The second week of Training Camp is the epitome of the dog days of summer in the NFL landscape. Players have been grinding away in the summer sun for over a dozen practices. They line up against the same guys in the same color jerseys over. And over. And over again. They’re fatigued. They’re sore. To top it all off, most of them haven’t played any real football yet.
“Football is family” may be a semi-cheesy NFL marketing slogan, but there’s some truth behind the saying. The 2018 iteration of the Minnesota Vikings truly has that familial vibe; these men are giving everything they have to work together toward one common goal.
But even the most harmonious of families can get on each other’s nerves after spending too much time together. Especially when you’re tired and baking in the sun for days on end. (I can see many of you reading this, thinking about your most recent family vacation, and vigorously nodding in agreement.) Training Camp can serve as both a metaphorical and literal pressure cooker. On Wednesday, it felt like the Vikings tried to jam 8 quarts of food into a 6-quart Instant Pot.
The results: Stefon Diggs and Xavier Rhodes basically getting sent to their rooms by Mike Zimmer. Kirk Cousins talking trash to the defense after throwing a touchdown and awkwardly chucking the football toward the stands. Eric Kendricks bursting through the line and screaming Cousins’ catch phrase—”YOU LIKE THAT?!” in his quarterback’s ear to dish it right back.
Everyone is getting a bit punchy this week. Saturday’s preseason game against the Denver Broncos can’t get here fast enough. This entire Vikings team is champing at the bit to line up against someone that isn’t wearing purple, and that energy was palpable throughout practice.
The players aren’t the only ones suffering from a bit of mental fatigue. Those of us covering Training Camp are feeling the weariness as well. So instead of writing a straightforward recap the chippy and choppy action in Eagan, we’re going to join the fray and go a little haywire as well. We’re going through five Training Camp observations that are definitely being made way too early, but just might have a bit of truth to them. We’re totally jumping to conclusions today; that said, there’s still a decent chance that we’re jumping in the right direction.
Let’s pull some of these takes out of the oven.
The offensive line is in big trouble.
Why it might be true: For starters, the offensive line was a pretty large concern heading into camp. Also, the Vikings are literally looking for starters, because they’re currently down three of them. The middle of the line is gutted with Nick Easton, Pat Elflein, and Mike Remmers all sidelined. Rashod Hill missed a couple days with an illness and Colby Gossett sat out on Wednesday. It sounds like Elflein will remain on the PUP list for at least a couple more weeks while Easton is getting the dreaded second opinion on the dreaded neck and back area. Of course, all these maladies pale in comparison to what the offensive line lost so suddenly right before camp started—coach Tony Sparano. To say it has been a difficult start for the men on the front line is an understatement.
People are already starting to get 2016 flashbacks. The Vikings didn’t pay Kirk Cousins $84 million to throw five yard Sam Bradford checkdowns.
Why it might be an overreaction: There is still exactly one month—31 whole days—before the Vikings play the first game that counts. That’s a lot of time for injuries to heal. That’s a lot of time for backups to get prepared in case their services are needed to start the regular season. That’s a lot of time for the Vikings to look around the league for help if needed. (No, not you, Richie Incognito.)
A couple of the backups have actually been holding their own while getting valuable reps. Brian O’Neill and Danny Isidora need to get more consistent, but at least they’re showing potential. Cornelius Edison has been surprisingly serviceable since being thrust onto the first team. Aviante Collins is having an excellent camp; he might be one of the most improved players on the team this year.
If the line is still this beat up on September 9th, then there’s plenty of reason to be worried. For now, let’s just be thankful that it’s only August 9th.
The draft class of 2016 will actually make an impact this season.
Why it might be true: It’s easy to get caught up in hyperbole this time of year. According to most articles coming out of camps across the country, all 32 teams look way better this season. All 2,880 players are in the best shape of their lives and playing the best football of their careers. Everyone has “a decent shot” at a playoff run if things break right. That said, I really think it might be time to start believing in this draft class. Laquon Treadwell finally seems to have the right mindset and is showing signs of the player everyone hoped he would become with the 23rd overall pick. Mackensie Alexander has fully embraced his role at nickel corner and is playing very well in Eagan. David Morgan could see a lot more action in John DeFilippo’s offense. Jayron Kearse and Stephen Weatherly are still heavily involved in special teams and the defensive rotation. After getting off to a painfully slow start, we could look back at this draft class much more fondly than we anticipated.
