Saturday, July 23, 2016

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(Photo Courtesy of Luke Inman)

Training Camp is a time to figure things out. I have a laundry list of things I want to shake out in Mankato and I’ll rattle a few off on the podcast. We’ll also talk about our production schedule for this week (at least one episode a day!), as well as rough outline of our Mankato adventure this weekend, and us singing the praises of Boulder Tap House. A place ya’ll should come swarm us after each Vikings practice. Do it.

A Few of the 37 Things I Want to Figure Out in Mankato Include
• Nothing about Adrian
• “How does Teddy look?”
• How much does Chad Greenway have left?
• That Zimmer Hellfire Defense in year two.
• Who wins at right guard? Harris – Berger/Yankey/Thompson/Shepherd/ FUSCO?
• With Clemmings staying at tackle, could he be the eventual replacement for Loadholt/Kalil?
• What’s Stefon Diggs gonna be?
• What’s the deal with Spielman’s arms?
• Will Trae Waynes even start as a rookie?
• Cordarelle has one strike left. Will he strike out?
• Tune in for the other 27!

All that and other “Love Me Some Mankato” chatter on this edition of the Purple FTW! Podcast!

An Andy Carlson Joint.

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Tom Farniok wants to establish a legacy.

It doesn’t have to be the kind that puts his name into the Hall of Fame or anything, but the former Iowa State center puts it upon himself to lead the way for his brothers, all offensive linemen like himself.

There’s Derek, an offensive lineman for Oklahoma who is entering his redshirt senior year. There’s Matt, a four-star recruit from Sioux Falls, South Dakota and the highest-ranked player in the state—fielding offers from 18 different teams—including Florida, Florida State, Michigan State and Stanford. And there’s high school sophomore Will, who Tom says should find his time in the spotlight after he can grow out of Matt’s shadow.

Being the older brother to all of them is the kind of pressure that Farniok enjoys—he enjoys coming from a football family, even if it’s not the same kind of advantage you’d normally associate with that kind of upbringing.

“I’m the oldest, so I didn’t really get the advantage in that regard,” he clarified in our interview. “They got the advantage because they got to learn. But it’s just cool, it’s pressure but it’s good pressure because I don’t want to let my brothers down.”

Pressure is not unusual to Tom. Of course, there’s the natural pressure that comes with entering training camp with no clear hold on a roster spot, and naturally there’s the pressure that follows the journey up the depth chart at the only FBS school to provide him a scholarship.

How about designing the offense?

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Image courtesy of

Tonight, I hop on a plane headed for the Twin Cities, and it’ll be my first trip to Minnesota in nearly 14 years. In that time, plenty has changed — I won’t be touring the Metrodome, visiting the Mall of America, or checking out my dad’s family home. Instead, I’ll be representing Vikings Territory at U.S. Bank Stadium and Vikings training camp as part of U.S. Bank’s Biggest Fan Sweepstakes.

On Wednesday, I’ll join 40 lucky Vikings fan for the opportunity of a lifetime. We’ll start the day at U.S. Bank Stadium, where we’ll take a hard hat tour of the Vikings’ new home before visiting the stadium preview center. Later in the day, we’ll take a bus up to Mankato and spend the afternoon with a sideline view of training camp practices.

In working with U.S. Bank and the Vikings Biggest Fan event, Vikings Territory will be able to bring you an inside look at the new stadium and some extra coverage from training camp in Mankato.

Here’s the fun part — we want everyone to experience this exciting day of activities.

To start, I’ll be conducting a scavenger hunt of sorts, taking the best photos and videos possible while asking unique questions to coaches, players, and tour guides. But, I need your help. The Vikings Territory staff has already started a list for the hunt, but we need more suggestions! Below, the running list:

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Photo courtesy Ryan Cutler

As far as I can tell, this is what the depth chart for the Minnesota Vikings was on the first day of training camp.

Offensive Depth Chart
QB Teddy Bridgewater Shaun Hill Mike Kafka Taylor Heinicke
HB Adrian Peterson Jerick McKinnon Matt Asiata Joe Banyard Dominique Williams DuJuan Harris
FB Zach Line Blake Renaud
WR1 Charles Johnson Cordarrelle Patterson Gavin Lutman
WR2 Mike Wallace Stefon Diggs Jordan Leslie Isaac Fruechte
WR3 Jarius Wright Adam Thielen Donte Foster
TE Kyle Rudolph Rhett Ellison Chase Ford Mycole Pruitt Brandon Bostick
LT Matt Kalil Carter Bykowski Babatunde Aiyegbusi
LG Brandon Fusco David Yankey Chrishon Rose
C John Sullivan Joe Berger Tom Farniok
RG Mike Harris Phil Loadholt Isame Faciane
RT Phil Loadholt T.J. Clemmings Austin Shepherd
Defensive Depth Chart
RDE Everson Griffen Justin Trattou Danielle Hunter  B.J. Dubose
UT Sharrif Floyd Tom Johnson
NT Linval Joseph Chigbo Anunoby
LDE Brian Robison Scott Crichton Josh Kaddu
SLB Anthony Barr Brandon Watts Edmond Robinson
MLB Audie Cole Eric Kendricks Michael Mauti
WLB Chad Greenway Gerald Hodges Brian Peters
LCB Xavier Rhodes Jabari Price DeMarcus Van Dyke
SS Harrison Smith Andrew Sendejo Anthony Harris
FS Robert Blanton Antone Exum Jr. Shaun Prater
RCB Terence Newman Trae Waynes Marcus Sherels
*SCB Captain Munnerlyn

It’s missing some players obviously, but that’s a combination of the fact that the Vikings didn’t field a “fourth-string” defense and I didn’t catch the rotation there, and some of it is because the Vikings weren’t necessarily showcasing what they had in nickel all that often. This will change throughout the course of camp, but don’t expect to see big changes right away.

The receiver rotation in particular is always tough to tell because they rotate through the receivers very quickly. Just know that Stefon Diggs seems to be ahead of Cordarrelle Patterson, who saw the field at the same time as Adam Thielen a lot. Again, all that can change.

The third-string defense was tough to tell, because they had two groups of CBs taking reps, and I may have misread Josh Kaddu, who is listed as a linebacker but was an edge-rusher for Oregon, play defensive end. Update: Kaddu played linebacker for the shells practice today, throughout the day.

We’re going to see changes with Kendricks, who seems set to start or take significant snaps this year, and some of the cornerbacks. Not listed are Casey Matthews (IR), Davaris Daniels (NFI), Shamar Stephen (NFI) and Josh Robinson (PUP) as well as some players that didn’t get into the rotation when I was looking, like CB Justin Coleman, CB Jalil Carter, CB Josh Thomas, DE Leon Mackey, and DE Caesar Rayford. Update: Justin Trattou took all the second-team DE snaps in shells today, while B.J. Dubose moved around between DE and DT on the second and third teams.

Even after knowing about Brian Robison’s new haircut, it’s a little weird seeing it in person after getting use to it trailing behind him for so many years. It’s not unusual to see the well-coiffed defensive end braving something new. After switching to a new defensive scheme under a new head coach, Robison is confident the team will improve.

“We have high expectations for the team this year and I feel like we can get a lot done this year,” he said. “I think we can [make a long run into the playoffs. You go and look at the roster, we have a lot of talent, we’re a young team.”

Those expectations are not unusual for the Vikings, however, who have been picked by a number of teams as dark horses to make the playoffs and challenge for the NFC North. That’s not where the optimism comes from, though. Those external source of optimism haven’t made their way into the meeting rooms or practice field.

“We don’t really know what’s going on externally, we’re trying to keep everything inside the building trying to worry about what we need to get done to be successful this year.”

That sort of confidence doesn’t come without a commitment to work, however. “Talking about it is one thing, but actually doing it on the field is another,” he emphasized. “At the end of the day, what you see on paper is only what you see on paper. You have to put it on tape, you have to put it on the field. We’re just going to take it one play at a time. We’ll see how we’ll progress.”

Even getting on to the field as early as possible was a goal for Robison, who suffered a partial pectoral tear early in the offseason.

“I was telling the guys, it’s funny when you’re not able to play football, you wanna do everything you can to be back on the field. A lot of times you come out here and start practicing and the heat and everything—augh, go back to rehab—but a bottom line is you never wanna do that rehab because you’re always looking over at the field and seeing the guys playing and you miss that camaraderie and competitiveness, so I’m just excited to get back.

“You’ve got to embrace the suck.”

That’s one step in a long process to improve the team. 7-9 isn’t acceptable for a squad with playoff aspirations, and if they want to take the next step this year, they’ll have to improve in big ways. A lot of that will come through refocusing the efforts of the defense, specifically to stop the run. Ranked 25th in run defense DVOA, a Football Outsiders metric, keying in on those runs has been something Mike Zimmer has emphasized this offseason in order to improve the overall outlook of the team.

It’s something Robison takes pride in as well.

“I think it’s big time for us,” he said of run defense. “If we could have stopped the run a couple of games, would have allowed us to pin our ears back and get after the passer. That’s going to be one big-time emphasis this camp, is to make sure we get better at our run game and that’s defensive line, linebackers, safety, cornerbacks… it’s the whole defense as a unit.”

That sort of improvement, they hope, will allow them not just to contain the teams that use the run to establish their offense, but also allow them to be unafraid of rushing high-level passers like Aaron Rodgers. But beyond making sure the individual players and the unit as a whole dedicate themselves to stopping the run, the talent on the team needs to grow, too. That’s something Robison is looking forward to.

Behind Robison on the depth chart is Scott Crichton, and Robison thinks the Oregon State product has made big strides. “He’s been great. All those guys are important to us because they need to add depth to our defense, and the more depth they have, the better it will be for our team. It allows us to get more of a rotation, things like that, which allows us to stay fresh in the fourth quarter, which may allow us to win more ballgame.

“I think with him, he was a little bit behind the eight-ball, having to stay at Oregon State before he got here,” Robison said. “And now that he’s had a whole year under his belt. He knows the system better. Now that he had a whole OTAs, that experience you get is valuable so, I think for him it’s helped improve his game tremendously.”

With Robison and fellow defensive end Everson Griffen having played 85 percent of the snaps at their position—over 930 for each of them—that could be the key to making those defensive strides. Robison doesn’t know if the plan is to increase the rotation, but don’t be surprised.

“I want to be out there every single play that I can. But, we all know that when you have a healthy rotation, you can stay fresher throughout the year and throughout the game. For me, I’m just going ot make sure when I’m out there, I’m going to give it everything I got. If coach tells me to come off, let another guy step in and that’s the way it’s gotta be.”

Robison isn’t worried that refocusing on run defense, a bigger emphasis for defensive ends under Mike Zimmer than in most schemes, will change how people perceive his play. “I think it can [change how people see us], but bottom line is that it doesn’t matter; we’re trying to win. Bottom line is we were 7-9 last year and we’re not trying to do that again. We wanna make sure we’re a playoff team and we’re a contender once we get in the playoffs.”

Having a second year with Zimmer should help, too. “Once you get to know a guy, once you get to know your coaches, you kinda… you know what to expect coming into the second year. I think we kinda know how the flow of things will go throughout this training camp and we’ll be better for it because now we know what to expect, and we can go right at it without having to go through all the little teaching steps and stuff like that.”

It’ll be up to Robison to execute on that positivity, but there’s no shortage of confidence on the defensive line. Maybe getting used to a second year under Mike Zimmer will give him that familiarity. He might get used to it faster than I will to his shorter hair.

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