I was fortunate enough to visit Mankato for this first time this year to watch the Vikings Friday practice. It is hard to take away a lot from a single practice, but there are a few key observations that I wanted to note.
Wide Receiver Depth
It’s not a secret that the Vikings are better suited at wide receiver than they have been in recent years. I liked what I saw from Mike Wallace from a route running perspective. He’ll be a big upgrade in my opinion over Greg Jennings and shouldn’t struggle to get down field separation. He did have a few drops today, but nothing that would create a ton of concern.
Beyond Wallace, Charles Johnson continues to have strong chemistry with Teddy Bridgewater and looked better with contested catches on the few opportunities he had to show off that skill.
Looking at Patterson, Wright, Thielen and Diggs, there is little doubt why Norv Turner has said they will carry 6 receivers on the final 53 man roster. The Vikings are deep and talented at the position, which should serve well as the season grinds on.
Offensive Line Ups and Downs
A large focal point for the team has to be improved play from this unit. In 1on1 drills, there were some ups and downs, but I think they played better than they have in previous practices. Matt Kalil struggled to contain Everson Griffen on a handful of plays, but nothing overly concerning.
New left guard Brandon Fusco makes a difference on the left side, if you ask me. There was a notable play where Fusco was able to help Bridgewater avoid a sack with the precesence to understand where the line might have collapsed. Fusco on the left side will improve the protection on Bridgewater’s blind side.
John Sullivan looked great and should continue to anchor the entire unit. New right guard Mike Harris impressed me with his play for a guy who is new to the position at the professional level. A converted swing tackle, Harris has a lot of size to stack next to Phil Loadholt. This should help as he works against defensive tackles who are larger than the defensive ends he was used to going up against.
There were several plays where the defensive coverage in the secondary was very good. Terence Newman held up well and I wanted to keep a close eye on that knowing the importance of his role on this team.
Anthony Barr looked much more comfortable in coverage compared to a year ago. He made a fantastic play on a ball intended for Charles Johnson. Barr, who was covering the flat, was able to use his size to jump high and bat down a pass that should have cleared the linebacker level.
Eric Kendricks took snaps with the first team in nickle situations with Barr. Seeing the NFL has become a nickle or sub package league due to the high percentage of passing, Kendricks should get plenty of snaps in the regular season if he can prove to be trusted in these situations.
Xavier Rhodes is impressive. That’s all there is to say about that really. Going against Wallace regularly, Rhodes was able to man up in impressive fashion and keep Wallace corralled for most of the practice.
Defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd will be a great tandem in 2015 and really create problems in 1on1 drills and in combined team drills.
Rookies Making an Impact…So Far
As I noted on twitter, Danielle Hunter seemed to be the go to pass rusher on nickle situations on the left side of the defense. I’m surprised that Hunter seems to have already surpassed Scott Crichton as 2nd on the depth chart.
Stephon Diggs made the play of the day in my opinion, making a really nice catch on a pass from quarterback Shaun Hill. Draped by cornerback Marcus Sherels at the goal line, Diggs made a nice catch on a contested pass.
Diggs also seems to be in the running for punt returner. He catches the ball well and seems confident with understanding where he is on the field and where defensive gunners are in relation to himself.
Trae Waynes seems to be hanging in there and has been seeing time with the 1st and 2nd teams. Waynes moved around between the slot and outside cornerback positions and kept nice coverage on the plays thrown his way. I think there is still a lot of room for improvement, but I was encourage by what I saw – given, it was a small sample size.
Looking to Tomorrow Night
All in all, Zimmer seems to have full command of this team and I’m excited to see what more time in training camp will do in preparation for the regular season.
The Vikings seem to have a lot of fun things planned for tomorrow evening to celebrate the 50th anniversary of training camp in Mankato. If you are free, I strongly urge you to consider visiting. It is a lot of fun and the Vikings put on a good show when they practice under the lights.
I’ll be back in Mankato on Sunday taking another look at the team. I’ll have more notes to come!