Thursday, July 30, 2015

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(photo by Lindsey Young)
(photo by Lindsey Young)

Without a doubt, Captain Munnerlyn proves one of the biggest intrigues at this year’s Vikings training camp.

Munnerlyn signed a three-year free agent deal with Minnesota on March 13 after spending five seasons with the Carolina Panthers. In 2013, the 25-year-old intercepted two passes and returned both for touchdowns. He also tallied a career-high 74 tackles and 3 ½ sacks.

At 5’9”, Munnerlyn has been considered undersized for his position. However, as the numbers indicate, his size poses no disadvantage. “I’ve been shutting up the critics since I got to Carolina,” Munnerlyn said. “They’ve been saying I’m too small, I’m too slow, I’m not big enough. I just go out here and play football and prove to people that they were wrong about me.”

The South Carolina alum also proved he was right about himself; he is more than capable of playing this position.

(photo by Chris Price)
(photo by Chris Price)

As far as dedicated, driven athletes go, few compare to cornerback Marcus Sherels.

His name may not be among the media buzz, but that’s just fine with Sherels. For the fourth-year CB, it’s all about football—and his main goal remains working hard and earning his spot on the roster.

Coach Zimmer stated in his August 4 press conference that he tends to keep more corners on the roster than might be expected. When asked about this, Sherels expressed that it really has no direct impact on him—his mentality will remain the same regardless.

“I have no idea how many [cornerbacks] they’re going to keep,” Sherels said. “I just come out every single day and compete.”

Sherels’ effort has certainly paid off so far. In March, the 26-year-old signed a two-year deal with Minny. He was the first free agent the Vikings signed during the offseason. While his path to the NFL has not been easy, Sherels never complained. He played. Minnesota signed the undrafted Sherels to the practice squad in 2010, and he played in his first pro game in 2011. His most memorable NFL moment thus far occurred in 2012. Ironically on his 25th birthday, the Sept. 30 game against the Lions will forever be a highlight for Sherels:

“my birthday game was pretty special. I scored my first punt return touchdown, and the Vikings won [over Detroit]. It was a great game.”

Vikings fans hope to see more of those returns in the upcoming season, and Sherels shares the enthusiasm. He seems optimistic about how things are going at camp thus far, and it’s obvious he is raring to go:

“I’m just looking forward to coming out, competing, and trying to win every game. We have the new coaching staff here and it’s been great so far […] I focused a lot on stretching and getting my speed back [during the offseason]. The coaches are doing a great job of teaching us—the more reps we get, the more we improve.”

Not only does Sherels see his dream fulfilled of playing for the NFL, but he also feels blessed to play for his home state. A native of Rochester, MN, the CB grew up rooting for the Vikings with his family. Now, he is one.

“It feels great [to play here],” Sherels said. “I don’t know anything other than Minnesota. I love it here […] it’s absolute dream come true.”

During the 2013 season, Sherels set a Vikings record with a 15.2 punt return average and became the first Vikings PR man to have two returns of 50+ yards in a season. He is also only the third Viking to have multiple punt return TDs in a career.

The Vikings released their first unofficial depth chart Tuesday afternoon, and Sherels is currently penciled in at LCB behind Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Robinson. Besides any action Sherels sees at corner, it will also be interesting to see how he is utilized at special teams.

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Earlier today, Norv Turner took the podium and was able to answer some questions about the Vikings offense and Teddy Bridgewater’s development as a quarterback. He seems fairly confident, as you would expect any coach to express at this time of year, but at least provided some solid context for why he thinks Teddy is playing at an “awfully high level.”

Teddy Bridgewater at QB Training Camp 2014

The first, of course, is that Teddy’s interception rate in camp in eleven-on-elevens is fairly low, three for every 150 passes thrown so far—or about eleven in a typical season (though he said 150 is half a season, perhaps hoping the Vikings are constantly ahead in games and willing to rush the ball). That’s a good point.

Further, Turner broke it down into the types of plays that would be a demerit for a quarterback or not, and concluded that Teddy, along with Matt Cassel, only threw one interception that could be characterized as a “bad decision” (by which I assume he means the Greenway interception in the red zone Saturday night). He also threw one interception that was a “great play” by the defense, and one that was a receiver falling in his route (I assume Derek Cox on Adam Thielen).

Norv went on to further contextualize the great play by diminishing the statistic as a camp total—there’s no pass rush and the game isn’t full speed at this point, but he remains impressed.

Beyond that, “there’s things we’re doing with Teddy that we would never call in a game”—a refrain we hear from offensive coordinators in every camp, though it rings true given how often Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees throw bad interceptions in camp only to enter the regular season in pristine condition.

As for me, I’d pump the brakes a little bit more. Teddy’s interceptions in camp aren’t what have concerned me—he is consistently making the correct decision in camp. As of right now, my primary concerns are the high passes in camp that make receptions harder to come by, increase tipped interceptions and reduce yards-after-the-catch. In my estimation, much of this has to come from the fact that he’s been asked to speed up his mechanics and control his drop from center more than he did in Louisville. Time will tell, but for now the future is optimistic and his mistakes are correctable.