Why it might be an overreaction: For good as Treadwell has been in camp, he’s still WR3 at best. Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and Kyle Rudolph are still going to get a big chunk of targets. There’s no guarantee that Treadwell will get enough looks to make the kind of contributions the team was hoping for when they drafted him. For as good as Alexander has been in camp, rookie first round pick Mike Hughes has been just as impressive. There’s no guarantee that Mack hangs onto the slot corner job. Nobody really knows what DeFilippo is going to run yet, so Morgan may not actually see a big uptick in snaps or targets. With all the talent along the defensive line, Weatherly isn’t even a lock to make the roster. Kearse is still probably behind Anthony Harris on the depth chart.
And oh yeah, Kentrell Brothers is already suspended for the first four games of the season. And two of the picks from that draft (Moritz Böhringer and Willie Beavers) are already long gone. This draft class still has a ton to prove before it can be considered a success.
Brandon Zylstra is the next Adam Thielen.
Why it might be true: Well...isn’t it obvious? Grew up in a small resort town in Minnesota, went to a small local college, toiled in relative obscurity before bursting onto the scene at Training Camp and winning the hearts of fans...it practically feels like Thielen could sue Zylstra for life story copyright infringement. The former Concordia Cobber and Edmonton Eskimo has been a standout in Eagan and is one of the front runners for the coveted Mr. Mankato award. Zylstra certainly appears to be headed for the 53-man roster at this point.
Why it might be an overreaction: There’s a reason why Thielen’s rise to prominence is such a cool story—it’s because it almost never happens. Even if Zylstra makes the team, he still has a l-o-o-o-n-g way to go before actually earning the plaudits that Thielen has received. Making the comparison right now is unfair to both players.
But it is still a pretty fun comparison to make.
Danielle Hunter will get 15+ sacks this season.
Why it might be true: When you’re built like He-Man’s older brother and have 25.5 sacks to your name before the age of 24, the sky is the limit. Hunter appears to have added moves to his repertoire over the offseason; his spin move has been especially nasty in camp. It also helps when you add Sheldon Richardson to the middle of a defensive line that was star-studded to begin with. Opponents will truly have to pick their poison with the Vikings front four this season. They may not have the antidote for #99.
Why it might be an overreaction: We all made this prediction last year. In the end, Hunter ended up with only half that total. Hunter had an excellent season overall, but there were still several opportunities for sacks that slipped through his comic book arms. Averaging a sack per game against today’s quick-hitting passing attacks is a very tall task.
Sacks aren’t the most prescriptive statistic of pass rushing prowess anyway; I would much rather see Hunter rank among the leaders in total pressures and disruptive plays. But if Hunter hopes to set a career high in 2018, he’ll have to learn to finish off his opportunities on a more consistent basis.
It’s time to start worrying about Anthony Barr.
Why it might be true: Of the “big four” re-signing targets the Vikings had this offseason, Barr is the only one that doesn’t have a new deal. Stefon Diggs, Hunter, and Kendricks all got their paper. That has to irk Barr, the only one of the group that was selected in the first round, at least a bit. Barr has missed some time in practice and has deferred the media to the coaching staff when asked about why he wasn’t participating. The company line is that Barr has been “nicked up” a bit. The mystery behind Barr’s situation has led to rampant speculation on social media, including talk about possible trades. Everything just feels a bit off right now.
Why it might be an overreaction: In my mind, this one is definitely an overreaction. An established veteran missing a few camp practices is hardly something to get worked up about. Barr was the first draft pick ever made under the Mike Zimmer regime. The Head Coach has praised his linebacker’s play at every opportunity in camp. The fact that Barr has been working with the defensive line shows that the team is doing everything they can to maximize his abilities. And so what if a deal isn’t done yet? There are worse things in the world than an impact player vying for his next big payday.
If you’re seriously worried about Barr at this point, I’d suggest doing some breathing exercises or something. He should be pretty low on your list of concerns. I mean, have you seen that offensive line?
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.