Saturday was the first fan-allowed practice of Vikings’ training camp this year, and I decided to attend and report what I saw.
Great Atmosphere and Facility
For those of you who’ve made it out to TCO Performance Center for training camp, this isn’t news but I thought I’d mention what a great atmosphere and facility it is at TCO Performance Center.
It was a full house there today, and the Vikings organization does a great job making training camp a fan and family friendly event. In addition to the practice itself, there are lots of activities on the plaza, for young and old alike, but lots of stuff for kids to do. It’s easy and pretty quick to get in and out of the facility, and just a great atmosphere with plenty of food and drink options too.
If you haven’t had a chance to get out to see a training camp practice, I highly recommend it.
Rookie duties include but are not limited to— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) July 29, 2023
- Lead a Skol Chant pic.twitter.com/11hq4Aqnz7
What I Saw Today
The first half of practice was mainly position group drills and some work for the punt team. The second half was 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 team drills. I’ll focus mainly on the 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 team drills in my evaluation of players. For most of the team drills it was the 1s against the 2s (i.e. first-team offense vs. second-team defense, and first-team defense vs. second-team offense, although there was some 1s vs. 1s and 2s vs. 2s as well, particularly in the two-minute drill but on other occasions as well. Also several players- particularly on defense that I noticed- mixing reps with 1s and 2s.
It was not a padded practice, so not much to comment about in the trenches at this point.
I was reminded what an accurate quarterback Cousins is today. From position drills through the team drills, Cousins’ accuracy was impeccable. Ball placement was perfect most of the time. He appeared at ease and comfortable throughout practice. He did throw one pick to Andrew Booth Jr. on what appeared to be a miscommunication between him and JJ, but it didn’t really matter- Booth made a great play on the ball regardless of whether JJ was where he should have been or not.
Kirk Cousins to KJ Osborn for a nice gain. pic.twitter.com/cocTjvSbsX— vikesinsider (@vikesinsider) July 29, 2023
Nobody can cover Justin Jefferson. He’s usually somewhere between wide open and NFL-open every route. Some of that may because of a team directive giving JJ a virtual red jersey during training camp- I didn’t see any defensive back giving JJ much of a jam. Nevertheless, it’s a bit troubling that there wasn’t tighter coverage on Jefferson at least some of the time.
Jefferson was basically flawless today. He caught everything thrown to him, made some nice plays and catches along the way. He got free on a go route with Andrew Booth Jr. in coverage, but no safety help from Josh Metellus who was focused on a crossing route. Cousins hit JJ in stride in what appeared to be about a 60-yard bomb. The ball came out a little wobbly, but perfect placement:
QB Kirk Cousins connects deep downfield with WR Justin Jefferson for a 55+ yard touchdown! pic.twitter.com/ujgVLGWSGj— vikesinsider (@vikesinsider) July 29, 2023
That was the play of the day on offense. Another one:
The ball.— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) July 29, 2023
Elite. Elite. Elite. pic.twitter.com/2WKb4keD0i
#40 LB Ivan Pace Jr.
I haven’t heard too much about Pace so far this off-season, but he played almost exclusively with the second team defense at linebacker. #47 William Kwenkeu was the other second-team linebacker, although there was more rotation at that spot. Pace looked to be the play-caller for the second-team defense. He might have tipped a pass that Lewis Cine almost intercepted, but that’s the only play I noticed from Pace today.
#3 WR Jordan Addison
Addison mixed with the 1s and 2s and also fielded punts. He had at least one nice catch on a ball away from him, but mostly shorter routes so nothing particularly noteworthy or spectacular today. No discernable mistakes either.
#21 CB Akayleb Evans
I know there’s been some buzz around Evans this off-season, and he played exclusively right cornerback with the 1s today. But I came away underwhelmed with his performance in coverage. It wasn’t just JJ that got separation against Evans today. Trishton Jackson did too, and others. He just isn’t there yet in man coverage. He did have one nice break on the ball in the two-minute drill- but may have been caught anyway. He also did a nice job, when his man went in motion, of blitzing Cousins which affected his throw. But overall, he needs to tighten his coverage. It’s probably not an overnight fix either. It looks more like he needs a better understanding of route patterns and maybe some technique issues too. Obviously a small sample size in one practice, which is the case for every player, but I wasn’t that impressed with Evans’ coverage ability today.
#23 CB Andrew Booth Jr.
Booth and Mekhi Blackmon were the two outside cornerbacks with the second-team defense today, and both played exclusively with the second-team. Booth gave up the bomb to Jefferson shown above, but he also had the lone interception against Cousins today. There’s no question Booth has been a disappointment so far since he was drafted, missing a lot of time last season due to injury and not really showing much when he did play either. But watching him there is no doubt he is the most physically talented cornerback on the Vikings’ roster. Watching him in drills he always has the quickest feet and is more sudden in his ability to change direction, etc. He has a ceiling of a real playmaker at cornerback. And he did show that in his pick of Cousins today. But there are two issues. The first is that he is still a bit hesitant in his coverage. It’s probably a question of more time on task and getting more reps with Booth. I also think he’ll benefit greatly from the move to more man coverage, where he is clearly more comfortable. The other thing that strikes you watching Booth is that he’s thin. He doesn’t look much more than 180 pounds and at this point he looks like a liability in run support- not to mention the injury concerns. No real chance to see his tackling ability today without pads, but he did get blocked on run plays to his side.
Booth came up and appeared to press his receiver on one play but then blitzed. And while I could see Booth forcing an errant pass with his presence as a blitzer, I’ll be curious to see how he does actually tackling a quarterback when he blitzes once pads are on. He’s small enough where I wouldn’t expect him to lay wood on a quarterback but hopefully he can bring him down if gets there as a blitzer.
Being able to tackle a ball carrier outside one-on-one is a more important skill in Brian Flores’ defensive scheme. The reason is that as a more frequent blitzing scheme, a common counter to that is a quick bubble screen to an outside receiver or a jet sweep. That leaves the cornerback outside by himself- particularly if the safety and/or linebacker on his side blitzed- to make the tackle. My guess is that one reason the Vikings brought in JoeJuan Williams besides his being familiar with Flores and his scheme, is that he’s a big cornerback that can tackle.
CB Andrew Booth Jr. with the interception! pic.twitter.com/JzBVPPOvC1— vikesinsider (@vikesinsider) July 29, 2023
#29 CB JoeJuan Williams
Williams played exclusively I believe with the first team defense. Didn’t notice any significant plays by Williams, but he didn’t appear to be targeted much either. He didn’t draw Justin Jefferson much in coverage either.
#11 CB Mekhi Blackmon
Blackmon played exclusively at left cornerback opposite Andrew Booth Jr. with the second-team defense and generally looked good. He had an interception on an errant pass by Jaren Hall, and a nice breakup on a pass to Jordan Addison, but otherwise wasn’t targeted much that I saw. He looked good in run support as well. I could see Blackmon eventually moving up and getting some reps with the 1s and challenging for a starting job.
#7 CB Byron Murphy
Murphy didn’t get targeted much that I saw and I’d say that’s a good thing. He also seemed decent in run support. He played exclusively with the first-team defense in the slot as expected.
#33 LB Brian Asamoah
Among young players likely to start for the first time this season, I have the least amount of concern with Brian Asamoah. He showed a lot of range today and had a number of reps as a blitzer- most frequently lining up outside of Marcus Davenport on the right side. He was frequently around the ball on run plays today including outside runs.
#93 DT Jonathan Bullard
Bullard played almost exclusively with the first-team defense at nose tackle and seemed to get more reps than Khyiris Tonga there today. My guess is that Bullard is currently first in line at nose tackle on passing downs.
#94 DT Dean Lowry
Lowry rotated with Harrison Phillips at three-technique with the first-team offense. Lowry will likely play mostly on passing downs.
#43 Luigi Vilain
Vilain had reps with the first-team defense today at left edge, part of a few players that were sort of the 1b substitutes with the first-team. But Vilain also had reps with the second and third team too. Third team reps on the right edge. My guess is that the coaching staff wants to see what Vilain can do and are giving him plenty of reps- particularly in the absence of Danielle Hunter (and Andre Carter II) to evaluate him.
Punt Returner Competition
In the punt team drills during the first half of practice, the following players returned punts:
Jalen Reagor, Jordan Addison, Thayer Thomas, Brandon Powell, and KJ Osborn. That’s also an approximate order depth-chart-wise as far as I could tell.
