Thursday, May 28, 2015
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adrian peterson

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The Vikings open the 2014 season with a much-anticipated matchup against the St. Louis Rams.  The time to obsess only over our Vikings roster is over and we must now be aware of the teams that stand between us and the 2014 playoffs.

With the opener almost upon us, I asked Nathan Kearns to answer a few questions about the Rams and what we can expect to see.  Nathan is an Editor over at the Ramblin Fanas well as a die-hard Rams fan, and helps us understand our first real enemy of 2014.

I asked Nathan to make a prediction at the end of this, but first he was kind enough to answer five questions about this Rams team:

1.  Sam Bradford’s situation is unfortunate on so many levels, and even fans of other teams can sympathize with him and the Rams organization, but what can we expect to see out of the Week One passing attack with Shaun Hill at the helm?
Pop in a tape from Week 8 through Week 17 of the St. Louis Rams 2013 season and you will get a pretty solid idea. Much like when Bradford went down last season, Jeff Fisher and company will revert back to a conservative offense that relies heavily on the running game. Shaun Hill is a more accurate thrower than Kellen Clemens, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Rams take a few more shots down the field. However, for the most part, it will be a run-oriented offense, with a mix of play-action and short throws to move the football down the field.

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The Vikings look like a team plenty capable of putting points on the scoreboard.  The first two preseason games under Norv Turner have been encouraging, Adrian Peterson will be ready to do his thing in Week One, and Cordarrelle Patterson will once again be returning kicks.

Actually, that last part is speculation at this point, and an item worthy of debate.

As a rookie, Patterson established himself as the NFL’s most electric kick returner last season, and regularly gave the Vikings offense an advantage via stellar field position.  He ended up returning 43 kickoffs for 1,393 yards (32.4 yard average) and two scores.

Patterson hasn’t been returning kicks in the preseason, as it is one of the quickest ways to get a player injured in the modern NFL, but Mike Zimmer said last month that he was still the guy.  Given Patterson’s increased role and prominence in the offense, however, some might argue that his usage on special teams should be restricted.

Thus, our “Poll of the Week” will hopefully lead to some interesting debate in the comments section.

Finishing up a road trip combined with hosting the in-laws meant I was a little delayed in my watching of the Vikings first preseason game of the Mike Zimmer era.  I’ll try to make up for the delay by hosting a real-time live chat for the next game.

Overall, what we saw from the Vikings in their preseason debut against Oakland was encouraging.  Tomorrow, I’ll turn around and focus on the “Five Things I Hate About You,” but I first want to ride the optimism and give you five positive takeaways.

5.  Adam Thielen Looks Legit

The Vikings have invested a lot into their wide out position over the last couple of years and it is showing.  Quality depth is still a concern, especially with Jerome Simpson facing a suspension this season, but Adam Thielen is looking like a reliable backup option with special teams value.  He caught a pass for 15 yards, made a hell of a coverage play, and averaged over 17 yards on three punt returns.  He looks fragile to me, and that very well could be my imagination,  but I otherwise can’t think of a single reason he shouldn’t be on this roster in Week One of the regular season.  He made plays all over the field this week.

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.

I returned to Mankato this morning for the team’s first practice in full pads. The intensity of the afternoon session was certinally taken up a notch and you can start to see some players starting to stand out.

I’ve summarized some of the major talking points that I think will continue to evolve through out camp.

Mike Zimmer Press Conference:

  • During the head coach Mike Zimmer’s press conference, he mentioned today’s afternoon practice would be telling and would be the start of another part of the progress in terms of building the 2014 team.
  • Zimmer went on to say he was excited to see the defensive backs in 1 on 1 drills where they would have to use press coverage against the wide receivers.  We saw this early in the practice with corner back Xavier Rhodes going up against wide receiver Greg Jennings. Rhodes maintained good coverage through the play, but lost his footing on the wet turf and Jennings came through with a reception on a hitch route.
  • Zimmer called offensive coordinator Norv Turner an innovative mind and smart play caller who is wise about when he takes his shot at big plays.
  • Zimmer was asked about rookie Scott Crichton and Zimmer commented that Crichton was a ‘try hard guy’ and today’s afternoon pratice would be telling about his readiness for the NFL. Later in the afternoon, I noted Crichton coming across the defensive line to blow up a running play. That has to help catch the coaches eye.
  • Zimmer said Tuesday would be the day he would sit down with his coaches and discuss who would start getting more reps than others. Zimmer added:

    These guys are competing against everyone in the league for a spot. We’re looking at the waiver wire.

  • Zimmer also discussed Robert Blanton, saying he likes how Blanton is able to close on the ball while in coverage, and was interested in seeing how Blanton can evolve in terms of run support.

 

Offensive notables:

  • Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson participated in the morning walk through, but did not suit up for the afternoon practice. I did see Patterson running routes with a trainer on the far field while the team was doing individual drills. Zimmer mentioned Patterson was a possibility for tomorrow evenings practice.
  • Wide receiver Adam Thielen received more praise from Zimmer during his press conference and continued to make plays while on the field. As I mentioned last night, the Vikings are giving Thielen an opportunity to prove himself, and Thielen continues to make the most of the opportunity.
  • Thielen spent more time with the 2nd team offense as did rookie tight end AC Leonard. If you follow me on twitter, you’ve probably noticed Leonard has caught my eye as someone with potential for making the final 53 man roster. I was able to speak with Leonard after practice and will elaborate on that story later.
  • Jarius Wright is getting a lot of looks, including in non passing plays. I wonder if this is because of Patterson being out, but Wright himself can be a versatile play maker in his 3rd year.
  • Rhett Ellison seems to get a lot of praise from coaches, including while on special teams. Ellison also spent time with the 1st team offense when in two tight end formations. You have to like his ability to play either tight end and full back and as someone who can motion around and help with blocking in either running or passing downs.
  • Teddy Bridgewater looked great at times, but still had a few rookie hiccups. That said, there always seems to be more good than bad. Bridgewater connected on nice passes to Thielen and rookie Kain Colter.
  • The offense ran a lot of screen plays to all 3 running backs, Adrian Peterson, Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon. It clear Turner is emphasizing getting these running backs used to catching from the backfield.

 

Defensive notables:

  • I saw more 3 safety sets with Harrison Smith, Robert Blanton and Mistral Raymond all in at the same time with the 1st team defense. Smith continues to spend a lot of time near the line of scrimmage.
  • Second year line backer Gerald Hodges spent time with the 1st team nickel package with Sean Prater serving as the nickel corner back while Captain Munnerlyn continues his time on the PUP list.
  • Brian Robison spoke with reporters and commented on how new nose tackle Linval Joseph reminds him of former Viking Pat Williams. Obviously high praise, but Robison noted that Joseph has the type of explosiveness that commands attention and double teams from an opposing offense. Robison mentioned this allows defensive ends to play under Joseph and get to the quarterback.
  • Josh Robinson made two very nice plays. Robinson picked off a pass early during 1 on 1s and knocked another loose on a nice back shoulder throw by Matt Cassel to Thielen. Defensive backs coach Jerry Gray has been coaching Robinson ‘not to see too much.’ I think he wants Robinson to focus on his responsibility and not worry about doing too much.
  • I saw defensive end Everson Griffen drop back and cover a shallow drag route by Greg Jennings. That is impressive athleticism and Zimmer loves that type of versatility.
  • Robison has been impressive during drills and got to Cassel during 11 on 11. Would have easily been a sack.
  • 9th overall pick Anthony Barr spent time with each defensive unit and even played some in nickle. I haven’t seen a lot of Barr just yet, but he’s made some flashes, but also gets lost at times.

All in all, I think today’s practice carried the type intensity Zimmer is looking to carry through out camp and I expect we’ll be hearing plenty after tomorrow’s practice. I will be heading back to Mankato next Saturday for the teams under the lights scrimmage and I’ll have plenty of talking points after.

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