With the first four days of training camp in the books for the Minnesota Vikings, trends have started to develop. Although it’s too early to say anything will be this or that with 100% certainty, we can take a look at how things have unfolded so far, and what we should be looking at with a keen eye as we move forward. Let’s take a look at three things I like, and three things I’m worried about.
What I like:
The first team offense, so far: It sounds like the new look offense is paying off early, at least in the few glimpses we’ve seen in full 11 on 11 sessions. In one on one drills, the offensive line appears to be holding their own against the defensive line, and in years past, that wasn’t necessarily the case. There’s a long way to go, to be sure, but I have yet to hear the dreaded phrase ‘the defense is ahead of the offense right now’ (which is a Training Camp Bingo Card space, btw), and for being almost a full week into camp I’ll take it.
The top three draft picks: The Vikings did the ‘straight into my veins’ strategy with the offense during the draft, taking four offensive players in the first four picks. Garrett Bradbury seems to be as advertised so far, playing well and holding his own. Irv Smith, Jr. is a name I haven’t heard a lot of, but the offense has extensively practiced with the two tight end ‘12’ formation since camp began. Third round pick Alexander Mattison has arguably been the most impressive first year player in camp to this point, and if the early returns are any indication, is well on his way to locking down the RB2 position. He’s running and catching the ball well, and has gotten rave reviews as a pass blocker.
The defensive line depth: On day one of camp we learned that DE Tashawn Bower had torn his Achilles heel, and it left me wondering about how that would affect the overall depth and rotation for the defensive line. It appears that Ifeadi Odenigbo has stepped right in at DE and is very much in the mix for a roster spot. Add in some early positive returns for guys like Jalyn Holmes and Hercules Mata’afa, and it looks like the Vikings d-line will remain one of the deepest and most talented in the league.
What worries me:
Wide receivers not named Adam Thielen or Stefon Diggs: the failure of Laquon Treadwell to develop has really put the WR3 spot in a bind. Chad Beebe and Jordan Taylor have split most of the WR3 reps to this point, as Brandon Zylstra was nursing a mild hamstring injury for the first couple days. Granted, it’s only been four days, and it’s reasonable to include Irv Smith as a legit WR3 option in a lot of offensive sets the Vikes will run, but it’s still mildly troubling that one of the 27 WR’s currently on the roster hasn’t started to take control of the third and fourth spot. But, you know, let’s play a pre-season game or two before we start to set our hair on fire over it.
The kicking game: However, we can fully set our hair on fire over the kicking game, amirite? Between Dan Bailey missing more kicks than he should to alleviate a fan base suffering from Maximus Kickus Anxietus, a constant rotation of potential holders, and a legit long snapper competition, this is arguably the most troubling spot on the roster right now. I think things will calm down once they get the long snapper and holder figured out, but if it doesn’t I’ll be willing to give the old Schaper Super Toe kicker a shot.
Cornerbacks after Trae Waynes, Xavier Rhodes, and Mackensie Alexander: We knew about Holton Hill’s eight game suspension before camp began, but on day one it was announced that Mike Hughes was going to be put on the PUP list, and it was also revealed that he had suffered ‘multiple ligament damage’, and not ‘just’ a torn ACL when he was injured last season. Lovely. I don’t expect Hughes to be ready for the season opener, and anticipate him being put on either the PUP or Injured Reserve-Return list once the regular season starts. That means the Vikings can suffer literally zero injuries to their top three guys without digging into the well of the Great Unknown, much like the wide receiver depth and questions. Same caveat still applies for this group as well as the reserve wide receivers: it’s still early, and there is plenty of time for someone to step up and stand out over everyone else, but with the level of QB play in the other two thirds of the division, someone is going to need to, barring the Vikings signing a veteran free agent.