“Slow and steady” might be the best way to describe the first four days of Minnesota Vikings Training Camp this season. There haven’t been a ton of flashy plays that get the “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd, but you can tell that the team is methodically building to what they ultimately want to become by the time they kick off against the Atlanta Falcons in just over a month.
Monday afternoon was a gorgeous day in Eagan, and the crowd was easily the largest it has been thus far. The fans in attendance didn’t get to see a ton of fast-paced, up-and-down action. What they did get to witness was some interesting individual battles, a heavy dose of run installations, and a glimpse of how this team might be starting to take shape. Let’s dive into the notebook to comb through the highlights of the session.
More players, more rotation
There was good news on the injury front Monday: Brandon Zylstra was activated from the PUP list and participated in practice for the first time this preseason. He looked pretty sharp running his routes in individual drills, but didn’t do much in 11 on 11. On the defensive side of the ball, Jalyn Holmes returned after sitting out Sunday. Holmes ran mostly with the second team on Monday, which meant Jaleel Johnson and Hercules Mata’afa got the lion’s share of the snaps on the interior with the first team. (Linval Joseph was once again in pads but was a sparse participant.) The Vikings were back up to 85 players in pads on Monday. Only Jeff Badet, Mike Hughes, Shamar Stephen, David Morgan, and Tashawn Bower sat out completely. Holmes looked like he was no worse for the wear on Monday. He had a couple really nice 1-on-1 reps and a quick pressure of Sean Mannion in one of the team sessions.
After three days of largely the same players on the same units, Monday saw a lot of rotation between teams on both sides of the ball. Wide receivers, corners, and defensive linemen seemed to have the largest amount of rotation, but just about every position mixed it up at least a little. It’s apparent that the team is still exploring a lot of avenues when it comes to depth.
The “other” kicking game
Dan Bailey didn’t attempt any live kicks on Monday, so we don’t have any new data for you there. However, the same group of players did get some reps holding before practice: Chad Beebe, Adam Thielen, and all three backup quarterbacks. The main two points of emphasis with special teams today were kick returns and punt blocks. As with the punt returners in previous days, a sizable group took reps at kick returner: Ameer Abdullah, Mike Boone, Holton Hill, De’Angelo Henderson, C.J. Ham, Olabisi Johnson, and Alexander Hollins all got a shot at simulated returns. It wasn’t exactly a clean session—Boone, Hollins, and Ham all had instances where they bobbled their initial catch.
As for the punt blocking, it seems to one of Marwan Maalouf’s special interests. You may recall the 2014 game where the Miami Dolphins beat the Vikings with what was basically a walk-off blocked punt. One of the Special Teams assistants for Miami? None other than Maalouf. [Note: The original version incorrectly had him as the Special Teams Coordinator.] That 2014 Dolphins team blocked five kicks; look for the Vikings to bring lots of pressure on kicks this season.
Standouts and setbacks
In my Day 3 recap, I noted how Jaleel Johnson didn’t have that great of a day. He got shut down by Garrett Bradbury in individual drills and didn’t have much of an impact in 11 on 11. On Monday, Johnson bounced back in a big way. He got the best of Bradbury in both of their 1-on-1 reps and had numerous stops in the run game. Josh Mensch got a good clip of a slick spin move from Johnson:
Jaleel had a very nice day today— Josh Mensch (@JoshMenschNFL) July 29, 2019
Here are a couple reps he had during 1 on 1s vs Bradbury pic.twitter.com/T6C8QSmiTh
Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter both dominated their 1-on-1 drills—shocker—while Tito Odenigbo once again struggled to make much of an impact in his. Danny Isidora (second team), Brett Jones (second), and Josh Kline (first) all looked solid on the interior for most of the day.
The offensive line had a good start to the day in team sessions, but the second and third units of the defense dominated the rest of the day. Reshard Cliett looks like he has added some muscle from last season, and it hasn’t slowed down his quickness in getting to the ball. He had an excellent day getting to the ball in the run game. On the back end, Duke Thomas and Derron Smith both had a couple outstanding pass defenses. (The AAF lives on!)
Wide receiver depth or dearth?
As I stated yesterday, the wide receiver depth chart after Thielen and Stefon Diggs remains pretty muddled. I keep waiting for someone to step up and take the reigns of those coveted WR3 and WR4 spots, but nobody is jumping out yet. Chad Beebe and Jordan Taylor had a play where they ran into each other in intermediate routes. Dillon Mitchell and Davion Davis both had nice grabs in Monday’s practice, but neither has made a strong case for themselves overall. Laquon Treadwell got a handful of run with the 1’s for the first time and did fine, but most of his action was catching simple passes underneath. The Vikings have been running a ton of multiple tight end sets throughout Training Camp. So far, it’s looking like the best personnel group by necessity with the lack of panache from the other wide receivers.
Speaking of multiple tight ends: the Vikings offense ran only one red zone play on Monday, but they made the most of it. Thielen, Irv Smith Jr., and Kyle Rudolph lined up bunch right while Diggs split out wide left. Kirk Cousins looked to his receivers on the right and then went back to Dalvin Cook on a screen to the left for a score.
(Xavier Rhodes probably stops Cook short in a live game, but we’ll still count it for Training Camp purposes. It was a nice play design either way.)
For the third straight day, Mike Zimmer had his charges run some wind sprints at the conclusion of practice. It appears that a new ritual is in place. Gotta work out that lactic acid, right?
We stuck around for a bit after practice Monday to watch about 20 players get in extra work. The group consisted of all four quarterbacks, most of the skill position players, and a bunch of the secondary. At the end, Jake Browning and Sean Mannion had a contest where they tried to hit the crossbar with passes. Both QBs nailed it from about 55 yards out on their third or fourth try. It was a fun reminder of how all 90 guys on the roster are basically the greatest athlete you ever played against in high school.
The players have a day off on Tuesday, but we’ll be back in Eagan on Wednesday afternoon for another round of news and notes from camp. To follow along for live updates, you can find me on Twitter at @eric_j_thompson.