Monday, September 26, 2016

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Driving home from Mankato on Sunday evening, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the Vikings were stronger at linebacker than they have been in years.

This might seem obvious, considering the team has invested consecutive early round draft picks on the position group, but I give equal credit to the development of players like Audie Cole and Gerald Hodges.

Over the course of two practices, I counted 5 different linebackers get significant time with the first team defense. The shuffling at the position should give the Vikings an advantage, no matter the down or distance.

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Training camp is one of my favorite times of the year. It signals the nearing of the regular season, but it’s also a fun atmosphere of seeing new players, different ideas and position battles iron themselves out in a much less pressured situation. This year, I’m spending a week in Mankato, and it’s been a great experience to watch how things have progressed. Here are just a few of my reactions to camp so far:

1. I’m still an Adam Thielen fan
I’ve liked Thielen for the past two years, but this time at camp just solidifies in my mind the threat he really can be if utilized effectively on offense. Thielen has already been used on special teams and I expect to continue seeing Coach Priefer do that; however, I’m really hoping to see him get a chance as a more regular receiver as the season gets underway. Sometimes I think people forget about how fast he is.  The Minnesota native is incredibly quick, a solid route runner, and has been making some impressive catches at camp. During Monday afternoon’s full-pads practice, Thielen was all over the field (in a good way) and caught at least one reception of each of the four quarterbacks. I can’t wait to see how he can be used when the regular season kicks off.

2. I’m still not a Matt Kalil fan
I just can’t get over how much I’m frustrated by Kalil and his lack of production. Granted, I will say that I’ve seen him putting in quite a bit of extra work with assistant offensive line coach Hank Fraley. So, I can’t give a poor grade on effort, at least in that sense. I don’t know if it’s a mental thing, a coachability issue or just lack of talent, but there is still much left wanting from Kalil. He’s still unable to hold guys at the line, and if we’re seeing these issues during camp I don’t have high hopes for them being any different during the year.

3. Adrian Peterson is picking up where he left off
It’s so great to see Adrian Peterson back on the field without all of the drama. I will admit, I had no interest in having Peterson back on the team. In many ways, I was ready to see Minnesota trade him and move on. Being at camp, though, it’s hard to not get excited about the potential the Vikings have with a top running back returning to the lineup. Peterson looks as physically fit and ready to compete as ever. One of the biggest perks of having AP in my mind is the amount of pressure that he will take off Teddy Bridgewater. Although Peterson is obviously nothing new to Minnesota fans, Bridgewater has not been able to play a season with him and experience the difference it will make.

4. Tyrus Thompson is better than expected
Sixth-round draft picks don’t always make the team, but in this case I feel confident that Thompson will have a spot on the roster. The unofficial depth chart released Tuesday slated Thompson as backup right guard behind Harris, and he has also gotten a few reps at tackle with the threes. There have been some ups and downs as there always are with rookies, but overall Thompson is playing with a lot more strength and wherewithal than a sixth-round option. In my mind, the Vikings got a steal and Thompson will develop into a bit part of the Vikings’ roster.

5. There are still questions surrounding linebacker
In all actuality, I think the Vikings have more depth at the linebacker position than they do in a lot of places. The question, however, remains which rotation will work the best for Minnesota. I’ve seen some good things from Audie Cole, who snagged a pick Tuesday evening, I’ve liked what I’ve seen from Gerald Hodges so far, and of course you have Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and veteran Chad Greenway. In all honesty, the biggest disappointment–which I would never have predicted–has been Barr. He seems to be struggling to be 100 percent healthy, and he also looks heavier than last year … and not in a good way. Barr doesn’t seem to have the same hard-working attitude he carried last season, and that worries me. At the end of the day, it will be interesting to see which LBs start and who lines up where.


Image courtesy of Chris Price

The Minnesota Vikings have released their first depth chart of the preseason and it’s a little surprising. We’ve put it into an easier-to-read table below:

2015 Vikings Depth Chart: Offense

PositionPlayer 1Player 2Player 3Player 4Player 5Player 6
QBTeddy BridgewaterShaun HillTaylor Heinicke
RBAdrian PetersonJerick McKinnonMatt AsiataDuJuan Harris
FBZach Line
WR1Mike WallaceCordarrelle PattersonJarius Wright
WR2Charles JohnsonAdam ThielenStefon Diggs
TEKyle RudolphRhett EllisonMyCole PruittChase Ford
LTMatt Kalil
LGBrandon FuscoZac Kerin
CJohn SullivanJoe Berger
RGMike HarrisJeremiah Sirles
RTT.J. ClemmingsAustin Shepherd

2015 Vikings Depth Chart: Defense

PositionPlayer 1Player 2Player 3Player 4Player 5
LDEBrian RobisonScott Crichton
DTSharrif FloydTom Johnson
NTLinval JosephShamar Stephen
RDEEverson GriffenJustin TrattouDanielle Hunter
SLBAnthony BarrGerald Hodges Jr.Edmond Robinson
MLBAudie ColeEric Kendricks
WLBChad Greenway
LCBTerence NewmanTrae Waynes
SSRobert BlantonAndrew Sendejo
FSHarrison SmithAntone Exum Jr.
RCBXavier RhodesCaptain MunnerlynMarcus Sherels

2015 Vikings Depth Chart: Special Teams

PositionPlayer 1Player 2Player 3Player 4Player 5
PJeff Locke
PKBlair Walsh
LSKevin McDermott
HJeff Locke
PRMarcus SherelsJarius Wright
KRCordarrelle PattersonMarcus Sherels

Worth noting is the conspicuous absence of an injured Josh Robinson, who likely won’t be on the Week 1 roster, instead designated for short-term injured reserve or the PUP list to begin the season.

