“Opportunity” was the name of the game on Friday afternoon in Eagan for Day 7 of Minnesota Vikings Training Camp. Several big-name veteran players got the day off, which meant backups got bigger workloads with the first and second teams. The offense had a strong start to practice, but overall this was probably the defense’s best day of camp, especially in situational drills. Let’s get to our daily news and notes.
Who’s in, who’s out
It was an unofficial “vet rest day” at camp; Harrison Smith, Adam Thielen, Kyle Rudolph, Xavier Rhodes, Everson Griffen, Riley Reiff, and Josh Kline all sat out on Friday. Curtis Cothran, Ade Aruna, and Aviante Collins didn’t participate either due to their various maladies. Linval Joseph did his usual “suit up but don’t play” routine. Mike Hughes was sans knee brace again, but this time around he was actually doing some work with the trainers on the far field instead of simply watching practice. That has to be a positive sign for the second year corner as he continues to work back from the injury that ended his 2018 season.
Two defensive linemen returned to practice on Friday. Stephen Weatherly was a full participant after missing most of Wednesday and all of Thursday. Shamar Stephen was activated from the Non-Football Injury List and was in the pads for the first time in camp. However, he didn’t see much action.
There were no new injuries to report, although there was one scare. Stefon Diggs hopped to the sideline after running a route and was looked at by trainers as he sat off to the side. Thankfully, he popped right back up and had a very productive finish to the day. [Whew!]
Depth chart and formation shuffling
With a lot of first teamers sitting on Friday, the offensive and defensive lines were juggled around.
The first team OL from left to right: Rashod Hill, Pat Elflein, Garrett Bradbury, Dakota Dozier, and Brian O’Neill.
Second team: Storm Norton, Dru Samia, Brett Jones, Danny Isidora, and Olisaemeka Udoh. Norton and Isidora both had some snaps with the first team at their respective positions as well.
On the defensive line, Ifeadi Odenigbo took the lion’s share of snaps at defensive end opposite Danielle Hunter. Jaleel Johnson took most of the nose tackle snaps. Jalyn Holmes and Hercules Mata’afa split time at the 3 technique. Karter Schult even got a little bit of run with the 1’s at defensive end.
The offense mixed up their formations quite a bit on Friday. There weren’t any brand new ways that they lined up, but there was a touch of razzle dazzle. Diggs attempted two passes to Alexander Mattison off of reverse handoffs from Chad Beebe. The first one was perfectly thrown, albeit against no defense. They tried it again in 11-on-11, but Diggs overthrew Mattison that time.
There were a couple new looks from the defense as well. On a couple of occasions, Anthony Barr stood up on the edge as a pass rusher on the opposite side of a defensive end in more of a 3-4 look. Weatherly was standing up wide on the first instance and Hunter rushed the passer like a 3-4 outside linebacker on the other. I would like to see that in game action in 2019, because it looked like a pretty interesting wrinkle in practice. We also saw the classic Barr and Eric Kendricks “sugar the A gap” look with both of them blitzing straight up the middle, which was a rare sight in 2018.
Defense dominates in situational drills
The offense had some early success in team sessions on Friday, but the defense slammed the door shut for the second half of practice. The most notable performance was a situation where the coaches put 2:30 on the clock with the offense down 1 on their own 28 yard line. The only yardage the offense gained was a defensive holding call of Holton Hill on Stefon Diggs and a 3-yard dump pass to Ameer Abdullah. Other than that, it was all defense. O’Neill got called for a controversial false start to move the offense back. It looked like the defensive end may have jumped early, and Kirk Cousins was none too pleased with the referee for ruling in favor of the defense. The next play, Hunter ended the drive by blowing past an over-matched Rashod Hill and getting a sack. Cousins was visibly frustrated and slammed his helmet on the ground.
Overall, the pass rush and coverage from the defense looked great on Friday, especially with the first team. They looked very cohesive despite having three stars take the day off. We should be in for some great individual and team battles on Saturday night.
