At this point in Training Camp, the long summer afternoons can start to blend together. Through ten practices, it can be tough to glean a ton of new information on a daily basis. Fortunately, the Vikings had enough “firsts” on Tuesday afternoon to make the practice stand out.
For starters, we had music! For the first time in camp, music blared through the speakers on the field during warm-ups. The players rejoiced and bobbed along to “Suge” by DaBaby and “Money In The Grave” by Drake as practice got underway. The speakers got more use during team drills. The Vikings pumped in crowd noise when the offense was at the line of scrimmage, presumably to simulate the noisy atmosphere in the Superdome on Friday. I haven’t ever been to the Saints’ stadium, but I’m guessing the speakers didn’t really do the place justice. Either way, I get what they were trying to do.
Another first: there was a big celebrity at practice and I didn’t even notice until after the fact! Woody Harrelson was in attendance on Tuesday. According to Darren Wolfson, Harrelson came with his pal Congressman Dean Phillips. (You could tell me like 5,000 different reasons as to why Harrelson was there and I’d probably believe all of them.)
I hope Woody likes defense, because he was treated to a show by that side of the football on Tuesday.
Who’s in, who’s out
After missing the past three practices, Kyle Rudolph returned to the fold on Tuesday as a full participant. Brian O’Neill missed his first practice after getting dinged up on Monday. I could have sworn that O’Neill was grabbing his left hand or forearm, but on Tuesday he was wearing a padded sleeve or brace on his right elbow:
Hopefully whatever the ailment is won’t keep him out too long, but I doubt we’ll see him in action on Friday.
Ade Aruna and Tyler Catalina were both absent from practice while Aviante Collins watched from the sidelines. They were the only other players not in pads outside of the three NFI/PUP players. Once again, Linval Joseph and Shamar Stephen dressed but didn’t participate. They did some work together on the far field during team drills. Mike Hughes looked to be running well without his brace and did some stair jumps on the near side too. Perhaps his road to recovery won’t be much longer.
Depth chart and formation update
With O’Neill out, Rashod Hill moved up to first team right tackle and Olisaemeka Udoh moved up to second team. There was a ton of rotation among the second and third team linebackers on Tuesday. Devante Downs, Eric Wilson, Reshard Cliett, and Kentrell Brothers all got plenty of second team reps in both base and nickel packages. Jaleel Johnson and Jalyn Holmes continued to get most of the first team reps with Joseph and Stephen not participating. Hercules Mata’afa appears to be ceding most of the first team snaps he received early in camp.
The defense added a couple more wrinkles during 11-on-11 today. The first was Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter both lining up well outside the tackles for a handful of plays in what would probably be considered a Wide 9 technique. The second was a nifty little blitz package that had Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks lined up in their classic A-gap look with Mata’afa and Stephen Weatherly in the middle of the line:
A lot of readers have voiced their concern about Zimmer throwing too much at the defense early in the season like he did last year. With largely the same personnel as last season, I think I’d be a little more worried about opposing offenses being able to handle all the different looks this Vikings defense might be able to throw at them.
Big plays of the day
If this section seems defense-heavy today, it’s with good reason. The defense was dominant throughout most of practice.
- The day started with 4-on-4 passing drills and the defense set the tone early there. Only a few standout catches from Tyler Conklin, Dillon Mitchell, and Stefon Diggs were able to break the defensive stronghold.
- After a perfect showing by the offense in red zone work Monday, Griffen set the tone with a “sack” of Kirk Cousins off the bat on Tuesday. Cousins got better protection on the next play and found Adam Thielen in the back corner of the end zone.
- The second team defense was even better in the red zone. Weatherly hit Sean Mannion’s arm as he threw, popping the ball up for Cliett to grab it and go the other way.
- Jake Browning was picked off twice during 11-on-11 Tuesday. The first was a nice deep read by Marcus Epps near the left sideline after Browning and Mitchell appeared to get their wires crossed. Craig James later joined in on the fun by running stride for stride with Jeff Badet and getting great position to intercept Browning’s deep ball.
- Cameron Smith absolutely destroyed Mike Boone on an attempted blitz pickup. Smith and Cliett keep showing a nose for the ball with the second team defense.
- Harrison Smith got home for a sack with one of his patented blitzes off the edge. His timing and angles with those are simply amazing.
- Danielle Hunter continues to destroy everything in his path. Poor Rashod Hill didn’t stand a chance against him in their 1-on-1 reps. Hunter unleashed a textbook swim move to brush Hill aside on the first rep and then left Hill blocking air after a nasty spin move with the second. It looks like 99 might be poised to hit another level this season.
- It wasn’t all defense. Dalvin Cook burst through a really nice seam on the right side opened up by a heavy two tight end set that had Conklin, Irv Smith Jr., and Josh Kline leading the way.
- It isn’t a Vikings Training Camp practice without Diggs making a big reception.
Situational woes continue for the offense
While the Vikings offense has looked much better on the whole compared to last year’s camp, they still can’t seem to shake their reputation of coming up short when there isn’t much time left on the clock. The situation they were given on Tuesday: 1:37 remaining, down 3, ball at their own 25. They gained all of 15 yards before turning the ball over on downs. Cousins went 2/6, capped off by Trae Waynes breaking up a pass intended for Diggs on fourth down. The second team offense didn’t fare much better. Holton Hill perfectly defended a couple passes, including the final attempt from Mannion to Brandon Zylstra.
After the situational session, Diggs, Thielen, and Cousins all had a conversation on the sideline to try and get on the same page. There still appears to be plenty of work to do before Week 1.
Surges and slumps
- It was a really rough day for Zylstra. He had a couple more drops, including a pass from Cousins that went off his hands and right to Waynes.
- Cousins, Mannion, and Browning all had less than ideal performances on Tuesday. Kirk had a few really nice touch passes but missed a few that he usually makes. Mannion took a step back after stringing together a couple solid practices. Browning seemed to be forcing the ball into places his arm couldn’t deliver on. Kyle Sloter didn’t light the world on fire, but he was the only quarterback that wasn’t intercepted.
- I really wish Holton Hill wasn’t suspended for eight games, because man alive is he having an excellent camp.
- De’Angelo Henderson’s hands were a concern coming out of Coastal Carolina, and that’s starting to pop up in camp. He has looked good running the ball but has a few really easy drops in the passing game.
- Brett Jones and Ifeadi Odenigbo continued their stellar record in 1-on-1 line drills on Tuesday. It feels like Jones’ success might have a little more to do with his matchups against the back end of the depth chart, but Odenigbo has done well regardless of who he has been lined up against.
There weren’t any live kicks from Dan Bailey, so nothing new to report there. Guess we get another day to worry without any new information to parse!
There is one more practice on Wednesday afternoon before the team travels to New Orleans to take on the Saints in their first preseason game. 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: