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Minnesota Vikings Training Camp: Wednesday Recap

Eric Thompson shares his thoughts about everything from Mankato on Wednesday, including recaps, notes, and sound bites from press conferences and interviews.

Thad Chesley

Wednesday was a warm, picturesque summer day in Mankato. After the team had the day off on Tuesday, everyone was recharged and ready to get back to work. It was the perfect day to make my 2017 debut at Training Camp.

Once again, we had Thad Chesley on site taking pictures of the action. See the following gallery for a visual recap of the day.

(Well, most of the day. The Vikings are in the portion of camp where they don’t allow photography or video of their 11-on-11 stuff in the afternoons.)

(Also, I apologize for the first couple shots of us bloggers walking out to practice. I like to refer to them as “Reservoir Blogs.”)

There is a lot to cover from Wednesday’s action, so let’s jump right into it.

The morning walkthrough kicked off with a celebrity appearance—Al Roker was in attendance!

He and Megyn Kelly were being shown around by Rick Spielman for the majority of the day. Since NBC is airing Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis, I’m guessing the longtime Today Show weatherman’s appearance was motivated by some good old fashioned corporate synergy and cross-promotion. (Kelly is also at NBC after a long run with Fox News. At least I’m pretty sure she’s still at NBC. I am definitely not the person to ask about these kinds of things.)

Injury updates

Riley Reiff was out the entire day and didn’t attend either session. Rashod Hill once again started in his place at left tackle, and didn’t have a particularly strong day. That’s the bad news. The good news? We finally have clarity on what the “twinge” was that Reiff suffered on the first day of practice. Mike Zimmer explained Reiff’s back is bothering him. Anyone that remembers the John Sullivan saga knows that even minor back troubles can turn into big issues. However, Zimmer said he thought that Reiff was “maybe only a couple days out” from returning. Hopefully he’ll be back in time for the final Blakeslee Stadium Saturday evening practice.

Tre Roberson and Kentrell Brothers weren’t in pads for the afternoon practice, but the big talker will undoubtedly be the fact that Laquon Treadwell joined them on the sidelines Wednesday afternoon. Before you go wild with your “GUHHH THAT’S WHAT YOU GET FOR PUNCHING A PLAYER WITH A HELMET ON” takes, Treadwell was hanging around the wide receiver drills throwing and catching the ball with his teammates. If he hurt his hand on Monday, it certainly didn’t look like it Wednesday. Early reports are that Treadwell actually tweaked his hamstring on Monday. Whatever body part Treadwell did hurt, it isn’t clear whether it came in the scuffle. Both he and Mike Zimmer were asked point blank about the nature and the timing of the injury after practice but neither would say a word. If I had to guess, I’d say that the mystery injury was a result of the fracas, but not from any of the punches thrown. Either way, it’s another setback for a first round pick whose young career has already had its fair share.

Latavius Murray and Teddy Bridgewater were both at the afternoon practice doing some light drills on the far field. Bridgewater wore a large white brace on his injured knee throughout the afternoon. While it’s nice to see him out there and slowly progressing, it’s pretty clear that Teddy will start the season on the PUP list. And with each passing that has seemingly very little progress, one might need to start wondering whether Murray will join Bridgewater there. We’re still hearing that Murray should be OK soon; at the same time, we aren’t hearing anything about a timetable for his return. I’m not too concerned yet but I’m starting to get a little nervous about Murray’s status.

Jerick McKinnon was a full participant in practice. He wore a sleeve on his right leg throughout the day and didn’t seem hobbled at all as he worked with both the first and second team offense.

Lineup/depth chart updates

Nick Easton took most of the snaps at first team center. Pat Elflein did see some snaps at right guard, which was mildly surprising until talking to Pat Shurmur. In his press conference Wednesday, Shurmur explained that was more about providing flexibility and familiarity than Elflein making the move back to the position he played for his first three years at Ohio State. What Shurmur had to say about rotating reps at different offensive line positions made a lot of sense:

I think both of our centers [Easton and Elflein] are getting guard work...Here’s what ends up happening: you develop a starting five and typically you take seven to the game. So you have to have a guy that can be primarily an inside guy or a backup center/guard. So until you become a Hall of Fame starter at a position where that’s your position, if you’re say, the sixth guy and you’re the inside kind of rotational guy you have to do both [center and guard]. And then you always have a guy that can play tackle and maybe guard. So in the even that you have injuries, and we had a lot of practice at it last year, those guys slide in and do what they have to do.

A good chunk of Shurmur’s press conference was spent talking about blocking. He’s impressed with the pass blocking of Dalvin Cook. “He’s got a great background in it. We talked about how he has a really great foundation coming from Florida State, so he understands the big picture. He understands our terminology as to who we’re blocking and he really has a good feel for the game.”

Speaking of blocking, David Morgan getting most of the reps in two tight end sets. It appears that the Vikings plan on using the second year tight end/H-back much more this season.

Mackensie Alexander was starting at nickel corner. Antone Exum, who appears to have made it out of his tiff with Treadwell unscathed, is still taking the majority of the second team snaps in the slot.

At first team weak side linebacker, it seemed to be an Edmond Robinson Day as he and Emmanuel Lamur continue to alternate first team reps. On the second team, linebacker Ben Gedeon was actually moved to the outside for some of the walkthrough and drills. This is a bit surprising since Gedeon’s experience and skill set seem to have him pegged as in inside linebacker, but from what I saw he did just fine.

Since it was my first day in Mankato, it was a bit jarring for me to see two players not with the 1’s: Terence Newman and Brian Robison. That is going to take some getting used to. But I think it could be good for them long-term. Both players are in the twilight of their careers, so making the transition to rotational roles could help them make a bigger impact on the defense overall.

News and notes

The depth along the offensive line remains a serious concern. Even if Riley Reiff returns soon, there isn’t exactly a wealth of talent behind the starting five. Defensive linemen on all units were generally getting the better of their counterparts on Wednesday. Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen looked unstoppable around the edge against Rashod Hill and Mike Remmers. The second and third units got their licks in too, recording a handful of virtual sacks.

The offensive line will be better in 2017, if only because it’s almost impossible to get worse. But if there’s a long term injury or two, we could be reliving last year’s nightmare in no time.

After being rather limited for the first week of camp, the kicker competition got some attention today. Neither the incumbent Kai Forbath nor Marshall Koehn definitively stood out during field goals or kickoffs. In general I’d say Koehn might have a slight edge in power while Forbath is more consistently accurate. Both kickers nailed all but one of their field goal attempts.

On the other side of the kickoffs, Marcus Sherels is pretty clearly the #1 option at kick returner. Rodney Adams and Stacy Coley were the other two players sharing most of the reps behind Sherels. It’s difficult to glean much from the drills that aren’t full speed, but it’s looking like the 5th rounder and 7th rounder from this year’s draft might be in direct competition when it comes to making the final roster. It will be an interesting matchup to watch this week.

It wasn’t a great day overall for Case Keenum and Taylor Heinicke. There were some solid short and intermediate throws for both potential backups, but most of the passes downfield left a lot to be desired. Sam Bradford had a solid day overall. His passes were noticeably crisper and consistently more accurate than his counterparts for most of the afternoon.

The highlight of Bradford’s day came at the end of a two-minute drill, where he found Stefon Diggs on a perfectly placed 15-yard corner route in the end zone. Bradford raised his arms up and proceeded to attempt a chest bump with Zimmer. With only one problem: Zimmer had no idea it was coming, and the coach toppled over for a bit thanks to his enthusiastic quarterback. I don’t think Zimmer was incredibly impressed with the practice as a whole, but it looks like he didn’t mind the show of emotion from Bradford too much.

Two players that had great days on the second team defense: Ifeadi Odenigbo and Anthony Harris. Odenigbo was constantly in the backfield, using some really nice technique to get around the edge. Harris looks like he has improved his anticipation and made a couple excellent pass breakups downfield.

The 11-on-11 portions of practice were interesting to watch due to the variety of looks both sides of the ball were providing. On offense, they were employing a lot of misdirection and screen passes. It caught the defense over-pursuing a handful of times, especially on the plays where there was play action to one side and a wide receiver screen to the other. I also noticed Kyle Rudolph lining up wide on either side of the formation a lot. It looks like the goal was to create mismatches for Rudy to exploit, which he did fairly often. For example, there was a play where Mackensie Alexander ended up covering Rudolph in the slot. Just a slight size differential there. Obviously, it’s still early, but seeing that kind of innovation from Pat Shurmur in camp is promising.

Meanwhile, the defense started to show a handful of different looks. Most notably, the ol’ “sugar the A gap” inside blitz made a few appearances, creating some instant pressure. Different linebackers were sent from different angles, causing either checkdowns or the coaches blowing the play dead.

The goal line portions of the practice were interesting as well. The defense showed great lateral movement on most of the rollouts and passes, stopping the majority of the short-yardage air attacks. But the offensive line opened up a couple nice holes for the running game, especially on the left side. As you might expect, the Vikings defense probably had the better day overall.

But both sides weren’t the sharpest either. There were at least four or five pre-snap penalties during full team drills, which made Zimmer and his staff none too happy. I’d expect the discipline to pick up again on Thursday. (And if not, I’d expect to see a significant uptick in Zimmer outbursts.)

Jack Tocho interview

After practice I chatted with rookie safety Jack Tocho. We started with the important things, like his social media presence. With Rodney Adams doing a lot of video blogging during camp, I asked Tocho whether he’d start something like his humorous “You Don’t Know Jack” web series he did at North Carolina State with the Vikings. “Not that I know of,” he replied with a laugh. “I think I have retired from hosting.”

Tocho played corner for North Carolina State and is making the transition to safety in the pros. Luckily, he has one of the best in the game to learn from in Harrison Smith. Tocho explained that covering more of the field is the main lesson he has learned thus far.

As a corner you’re really locked in on one guy for most of the game. Safety you have to be aware of a lot more. The quarterback, the formation, the second receiver and the first receiver. Expanding my vision is the one thing I’ve really learned the most.

Of course, Tocho isn’t the first corner from an ACC school to make the move to safety on the Vikings. Antone Exum has been a good source of knowledge for Tocho. “He has helped a lot as far as getting the formations quicker and things like that. Being back there with him makes it an easier transition to learn.”

Field vision isn’t the only difference between safety and corner that Tocho is learning from Defensive Backs Coach Jerry Gray and Defensive Coordinator George Edwards. The pace is different too.

[I’m working on] slowing down. At corner things are more fast-paced when the receiver is right on you. At safety you have to take the tempo down and that’s something I have been working on a lot.

After being a two-year captain at NC State and being a vocal leader of the team, Tocho isn’t minding taking a step back and learning from others.

It hasn’t been that hard. It’s about my role. Me being a rookie I just have to follow what the veterans are doing and just understanding my role as a rookie. Going in and doing my job and not being a burden to others.

I asked Tocho about the personality of his fellow players in the secondary and who’s the most talkative of the bunch. “There are a few guys out there—not necessarily on the field. Because the group as a whole is calm, cool, and collected. We don’t really get too rattled with pressure on the field. But off the field we have a bunch of guys that like to horse around.”

The forecast is cooler and rainier for Thursday in Mankato, but hopefully we’ll still get some outdoor football in. Check back for more pictures, recaps, and exclusive interviews right here at Daily Norseman.