It might not be a game quite yet, but we’re certainly getting closer. No pads, no big hits. But it’s still real, live football with a real, live, full roster.
I’m not sure there could have been a more picturesque day to make my debut at TCO Performance Center in Eagan. Highs in the upper 70’s and plenty of sunshine was an idyllic backdrop for Saturday’s practice. The new facilities are truly stunning; the Vikings have carved out a state-of-the-art campus for themselves in the southeast suburbs. I’ll be sharing more about the facilities as the week progresses, but first things first—the football.
Saturday marked the first full-roster practice for the Vikings, and the stands were buzzing with anticipation in both sessions. (Stands that were busy, but not as jam-packed as I anticipated with such nice weekend weather.) It’s still much too early to glean a ton of useful information about how the roster will turn out down the road, but there were still plenty of interesting tidbits throughout the day. Without further ado, let’s dive in for a quick gallery of pictures and my Saturday Training Camp notebook.
- The base defense was as expected. Danielle Hunter, Sheldon Richardson, Linval Joseph, and Everson Griffen along the line. Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, and Ben Gedeon at linebacker. Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith, Andrew Sendejo, and Trae Waynes in the secondary. When Gedeon subbed out for the nickel package, Mackensie Alexander was getting the majority of snaps with the first team. It’s something we’ll be monitoring closely as camp progresses, since Mike Hughes and Terence Newman will definitely be in the mix too.
- It was fairly tough to glean much information about the specifics of the second- and third-team defense. With so many bodies coming in and out, there doesn’t appear to be much of a designed pecking order behind the starters just yet. Which makes sense, because it was Day 1 after all.
- There were a couple of guys that have appeared to have gained some notable muscle over the offseason: safety Anthony Harris and linebacker Eric Wilson. Both appear to have known where the weight room was in the past several months.
- In that same “eye test” vein, I would have to give Ade Aruna the Jayron Kearse memorial “Wow, He Looks Even Bigger In Person!” Award. Aruna is every bit of his 6’5”, 263 pound listing and then some. We’ll see if he jumps out that much with his play as well.
- So far, so good on the injury front. [Knocks furiously on wood] Pat Elflein remains on the PUP list, and the only non-participant appeared to be Stacy Coley. He was on the field with the scout team but didn’t take any reps on offense. According to Darren Wolfson Coley is working through a mild groin strain, so he may miss a bit of time over the next couple days. The back end of the wide receiver depth chart looks to be a crowded competition, so Coley better hope his injury isn’t a significant setback. Rashod Hill also appears to have had a bit of a bug today; I was front and center when he bent over and threw up about halfway through the afternoon practice. I’d be surprised if it was anything conditioning related after he was reported to have a pretty rigorous offseason conditioning program.
- Joe Berger was in attendance with his family today, and he seems to have absolutely no qualms with being on the sidelines after announcing his retirement. He has also undergone the “offensive lineman retires and immediately loses a few dozen pounds” transformation, which is always nice too. Hopefully the team isn’t trying to beg him to come back halfway through the season, because it certainly appears that he’s done for good with his NFL career.
- Sheldon Richardson, Everson Griffen, and Laquon Treadwell all addressed the media after the morning walkthrough. If there was one common theme throughout most of the interviews, it’s that the team is moving on from both the good and the bad last year. They realize that they aren’t entitled to go 13-3, especially if they dwell on the disastrous way their season ended in Philadelphia. Everyone seems to be trumpeting the company line from Griffen this morning: “We have to earn our swagger this year.”
- Mike Zimmer officially announced that Clancy Barone and Andrew Janocko were taking over as co-Offensive Line coaches while Todd Downing would move to Tight Ends coach. In the wake of the sudden passing of Tony Sparano, hiring from within seemed to be the wisest move for the team. Although the team reportedly reached out to Mike Tice about the job, keeping the changes in-house appears to be the best fit for now. However, Zimmer did mention in his press conference that if he believed there was a better option outside of the team he wouldn’t have hesitated to make it. Apparently Tice wasn’t the better option for one reason or another.
- Even after naming new coaches, Zimmer has been watching the offensive line very intently thus far in camp. Here he is keeping a close eye on Barone and Janocko as they put the O-line through drills this afternoon. Zimmer even barked out a handful of encouraging (and colorful) words to his charges.
O-line drills with newly named coaches Barone and Janocko. Zimmer has been watching intently the whole time. Seems like Zim is emphasizing the importance of the success of this unit. pic.twitter.com/45oGtrUTqQ— Eric Thompson (@eric_j_thompson) July 28, 2018
- Zimmer and the coaching staff aren’t really focusing on individual position battles just yet. He explained that he’ll wait until the scheduled player days off to meet with the rest of his staff and start to sort through some of the depth chart. Until then, expect more constant rotation, especially on the second and third teams.
- There was some futbol mixed in with the football today. Or, more accurately, calcio. Members of the Italian soccer team AC Milan were on hand to watch the afternoon practice ahead of their International Champions Cup match with Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday at US Bank Stadium. I am far from fluent in Italian, but I’m fairly certain the players were very impressed with how large Danielle Hunter is. Unsurprisingly, they were also very interested in what Daniel Carlson and Kai Forbath were up to.
- With Elflein sidelined, the first team offensive line was as follows from left to right: Riley Reiff, Tom Compton, Nick Easton, Mike Remmers, and Hill. Brian O’Neill filled in for Hill after his vomiting incident. Again, this was the very first day of full-team practice, and plenty can change between now and September 9. But Compton getting those reps over someone like Danny Isidora is something to keep an eye on going forward.
- It was a pretty low-key practice overall as players were just getting up to speed, but there were still a few highlight plays that got the crowd excited:
- Stefon Diggs had an absolutely ridiculous catch on a corner route from Cousins. Anthony Harris was perfectly positioned and turned around in time just to have Diggs leap over his back and snatch the ball in the end zone. There’s a reason why the #PayDiggs movement is so strong.
- Adam Thielen had a nice circus catch of his own down the left sideline in 11-on-11 drills, solidifying the fact that the Vikings currently possess one of the best 1-2 wide receiver combos in the league.
- Dalvin Cook had a few nice sprints down the sideline on runs. Was there contact? No. Was it a padded practice? No. Did Cook make some sort of incredible cut to bust a long run? No. But the simple sight of Cook running so unencumbered after his injury last year was a welcome sight for any Vikings fan.
- As this point in Training Camp with clean pockets and no pads, quarterbacks should be expected to have most of their passes land where they’re supposed to. Kirk Cousins certainly lived up to those expectations today. He was right on the money with all but maybe two passes that I saw all day. If he’s allowed to get into a rhythm with his new weapons, he should be able to do plenty of damage this season.
- First round pick Mike Hughes and undrafted free agent Holton Hill earned praise on both sides of the ball in the post-practice press conferences. Thielen and Rhodes both commented on how quickly Hughes seems to be picking things up thus far. Thielen recognizes the value of going against such a deep and talented secondary in practice: “it can only help us get better as receivers.” Rhodes was particularly exuberant when asked about Hill. “Man, I was waiting for that question!” Rhodes acknowledged that being the seasoned vet is a new feeling for him, (“I still feel young though!”) but he is embracing the role with players like Hill and Hughes.
And with that, we’re officially one day closer to the 2018 NFL season. Stay tuned for much more throughout the rest of camp—I am scheduled to be at TCO ten more times before camp officially wraps up on August 16. If you aren’t following along on Twitter yet, click here to do so—the updates will be coming fast and furious from my account throughout camp.