Football. It’s officially back.
Sweet, sweet, glorious NFL football. Sure, the first exhibition game isn’t for another two weeks. Yes, the rookies, quarterbacks, and a handful of vets have been at it for a couple days already. And no, players aren’t wearing pads until after the weekend. But for the first time in 2019, the entire 90-man Minnesota Vikings roster took the field at TCO Performance Center in Eagan.
Well, only 84 to be exact. The biggest news of the first day came before anyone set foot between the lines. We learned that three players started on the Physically Unable to Perform List: Mike Hughes, David Morgan, and Brandon Zylstra. Tashawn Bower and Shamar Stephen started the preseason on the Non-Football Injury List. Stephen’s setback doesn’t seem serious, but we learned that Bower tore his Achilles in an offseason workout, which will in all likelihood end his 2019 season before it starts. We also learned that Hughes’ injury was “multi-ligament” but is apparently ahead of schedule.
But the day wasn’t ruled only by the initial injury doom and gloom. Outside of the five players on their respective injury lists, Jeff Badet was the only non-participant on Friday. He spent a good portion of his time riding an exercise bike on the sidelines near the team’s weight facility watching practice.
So what did we learn from the 93% of the team that did participate today?
Well, not that much. After all, it was only the first day and nobody was wearing pads. But here are some notes and thoughts from the hot, sunny, and breezy debut:
You wanna read waaayyy too much into how players lined up and went through plays at half speed on the first day? OK then, let’s go!
There were no surprises on the first team. Their 12 personnel, visualized:
Most of what the Vikings ran on Friday in 11-on-11 was 12 personnel vs. base defense. But when they did go with three wide receivers, this is what we saw:
Chad Beebe and Jordan Taylor had just about an even split rotating as the third wide receiver.
The second team offensive line was fairly consistent. From left to right: Aviante Collins, Dakota Dozier, Brett Jones, Danny Isidora, and Rashod Hill. Laquon Treadwell was firmly entrenched with the 2’s while the other young wide receivers that were participating rotated between the second and third teams. Tyler Conklin was the main second team tight end. With Morgan out, Cole Hikutini and Brandon Dillon took the remainder of the TE snaps. Surprisingly, Ameer Abdullah had the majority of the second team running back reps with Alexander Mattison getting plenty of looks as well.
Outside of Abdullah, Dru Samia starting with the third team was a bit of a surprise. I thought the 4th round rookie out of Oklahoma would mostly run with the second team, but it looks like he’ll have to prove himself first.
On the defensive side of the ball, it was just as most would expect outside of the middle of the line. The base defense:
With Stephen sidelined and Linval Joseph rarely participating in 11-on-11, Jayln Holmes got most of the 3-technique snaps while Jaleel Johnson filled in most of the time for Joseph.
No surprises when the defense switched to nickel—Mackensie Alexander came in while Ben Gedeon went off. The second team D had a couple mild upsets:
Kris Boyd got second team reps even though Holton Hill was practicing—not a great sign after Mike Zimmer’s scathing comments about Hill’s suspension Friday morning. Craig James was stuck with the third team for most of the day as well. At safety, many favored Marcus Epps over Derron Smith, but that wasn’t the case on Friday.
Kickers will ultimately be the end of Mike Zimmer
OK, so that heading was probably a little hyperbole. At least, I hope it is. Dan Bailey didn’t do himself any favors to earn his Head Coach’s trust in the first practice of the year. When the veteran kicker was on one of the side fields, it looked like he was nailing most of the kicks that I noticed. But he came out throughout practice three separate times to kick a total of seven “live” field goals. Here is how they went (although the yardage might be off a yard or two):
- 34 yards, middle of the field: GOOD
- 36 yards, left hash: GOOD
- 41 yards, right hash: NO GOOD (wide right)
- 39 yards, right hash: NO GOOD (wide right)
- 43 yards, left hash: GOOD
- 47 yards, right hash: GOOD
- 49 yards, right hash: NO GOOD (wide left)
In Bailey’s defense, there was a stiff left-to-right cross wind in the direction he was kicking all seven kicks on Friday. You may have noticed that all three misses were from the right hash mark. The wind seemed to push the first two misses wide. On the third, Bailey definitely seemed to overcompensate as he chunked a wobbly ball well left. His final miss was the final play of practice—Zimmer blew his whistle, yelled something that probably wasn’t very pleasant, and the team ran a few light wind sprints to finish the day.
It was only the first day, and the elements weren’t exactly in Bailey’s favor. But a couple more practices like that and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some competition brought in.
Miscellaneous news and notes
- Most of the practice had a very “first day back” vibe. There were a couple portions of practice that went without helmets, and a lot of the action was pretty muted. It will likely be like that through the weekend until the first padded practice.
- While most of the action was ho-hum, there were still a few “wow” plays. Jayron Kearse had an impressive diving interception of Sean Mannion early in practice. Kirk Cousins threw a gorgeous bomb down the left sideline to Stefon Diggs that beat some excellent coverage. Adam Thielen showed more of his excellent boundary skills that reminded me of a wide receiver we grew up idolizing: Cris Carter. Even Treadwell got into the mix with a nice sideline grab in 1-on-1 drills. (It might have looked more impressive because he had next to nothing for separation after his route. But we’ll take what we can get with Treadwell, right?)
- We saw a couple glimpses of Anthony Barr lined up as an outside rusher. Hopefully that will actually be used more in games this season after last year’s camp tease.
- Each offensive unit featured a lot of rollout passing. The Cousins dime to Diggs came from a quick roll to the left. Might be a sign of things to come to help the offensive line; might be a sign that it was just what they were working on today.
- Dalvin Cook looks very quick out there. If he can finally defy that “when healthy” caveat his season, watch out.
- There were so many different players taking punt return reps on Friday that it might be easier for me to list who wasn’t doing it. But here’s the full list I had (with some help from our pal Daniel House from Vikings Corner): Jordan Taylor, Davion Davis, De’Angelo Henderson, Chad Beebe, Dillon Mitchell, Holton Hill, Olabisi Johnson, Craig James. And a partridge in a pear tree.
And that’s just about it from Day 1 in Eagan. I should be able to attend just about every afternoon the team holds practice throughout camp, so stay tuned for much more throughout the next couple weeks. To follow along for live updates, you can find me on Twitter at @eric_j_thompson.