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Minnesota Vikings Training Camp: August 3 Recap

Eric Thompson recaps another busy day of action from Mankato with news, notes, and highlights.

What quarterbacks see in their nightmares.
Thad Chesley

In my sixth year of covering Minnesota Vikings Training Camp from Mankato, I had a new experience on Thursday: instead of heading back to the media center after practice to cool off in the air conditioning, I rushed back to warm up.

The temperatures in Mankato plummeted about 30 degrees and the winds picked up Thursday, making the viewing experience downright chilly for fans and media alike. Especially ill-prepared media members that drove down wearing only a t-shirt and jeans and didn’t bring any extra layers. (Namely, me.) Most players spent much of the morning walkthrough with their hands in the pockets of sweatshirts, pants, or shorts. There was even some stinging rain that came down right as the afternoon practice was wrapping up. Mike Zimmer seemed to welcome the cold snap as a teaching moment:

Honestly, I told the team today, and I told them at the beginning of the year, there are a lot of different things that are going to happen throughout the course of this season. We play on a Thursday, we play on a Saturday. We play on Mondays. Different things are gonna come up where we’re not expecting it. Today’s the first test to see how they go out and respond to a different change in weather. They’re used to being in 80 degrees and now it’s cool out here, so let’s see how we respond out here to this little test we’re going to get today.

After taking in Thursday’s practice, Zimmer turned out to be right. The shift in weather, most notably the wind, presented plenty of adversity. The passing game suffered the most, especially with anything that went downfield. Ryan Quigley and Taylor Symmank boomed punts in one direction and then watched their kicks hang in the air and nearly fly backward in the other. In fact, the weather was probably the most notable takeaway from an otherwise choppy practice that was devoid of many memorable plays and performances. Zimmer kept his charges on the field about 20 minutes later than usual on Thursday, likely due to his dissatisfaction with the overall play.

The weather didn’t deter our faithful photog Thad Chesley, who snapped even more pictures during the allowed time of Thursday’s practice. Here are some of the highlights. (Make sure you scroll through for some hilarious shots of Teddy Bridgewater army crawling during a break in his rehab work.)

Without further ado, let’s dig into the news and notes from the day.

The infirmary inquiry

We’ll start again with the injury updates. Just like yesterday, Laquon Treadwell and Kentrell Brothers were at both the walkthrough and afternoon practice but never donned pads. Just like yesterday, Riley Reiff didn’t appear at either practice, resting what we now know is a back injury. Unlike yesterday, Tre Roberson was a full participant in practice for the first time this week. Sharrif Floyd, Latavius Murray, and Bridgewater all did some light rehab work on the far field for most of the afternoon.

The nagging injuries to a few key players are frustrating. But as I tweeted out earlier today, it’s good to have some perspective, especially when compared to teams like the Ravens and Dolphins:

Giddy about Gedeon

The weak side linebacker continues to be a rotation between Emmanuel Lamur and Edmond Robinson splitting reps with the first team. I asked Zimmer what his timeline was on naming the starter at the position. He said he wants to see some live game action from them before making a decision. However, it might not be a two-horse race. Zimmer brought another name into the mix at his press conference: fourth round rookie Ben Gedeon. “We’re going to look at Gedeon there too,” he offered even though the question was only about the other two. “There isn’t really any big hurry [with naming a starter]. Maybe hopefully after the third preseason game, but if it’s not [settled] it’s not.”

Gedeon’s college career at Michigan and his physical numbers at the combine suggest he might be better suited on the inside in the NFL. His measurables weren’t terrible by any means, but his size and speed numbers were middle of the pack at best. Gedeon is an excellent tackler with great technique that didn’t move sideline-to-sideline a lot in Ann Arbor; he played almost exclusively in the middle of the field. Of course, with the bevy of NFL talent he had with him on that defense, there wasn’t a lot of need for Gedeon to cover tons of real estate.

From the small sample size I have seen with Gedeon on the outside thus far—mostly with the second team—he has looked good. He has excellent instincts around the ball and closes well. It’s no secret that Zimmer wants to shore up the Vikings’ run defense in 2017. Perhaps he sees the potential for Gedeon to come in and be part of that improvement in the base defense.

Mr. Personality

If you read my Wednesday recap, the story of Sam Bradford chest bumping/bowling over Zimmer might have caught you off guard. Bradford isn’t exactly known for being gregarious and outgoing. His personality and fan popularity will never hold a candle to that of Teddy Bridgewater. It just isn’t him. But if you look closely at what he has done so far in his first Vikings camp, you’ll notice that he is quietly doing a lot of things to endear him to fans in Minnesota.

The quarterbacks were the position group for morning autographs on Thursday. Unsurprisingly, the crowd was massive and chanting “Ted-dy” for much of it. But as the allotted hour expired and the crowd began to dwindle, one person remained. Bradford chugged away for an extra 25 minutes, making sure every last person in line got their signature. That wasn’t the only instance of Bradford hanging around late for the fans. He has been incredibly generous with his time throughout camp, chatting and joking with the folks that line the fenced area every day after practice.

Will Bradford ever eclipse Bridgewater’s popularity with the Vikings fan base? Unless he brings a title to Minnesota, it’s highly doubtful. But I certainly appreciate the effort from the Vikings’ starting quarterback to open himself up to both his team and his fan base. Hopefully others will start to appreciate it as well.

A less offensive offensive line

On Wednesday, the defensive front got the better of their counterparts at every level of the depth chart. Thursday proved to be a much fairer fight. Rashod Hill was the most noticeable improvement at first team left tackle. He made Everson Griffen work for everything in both 1-on-1 and full-team drills. The interior of the line created some nice holes in the run game, especially in goal line situations. There were still plenty of instances where the defense won a battle or stunted to create a free rusher, but there were markedly fewer of those instances than Wednesday.

WRs + CBs = Lots of $^#@&s

One of the most entertaining parts of the day was when the wideouts went 1-on-1 against the corners right in front of the fans in the stands. Wide receivers and cornerbacks have a reputation of being some of the more talkative players on the field, and this drill did nothing to dispel the notion. The apex of the drill came when Michael Floyd went head-to-head with Xavier Rhodes. Floyd and Rhodes exchanged colorful words for a good 15 seconds before they finally took off. Floyd managed to barely sneak past Rhodes, which caused the wide receiver group to erupt like Floyd had just won a rap battle. It was great to watch.

Taylor and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

As stated earlier, the conditions made it tough for any of the quarterbacks to consistently find their targets on Thursday. But Taylor Heinicke had an especially bad day on Thursday. He missed badly on several passes, throwing a couple interceptions and nearly getting picked a few other times. And that was when he wasn’t flat out air mailing it over everyone. Depending on who you asked, opinions seemed to be split between Case Keenum and Heinicke as to who would end up winning the backup quarterback job. If Heinicke has more performances like he did on Thursday, the race won’t be very close. Hopefully he can bounce back and show what he’s capable of the rest of camp.

Davis and Fragel rocked out of practice

Late in the practice, linebacker Noor Davis and tackle Reid Fragel got into a rather tame skirmish after a play in 11-on-11. The shoving match was your typical Training Camp fare; it wasn’t nearly as intense as Treadwell and Antone Exum from Monday. But apparently Zimmer didn’t want to risk it escalating into something more. The head coach immediately expelled both players from practice. That probably doesn’t bode well for a couple of players that appear to be buried near the bottom of the depth chart.

Lightning round

Some final random quick-hit observations from my Thursday notebook:

  • Terence Newman was lined up at safety for a handful of packages. [Insert thinking guy or eyes emoji here]
  • Adam Thielen popped up and barked at a referee for not giving him a pass interference call after an incomplete pass. He is now a true starting NFL wide receiver!
  • Bucky Hodges nearly killed Arif after getting shoved out of bounds on the near sideline. Thankfully, Arif was able to narrowly escape getting trampled. My only regret was that I didn’t capture it on video.
  • I tried for a short while to get an exclusive interview after practice. However, most players were more interested in avoiding the biting rain and getting warm. To be honest, I was probably more interested in that too. I’ll try again to snag a few more quotes on Friday.

And that ends our adventure for Thursday. I’m halfway through my live coverage of Mankato. Stay tuned for lots more all through the weekend!