Friday afternoon was a picture-perfect day for the final practice of Vikings Training Camp. The players weren’t in pads, but there were still plenty of notable performances, including splash plays from a few players that desperately needed to stand out. On the flip side, there was one standout performance on special teams that didn’t go so well. Without further ado, let’s get into my final dispatch from the front lines of camp at TCO Performance Center.
Who’s in, who’s out
The participation report on Friday was identical to Thursday. Brian O’Neill, Aviante Collins, and Ade Aruna all sat with the other three players on the injured lists. I doubt that any of those players will suit up on Sunday night. Otherwise it looks like we’ll have mostly full participation outside of some players sitting out because of the coaches’ decision.
Depth chart and formation update
On defense, the Vikings mixed up the defensive personnel for pass rushing packages again. Today’s wrinkle: lining up Everson Griffen, Hercules Mata’afa, Stephen Weatherly, and Danielle Hunter in the order along the line. The Vikings have used that DL grouping before, but the twist was that Weatherly was standing up from the 3 technique spot while the rest of the linemen had a hand in the ground. Weatherly has stood up from just about everywhere on the line during camp; it’s something the team seems to be trying out quite a bit.
I have been paying special attention to the second team linebackers over the past couple days because it looks like there are four players in the mix after the assumed starting base defense of Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, and Ben Gedeon. Eric Wilson, Kentrell Brothers, and Cameron Smith got the majority of snaps with the second team with Reshard Cliett mixing in here and there. If the team likes what the backup linebackers can do on special teams—and all of them have been getting plenty of snaps there—I wouldn’t be shocked if the team retained all seven.
Speaking of special teams rotation, it appears that Ameer Abdullah isn’t quite as involved as he had been on that unit over the past few days. Mike Boone was in with the first team punt gunners while Olabisi Johnson, Jeff Badet, and Alexander Mattison took most of the kick returns again. Abdullah had been in both positions most of camp. Perhaps they’re just giving Abdullah a bit of a rest since he was nicked up at the beginning of the week. Or, since Boone has looked so good running the ball lately, perhaps they’re telling us a bit more about who the front runner is for the RB3 gig.
On offense, tight end screens keep popping up on a daily basis. They have been very effective in practice, including a nicely designed play and touch pass from Kirk Cousins to Kyle Rudolph on Friday. With so many viable pass catching options at the position, I think we’ll see plenty of them this season.
Big plays of the day
There were some new names in this group today, and most of the new names desperately needed to make a splash before camp was over. Jake Browning threw an excellent bomb down the left sideline to Dillon Mitchell for a touchdown in 11-on-11. Both ends of that connection need to show more of that if either want a shot at making the team.
Jordan Taylor joined the Wide Receiver That Finally Made An Impact Club as well by getting open deep and corralling a touchdown grab from Sean Mannion. If Taylor can do more of that over the last three preseason games, perhaps he can stop his free fall down the depth chart.
Mannion could have had a couple more deep connections in the Training Camp finale, but he missed Olabisi Johnson and Tyler Conklin on consecutive passes. Mannion did connect with Chad Beebe for a great snag over Duke Thomas on a crossing route. Thomas was right there in coverage but was late turning for the ball.
Stefon Diggs didn’t do anything spectacular in team sessions, but the one-handed, backhand grab he nonchalantly had in individual drills was a thing of beauty. Diggs and Adam Thielen routinely make the absurd look routine. Vikings fans, never forget how good we have it with those two.
Plus, how many times do you get to see a star receiver catch a deep pass in a Byron Buxton jersey?
(Buxton was taking in camp after a rehab workout on Friday. Jay Glazer was also in the house; no word on whether they’re filming the next season of Ballers in Eagan.)
The play of the day belonged to another young wide receiver who really needed to show more in camp: Davion Davis. However, it wasn’t with a catch. Davis took an end around, spun past Derron Smith blitzing off the edge, and found Mattison streaking down the right sideline with a pinpoint pass on the run. Sure, if it was during a real game, Smith probably lights up Davis before the pass is thrown. But it was a really nice pass.
Surges and slumps
- Garrett Bradbury had a few very impressive reps in 1-on-1 line drills. Danielle Hunter destroyed Riley Reiff for a change after terrorizing Rashod Hill for most of the week. Mata’afa, Dru Samia, and Karter Schult all had impressive performances in the drill as well. On the other side of the ledger, I’m fairly certain that Tito Odenigbo lost every single 1-on-1 rep he had throughout the entirety of Training Camp. It’s looking like the Vikings are going to be a one-Odenigbo team pretty soon.