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The Vikings have released their first unofficial depth chart before the preseason. Obviously, some things are fluid while others are obvious and there’s not much in between. As it stands:

Offensive Depth Chart
QB Matt Cassel Teddy Bridgewater Christian Ponder
HB Adrian Peterson Matt Asiata Jerick McKinnon Joe Banyard Dominique Williams
FB Jerome Felton Zach Line
WR1 Cordarrelle Patterson Adam Thielen Rodney Smith Kamar Jorden Donte Foster Andy Cruse
WR2 Greg Jennings Jerome Simpson Jarius Wright Kain Colter Erik Lora Ty Walker
WR3 Greg Jennings Jarius Wright Adam Thielen Kain Colter
TE Kyle Rudolph Rhett Ellison Chase Ford AC Leonard Mike Higgins Allen Reisner
LT Matt Kalil Antonio Richardson  Kevin Murphy
LG Charlie Johnson David Yankey  Pierce Burton
C John Sullivan Joe Berger  Zac Kerin
RG Brandon Fusco Vladimir Ducasse  Jeff Baca
RT Phil Loadholt Mike Remmers  Austin Wentworth


Defensive Depth Chart
RDE Everson Griffen Scott Crichton Justin Trattou
UT Sharrif Floyd Tom Johnson Kheeston Randall Isame Faciane
NT Linval Joseph Fred Evans Shamar Stephen Chase Baker
LDE Brian Robison Corey Wootton Jake Snyder Tyler Scott
SLB Anthony Barr Gerald Hodges Dom DeCicco
MLB Jasper Brinkley Audie Cole Mike Zimmer
WLB Chad Greenway Brandon Watts Michael Mauti Larry Dean
LCB Captain Munnerlyn Josh Robinson Marcus Sherels Julian Posey Robert Steeples
SS Robert Blanton Jamarca Sanford Mistral Raymond Chris Crocker Antone Exum
FS Harrison Smith Kurt Coleman Andrew Sendejo Brandan Bishop
RCB Xavier Rhodes Jabari Price Derek Cox Kendall James Shaun Prater
*SCB Captain Munnerlyn Jabari Price Shaun Prater

* Slot cornerback was not listed in their official depth chart, but it should be useful to include.

On offense, don’t read too much into the quarterback charts. The Seahawks didn’t release a depth chart but treated Russell Wilson as their number two and the Dolphins listed Ryan Tannehill as their second-string quarterback going into the first preseason game and they both started Week One.

The receivers are listed as “WR” instead of Split End, Flanker and Slot, but it’s clear that WR1 is the split end, WR2 is the flanker and WR3 is the slot. Players have been expected to play every position and likely will as the season progresses, but for now there are some interesting overlaps: Greg Jennings, Jarius Wright and Kain Colter are both flankers and slot players, while Adam Thielen is a slot/split end player. There does not seem to be a split end/flanker crossover, so my guess is that WR3 is being treated like I treated the SCB at the bottom of the defensive depth chart.

The first team on offense in three-receiver sets (Norv has not had four receivers on the field in the last two years, according to NFLGSIS) would probably look like this:

QB: ?
RB: Adrian Peterson
TE: Kyle Rudolph
SE: Cordarrelle Patterson
FL: Jarius Wright
SL: Greg Jennings
OL: Same

A lot of that will change, of course, and that specific set may be more uncommon than common, but in general, that may be how the snap count works out. That specific situation doesn’t imply that Jarius Wright is “ahead” of Jerome Simpson on a depth chart that simply lists the receivers all in one go—Jennings is a flanker, so kicking in would mean the next flanker on the chart is ready to go.

I do think, independent of that, that Wright may be ahead of Simpson.

McKinnon may jump ahead of Asiata soon—he’s been taking a number of snaps with the second team. As always, pass protection will be a big determining factor, and #2/#3 designations may not matter as much as situational play.

Expect Chris Crocker to move up the depth chart quickly and for the Vikings to keep more “strong safeties” from this chart into the season than “free safeties” — though the role is less interchangeable in this defense than the Vikings’ old defense, Zimmer still expects versatility out of the safeties.

The linebackers are of course extremely fluid. The nickel set may take out Barr and Brinkley and put in Hodges, though the coaches do like a Barr/Greenway combination in nickel as well. That may be situational, too. The only linebackers I haven’t seen take significant snaps with the first team are Dom DeCicco, Mike Zimmer and Larry Dean. Of those three, I would imagine Mike Zimmer is the most likely to make any leap—he has quick feet and a good reaction time and has shown that in camp.

The cornerbacks may change with Derek Cox flashing in camp, but we’ll see. Marcus Sherels has had a very good, and surprising, camp so far so may make the roster for more than his special teams play.

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