#6 S Lewis Cine
Cine had the play of the day defensively, diving for an interception on a short out route thrown by Nick Mullins during the two-minute drill. He played exclusively with the second-team defense and showed improvement today. Perhaps starting to get a bit more comfortable with the defense and his assignments to the point where he is beginning to show a little play-making ability.
Another shot of it:
Safety Lewis Cine just FLEW across the field and made a beautiful diving interception pic.twitter.com/BoQ1oOezMO— vikesinsider (@vikesinsider) July 29, 2023
#44 S Josh Metellus
Metellus played mostly the the second-team, but also had some reps with the 1s in three-safety looks. Not sure if he was to blame at all in the JJ home-run bomb or not, but he was the safety that would’ve had over-the-top responsibilities on that side.
#0 ED Marcus Davenport
Davenport had most of the first-team reps at right edge today, with Patrick Jones II getting the last few.
#91 ED Patrick Jones II
Jones played mostly with the second-team defense, although he may have gotten a couple reps with the first-team toward the end of the team period. They have him playing right edge.
#98 ED DJ Wonnum
Wonnum played pretty exclusively with the first-team defense, although at left edge rather than right edge where he’s played in previous years. It looked like he played around half the snaps with the first team, the other half being given to Vilain.
#92 DT James Lynch
Lynch played mostly with the second-team defense, although he also got a few reps with the 1s today.
#78 DT Jacquelin Roy
Roy played mostly if not exclusively with the second-team defense at three-technique.
#90 DT Esezi Otomewo
Otomewo played with the second- and third-team defense but appears to be third-string at this point.
#96 DT Ross Blacklock
Blacklock played with the second-team defense- maybe around half the second-team defensive reps in rotation.
#84 TE Josh Oliver
I didn’t notice him much- not sure he ran many routes today. But he is a big tight-end- bigger than most linebackers and has the height/weight of a lot of edge rushers at 6’5”, 259 pounds. Danielle Hunter is listed at 6’5”, 263 pounds for comparison. Oliver probably isn’t as built as Hunter (who is?) but he doesn’t look like he’s got a lot of bad weight on him either.
#83 WR Jalen Nailor
Nailor did not play today or yesterday. Kevin O’Connell revealed that Nailor suffered a leg injury and is day-to-day- expected to be back next week.
#12 QB Nick Mullens
Mullens had a mediocre day for the most part. He threw a pick and also threw at couple passes into the ground due to pressure but had a couple good throws as well- one on a seam route to Johnny Mundt. Probably not his best day but not terrible either.
#16 QB Jaren Hall
Hall threw two interceptions today, one to Mekhi Blackmon and another to CJ Coldon Jr. toward the end of practice. Didn’t really have any good throws to speak of. His best plays were runs when protection broke down and/or he couldn’t find an open receiver. There is no competition from Hall for QB2 at this point.
#60 C Josh Sokol
Sokol was the second-team center today, with Chris Reed out.
#20 S Jay Ward
Ward got some reps with the second-team defense today at free safety, and with the 3s. Gave up one big pass play. He had good coverage but the receiver made a nice adjustment to the ball thrown behind him and Ward wasn’t able to respond.
#64 G Blake Brandel
Brandel played right guard for the second-team offense today.
#76 T Bobby Evans
Evans played right tackle with the second and third team offense today.
#74 T Oli Udoh
Udoh played right tackle with the first-team offense today.
#55 ED Andre Carter II
Did not practice today.
#5 WR Jalen Reagor
Reagor looked to be the lead punt returner at the moment and also played with the second-team offense. He had a couple nice grabs today- one a nice leap for a poorly thrown ball over the middle (shown in the first twitter clip) and another on an out route near the sideline.
#19 WR Brandon Powell
Had one nice reception, but otherwise not targeted much that I saw. Also fielded a couple punts.
Running Back Depth Chart
I couldn’t see very well from my vantage point, but it looked like behind Alexander Mattison, the reps were fairly equally shared between Kene Nwangwu and Ty Chandler who played with the second-team. #37 DeWayne McBride also got a couple reps with the second-team, along with the third-team.
#45 LB Troy Dye
Dye got some reps with the second-team today but is probably behind both Pace and Kwenkeu at this point.
#9 WR Trishton Jackson
He had reps with the second-team today with Jalen Nailor out. Generally did well with a couple catches.
