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Minnesota Vikings Training Camp: Night Practice Recap

The intensity ramped up under the lights on Saturday night.

Eric Thompson

The annual night practice is always the crown jewel of Minnesota Vikings Training Camp, and Saturday night in Eagan was no different. All facets of the team were on the display under the lights of a packed TCO Stadium. The crowd was treated to some big plays on both sides of the ball. The night finished with lots of fireworks—both literally and figuratively. Let’s dive right into all the action.

Who’s in, who’s out

Outside of the three players that remain on the NFI and PUP lists, five players weren’t in pads: Kyle Rudolph, Ade Aruna, Aviante Collins, Dalvin Cook, and Jalyn Holmes. Rudolph and Cook were presumably on a rest day, Collins and Aruna remain out with injuries, and it was unclear why Holmes was held out. Perhaps it was precautionary since he has missed a bit of time already in camp. Linval Joseph and Shamar Stephen were both in pads but played minimally. Curtis Cothran returned to practice and was a full participant, mostly with the second team at 3 technique.

Both of the newest Vikings were full participants in the night practice: Tyler Catalina jumped in as the third team left tackle and Bené Benwikere played a lot of second and third team corner. (Although Benwikere was so new that he didn’t even have a nameplate on his jersey yet.)

Depth chart update

After several veterans rested on Friday, most of the depth chart was back to what it had normally been so far in camp. The three offensive line units returned to their usual rotation with two exceptions: the addition of Catalina, and Storm Norton switching sides with Rashod Hill on the second team. Norton played left tackle and Hill played right tackle; they had been the other way around for most of camp. With Holmes out, Hercules Mata’afa played with the first team alongside Jaleel Johnson. There was a lot more rotation than usual between teams on the defensive side of the ball, but it appeared that the core units remained intact.

Offense airs it out early

The Vikings offense was surprisingly the sharper side of the ball through the first five days of camp, and it looked like they were going to dominate again early in the evening during 11-on-11. The session started with a lot of the concepts we had seen through the first week: play action, roll outs, and implementing the zone blocking scheme for chunks of yards on the ground.

Adam Thielen made the first “wow” play of the night with this nifty grab against Trae Waynes:

A couple plays later, Kirk Cousins found Stefon Diggs deep down the left sideline (not the first time I have written that in camp). The ball was a bit under-thrown but Diggs adjusted well to make the catch in front of Xavier Rhodes. The run game was having plenty of success as well. It looked like we were going to be treated to an evening of offensive dominance.

Of course, this team is still coached by Mike Zimmer. The offense wasn’t going to have all the fun.

Defense strikes back

The tide started to turn in the red zone portion of practice. The second and third team offense scored early, but the first team was shut down. Then the pass rush started clicking for all three units. Defensive linemen were getting home on faux sacks much more frequently during the last half of the practice. Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter started teeing off on their opposing tackles. Running lanes that were open earlier were getting stopped in the backfield. Most of the long completions turned into hurried checkdown passes. The ebb and flow between the offense and defense on Saturday night was a riveting watch.

Where’s the beef?

Late in the practice, a single play ignited an intense confrontation between some star players. Cousins was flushed out of the pocket by the pass rush and threw a pass toward Diggs dragging right to left across the field. As the ball approached near the sideline, Mackensie Alexander gave Diggs a shove to ensure the pass sailed harmlessly out of bounds. Diggs took immediately took offense, taking his helmet off and voicing his displeasure to Alexander.

You may recall Rhodes and Diggs both getting kicked out of a practice in Training Camp last year; that seems to have carried over into 2019. Rhodes started throwing gas on the fire by chirping at Diggs from the sideline for several plays after the incident. Diggs confronted Rhodes on the defensive sideline. Practice was actually stopped for a bit so Mike Zimmer could escort Diggs back across the field and ensure that things didn’t escalate between the three players.

It always feels a bit like Mommy and Daddy are fighting at the dinner table when players you admire are going at each other. But as long as nothing gets out of hand, I kind of enjoy this kind of infighting. Diggs, Rhodes, and Alexander are all intense competitors. They take pride in what they do and they aren’t going to back down to anybody.

That first preseason game in New Orleans can’t come soon enough. These guys need to hit someone that isn’t wearing the same colors.

Surges and slumps

Some notes about individual standout performances on Saturday night:

  • Ifeadi Odenigbo continued his great camp on Saturday night with lots of pressure and disruption, much of which came with the first team. He dominated his individual drills as well. I’m really starting to think he could be a big part of the defensive line rotation this season.
  • It wasn’t the greatest night from Cousins. He held onto the ball a lot, seemed to miss a couple open receivers, and he didn’t show much the amazing touch he had over the past couple days. He threw what I believe was his first interception of camp to Eric Wilson in 11-on-11:

On a positive note, Cousins did scramble pretty well on Saturday night, getting some yards on the ground after getting pressured several times.

  • Perhaps Kyle Sloter just needs an audience to excel? He had a much better practice on Saturday after being wildly inconsistent for most of the first week. He threw a few nice deep balls and didn’t struggle with accuracy like he had in previous practices.
  • The other two backup quarterbacks acquitted themselves nicely as well. Sean Mannion looked sharp for most of the night and gave his receivers plenty of opportunities to make plays. Jake Browning continued his solid performance, especially with intermediate passing and selling play fakes.
  • Wilson’s interception wasn’t his only highlight of the night. He put together one of his best practices of camp, including a couple tackles for loss in the run game.
  • Brandon Zylstra struggled out of the gate after returning to camp from the PUP list, but he rebounded with a couple nice catches on Saturday night, including a nice move on Kris Boyd for a touchdown in red zone drills.
  • Stephen Weatherly had an excellent night. He won the majority of his individual matchups and threw in a couple sacks and a big run stop in 11-on-11.
  • Karter Schult has put together a couple nice practices in a row. He gave Catalina a baptism by fire in individual and team drills. I thought the former AAF defensive end was a long shot coming into camp, but he’s starting to change my opinion.
  • With Cook sitting out, the rest of the running backs had a good showing overall. Alexander Mattison had a solid if unspectacular night with the 1’s. He seems to be in the right place most of the time. Ameer Abdullah found a couple cutback lanes for nice gains. De’Angelo Henderson had a couple drops in the passing game, but he also had two of the longest runs of the night.
  • Reshard Cliett and Cameron Smith always seem to be around the ball against the run. Most of the second team rushes that were stopped after a short gain had #43 or #59 in the mix.
  • Nate Meadors can’t seem to catch a break. He has been on the wrong end of a lot of highlights thus far in camp, and Saturday night was no different. He had great coverage on Jeff Badet on a deep pass from Jake Browning with Marcus Epps helping over the top. Meadors got a piece of the ball, yet Badet made a circus catch on the deflection.

(I’m sure Badet is going to hear it from the coaching staff about gloating before being down though.)

Kicking corner

Before practice started, Dan Bailey was out on the field and attempted at least 20 kicks. Only three didn’t go in: one off the right post, one just a hair wide, and one 56 yard attempt where his plant foot slipped and he shanked the kick. During live practice, Bailey was just inches away from a perfect night. His results on Saturday night:

  1. 33 yards, middle: GOOD (Kevin McDermott snap, Matt Wile hold)
  2. 39 yards, left: GOOD (McDermott low snap, Wile hold)
  3. 45 yards, right: GOOD (McDermott/Wile)
  4. 36 yards, right: GOOD (Austin Cutting/Wile)
  5. 44 yards, right: NO GOOD (off the right post, Cutting/Wile)
  6. 53 yards, left: GOOD (Cutting/Wile)
  7. 33 yards, middle: GOOD (Cutting/Wile)
  8. 33 yards, middle: GOOD (McDermott/Wile)

That brings Bailey’s total to 28/36 in “live” kicks during Training Camp.

Wile had his second straight day of punting the ball extremely well. All of his punts had excellent hang time and distance. If both specialists can keep the momentum going from their performances on Saturday, the Vikings might be in good shape there. No need to call in any reinforcements just yet.

The kick and punt return groups didn’t have their usual mass of players during the night practice. Only Olabisi Johnson and Jeff Badet took kick return reps while Chad Beebe, Holton Hill, and Jordan Taylor took punt returns.

I was out of town for the night practice last summer, so this was the first one I have covered at TCO Peformance Center. After attending the night practice in Mankato for several years, I can say that the vibe is definitely different. Mankato felt like summer camp when you were growing up while Eagan feels like a fancy corporate retreat. Both are great in their own respect, but the experiences are very different. I’m glad I got to experience both.

We are now at the halfway mark of practices for Vikings Training Camp. The players have an off day on Sunday and then we’ll be back at it Monday afternoon for Day 9. 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:

Day 7

Day 6

Day 5

Day 4

Day 3

Day 2

Day 1