more takeaways. After once again touching on the potential and improvement of linebacker Edmond Robinson, he had some interesting things to say about oft-maligned left tackle Matt Kalil.
He's trying to get to the second level, he's coming off double teams with Boone really well. When he sets right, he's very good in pass protection. Right now, about 75 percent of the time, he's right in his sets, so we're just looking for that one quarter more. If he just continues to do that, he's going to be good. When he gets in trouble, he takes bad angles on his sets and Everson will take advantage of it. That's a good battle every day. I think it's making them both get better.
Moving on along the offensive line, Zimmer also appreciates the center battle between John Sullivan and Joe Berger. Zimmer explained that both have their own strengths and how they're "just trying to figure out what's the best combination for the other four guys in there." He said Sullivan and Berger will keep rotating this week and then the coaches will try to figure out where each player is during their next break on Sunday.
One reporter commented on Tony Sparano getting after Willie Beavers, but Zimmer played it down as singling out the rookie. "I don't think he's the only one. Tony has been staying on them pretty good...When you should be worried is when we’re not getting after you."
Zimmer also praised Tom Johnson's work ethic and toughness, briefly touched on defensive end Zach Moore getting an opportunity with the second team, and explained that Jerick McKinnon is still going to be a big part of the passing game and third downs even though he isn't currently practicing. He also enjoys how the new outspoken guard Alex Boone is fitting in so far:
I think he has been good for our offensive line room. He has been vocal in a good way. I was actually just talking to Chad Greenway about how Boone was in the locker room, and he said, "He's great. People respect him." He has kind of changed the mentality of the offensive line room, him and Coach Sparano, and that's a good thing. That's part of the reason why we did what we did this offseason.
And that's just about everything you need to know from a sticky, exciting, eventful Wednesday in Mankato. I'll be back at camp Thursday to bring more insights, observations, and quotes from Vikings Training Camp.