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Well, I made my way down to Mankato today, where morning walk-through was cancelled, and the ‘penultimate’? afternoon practice pushed back to 3pm.

Lots of people as usual- stands were packed- and a beautiful day in Mankato.

OK, so here’s what I saw:

Injury Updates

First off, Latavius Murray and Riley Reiff were out in pads today- Murray was just cleared from the PUP list. Both did drills, but did not participate in team 11-on-11 activities, so both of them are not fully back in action yet, but a good sign they were both easing back into the swing of things.

Everson Griffen was in pads, but did not participate much as far as I could tell in either drills or 11-on-11. Not sure why, but apparently he went off with Eric Sugarman and later returned.

Bucky Hodges and Laquon Treadwell were not in pads today, but on the sidelines taking ‘mental reps’ presumably. Again, no reason to believe anything serious in either case that I’ve heard, although Treadwell didn’t participate in the Saturday night practice either.

Position Battle Update

The first thing I’d have to say is that for backup positions in general on both the offensive and defensive line, there is a long way to go before the final cuts and depth charts will be determined. Particularly on the offensive line, a lot is in flux. I would also say outside of Linval Joseph on the interior defensive line, a lot is yet to be determined.

The one position battle to which I would add something a little more detailed is the competition at center. Based on what I saw today, Nick Easton is winning that battle. It’s not over, but Easton is winning. A couple specifics:

First, Easton I think had virtually all the reps with the first team today, and some with the second team as well, as Elflein played mostly left guard today on second team. It was noteworthy that Elflein had one bad snap in shotgun when he played center. Also, in one-on-one drills, Elflein got beat by Joseph (as usually happens with both centers), but today Easton held his own once. It wasn’t pretty, but he battled and did ok. It’s obviously not definitive, but Easton had the better day.

Again, only one day’s action, but the fact that they’re moving Elflein around at guard while Easton stays at center is telling. My guess is that Elflein is being groomed as an interior backup, similar to what Berger had been in the past, but may eventually start at some point at either guard or center as he improves. As of now, I think Easton will be the starting center week one. That could change, but I think they want to nail down the starting center sooner rather than later.

Other Offensive Line Notes

Rashod Hill again played with the first team in 11-on-11. I have to say he “looks the part” as a tackle, which is a good thing, but with Everson Griffen not playing much today, Danielle Hunter was playing right end with the first team, and, yeah, he’s pretty good. Hunter “looks the part” of right-end too. Needless to say, Hunter beat Hill a certain amount. Maybe not every snap, but often. Still, I was impressed that Hill showed some awareness on a blitz by Harrison Smith and picked it up (it wasn’t well disguised), and generally carried himself well. I’m hoping when Reiff is fully back with the first team in 11-on-11 drills they move Hill over to right-tackle to see how he does there, as he looks like the most competent potential swing-tackle at the moment.

Speaking of swing-tackle, they’ve had both Jeremiah Sirles and Aviante Collins out at left tackle- Sirles mostly today on second team, and Collins with 3rd team. I think the point of putting them at left-tackle is to see if they can do OK or not there, figuring they’re both better at right-tackle. In any case, they both struggle at left tackle. Sirles just isn’t athletic enough, and Collins just needs a lot of work and development.

At guard, Boone did well (except off on the side doing OL drills he slipped once and let out multiple f-bombs which generated some chatter among the crowd right there). It was harder for me to see Berger at the other guard spot, but I didn’t notice anything significant there either- which is a positive. After looking at today’s practice highlight reel on Vikings.com I see he had a nice block on Tom Johnson to spring Dalvin Cook for a long run that had the crowd cheering. Danny Isidora played with the second team most of the time at right guard today, and for the most part appeared to do alright. In one-on-one drills he battled pretty well too and held his own, generating some ‘Ooohs’ from the players. I was impressed with him from what I saw.

I couldn’t see right-tackle very well from my vantage point on the other side of the field, but I think generally this was a better day for right-tackles- primarily because Danielle Hunter was playing the other side today and Everson Griffen was out. I did notice Remmers having a good run block at least once, and not a clear sack from that side that I could tell.