- Ifeadi Odenigbo has performed leaps and bounds better than his brother; his pass rushing was outstanding throughout camp. His run defense was rather pedestrian though. The Vikings will probably use him mostly as a rotational pass rusher this season, so his weakness probably won’t be exposed a ton. But if Ifeadi wants to get more than 15-20 snaps per game, it’s an area of his game he’ll have to improve.
- Derron Smith hasn’t stood out much in the passing game, but I have liked seeing what he can do in the box against the run and blitzing. He shows good instincts there. I think he’ll be right on the edge of the cut line depending on how many safeties the team keeps. Marcus Epps has made more big plays against the pass, so that competition will be one to watch as cut day approaches.
- Trae Waynes had a really good day on Friday, preventing the Adam Thielen Spectacular Catch Of The Day™ on multiple occasions. Waynes is still often unfairly maligned and/or forgotten about in this star-studded Vikings defense, but he’ll still be a very valuable piece of the secondary this year.
- This isn’t performance related, but it is related to possible future performance. If I had to guess, I think David Morgan starts the season on the PUP list but Mike Hughes doesn’t. I haven’t seen Morgan do anything but watch practice throughout camp. Hughes looks like he’s getting closer and closer each time he works with the trainers. I don’t know if Hughes will be back Week 1, but I think he’ll be back well before Week 7, which is the earliest he could return if he starts the season on PUP. Morgan doesn’t look like he’ll be ready anytime soon.
Before practice, it looked like Dan Bailey was going to have another good day to follow up his perfect session on Tuesday. He only missed one of at least a dozen kicks and was splitting the uprights with plenty of distance. But when we got to the “live” kicks during practice, a familiar foe once again reared its ugly head: the right hash mark. Bailey’s results on Friday:
- 37 yards, right: GOOD
- 42 yards, left: GOOD
- 47 yards, right: NO GOOD (wide left)
- 37 yards, left: GOOD
- 44 yards, right: NO GOOD (left upright)
- 48 yards, right: NO GOOD (wide right)
Beebe was the holder on every kick. The snaps from Austin Cutting all appeared to be on target.
Bailey finished camp with a final tally of 52 of 70 kicks, good for only 74.3% accuracy. Of the 18 misses he had, 16 of them were from the right side.
So all the Vikings need to do is run to the middle or left on third down and they’re fine, right? Or maybe have Kaare Vedvik be the designated right side field goal kicker?
In all seriousness, Bailey’s accuracy simply wasn’t good enough over the course of the past two weeks. Vikings fans already have decades of kicker PTSD, and this performance won’t do anything to quell the raging anxiety. Having Vedvik perform both kicking gigs is probably too much to ask, but the Vikings can’t afford to be missing one out of every four field goal attempts either.
Vedvik had a much better day punting the ball than Bailey had with his field goals. He had seven punts in full special teams action before attempting a handful of “coffin corner” punts from midfield. The distance on those punts, respectively: 61 yards, 61 yards, 49 yards, 59 yards, 58 yards, 62 yards, and 54 yards.
And that isn’t air distance. That’s official punt distance from the line of scrimmage. These kicks weren’t line drives either; most of them had plenty of hang time. I really don’t think that Matt Wile has had a bad camp by any means, but it’s going to be very hard to for him to keep his job if Vedvik keeps punting like he has so far.
And just like that, the 16 practices of Vikings Training Camp have come to a close. Unfortunately, I was unable to provide the interviews and up-close pictures/videos this year like I had during my coverage over the past seven seasons. The team decided to greatly scale back their access to sites like ours this year despite our history of coverage. (There were some other mitigating factors that likely played into the decision that weren’t our fault at all, but I won’t get into that here.)
However, I’d like to think that my “All 22” coverage this year allowed me to see more of the action and provide a unique perspective of the team. (Plus I live really close to TCO Performance Center, so I was able to bike to and from practice nearly every day. Good exercise!) I hope you enjoyed following along as much as I enjoyed providing it.
I’ll still have plenty of Training Camp coverage coming up, including a full evaluation and roster projection for each of the 90 players currently on the roster. That will come sometime next week after the second preseason game against the Seahawks on Sunday night.
If you’d like to catch up on anything you might have missed along the way, here are links to all of my previous recaps: