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harrison smith

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.

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.

My roster evaluation series focusing on reserve players that earned some significant playing time for the Minnesota Vikings in 2013 continues with the spotlight pointed on defensive back Robert Blanton.

Blanton has the size at 6’1 200 pounds that you look for in versatile defensive back. Mike Zimmer likes length and Blanton certainly has that with 31 1/4 inch arms that he uses extremely well especially when playing the run.

Blanton was one of the top high school cornerbacks in the country and went on to play in 50 of 51 games for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. He finished his NCAA career with eight interceptions, 19.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and nearly 200 total tackles.

Blanton has above average agility but lacks blazing straight line speed. Upon drafting the cornerback in the 5th round of the 2012 draft, the Vikings converted him to safety. But, with the injury bug hitting the cornerback position in 2013, the Vikings were forced to use Blanton as a nickel corner for 275 snaps compared to only 128 snaps at safety.

According to ProFootballFocus.com, while playing the safety position, Blanton only gave up 2 receptions, 0 touchdowns and a 28.6 completion percentage in his coverage. At the cornerback spot he gave up 23 reception, 2 touchdowns, a 76.7 completion percentage and a quarterback rate of 126.8. How does that compare to fellow Vikings safety Jamarca Sanford? Sanford has a higher overall PFF grade logging 809 snaps while giving up 19 receptions, 3 touchdowns, with an 82.6 completion percentage and a QB rate of 133.2.

My opinion on Blanton runs hot and cold. In the week 15 game vs the Philadelphia Eagles,  Blanton struggled to turn and stay in tight pass coverage against the quicker Eagles’ wide receivers (he was even beaten over the top for TD by a TE). During the week 17 game vs the Detroit Lions, he looked much better and his solid tackling ability almost makes me think he could make an adequate starting safety teamed up next to Harrison Smith.

Blanton plays with good phyicality and lateral movement and can make plays when lined up in the box. He uses his arms very well to fight through blocks and shed defenders. Blanton is a high effort player displaying aggressiveness and a competitive fire on every play.

In the Lions game he flashed his ability as a effective long armed tackler. In the clip below, Blanton sheds his blocker and snags the ballcarrier with little more than his arms. When the play began, Blanton was lined up outside of the picture frame but his good instinct and lateral movement made him a factor in the play. Even with a pesky slot reciever in his face, Blanton was able get to the hole. You can’t tell by the clips, but this was a bang bang play that looked like it was going to pop for big yards. Reggie gained 6 yards on the play, but was he really robbed of a big play by the “Long Arm of the Law”? armed

The Lion’s tailback tries to redirect and move away from #36 Robert Blanton, but his wingspan proves to be to much as Blanton and Erin Henderson make a big play in the backfield.blanton run

Blanton is one of the Vikings most effective DBs when it comes to defending screen plays and short dump offs. In the clip  below, the dangerous and explosive Reggie Bush catches the ball in space and has some blockers out front. Off to the races right? Not so fast,  Blanton shows his willingness and toughness to fight through a block and make a play. My question; why does it take so long for Sanford to shed his block? This is the kind of play that doesn’t hurt Sanford’s overall grade at PFF, but it doesn’t go unnoticed by me.

blanton screen

Blanton’s best attributes are his size, attitude and toughness.  He plays “like” a scrappy boundery press man corner, the  problem is he doesn’t have good press man coverage skill and can get beat over the top too often.

As a safety he has the size and great tackling ability coaches covet in a defensive back. However, questionably closing speed along with a lack of big hitting potential taper my enthusiasum for Blanton’s development as a quality NFL starting safety. With that said, I do like his physicality, sure tackling, good fundamentals and accurate angles when pursuing plays. The question is, can Zimmer turn Blanton into something special?

Blanton should get his fair share of first team reps at safety during OTAs and camp this season. Certainly his experience at nickel last year will benefit his development as a safety this season. If Blanton wants to see more game action, he will need to prove he can get his hands on some passes in preseason.

Minnesota Vikings’ safety Andrew “Dinero Frio” Sendejo collected a cool $188,500 in NFL performance-based bonuses for his contribution on the football field in 2013. Sendejo’s extra coin was second only to right guard Brandon Fusco’s $237,000 bonus.

Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team shells out $3,460,000 to players based on their number of plays divided by their adjusted regular season compensation.

Sendejo’s bonus was well deserved because he actually played adequately filling in for the injured Harrison Smith.

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Free agency is sneaking up on us and the Vikings have been quiet, as usual, regarding their plans to re-sign their own free agents.  Almost certainly, there will be some of our own guys signing new contracts prior to the March 11th opening of the market, but this is as good of a time as any to participate in some good old fashioned speculation.

I tend to view the NFL Draft as a time to amass talent, with less regard for immediate need than is displayed in the opening days of free agency, so I have narrowed in on five guys that I think could help make an immediate impact on the opening day roster.  Of course, free agency is highly unpredictable and we fans seldom get what we want, but this slow time in the offseason is the perfect time for us dreamers to dream.

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