Overall, my impression with the offensive line is they are still experimenting with positions for the depth guys and there is a lot to be determined. How they fare in pre-season action will obviously carry a lot of weight in determining depth charts. One could also infer that having Sirles and Collins playing left tackle with the 2nd and 3rd teams is simply because they need someone to fill the position, and the coaches are more interested in seeing how others do at right-tackle and left-guard, for example.

I wasn’t able to see Beavers today, but from what I’ve heard so far in camp among the depth guys, Hill, Isidora and Beavers have shown the best. I concur with Isidora and Hill, from what I saw today. I’d also say Easton over Elflein from what I saw today.

Wide Receivers

I was disappointed Laquon Treadwell did not participate today, as I was hoping to see with my own eyes his improvement. Be that as it may, here’s what I did notice today:

  • Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs stand apart from the rest. Not surprising, but their routes and hands are so good, and both of them are so polished in the way they finish- it’s really a pleasure to watch. Diggs had a beautiful grab on a corner route in the end zone to finish the last 2-minute drill in 11-on-11s for the first team- over Trae Waynes in good coverage- but both Diggs and Thielen had nice, difficult, contested catches that more and more you expect them to make all the time- because more and more they do.
  • Michael Floyd is not as good as Thielen or Diggs. He’s not as polished finishing a catch, and his route running isn’t as good either. He had one miscue I believe on a route today during receiver/DB drills as well. I’m not saying he’s bad, he’s just not as good as Diggs and Thielen- who are very good. It’s just a little more of an adventure with Floyd, from what I saw today, with contested catches and hauling them in. He makes a good effort, and maybe part of it is QB chemistry, but just not the polished results there.
  • Stacy Coley “looks the part” as the last wide receiver. I’ve used that term a few times, and if you’ve come to Vikings practices, it’s always revealing to simply see who looks like they know their stuff, confident, etc., etc. It’s kind of an intangible, but you can just tell by looking at a player sometimes. There are different versions of it, but still you can tell. Harrison Smith has a different “looks the part” look than Danielle Hunter, for example, but they both have it. Anyway, if you ask me, Coley may have the inside track on the last WR spot, particularly if the main competition is Rodney Adams, who doesn’t have the look. I know that sounds very superficial, but it comes through in performance to some degree. Maybe it’s confidence, maybe it’s a little more than that, but I’d be surprised at this point if Rodney Adams beats out Coley for that last WR spot. Coley didn’t shine today at WR, primarily due to some good defending, but he looked better than Adams and Fruechte, for example.
  • The fan feel-good about MoBo doesn’t feel so good anymore. MoBo had a drop in drills today which drew some muffled tones and “you gotta catch those” comments from the crowd. From what I’ve read he’s had a lot of drops in camp so far, and I saw him staying after practice today to work on catching drills. He just had the one drop, but on other catches he was not smooth in securing the ball, suggesting he’s overly conscious of the drops now- something he’ll have to work through. It’s worth mentioning that MoBo’s play speed is much slower than other receivers, despite his being the WR with I believe the fastest 40 time.

Defensive Line

I paid a lot of attention to the defensive line today. Danielle Hunter played right-end today as I mentioned, which was on my side of the field, and he looked great. I tried not to watch him that much, however, as I knew he would look great and he didn’t disappoint. I wanted to focus mainly on the interior linemen, where there is more uncertainty, to see if anyone differentiated themselves or stood out in any way.

I didn’t see much.

Linval Joseph did well, but not overwhelmingly so that I could tell. But I was really focused mainly on the 3-tech spot, to see how that competition was panning out. I just didn’t see much one way or another. Jaleel Johnson had what would have been a TFL on one play, and Dylan Bradley had what would have been a stop for no gain, but the main thing that came through is that there isn’t much difference from top to bottom there. Here’s what I saw more specifically:

Tom Johnson had most of the first team reps at 3-tech. He had one noticeably bad play, as Berger took him (#92) out to spring Cook’s big run, and he certainly wasn’t dominant either. What I noticed in his game is that he can get a good jump on the ball, but sometimes, perhaps more often than not, lose the leverage battle- getting higher than his blocker. He’d try to compensate sometimes by trying to swim through, but that didn’t work much today. I suspect that when he is able to get good penetration, it is using this technique and some good quickness. If you think about it, that explains why he’s better against the pass than the run.

Datone Jones didn’t seem to have nearly as many reps as Tom Johnson today. Having seen him on only a few reps, I can’t say too much about him other than he was a little more undistinguished, perhaps a little underwhelming, than I had hoped. But I didn’t see much of him, so take that with a grain of salt. But from what I’ve read so far on Jones in camp, I think that may be the consensus on him so far. Kinda meh.

Shamar Stephen played all nose tackle today that I could see, and he did okay. Stephen is a hard guy to move, given his bulk, but he doesn’t have the power of Joseph (perhaps needless to say). I didn’t notice him getting much penetration, except when allowed away from the play, which doesn’t count. But he manned the middle reasonably well.

As I continue here there are fewer and fewer reps to talk about, so the sample size gets smaller and smaller.

Jaleel Johnson had the only clear TFL of the day among 3-techs that I noticed, but otherwise I didn’t notice much. He didn’t look like he was 316 lbs. to me- which is more than Shamar Stephen is listed as- he looked not as heavy. Anyway, he looked more athletic than Stephen and the other 3-techs as a first impression, which was positive, but I want to see more of him before saying much more.

Will Sutton didn’t do much today, good or bad, but I’m wondering if he can be more than just a guy at 3-tech. My thought before seeing practice today was that there are veterans better than him, and rookies more promising, and that thought hasn’t changed.

Last but not least there is Dylan Bradley. If you’ve read some of my other stuff since he was drafted you’ll know I like him, though there isn’t much to justify that so far. He just had a few reps today, one for what would have been a stop for no gain or maybe a TFL, the others the play was away from him. One thing you notice about Bradley compared to the other interior linemen is his low center of gravity- which he uses to generate power and leverage. He keeps his feet moving, but other than the stop he had, he could use better technique to shed his blocker- hard to get a good read as the other plays were away from him. He did pursue across the field on one of them, and I can see that the ‘short-stepper’ description in his profile is accurate. Anyway, Bradley strikes me as a 3-tech that may be better against the run than most of his competitors. With his low center of gravity, and what looks to be good strength throughout, he’s a tough guy to move even if he doesn’t have the weight of some of them. I’m curious to see him over more reps too.

Hopefully both Jaleel Johnson and Bradley will get more reps in the near future. In any case, pre-season games will of course help to shake things out- or up- from where they stand currently.

On defensive ends, I won’t say much about Hunter other than he could be a superstar sooner rather than later. My only other thought about him is whether at some point he may play more right-end than left-end. The plan this year seems to switch Griffen and Hunter around as needed, perhaps to generate match-up advantages.

Brian Robison looks more like an interior linemen than I remember, and I thought I read he’s added some weight this year. Not much to note about him otherwise though.

Weatherly looked OK, but he suffered from having to follow Hunter, if you know what I mean. Weatherly looks more steady and experienced than Odenigbo on the other side, but Odenigbo looks more explosive. The problem here, and I haven’t even talked about Tashawn Bower yet, is that there’s no way he makes it to practice squad. Odenigbo needs more development before he gets much playing time, but other teams are going to notice his upside.

So, lots of tough decisions ahead on the defensive line.

Today’s Standouts and Other Notes

I didn’t get a chance to watch the secondary much, or linebackers, but two players that nevertheless stood out in 11-on-11 drills were CB Tre Robertson, who had a few nice pass breakups today, and Edmond Robinson, who had an interception (bad throw by Heinike I believe) to end the two minute drill for the second team, and also a nice would-be sack on a blitz, beating Jeremiah Sirles rather badly.

It was Stacy Coley day for fielding punt and kick returns today, as he did most of them- Sherels had a couple and Adams a couple too. Coley did well fielding both punts and kicks- no drama with dropping a ball or misjudging it. Sherels did fine too. Adams misjudged one punt, but still made the catch- off-balance.

I don’t know that there was a winner in either punter or kicker competition today- they both seem very close and it’s really hard to tell. I’m guessing both competitions will be decided more by game performance than practice. Pretty sure Kevin McDermott has a lock on the long-snapper job, though.

I’ll leave it with a few pictures of some players and fans after practice.