Surges and slumps
Some quick hits about standout performances, both good and bad, on Friday:
- The backup wide receivers had a much better day catching the ball, with no drops during the individual drills and only one excusable drop from Olabisi Johnson on a really tough deep sideline play in 11-on-11. Johnson is starting to separate himself from the pack a bit, but those last couple spots on the depth chart are still definitely up for grabs.
- Kirk Cousins to Stefon Diggs down the left sideline is my favorite ongoing theme of Training Camp so far. Today Kris Boyd was the victim of a great pass complimented by Diggs using his space and hands to perfection:
Sideline pass from Kirk Cousins to Stefon Diggs over Kris Boyd pic.twitter.com/r4F21StBar— Arif Hasan (@ArifHasanNFL) August 2, 2019
Ameer Abdullah had a really nice blitz pickup on this play as Kendricks and Barr rushed through the middle. He also had a few nice one-cut runs on Friday. Abdullah should have the third running back spot on lock for now, especially because he can return kicks.
- Ifaedi Odenigbo made the most of his first team reps today, creating pressure and getting a couple run stops. I think he’ll make the 53 and be in the defensive end rotation this season.
- Marcus Epps has quietly been putting together a pretty nice camp. He has been playing a lot of deep safety, so at times he can go unnoticed. But he has looked good when he’s in the box against the run and has shown promising instincts playing the “center fielder” role.
- As good as Epps has been, he won’t be taking Anthony Harris’ job anytime soon. Ant showed a ton of improvement in 2018 and his anticipation against both the pass and run looks even better this season. He and Harrison Smith should make a great safety combo.
- I swear I’m not trying to pick on Kyle Sloter, but he had another rough practice. He threw a bad interception right to Kentrell Brothers on a pass intended for C.J. Ham in the flat in goal line work. In 11-on-11, he stepped right into a sack when he wasn’t under much pressure. He did have a couple really impressive passes to Laquon Treadwell and Johnson, but there is still way too much bad mixed in with the good. Jake Browning has looked like a much more viable option to be the third quarterback behind Cousins and Sean Mannion.
- One benefit of that bad Sloter sack: I finally noticed Anree Saint-Amour today. He had a couple other nice reps against the second team.
- In that same vein, Stacy Keely finally made a bit of noise as well. He beat his fellow #74 Udoh a couple times to create pressure and tally a probable “sack” on Browning.
It appears that Dan Bailey is doing live kicks every other day in practice, which meant we got to see more of the Vikings kicker in action on Friday. Here are the results:
- 39 yards, left: GOOD
- 41 yards, middle: GOOD
- 38 yards, left: GOOD
- 42 yards, right: GOOD
- 50 yards, right: NO GOOD (wide left)
- 34 yards, left: GOOD
- 39 yards, right: NO GOOD (wide right)
- 44 yards, right: GOOD
For the first five kicks, Matt Wile was the holder and Austin Cutting was the snapper. Bailey’s miss on the 50 yarder was due in part to a high snap from Cutting. For the final three, Beebe was the holder and Kevin McDermott was the snapper.
That brings Bailey’s total to 21/28 in Training Camp. That isn’t a great percentage, but he’s also dealing with a constantly revolving cast at the other specialist positions, which can’t make things easy. There is definitely a trend emerging though: six of the seven misses have been from the right hash mark, and five of the seven misses have been wide right.
Wile had an impressive day punting, especially when trying to pin the opponent deep. He had about seven or eight consecutive punts downed or go out of bounds inside the 10 yard line. The coverage team did a good job keeping the ball out of the end zone as well.
There wasn’t a ton of punt or kick return in Friday’s practice, but the same large group of players are still rotating in. Beebe seems to be the first team punt returner, but I think we’ll have to see who gets turns in New Orleans in a week for any clarity there.
And that’s all for Day 7. We’ll be under the lights on Saturday night from TCO Stadium for the crown jewel of Training Camp practices. To follow along for live updates, you can find me on Twitter at @eric_j_thompson.
If you’d like to catch up on anything you might have missed, here are links to all my previous recaps: