Thursday, July 2, 2015

I returned to Mankato this morning for the team’s first practice in full pads. The intensity of the afternoon session was certinally taken up a notch and you can start to see some players starting to stand out.

I’ve summarized some of the major talking points that I think will continue to evolve through out camp.

Mike Zimmer Press Conference:

  • During the head coach Mike Zimmer’s press conference, he mentioned today’s afternoon practice would be telling and would be the start of another part of the progress in terms of building the 2014 team.
  • Zimmer went on to say he was excited to see the defensive backs in 1 on 1 drills where they would have to use press coverage against the wide receivers.  We saw this early in the practice with corner back Xavier Rhodes going up against wide receiver Greg Jennings. Rhodes maintained good coverage through the play, but lost his footing on the wet turf and Jennings came through with a reception on a hitch route.
  • Zimmer called offensive coordinator Norv Turner an innovative mind and smart play caller who is wise about when he takes his shot at big plays.
  • Zimmer was asked about rookie Scott Crichton and Zimmer commented that Crichton was a ‘try hard guy’ and today’s afternoon pratice would be telling about his readiness for the NFL. Later in the afternoon, I noted Crichton coming across the defensive line to blow up a running play. That has to help catch the coaches eye.
  • Zimmer said Tuesday would be the day he would sit down with his coaches and discuss who would start getting more reps than others. Zimmer added:

    These guys are competing against everyone in the league for a spot. We’re looking at the waiver wire.

  • Zimmer also discussed Robert Blanton, saying he likes how Blanton is able to close on the ball while in coverage, and was interested in seeing how Blanton can evolve in terms of run support.

 

Offensive notables:

  • Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson participated in the morning walk through, but did not suit up for the afternoon practice. I did see Patterson running routes with a trainer on the far field while the team was doing individual drills. Zimmer mentioned Patterson was a possibility for tomorrow evenings practice.
  • Wide receiver Adam Thielen received more praise from Zimmer during his press conference and continued to make plays while on the field. As I mentioned last night, the Vikings are giving Thielen an opportunity to prove himself, and Thielen continues to make the most of the opportunity.
  • Thielen spent more time with the 2nd team offense as did rookie tight end AC Leonard. If you follow me on twitter, you’ve probably noticed Leonard has caught my eye as someone with potential for making the final 53 man roster. I was able to speak with Leonard after practice and will elaborate on that story later.
  • Jarius Wright is getting a lot of looks, including in non passing plays. I wonder if this is because of Patterson being out, but Wright himself can be a versatile play maker in his 3rd year.
  • Rhett Ellison seems to get a lot of praise from coaches, including while on special teams. Ellison also spent time with the 1st team offense when in two tight end formations. You have to like his ability to play either tight end and full back and as someone who can motion around and help with blocking in either running or passing downs.
  • Teddy Bridgewater looked great at times, but still had a few rookie hiccups. That said, there always seems to be more good than bad. Bridgewater connected on nice passes to Thielen and rookie Kain Colter.
  • The offense ran a lot of screen plays to all 3 running backs, Adrian Peterson, Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon. It clear Turner is emphasizing getting these running backs used to catching from the backfield.

 

Defensive notables:

  • I saw more 3 safety sets with Harrison Smith, Robert Blanton and Mistral Raymond all in at the same time with the 1st team defense. Smith continues to spend a lot of time near the line of scrimmage.
  • Second year line backer Gerald Hodges spent time with the 1st team nickel package with Sean Prater serving as the nickel corner back while Captain Munnerlyn continues his time on the PUP list.
  • Brian Robison spoke with reporters and commented on how new nose tackle Linval Joseph reminds him of former Viking Pat Williams. Obviously high praise, but Robison noted that Joseph has the type of explosiveness that commands attention and double teams from an opposing offense. Robison mentioned this allows defensive ends to play under Joseph and get to the quarterback.
  • Josh Robinson made two very nice plays. Robinson picked off a pass early during 1 on 1s and knocked another loose on a nice back shoulder throw by Matt Cassel to Thielen. Defensive backs coach Jerry Gray has been coaching Robinson ‘not to see too much.’ I think he wants Robinson to focus on his responsibility and not worry about doing too much.
  • I saw defensive end Everson Griffen drop back and cover a shallow drag route by Greg Jennings. That is impressive athleticism and Zimmer loves that type of versatility.
  • Robison has been impressive during drills and got to Cassel during 11 on 11. Would have easily been a sack.
  • 9th overall pick Anthony Barr spent time with each defensive unit and even played some in nickle. I haven’t seen a lot of Barr just yet, but he’s made some flashes, but also gets lost at times.

All in all, I think today’s practice carried the type intensity Zimmer is looking to carry through out camp and I expect we’ll be hearing plenty after tomorrow’s practice. I will be heading back to Mankato next Saturday for the teams under the lights scrimmage and I’ll have plenty of talking points after.

So, this morning I was doing the dishes and listening to the Purple For The Win podcast (baller life, yo) and I was surprised to hear host Andy Carlson pretty much throw in the towel regarding tight end Chase Ford’s chances of making the final Vikings roster.

Carlson has been championing Ford all offseason long, but he sounds like he’s pretty much conceded that Ford is a goner, and neither of his guests Ted Glover and Di Murphy seemed to disagree.  Ford has a broken foot that will cause him to lose out on time to prove himself to the new coaching staff, and it was also noted by Mike Zimmer that Ford’s tweet about his injury was not something that would be tolerated.

Last season, injuries forced Chase Ford into action as an unheralded rookie, but he made an impression with some notable performances.  That included a five catch performance against Detroit in the season finale.  He ended the season with 11 catches for 133 yards and seven first downs.

So, back to Ford’s current situation: Is he really someone we should dismiss so easily?

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The 2014 Minnesota Vikings are coming together.  Well, as much as possible for the 2nd day of training camp.  I’ve tried to summarize the major talking points from today’s practices.

Norv Turner Press Conference

  • Turner spoke extensively about wanting the Vikings to have an explosive offense.  Of all the words Turner used in his 20 minutes at the podium, explosive was likely used the most. There is no doubt that he intends to stretch the field and this offense will look very different from years past.

“We want to pick up first downs on 1st and 2nd down. We want to be a team that runs a lot of plays” Turner noted.

I found this pretty telling.  Since drafting Adrian Peterson, the Vikings have traditionally run the ball on 1st and 2nd down.  I sounds like Turner wants to keep defenses on their toes.

  • Turner also mentioned he thinks Peterson can hold his own not only catching the ball out of the backfield, but also in pass protection.  Turner did note, however, that defensive ends are bound to give any running back trouble in terms of pass protection.
  • On that topic, Turner went to great lengths to explain that Matt Asiata has really shown what he can do not only catching the ball, but also in pass protection.  Turner added, that Asiata is a great athlete and can be a running back who can really “pound it.”
  • Turner noted that the Vikings want to be a physical football team, and that will extend to the offense. Full back Jerome Felton is going to ‘block, block, block’ Turned commented and added that he will get Felton carries as well.  Something Felton saw very little of in Bill Musgrave’s offense.

The Vikings announced through their official twitter account that they waived receiver Josh Cooper and tackle Matt Hall (both of whom were at walkthroughs) to sign receivers Tyrone Walker and Andy Cruse.

Ty Walker is a smaller receiver, leaving Illinois State (Mike Zimmer’s alma mater) 5’10” and 189 pounds. He ran a 4.59 40-yard dash, had a 39″ vertical and ran with a 4.41 short shuttle and a 6.99 three-cone, relatively impressive until you consider his weight. Here’s a scouting report from Draft Insider:

School: Illinois State

Position: WR

Bio: Senior total included 90 receptions/1319 yards/9 TDs after 64/787/8 the prior year.

Positive: Dependable small-school receiver with poor size/speed numbers. Comes back to the ball out of breaks, easily adjusts to errant throws, and makes the reception in stride. Fights with his hands to separate from defenders, displays outstanding hand/eye coordination, and competes to make receptions. Stays in bounds running after the catch and gives effort trying to pick up positive yardage.

Negative: One-speed receiver who lacks a quick release off the line. Minimal skill running after the catch.

Analysis: Walker was a reliable receiver with a nose for the end zone at Illinois State. He’s an undersized possession receiver by NFL standards, yet his natural receiving skills will get him looks for a West Coast offense.

He had previously been with the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers for a short time. Walker had expected to make the Green Bay roster after a very good preseason last year:

Walker finished with a team-high 11 receptions for 78 yards in the preseason. He has been far from perfect. The undrafted wideout had a pair of drops at St. Louis. At the end of Thursday’s game, Walker fumbled the ball, scrambling to poke it out for a teammate to recover. But overall, he has made the most plays among the rookies. On Friday, he hung onto a slant for 14 yards.

“Just the effort that I put out here,” Walker said. “I feel I deserve to be on the team.”

It helps that Walker has caught his share of passes from Aaron Rodgers in practice. The quarterback has shown confidence in Walker to make go-to plays within the offense. He hasn’t been doing his damage in camp solely with and against back-ups.

“That’s always good that I’ve caught passes from him,” Walker said. “He feels that he can come to me and throw me a ball, if he trusts me, I believe they’ll be able to trust me. It’s just how the numbers shake out.”

He drew plaudits from more than one publication.

Andy Cruse has one year of experience and has been on the Houston Texans roster. He’s taller at 6’3″ and 212 pounds. He ran a 4.66 40, a 4.22 short shuttle and 6.89 three-cone while jumping 34 inches in the vertical. The scouting report from Draft Insider:

School: Miami-Oh

Position: WR

Bio: Four-year starter who posted 74 receptions/681 yards/6 TDs as a senior after 43/391/4 the prior year.

Positive: Reliable pass catcher with NFL size. Displays good awareness on the field, comes back to the ball to make himself an available target, and consistently finds the soft spot in the defense. Uses his frame to shield away defenders, extends his hands, and works to make receptions away from his frame. Possesses soft hands. Makes difficult catches in a crowd, takes a big hit then holds onto the throw. Quickly transitions from making the catch to running after the reception. Gives effort blocking downfield.

Negative: One-speed receiver with limited quickness. Despite his size, has never been a great red-zone threat.

Analysis: Cruse showed terrific improvement as a senior and he’s a receiver who does the little things well. Unlikely to be selected at any point during the seven rounds, Cruse could catch on as a fifth receiver in the NFL.

Cruse’s preseason was not nearly as interesting, but his attention to detail is well worth noting.

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We’ve got some depth chart news, but it’s basically fake. With Captain Munnerlyn on the PUP list (it’s a hamstring tweak, so not for long), Andrew Sendejo still nursing his back injury from the offseason and Chase Ford dealing with a broken foot, things are a little out of wack.

First Team O-D 7-25-2013Second Team O-D 7-25-2013

Expect movement upwards from people like Anthony Barr, who Zimmer is keeping on the second team right now because of his extensive absence in the offseason due to UCLA’s quarter system. The middle linebacker position is also in a lot of flux. Though Jasper Brinkley took the majority of the reps today and in the offseason at the Mike, there has been enough rotation here that it seems fairly relevant to indicate that these are soft charts at best.

Jamarca Sanford basically missed all of the offseason as well, due to an injury of his own, so he may move into the first team as the safety opposite Smith. McKinnon may end up taking Asiata’s spot before long.

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