After two days of picture-perfect weather at Minnesota Vikings Training Camp, Sunday’s weather in Eagan wasn’t quite as pleasant. The morning walkthrough was moved inside due to a morning downpour and the afternoon practice was moved up an hour in order to avoid more ominous weather in the forecast. Despite a few rounds of drizzle, the Vikings were able to pull off their first padded practice of 2019 in its entirety. Let’s get right to what we learned from Sunday’s session.
Depth charts and formations
Of the 90 players on the current roster, 83 donned the pads on Sunday. Jalyn Holmes joined Jeff Badet on the sidelines after suffering an injury yesterday. The five players on PUP and NFI (Mike Hughes, David Morgan, Brandon Zylstra, Tashawn Bower, and Shamar Stephen) all sat out as well. Jaleel Johnson and Hercules Mata’afa got most of the reps with the first team on the interior defensive line, because once again Linval Joseph was mostly absent from the drills.
There wasn’t a lot of shuffling of the first or second teams on offense or defense compared to the previous two days. They only change I noticed was Duke Thomas getting mixed in more with the second team at outside cornerback. What did change was the addition of a couple new interesting formations for the offense. The first featured 11 personnel with Adam Thielen, Chad Beebe, and Irv Smith Jr. bunched on the left and Stefon Diggs split out wide:
The second was 12 personnel with Smith wide left, Kyle Rudolph in line, and Thielen & Diggs wide right.
One thing I didn’t notice about any of the formations the Vikings have run in camp thus far: shotgun. In fact, I’m not sure I have seen anything but the quarterbacks taking snaps under center through the first three days of practice. And as stat guru Krauser pointed out, that might be a good thing for Kirk Cousins.
Cousins in shotgun: passer rating 90.1, adjusted yards per attempt 6.77— Krauser (@Krauserrific) July 28, 2019
Cousins under center: passer rating 109.1, adjusted yards per attempt, 9.44 https://t.co/HlXJRKJdQO
The Vikings put a lot of emphasis on screens and play action on Sunday, incorporating a lot of quarterback rollouts and getting offensive linemen out to the second level to block in space. Several different players took reps catching “tunnel screens” where offensive linemen and receivers quickly try to get up the field to seal off blocks. Perhaps the Vikings are simply installing some of the basics early in camp and we shouldn’t read too much into all the multiple TE sets and under center snaps. But so far it feels like Kevin Stefanski and Gary Kubiak are making a deliberate zag with the rest of the NFL zigging toward a glut of spread formations and shotgun over the past several years.
Standout performances (both good and bad)
Garrett Bradbury lived up to his first round draft status in a big way on Sunday. He had a couple amazing reps of one-on-one blocking against Jaleel Johnson and had some excellent blocks to open holes in the running game. Johnson got the better of Bradbury a couple times on Saturday, but Sunday was all about the rookie.
I hope you’re sitting down for this, but Thielen and Diggs are really good at football. But don’t take my word for it; watch these clips of:
Thielen breaking Trae Waynes’ ankles.
Here's that ankle breaker I was talking about this afternoon. Thielen is a surgeon. https://t.co/g7M0DRrBId— Eric Thompson (@eric_j_thompson) July 29, 2019
Thielen dissecting poor Nate Meadors into oblivion.
This piece is called “Finesse” by Adam Thielen.— Hobie Artigue (@HobieFOX9) July 28, 2019
It belongs in a museum. #Vikings pic.twitter.com/J2bv1V3tX9
Diggs blasting past Xavier Rhodes off the line for a long score.
Quickest route to the end zone.@stefondiggs x #VikingsCamp pic.twitter.com/OyRPLQrAvN— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) July 28, 2019
You already knew that Thielen and Diggs were the best WR duo in the league. But sometimes it’s still nice to have a little daily reminder.
