I made it down to TCO Performance Center again today to watch Vikings training camp, and once again have some observations to pass on.
- It was a shoulder pad and shorts practice today, but otherwise full speed team drills.
- Several notable players did not participate today - Xavier Rhodes, Stefon Diggs, Anthony Barr, and Brandon Zylstra among them. Nick Easton was not there, Pat Elflein was there working out mostly in the weight room - which is open on the practice field side which I think is a cool design. Mike Remmers was back, but did not participate.
- Some national media were in attendance today - NFL Network had a live segment from the field, and Peter King, now with NBC, was also there.
Well, another day, another narrative regarding some players - except one key one.
- Kendall Wright. With Stefon Diggs and Brandon Zylstra out today, Wright got more reps and looked more engaged. He had a couple targets and catches, but despite being more involved, still didn’t stand out. Nevertheless, he was improved from yesterday, if not outstanding.
- Aviante Collins. He’s been getting work at both left guard and left tackle on the second team. He’s quietly improved, added some weight, and holding his own - mostly against 2nd team competition, but not too bad against Sheldon Richardson as well.
- Stacy Coley. He was a little better today than yesterday, and also got more reps with Diggs’ and Zylstra’s absence. He had a couple nice catches today - one in end zone drills and another in second team drills.
- In general, the offensive line fared a little better in 1-on-1 drills (which favor the defensive player), than yesterday, but were still overmatched for the most part. In team drills, pass blocking seems better than run blocking on the first team. There were several run plays that were stuffed, and only a few that seemed more successful (without tackling its harder to tell if a stop would have really happened or not).
- Jaleel Johnson. He’s improved over last year, looking more aggressive and confident. He should provide quality rotation at NT and 3-tech.
- Laquon Treadwell. With Stefon Diggs out today, Treadwell looked the best receiver out there - or at least on par with Adam Thielen. In the two-minute team drill, under the gun and forced to get plays off fast, you could tell Treadwell was Cousins’ go-to receiver - he looked his way first nearly every play.
- Holton Hill. He did pretty well defending in the end zone passing drills, and in general I don’t notice him making big mistakes in coverage. He’s not gonna challenge for a starting spot, but he’s on his way to becoming a good corner. He looks well on his way to earning a roster spot, and if he can show up on special teams during the pre-season games, he’ll eliminate any doubt.
Well, from the glass half-full perspective, the Vikings red zone defense was pretty stout today. But from the glass half-empty perspective, Kirk Cousins threw a bad pick in the end-zone, another bad pass to Dalvin Cook that killed another red zone opportunity, and didn’t connect with Kendall Wright on a third- after each voicing his displeasure. He did manage a nice corner throw to Rudolph for a TD, but even then he tried to copy Stefon Diggs yesterday by throwing the ball into the stands afterword with a big yell... but somehow managed to miss the stands- 20 yards away- on the throw.
Clearly he was feeling some pressure after his initial pick - Harrison Smith stepped in front of Kyle Rudolph for an easy pick of a 10-yard throw - and was pressing afterward in the red zone and it showed. This was the Kirk Cousins his detractors emphasize - rattled under pressure into mistakes. He was more vocal, and perhaps more isolated afterward.
As a team, and predominantly coaching staff, this is what the Vikings have to get Kirk Cousins past if they want to be successful. Hopefully having it show up early will allow the coaching staff a chance to remedy it early too.
I suspect that Cousins, like most other players at this point, will appreciate playing another team. We’ll have to see how he does with the Broncos on Saturday.
SPECIAL TEAMS OBSERVATIONS
Today the focus was on punt returns. Marcus Sherels still leads as punt returner, followed by Mike Hughes, Stacy Coley and Craig James. Sherels can breathe a little easier today, as Hughes muffed one of the punts. Stacy Coley looked fairly confident, and James did well too. I noticed Jeff Badet was a gunner with the first team for a couple reps.
I mention this as undoubtedly the coaching staff are weighing whether or not Marcus Sherels can be adequately replaced in his special teams duties, and are lining up candidates for his various roles. Pre-season games will be crucial to the outcome.
It's stating the obvious, but the Vikings defense is ahead of the offense. Years ahead if you consider the continuity of scheme and personnel. They also have the advantage of a healthy defensive line with at least twice the salary cap invested compared to the offensive line.
They are evenly matched at a high level when it comes to DBs vs. WRs, and also TEs/RBs vs. LBs. The difference maker for the offense has to come from where the salary cap is invested on that side of the ball. But patience is required, from fans and quarterback alike.