Thursday, July 30, 2015

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

In the second full week of training camp, Vikings players appeared energized and ready to rock during the Monday morning walk-through. The practice was a shorter one, having been adjusted last minute to a special teams’ walk-through only.

Zach Line was the first one on the field.

He appeared calm but energized, taking the field and chatting with fellow fullback Jerome Felton. When coaches sorted the group, pulling guys to participate in various drills, it appeared Line fell most closely into the second-string roster—definitely a positive position for the SMU alum.

The Minnesota Vikings have elected to sign defensive back Chris Crocker, formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals, to the roster and waive defensive end Rakim Cox. The move doesn’t come as a huge surprise, but may signal that Andrew Sendejo, who just came off of the Physically Unable to Perform list, may not be ready to play int he first preseason game or is progressing slowly.

Sendejo, who had been out all offseason with a back injury, may be less familiar with the system than safety Chris Crocker, who played with Zimmer in Cincinnati and in Atlanta. Crocker, aged 34, has played with Mike Zimmer for 14 years now and served a vital role in the Bengals’ top five defense last year, filling in for an injured Leon Hall at nickel corner.

Though he primarily plays safety, his defensive back experience has given Zimmer a lot of versatility in defensive design, and allowed him to put three safeties on the field at once, something the Vikings have experimented with for a little bit in camp.

Crocker has come up several times in press conferences as the kind of versatile player that gives Zimmer flexibility in defensive design.

Last year, he had two sacks, one hit and five hurries on the quarterback on 26 pass-rushing snaps and grabbed two interceptions, allowing two touchdowns in the process. With Zimmer he has ten career interceptions and has consistently been rated by Pro Football Focus in the past several years as a league-average safety, making him excellent depth or a reasonable starting option.

The Vikings have had injuries to safety Robert Blanton in camp to go along with Andrew Sendejo’s uncertain status, and are left picking between Antone Exum, Jamarca Sanford, Kurt Coleman, Mistral Raymond and Brandan Bishop at safety. Though Sanford has done an acceptable job in the last two years as a starting safety, he may not be a fit for the kind of scheme that Zimmer runs, which emphasizes safeties that have the capability to either play in the box or patrol a deep wide zone with range.

This doesn’t mean that Crocker is a lock to make the roster, but he’ll help teach the system and immediately provide the Vikings with a game-ready player. Over the past three years, he’s started in 28 games, and appeared in 41.

Rakim Cox, an undrafted defensive end from Villanova, started out camp ahead of fellow UDFAs Jake Snyder and Tyler Scott on the depth chart, but had slowly been moving down in favor of the Virginia and Northwestern products. Cox came out of a 3-3-5 defense and needed to add strength in order to make the roster. Despite a reputation for intelligent play and a hard work ethic, he had issues in camp with lane discipline.

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How do you get pumped up for the season? I did it by debating with as many fans as I could about why the Vikings were better than their teams. Evidently, I won those debates! You can, too, by listening in. First, I debated with fans from the rest of the NFC North:

More Sports Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Double Overtime on BlogTalkRadio

Then, you can listen in while I debate a gauntlet of winners from the rest of the NFC, here:

Listen To Sports Internet Radio Stations with Double Overtime on BlogTalkRadio

After that, listen in on a debate about how the Vikings overcome their Super Bowl curse by cementing the Bill’s own curse here:

Discover Sports Internet Radio with Double Overtime on BlogTalkRadio

Do you think there’s an argument for the Vikings to win the Super Bowl? If not, do you at least think the debates went well?

Also, thank whatever deity you believe in (or don’t believe in), because the NFL season is almost here.

Below are my notes from yesterday’s afternoon practice. Sorry I didn’t get them posted last night… I figured I’m only here in beautiful Mankato, Minnesota for one night so I might as well try and see the town! As a whole, the team looked pretty sloppy. Zimmer acknowledged that fact this morning when he promised the team would look better tonight. While the individual drills looked good, the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 action left a little something to be desired.

  • Jerick McKinnon, Adam Thielen, Marcus Sherels, Jarius Wright, Kain Colter and Erik Lora started off practice participating in punt return drills. Marcus Sherels was an obvious stand-out with Adam Thielen doing good as well. Erik Lora was the only guy who dropped one as far as I could tell. This ended up being a theme throughout practice and he dropped a couple more on the day.
  • Sherels continued to perform well in one-on-one drills versus the wide receivers. The cornerbacks were focusing on tight man coverage. Sherels was physical right off the line and kept the distance between himself and the receiver very small. You have to take these drills (or all of training camp) with a grain of salt though because we’re not privy (most times) to the purpose of the drill. For example, the cornerbacks, or in this particular instance, Sherels, may have known the route the receiver was going to run. If you remember from my notes on the morning walk-through, Sherels was in with the first-team nickel offense as Josh Robinson was a non-participant due to his injury. George Edwards in his presser that this was a great opportunity for Marcus Sherels to step up and prove himself.  Sherels has been impressive on special teams and apparently the team thinks highly enough of him to give him reps with the ones. Crazy to say it, but there may be an outside shot for Sherels to replace Robinson depending on when Robinson can get back and how well he performs.
  • During quarterback drills, I got to stand directly perpendicular to where Bridgewater, Cassel and Ponder were lining up. It’s crazy getting to see Teddy drop back at the same time as Ponder and watch them side-by-side. Bridgewater’s footwork, release and throwing motion is obviously better than Ponder’s.  Cassel and Bridgewater aren’t too far apart but I would still give the advantage to Teddy.
  • While I thought Teddy looked best in the drills, he obviously struggled later in practice. I wouldn’t say Cassel had a marginally better day than Bridgewater just because Cassel didn’t really do anything to stand out. But he didn’t make as many mistakes. Despite having a couple of longer throws that looked nice, there were multiple occasions where Bridgwater simply over-threw his receiver or had some sort of miscommunication.


  • Throughout the day, I noticed that the running backs were being motioned outside a lot typically to provide an outside check down option for the quarterback. Just in general, the offense seems to check down the ball frequently. Whether or not this is by design, it’s difficult to tell. It looked like it may have been so the defense could have linebackers work on coverage situations. From what I’ve seen today though, the running backs are definitely going to be involved much more in the passing game. But we already knew that…
  • Everson Griffen is really, really explosive.  Watching him and Kalil instantly collide when the ball is snapped is a ton of fun.
  • Linval Joseph had another batted pass from Matt Cassel during 11-on-11 drills. Not sure what that brings his total to for training camp (I think maybe 3?), but it’s obvious he has a knack for it.
  • Joe Banyard had a rough day. During second team 11-on-11 drills, Sanford broke through line to get Banyard for a loss. The next play, Teddy delivered a nice check down pass to him only to have it slip right through his fingers.
  • Derek Cox had another good today and managed to snag another interception. Adam Thielen looked to slip on a curl route right as the ball got there. Cox just reached over his shoulder and grabbed it. It’s hard to really take anything away from plays like this other than that Cox was able to take advantage of a miscue which is important.
  • Practice ended with the team running third and long drills which just resulted in more check downs. Either the running back would be motioned out or he would just slip underneath the linebackers from the backfield.
  • There were lots of variations on the defensive side of the ball. While groups during the morning walk-through seemed pretty cut and dry, it was obvious in the afternoon Zimmer was trying out different combinations.
  • I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention #FenceGate. (As Eric Thompson over at the Daily Norseman coined it.) You’ll find pictures of it all over Twitter, but I’ll save you trouble and just further ruin the day of the poor guy who was driving this thing.
Photo by Jason Barum


Check back either late tonight or sometime tomorrow for notes from Day 9. The Vikings have a night practice.  We’ve gotten confirmation from Zimmer that it’s not going to be a scrimmage and instead will just be 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 situational drills. He’s not ready to unleash the team and go live just yet. Zimmer’s content using the upcoming preseason game against the Raiders for that and not risking adding any injuries during a practice.

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