Armon Watts has had some standout reps throughout the first three days of camp. On Sunday he had one particularly nice run stop that had the coaches loudly praising his effort. The Vikings have had some success with late round defensive linemen under the watch of Andre Patterson. Perhaps Watts, a sixth round rookie out of Arkansas, can be the next surprise impact player on that unit.
When the Vikings first signed Josh Kline from the Tennessee Titans, I wondered exactly how much of an upgrade he would be over Tom Compton and Mike Remmers. So far, the zone blocking scheme Kubiak brought over seems to fit Kline well. He had a nice day getting to the second level and laying down blocks on the move in the run game. He held his own in 1-on-1 reps as well.
Alexander Mattison also stood out, perhaps due in part to the performance of his interior offensive line. He was able to consistently find space in...hmm, I can’t remember the term off hand since it’s been so long, but I believe the phenomenon is called “running lanes.” Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s what you call those things.
I was wholly unprepared to heap praise upon one Cole Hikutini, a tight end out of Louisville that will have a tough time making the roster. But alas, here we are! Hikutini had multiple impressive catches in both 7-on-7 and 11-on-11. Arif was able to capture this diving effort:
Hikutini has had quite the day today, including this catch pic.twitter.com/M360y4OgtG— Arif Hasan (@ArifHasanNFL) July 28, 2019
That’s one of my favorite parts of camp each year: you never know who’s going to stand out.
Speaking of which, Laquon Treadwell had a legitimately good day. In fact—and I’m being dead serious here—Treadwell has been downright amazing throughout camp. On special teams, but still. It wouldn’t be the first time the Vikings turned a disappointing first round wide receiver into a special teams difference maker, right?
On the other side of the scale, Mike Zimmer seems to be justified in his criticism of his young receivers. The wide receivers not named Thielen or Diggs had a promising start in individual drills, but the rest of the period was pretty disappointing overall. Beebe slipped several times on the wet turf and had a drop or two. Jordan Taylor, who is still getting plenty of WR3 snaps with Beebe, had trouble getting separation most of the day. Holton Hill ate him up in a couple individual drills after Taylor failed to break quickly from the top of his route. Davion Davis and Dillon Mitchell have had more noticeable negative plays than explosive plays. Bisi Johnson and Alexander Hollins have had a couple close calls but can’t seem to get on the same page with the quarterbacks. Hopefully someone will step up and seize their opportunity to climb the depth chart in the coming days.
Jaleel Johnson and Tito Odenigbo are getting an increased workload due to all the interior DL injuries, but neither did much with their opportunities on Sunday. Both lost most of their 1-on-1 drill matchups and were largely neutralized in full team plays. Johnson had a pretty solid Saturday so hopefully he can bounce back on Monday. Tito will have to play more like his big brother if he has any chance of making the roster.
Kicking (and holding) summary
Before practice started, all three backup quarterbacks were taking turns practicing holding for kicks. Beebe tried a couple, and Thielen even held in a “live” practice kick for Dan Bailey. (More on that in a sec.) Having a position battle at holder is rather unique; I can’t remember a team ever doing so in Training Camp. While the competition might seem silly on its face, I think it shows exactly how thorough Marwan Maalouf is going to be with every facet of special teams in his first year in charge.
As for the kicking itself, Dan Bailey had a better day than his 4-for-7 performance on Friday. He made five of his six live attempts (all distances approximate within a yard or so):
- 34 yards, middle: GOOD
- 40 yards, left: GOOD
- 44 yards, right: GOOD
- 34 yards, middle: NO GOOD (wide right)
- 37 yards, left: GOOD
- 44 yards, right: GOOD
Matt Wile was the holder on all five of Bailey’s makes; Thielen was the holder on the lone miss.
Things are slowly starting to take shape, but there is still a long way to go before the first preseason game in New Orleans on August 9. We’ll be back on Monday afternoon with all the latest from TCO Performance Center. To follow along for live updates, you can find me on Twitter at @eric_j_thompson.