Saturday, March 28, 2015

Monthly Archives: July 2014

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Who's going to prove themselves in the game's third phase?
Who’s going to prove themselves in the game’s third phase?

Any fan who has followed the NFL for a reasonable period of time has found or heard tell that the key to making the roster for those on the bubble is to make it on special teams. People see it on ESPN, Hard Knocks and any local sports coverage, as well as the plurality of written media around the country:

Young players are often too worried about learning the playbook, mastering the intricacies of the offense or defense, jockeying for position on the depth chart early in camp. But come cutdown time, they realize special teams is the key for fringe players.

NFL teams must cut their 90-player training camp rosters down to 75 by 4 p.m. Tuesday, and by Saturday evening teams must trim it to 53. Because [Special Teams Coordinator Darren] Rizzi determines who is on his unit, which makes up the third phase of football games, his opinions carry weight for the final five to 10 spots on the roster.

“History will tell you have an opportunity to make this football team,” said running backs coach Dan Roushar. “The quickest way to do that is to make an impression in the special teams.”

Lynch has had plenty of opportunities to use his skills as a runner at NIU, but he’s never blocked or tackled in high-level football. He’ll desperately need to work on his blocking and tackling to make himself appealing as a special teams contributor. Special teams may be his only shot at making this roster.

“Special teams are huge in this league, especially if you’re going to be one of those guys on the bubble trying to make the roster,” [Denver Broncos receiver Tavarres] King said.

The calculus is well laid-out by Gang Green Nation:

The guy who posts 9 catches for 100 yards in a preseason game has clearly had a good night and taken a step to making his team’s roster. Is this necessarily the most important thing if his team is set at the position, and his only way to making the roster is as the fifth receiver? Perhaps not.  This guy’s playing time is likely to be limited, and he will not be a featured part of his team’s offense. What if this guy is an ace gunner on punt coverage units and is a quality return man? He will make much more of an impact in these roles so in an odd way they might be at least as important in a team’s evaluation.

This is the kind of thing that makes it tough on a guy likeDavid Nelson. I don’t think Nelson is explosive enough to be a quality starter. He’s NFL material, though. You could do a lot worse for a depth guy. The problem is he doesn’t really add value anywhere else. If you had a guy with Nelson’s receiving skills who was a special teams ace, you probably would have a player with decent value. Nelson might not make the roster if a younger guy he is up against can provide said value at another spot.

It’s even the lens by which smart sportswriters are looking at the odds of out of the closet Michael Sam’s chance of making the roster:

Improved pass-rushing traits will do nothing but help Sam’s chances of landing a roster spot, especially if he can translate that work into preseason games.

Sam’s biggest advantage when stacking up against the other linemen vying for jobs, though, is his ability to help on special teams.

That’s all probably true. So what are we to make of it? It’s the most difficult thing for an outsider to evaluate—both because special teams play is relatively esoteric to the outside football community and because people rarely keep track of it in camp. The closest proxy we have in Minnesota is the evolving depth chart put together by Mike Priefer every night and displayed for all the football community to see in the morning. Players that stay at the top of the depth charts of the various rosters probably have the best chance of making them.

 

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Teddy Bridgewater at QB Training Camp 2014

Teddy Bridgewater, first round pick from the Minnesota Vikings, finally took actual reps with the first unit offense—after a lot of confusion regarding what it means to split reps and whether or not it had happened in the context of the first team offense.

Regardless of the saltiness of the local media in regards to the national coverage, Bridgewater’s first reps with the first team are at least a signal that the coaching staff is following through on its eventual promise to allow Bridgewater a true chance to compete by giving him snaps with the first team.

He only took five or so snaps with the first team offense in 11-on-11 drills, but there were quite a few snaps he took in place of the first team quarterback in individual drills and 7-on-7 drills, where he clearly outpaced Matt Cassel.

When compared to Matt Cassel or Christian Ponder, Teddy had a stellar day. In seven-on-seven drills, he hit nearly every target, most of them in stride. By comparison, Matt Cassel threw one interception and one near-interception on a dropped ball by Xavier Rhodes. Bridgewater would lead receivers in drills centered around receivers and tight ends running crossing routes out of the seam, while Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel would throw behind or force receivers to jump.

In fairness, it was an unusually bad day for Cassel, who would also see another batted pass and a few more errant throws in 11-on-11 drills. Though Bridgewater’s snaps with the first team were limited, they also looked good. Mike Zimmer downplayed the performance, his reps with the first team were fine; his biggest mistake came with the second team in a session where Dom Williams was rotating in at running back. Pressure forced Bridgewater to backpedal and he threw off his back foot, too far ahead of Williams.

He thus far hasn’t “evenly split” reps with Cassel; the veteran took many more snaps with the first team in every drill, as well as in the scrimmages.

For what it’s worth, Bridgewater has more than proven he deserves to take the lion’s share of first team reps if only to prove that he can hang with the veteran. As it stands he’s been slightly outperforming Cassel in camp, and that means he needs more bites at the apple. If he’s not the quarterback of the future, it’s better to see signs now.

It’s been a couple of days since we’ve had a training camp update here on VT. I’ve scoured the internet and curated it below. I will be in Mankato Friday and Saturday at Vikings Training Camp and will have more content to share with everyone at that time. I’ll also be tweeting furiously so make sure to follow me (@brettAnderson87) if you aren’t already.

Quarterback Trio - Vikings Training Camp 2014
Photo courtesy of Chris Price

Injuries

Let’s get the injury related news out of the way starting with Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson, dealing with a foot injury, was a full participant today for the first time this training camp. The injury is not believed to be serious and Patterson’s absence comes off as precautionary. Still, it’s a good sign he’s back with the team.

Captain Munnerlyn, who is dealing with a minor hamstring injury, was activated off the PUP list but was not a participant in team drills. Like Patterson, the injury is not believed to be serious.

Unfortunately, Robert Blanton got added to the injury list today. Blanton pulled his hamstring during blitz drills. Zimmer did not share with media how long Blanton would be out but it’s bad news for Blanton who had been taking most first-team reps alongside Harrison Smith.

Andrew Sendejo, who had offseason back surgery and hasn’t participated in practice to date, could return as soon as Monday, per Zimmer.

Other injury casualties include Josh Robinson who cut practice short with hamstring tightness and AC Leonard who had a headache. Zimmer did refer to Josh Robinson’s early departure as “preventative.”

Quarterbacks

Alright, let’s cut to the chase. Everyone wants to know about how the quarterbacks are faring so far. Everything I’ve heard or read is that Teddy Bridgewater has been super impressive and slowly closing (bridging?!) the gap separating himself and Matt Cassel. During last night’s team practice, Bridgewater dazzled many fans and members of the media going 12-for-13 with his only incompletion coming from a drop at the hands of UDFA AC Leonard. Bridgewater’s performance earned him first-team reps in today’s practice.

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acleonard
Photo courtesy of vikings.com

 

With training camp well underway, the position battles are starting to heat up. The highly popular battles like linebacker and quarterback are getting a lot of attention and commentary; however, there are battles that could impact the 2014 team that might be seen as under the radar at the moment.

With tight end Chase Ford entering camp on crutches and the PUP list, the depth chart behind Kyle Rudolph and his new 5 year contact gets a little foggy. Versatile 3rd year man Rhett Ellison is a shoe in to make the team and be a strong contributor with his ability to play either tight end or full back.

The battle for the 3rd tight end spot is currently up for grabs. During my time in Mankato over the weekend, a player vying for that 3rd spot immediately jumped out to me.

Undrafted rookie AC Leonard from Tennessee State seems to be making the most of his opportunity to climb the depth chart while getting plenty of time with the 2nd team offense. Oddly enough, I did not see former undrafted addition Allen Reisner get many reps at all over the weekend. I found this curious if nothing else because of how highly the Vikings thought of Reisner after picking him up from the University of Iowa. Reisner received a lot of attention for ‘catching everything’ as a relatively unknown rookie and after spending time on the Vikings practice squad and with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Reisner was resigned by the Vikings. I think this says something about what Leonard has been able to do with the team in a very short time.

Leonard is an intriguing prospect for a variety of reasons, but he is clearly talented. After starting his college career at the University of Florida, Leonard was atop the Gators’ tight end depth chart that included current Washington tight end Jordan Reed.

Leonard’s time in Gainesville was short lived, however, and he left the program prior to the 2012 season. While at Tennessee State, Leonard displayed his athleticism and receiving ability while hauling in 85 receptions for 1,214 yards and 11 touchdowns over his two years with the Tigers.

There is no doubting Leonard’s receiving ability. Leonard has displayed a nice release off the line and seems to be fluid and athletic in route running. He also possesses the type of speed and acceleration needed to get behind a defense and stretch the field from the tight end position.

After yesterday’s practice, I asked Leonard what type of player he was and what he felt he brought to the Vikings.

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