#1 K Greg Joseph
Joseph made ‘em all today. At the end of the team drills there was a kicking competition and both Joseph and #46 Jack Podlesny made all their field goal attempts. Joseph, however, had several longer attempts from 45 yards out from both hashes. They didn’t have Podlesny attempt a field goal that far out. It appears that Joseph has the bigger leg based on their field goal attempts today, and I’m doubtful that Podlesny has as much range as Joseph from what I saw today.
#14 P Ryan Wright
Wright had a couple short punts off near the sidelines in punt team drills the first part of practice. Most were fine, but at least a couple appeared less than ideal- although I don’t know if these were meant to be ‘inside-the-20’ type punts.
#59 LB Troy Reeder
Reeder had some reps with the second-team today, although my guess he’s third-string at this point.
#51 ED Benton Whitley, #52 DT Sheldon Day, and #54 Curtis Weaver
All had a few limited reps with the second-team defense today, and third-team.
Offensive Line Depth Chart Today
Offensive line was pretty consistent at each level today. First team from right to left was Oli Udoh, Ed Ingram, Garrett Bradbury, Ezra Cleveland and Christian Darrisaw as expected.
Second team was Bobby Evans, Blake Brandel, Josh Sokol, Austin Schlottmann, and I believe Vederian Lowe.
Third string was Bobby Evans, Jacky Chen guard (didn’t see who the other guard was), Alan Ali center, and I believe Vederian Lowe LT.
RT Brian O’Neill and C/G Chris Reed did not practice today due to injury.
Ben Sims was third-team TE.
Third Team Defenders Today
There was some mixing of players between second- and third-team defense today (third team only had a few snaps at the end), but Tay Gowen, CJ Coldon Jr., and Kalon Barnes played only third-string today at cornerback. Theo Jackson was safety along with Jay Ward, who also had a few reps with the 2s.
#69 Calvin Avery was third-string NT, and Junior Aho third-string DT. Not sure if TJ Smith played today, but he might have. #57 Wilson Huber played a linebacker spot.
Tight End Depth Chart
It appears that TJ Hockenson and Josh Oliver are the two top TEs, followed by Johnny Mundt and Nick Muse. Ben Sims played with the third-string. I didn’t see newcomer #48 Colin Thompson or #41 FB Zach Ojile, so I’m guessing they didn’t play much or at all.
Others Not Mentioned
Other players I didn’t mention either because there wasn’t much of significance to report and their position is clear (i.e. Harrison Smith, Garrett Bradbury) or they didn’t play much or at all that I noticed, or not much to report on what they did. Of the latter groups, probably further down the depth chart.
While this is only one practice and a lot can and will change over the course of training camp, there were some indications of where players are on the depth chart based on what team they played with and how many reps they got.
Also, Brian Flores continues to show and blitz a lot defensively. Linebackers, safeties, and cornerbacks blitzed today.
One position group where I expect there will be changes over the course of training camp is at outside cornerback. JoeJuan Williams and Akayleb Evans are playing with the first-team currently, but I would not be surprised if both Mehki Blackmon and Andrew Booth Jr. get more reps with the first-team as training camp progresses.
Not much to report in the trenches or the running game for that matter, but the Vikings passing game looks pretty strong among the starters right now, and clearly has the advantage over the defensive secondary. That shouldn’t be surprising.
But it will be interesting to see if the defensive secondary is able to improve over the next month, particularly after pads come on, and with the aid of Flores’ pass rush.
I take it as a good sign that Ivan Pace Jr. appears to be second-string behind Jordan Hicks and calling the plays for the second-team defense. It’s also intriguing that Luigi Vilain is getting a lot of reps, including with the first-team, at edge rusher. We haven’t seen anything from Vilain since he was signed as a UDFA last year. He didn’t do much last year, and without pads not much to report on him in this practice either, but clearly he has the attention of the coaching staff and could be moving up the depth chart.
If I had to guess now at the wide receiver depth chart I’d say JJ, Addison, KJ Osborn/Jalen Nailor, Jalen Reagor, Trishton Jackson/Brandon Powell, Others. They may only keep five though.
Interior defensive line seems up for grabs for rotational spots based on how reps were handed out today. Lots of competition there along with defensive backs.
Finally, it was nice to see Lewis Cine make a couple plays today- you could tell that really helped his confidence. Hopefully he can build on that going forward.
No practice on Sunday but I believe the first padded practice is on Monday.