Cracking a 53-man roster as a rookie late-round draft pick will always be an uphill battle in the NFL.
Players of this variety have very little room for error, as they typically enter the league with very low expectations. As a result, 5th-, 6th- and 7th-round selections must often force their new coaches to pay more attention to them — and Minnesota Vikings rookie Stacy Coley certainly appears to have accomplished this task.
“How about winning that starting return job, huh,” Mike Priefer yelled in the direction of the rookie seventh-round pick with a chuckle as he walked by him after practice. Coley, who was in the middle of answering a much different question at the time, turned around to catch a quick glance of his smiling special teams coordinator, smiled and simply continued on with what he had been saying.
Asked for his thoughts on Priefer’s fun-loving remark, Coley replied like a seasoned veteran:
“I have some experience with it,” he said, smiling once again. “But, right now, I’m just working on getting better every day and competing.”
Minnesota, needing to replace a departed Cordarrelle Patterson, used Day 3 of the draft to add a host of names to the kick return competition. Vikings personnel have linked Coley to the fray since the day he was selected, but fellow rookie Rodney Adams quickly received the title of odds-on favorite to replace Patterson. And with only a few practices remaining before the preseason, Coley could very well hold the edge over his fellow rookie and be emerging a top candidate to claim the vacated role.
“Just to make sure that I’m out here working hard and competing on every single play,” he said. “That’s been the most important thing for me.”
Priefer and the Vikings still have multiple weeks to evaluate candidates for the role, and preseason performance will play a big role in determining a Week 1 kick returner. But, if nothing else, Coley has his coach believing in his candidacy and the competitive attitude to build on his strong start in Mankato.
“[I’m going to] head home and study my playbook,” Coley said. “Then get some sleep and compete again tomorrow.”
- Inconsistent offensive line play remains a blatant concern. Rashod Hill, who first showcased his talent in relief of TJ Clemmings during Week 17 last year against the Chicago Bears, remains one of the few bright spots for the front-five thus far.
- Tight end Bucky Hodges has plenty of work to do in order to improve as an in-line blocker. As for his receiving skills, however; Hodges once again reinforced the notion that his size-athleticism combination could potentially be lethal situationally — at the very least.
- Cornerback Mackensie Alexander looks much more comfortable in coverage during his second training camp in Minnesota. His movements are more fluid, and he certainly appears to have a better understanding of his assignments. He earned visible praise from Terence Newman on multiple occasions on Wednesday.
- As a collective unit, the Vikings’ wide receiver group is very fundamentally-sound blocking both off the snap and down field.
- Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell was absent from afternoon practice, but he did participate during morning walk-throughs. As a result, Michael Floyd received some work with the 1st-team offense — but it was Jarius Wright who joined Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen during the unit’s crack at an 11-on-11 two-minute drill simulation.
- Linebacker Anthony Barr, who put together an overall very solid practice on Wednesday, potentially exposed a new wrinkle in Mike Zimmer’s famed Double A-Gap Blitz disguise. On one particular occasion Barr, alongside Eric Kendricks, hovered over the center in their conventional spots, but the former backed out before the snap and re-aligned in the ‘C’ Gap before backing out into coverage as Sam Bradford dropped back to pass.
- Cayleb Jones and RJ Shelton both performed well once again, continuing what has been a very strong training camp for the team’s wide receiver unit.