They don’t list the personnel order for the slot receiver or nickel corner spots, which is a bit disappointing because the Vikings were in a three-receiver set for over 50 percent of their snaps last year and were in nickel for the majority of snaps as well.

As far as we can glean, the order of the nickel receivers goes from Jarius Wright to Stefon Diggs, then Isaac Fruechte—though the second and third team have been much more generous about switching around who plays in the slot than the first team, so “slot receiver” is a small misnomer there.

This means that the fact that Cordarrelle Patterson is “ahead” of Wright is not useful (who has seen more time with the ones), though it does clarify a little bit where Patterson is in relation to Stefon Diggs, who is behind Thielen at “WR2.” I suspect that Diggs will move ahead of both in a more realistic depth chart and ahead of Thielen in the kind of depth chart the Vikings are releasing.

For the nickel set, we don’t have a clear understanding of who the two linebackers will be (though we’ve seen a lot of Chad Greenway and Anthony Barr, we’ve also seen Audie Cole and even Eric Kendricks take those snaps) but do have some understanding of the nickel cornerback.

Captain Munnerlyn has played behind the top two cornerbacks and slips into the slot. After him, Trae Waynes, when he comes on to the first team, plays on the outside as Terence Newman moves inside, while Waynes plays on the inside on the second team. Sherels has also taken snaps in the nickel, but much more often we’ll see Jalil Carter on the inside. I would speculate that in a depth chart, Sherels would be ahead of Carter.

Notably, the linebackers have not changed since the open of camp and Hodges is playing in the SLB role with Watts as the WLB. The WLB on the second team has changed around, and Hodges, Watts and Brian Peters have all played there. Josh Kaddu keeps slipping down spots on the roster and is now the lowest on the depth chart of all the linebackers.

Robert Blanton still has a spot as the safety opposite Harrison Smith, and today we saw Andrew Sendejo take reps ahead of Antone Exum in three-safety sets.

On offense, the right guard position has been held down by Mike Harris, but we may see Tyrus Thompson challenge for it. David Yankey has been playing tackle the last few days with Carter Bykowski injured and this morning, Bykowski took third-team left tackle snaps instead of Babatunde Aiyegbusi while Yankey stayed with the second team, and Zac Kerin filling in at second-team left guard. Kerin also took first-team center snaps with John Sullivan gone from the team (in order to see his new baby!), but started out camp rotating at third center with Tom Farniok. Bobby Vardaro has taken center snaps as well.

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Image courtesy of Chris Price

Rick Spielman, Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner appear to have assembled one hell of an offense.

Teddy Bridgewater looks to be a legitimate franchise quarterback. Adrian Peterson has returned and if age is a problem it certainly isn’t showing. The wide receiver talent, speed, and depth has Mankato buzzing and homers dreaming of future highlight reels. Tight end seems to be a strength and even right guard has some promising competition to cause optimism. Brandon Fusco is almost certainly going to be an upgrade at left guard after sliding on down the line.

Yes, when it comes to the 2015 Minnesota Vikings offense, the sky might not even be the limit and all of the pieces seem to be falling into place.

All of the pieces, that is, except for one.

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I had a ton of fun hanging out in Mankato for the weekend at Vikings Training Camp. It was great to meet some previous guests on the show, record a few live podcasts at the Boulder Tap House, and take in our Minnesota Fightin’ Vikings squad from the sidelines. Mentioned this before, but even the more butt-hurt/pessimistic Vikings fans should have reason to believe this year. We have a talented young squad lead by a platoon of teachers and leaders, which is a great combination for sustained success. It was a great experience and big props to Vikings Territory and Vikings PR for helping make it happen. I prattle on about 40 of my observations at Vikings Training Camp.

“Asiata bumped into me and got one yard after contact” Talking Points Include
• Adrian is ready.
• Teddy is a smooth operator, but overly cautious at times.
• Left tackle is the main issue with this team.
• Matt Kalil is a super nice guy. Not sure if he loves football.
• The jury’s gonna be out on Trae Waynes for a while.
• Offensive Line shakeups not over yet.
• An “unconditioned” Anthony Barr is still nuts.
• Right guard may not be decided anytime soon.
• Stefon Diggs is special. Poor man’s Antonio Brown?
• Charles Johnson & Xavier Rhodes have greatly benefited from going at each other every practice.
• Tune in for the other 30 Andy Observations!

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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