The Vikings finish their OTAs today, and move on to minicamp next week. Here are some tidbits of news gleaned from some recent press conferences and other reporting:
Vikings Offensive Playbook
From an interview with Jordan Taylor, who worked in Gary Kubiak’s scheme while in Denver, he said the Vikings playbook is about 60-70% the same as what he learned in Denver. The remaining 30-40% is carry-over from last season - presumably plays that worked the best for the Vikings last year and/or compliment the Kubiak playbook in some way.
Zimmer Tinkering with Defense
Head Coach Mike Zimmer has been installing some new things on defense as well, trying to keep up with changes in offensive schemes and plays that may have had some success or were ran a lot against them last season. Zimmer said:
“But some of the things we’re doing because I just feel like the way the offenses are moving now in this league and the things that they’re trying to do, they’re trying to scheme you, so I think part of that is that we always try to stay one step ahead of things. And now’s the time to look at things and practice [them]. Whether it’s a different technique, different personnel group, different alignments or different blitzes, pressures, things like that. You study a lot of other teams and see what they’re doing and what looks good, and then you go back and correlate it to the types of plays that you’ve been getting all year long. We got a ton of a certain [type] of plays that people thought they could get on us, so maybe give them some different looks.”
Zimmer has also talked about possibly using Anthony Barr more as a pass rusher in some way, and more recently that he expected Stephen Weatherly’s use to grow this year as well, coming off something of a break-out year for him last season.
He also has talked about having some alternative to a base linebacker on early downs, to help against teams targeting the base linebacker on early down passes. Perhaps that could be someone like Jayron Kearse. In the past he had been mentioned as a possible hybrid linebacker, but that has since been contradicted. He continues to work at safety and slot cornerback, however, and perhaps could see action on early downs as a third safety or ‘big slot’ corner in lieu of a base linebacker. We’ll see. Zimmer has thought out loud about using a third safety in the past as well.
Punt Returner Competition May Be Narrowing
It appears the competition to replace Marcus Sherels as punt returner may be narrowing to three candidates: Chad Beebe, Jordan Taylor, and Davion Davis. For Davis, winning the punt return competition may be his only way to make the roster, while Taylor and Beebe look to be front runners for the #3 and #4 spot on the WR depth chart. I suspect one of the latter may ultimately win the job - Taylor had been a punt returner in Denver - but there is always the possibility of another candidate (re)entering the competition in training camp.
Offensive Line Notes
Brian O’Neill mentioned that he’s up to about 307 lbs., and also that the offensive line appears to be relishing a new and improved running game this season. He also dismissed the rumor that he and Riley Reiff could possibly switch sides, saying he never heard anything along those lines. O’Neill also mentioned that things are going well with his new line-mate Josh Kline, and having an experienced vet like Kline alleviates some of the communication need, because of the mutual understanding of the situation.
Garrett Bradbury continues to do well, and is getting a full range of looks from the Vikings defense, according to Mike Zimmer, trying to confuse him and see how he holds up against many different looks. No doubt the learning curve is steep at this point for Bradbury, but by all accounts he seems to be holding up well.
Meanwhile new offensive line coach Rick Dennison is has been hard at work teaching the finer points of his blocking schemes. “Professor Dennison” or “Rico” seems to be fairly detail-oriented in his teaching methods, and it sounds like the offensive line is happy to have a very experienced position coach preparing them again.
We’ll have a better idea of how things are progressing with the offensive line when the pads come on in August.
Marcus Epps Continues to Get Mentioned
Marcus Epps continues to stand-out somewhat among the new defensive backs, which bodes well for his making the roster- perhaps as the 4th safety- as does his ability to play both safety and slot corner - although there appears to be no shortage of slot corners on the Vikings roster, with Mackensie Alexander, Mike Hughes, and Jayron Kearse all competing there too.
Defensive Line Competition
With Hercules Mata’afa making a name for himself and inserting himself into the defensive line roster spot discussion, competition in that group is likely to be fierce through training camp, and will likely result in at least one promising/drafted player getting cut.
If you consider the Vikings will likely keep 8 defensive linemen on the 53-man roster, and you include Mata’afa among the following to secure roster spots...
Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Stephen Weatherly, Shamar Stephen, Hercules Mata’afa
... that leaves 11 guys competing for only two roster spots:
Jaleel Johnson, Jalyn Holmes, Ade Aruna, Tashawn Bower, Stacy Keely, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Anree Saint-Amour, Karter Schult, Curtis Cothran, Tito Odenigbo, and Armon Watts.
Given the positions of the first group, that leaves one DE and one DT spot up for grabs.
That sets up some pretty hefty competition between a couple of 4th round picks in Jaleel Johnson and Jalyn Holmes, along with 6th round pick Armon Watts.
It also sets up a heated competition at DE among a lot of promising players: Tashawn Bower, Ifeadi Odenigbo, and Ade Aruna among them.
Roster Moves / Trades Coming ?
The Vikings are nearly broke in terms of salary cap space, so the subject of salary cap continues to linger, as they will need to free up some space to allow for injury contingencies and possible other signings between now and the start of the regular season.
It has also been reported that the Vikings have put the Kyle Rudolph contract negotiations on-hold for the time-being. Meanwhile the Gronkless New England Patriots, often mentioned as a landing spot for Rudolph if he is traded, released TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who was a potential Gronk replacement.
Clearly the Patriots have a need at TE, and Rudolph could fill it fairly well for them. But for the Vikings, drafting Irv Smith Jr. may have been more of a compliment to the more traditional, in-line style TE Rudolph- particularly in double TE sets- not necessarily a replacement.
One guy to keep an eye on in the context of a potential Rudolph trade is Tyler Conklin. Conklin has similar measurables as the top TE pick in this year’s draft TJ Hockenson, but didn’t have much production (or snaps) last year. He did, however, prove to be the best blocking TE for the Vikings last season, according to PFF, slightly better than David Morgan in both pass and run blocking, and even more so than Kyle Rudolph.
Conklin did have some positive mentions from the coaching staff in OTAs so far, but it remains to be seen if his development is sufficient for the Vikings to consider trading Rudolph. That could be a factor in whether Rudolph is traded or not, along with potential compensation from the Patriots, or another team.
The other guy to watch in a potential Rudolph trade to the Patriots is Rob Gronkowski. There are rumors that his may be a Favre-style retirement, suitable for avoiding the off-season work, but temporary enough to be reinstated for the regular season.
The Vikings may also be taking a wait-and-see trade approach with a couple other players as well, depending on how the competition pans out at their position and what another team may be willing to offer in trade. Injuries, or disappointments, in training camp or before the trade deadline this fall could result in another team being willing to offer up premium compensation to fill a sudden hole in their roster. Everson Griffen and Trae Waynes remain possible trade candidates in that regard.
The Vikings would most likely be willing to trade Laquon Treadwell too, which would save them $1.8 million in cap space, but difficult to see much of a trade market with his $3 million salary. Rashod Hill is also a possibility, if a guy like Aviante Collins, for example, proves to be a better option at swing tackle in the new scheme. Hill could also be cut, saving $2 million in cap space with no dead cap.
Right now the Vikings have next to nothing in salary cap space this year, or next year (assuming a $10 million increase in the salary cap) with the contracts they have on the books. And with guys like Stephen Weatherly, Mackensie Alexander, Jayron Kearse and Anthony Harris all set to be UFAs after this season, the Vikings have plenty of uses for freed-up salary cap space.
That makes parting ways with one or more long-standing vets a more likely scenario at some point in the coming months.