Saturday, March 28, 2015
Blog Page 93

Photo courtesy of Jason Barum
Photo courtesy of Jason Barum

Vegas to Minneapolis to Mankato all in the matter of a few hours (Okay, maybe like six or seven). Running on an hour of sleep right now but there is no place I’d rather be.  I have to be honest with you… Standing on that field just a few feet away from all these incredible athletes was pretty surreal. Hard to be objective and analytical when you’re stuck just trying to take it all in.

Nevertheless, I did jot a few notes down (below). I’ll be back out on the field for the afternoon practice in just a few hours and will report back then. In the meantime, if you haven’t already, follow me on Twitter where I’ll be providing updates. Also, Arif’s Twitter List of training camp coverage is a great resource to be current with what’s going on. Plus, all those guys are pros. I’m just a rube who’s starstruck during his first training camp experience.

A couple of notes from the morning walk through:

  • Josh Robinson did not participate in the morning’s activities. Robinson was taken out of practice a couple of days ago as a precaution when dealing with a hamstring related injury. Defensive Coordinator George Edwards was unwilling to provide an update on the status of Robinson’s injury and deferred to Zimmer on the issue.

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Who's going to prove themselves in the game's third phase?
Who’s going to prove themselves in the game’s third phase?

Any fan who has followed the NFL for a reasonable period of time has found or heard tell that the key to making the roster for those on the bubble is to make it on special teams. People see it on ESPN, Hard Knocks and any local sports coverage, as well as the plurality of written media around the country:

Young players are often too worried about learning the playbook, mastering the intricacies of the offense or defense, jockeying for position on the depth chart early in camp. But come cutdown time, they realize special teams is the key for fringe players.

NFL teams must cut their 90-player training camp rosters down to 75 by 4 p.m. Tuesday, and by Saturday evening teams must trim it to 53. Because [Special Teams Coordinator Darren] Rizzi determines who is on his unit, which makes up the third phase of football games, his opinions carry weight for the final five to 10 spots on the roster.

“History will tell you have an opportunity to make this football team,” said running backs coach Dan Roushar. “The quickest way to do that is to make an impression in the special teams.”

Lynch has had plenty of opportunities to use his skills as a runner at NIU, but he’s never blocked or tackled in high-level football. He’ll desperately need to work on his blocking and tackling to make himself appealing as a special teams contributor. Special teams may be his only shot at making this roster.

“Special teams are huge in this league, especially if you’re going to be one of those guys on the bubble trying to make the roster,” [Denver Broncos receiver Tavarres] King said.

The calculus is well laid-out by Gang Green Nation:

The guy who posts 9 catches for 100 yards in a preseason game has clearly had a good night and taken a step to making his team’s roster. Is this necessarily the most important thing if his team is set at the position, and his only way to making the roster is as the fifth receiver? Perhaps not.  This guy’s playing time is likely to be limited, and he will not be a featured part of his team’s offense. What if this guy is an ace gunner on punt coverage units and is a quality return man? He will make much more of an impact in these roles so in an odd way they might be at least as important in a team’s evaluation.

This is the kind of thing that makes it tough on a guy likeDavid Nelson. I don’t think Nelson is explosive enough to be a quality starter. He’s NFL material, though. You could do a lot worse for a depth guy. The problem is he doesn’t really add value anywhere else. If you had a guy with Nelson’s receiving skills who was a special teams ace, you probably would have a player with decent value. Nelson might not make the roster if a younger guy he is up against can provide said value at another spot.

It’s even the lens by which smart sportswriters are looking at the odds of out of the closet Michael Sam’s chance of making the roster:

Improved pass-rushing traits will do nothing but help Sam’s chances of landing a roster spot, especially if he can translate that work into preseason games.

Sam’s biggest advantage when stacking up against the other linemen vying for jobs, though, is his ability to help on special teams.

That’s all probably true. So what are we to make of it? It’s the most difficult thing for an outsider to evaluate—both because special teams play is relatively esoteric to the outside football community and because people rarely keep track of it in camp. The closest proxy we have in Minnesota is the evolving depth chart put together by Mike Priefer every night and displayed for all the football community to see in the morning. Players that stay at the top of the depth charts of the various rosters probably have the best chance of making them.

 

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Teddy Bridgewater at QB Training Camp 2014

Teddy Bridgewater, first round pick from the Minnesota Vikings, finally took actual reps with the first unit offense—after a lot of confusion regarding what it means to split reps and whether or not it had happened in the context of the first team offense.

Regardless of the saltiness of the local media in regards to the national coverage, Bridgewater’s first reps with the first team are at least a signal that the coaching staff is following through on its eventual promise to allow Bridgewater a true chance to compete by giving him snaps with the first team.

He only took five or so snaps with the first team offense in 11-on-11 drills, but there were quite a few snaps he took in place of the first team quarterback in individual drills and 7-on-7 drills, where he clearly outpaced Matt Cassel.

When compared to Matt Cassel or Christian Ponder, Teddy had a stellar day. In seven-on-seven drills, he hit nearly every target, most of them in stride. By comparison, Matt Cassel threw one interception and one near-interception on a dropped ball by Xavier Rhodes. Bridgewater would lead receivers in drills centered around receivers and tight ends running crossing routes out of the seam, while Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel would throw behind or force receivers to jump.

In fairness, it was an unusually bad day for Cassel, who would also see another batted pass and a few more errant throws in 11-on-11 drills. Though Bridgewater’s snaps with the first team were limited, they also looked good. Mike Zimmer downplayed the performance, his reps with the first team were fine; his biggest mistake came with the second team in a session where Dom Williams was rotating in at running back. Pressure forced Bridgewater to backpedal and he threw off his back foot, too far ahead of Williams.

He thus far hasn’t “evenly split” reps with Cassel; the veteran took many more snaps with the first team in every drill, as well as in the scrimmages.

For what it’s worth, Bridgewater has more than proven he deserves to take the lion’s share of first team reps if only to prove that he can hang with the veteran. As it stands he’s been slightly outperforming Cassel in camp, and that means he needs more bites at the apple. If he’s not the quarterback of the future, it’s better to see signs now.

It’s been a couple of days since we’ve had a training camp update here on VT. I’ve scoured the internet and curated it below. I will be in Mankato Friday and Saturday at Vikings Training Camp and will have more content to share with everyone at that time. I’ll also be tweeting furiously so make sure to follow me (@brettAnderson87) if you aren’t already.

Quarterback Trio - Vikings Training Camp 2014
Photo courtesy of Chris Price

Injuries

Let’s get the injury related news out of the way starting with Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson, dealing with a foot injury, was a full participant today for the first time this training camp. The injury is not believed to be serious and Patterson’s absence comes off as precautionary. Still, it’s a good sign he’s back with the team.

Captain Munnerlyn, who is dealing with a minor hamstring injury, was activated off the PUP list but was not a participant in team drills. Like Patterson, the injury is not believed to be serious.

Unfortunately, Robert Blanton got added to the injury list today. Blanton pulled his hamstring during blitz drills. Zimmer did not share with media how long Blanton would be out but it’s bad news for Blanton who had been taking most first-team reps alongside Harrison Smith.

Andrew Sendejo, who had offseason back surgery and hasn’t participated in practice to date, could return as soon as Monday, per Zimmer.

Other injury casualties include Josh Robinson who cut practice short with hamstring tightness and AC Leonard who had a headache. Zimmer did refer to Josh Robinson’s early departure as “preventative.”

Quarterbacks

Alright, let’s cut to the chase. Everyone wants to know about how the quarterbacks are faring so far. Everything I’ve heard or read is that Teddy Bridgewater has been super impressive and slowly closing (bridging?!) the gap separating himself and Matt Cassel. During last night’s team practice, Bridgewater dazzled many fans and members of the media going 12-for-13 with his only incompletion coming from a drop at the hands of UDFA AC Leonard. Bridgewater’s performance earned him first-team reps in today’s practice.

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