Thursday, July 2, 2015

jarius wright

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.

Training camp is oh-so-close now and we are all excited about the new heights our coverage will reach this year, but first let’s do some house cleaning and see what others are saying around the web:

 

 

 Patrick Reusse of 1500ESPN.com had this same idea in August 2013 when he compared Christian Ponder to other quarterbacks. Well, now it’s my turn to add two cents and lay some tracks down this Ponder path.

Rich  Gannon had a long 17 year career in the NFL as a quarterback largely due to his mobility and toughness. Ponder reminds me a little bit of Gannon in the fact that he can make plays on the run and doesn’t have the world’s greatest arm.

 Gannon didn’t play much during his first three seasons in Minnesota, but he became the Vikings’ starter in his following three seasons. Gannon was a serviceable quarterback for the Vikings, however his stats in his first 42 starts for the Vikings, Redskins and Chiefs combined were nothing more than average at best. In his first nine years in the NFL, Gannon was 21-21 as a starter completing just 56.6% of his pass attempts while throwing for 49 touchdowns and 44 interceptions with a quarterback rate of 73.8.

Like a fine wine that improves with age, Gannon transformed into a very good quarterback at the age of 32. In his last two seasons at Kansas City and his final six years in Oakland he performed at his best. During that time frame, Gannon had a 55-35 record completing 61% of his attempts and throwing 131 touchdowns with 60 interceptions. Gannon won the NFL’s MVP award in 2002 as he guided the Raiders to the Super Bowl and the top rated offense.

Can Christian Ponder develop into a great NFL quarterback too? If he can hang around the league long enough, I think he has enough skill set to be able to pull off a “Gannon like” MVP season at some point in his career. And as for now, it appears the Vikings want to hold onto Ponder for a little while longer. GM Rick Spielman said Friday that he is anxious to see how Ponder looks under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner this off-season. “Christian will be here; I don’t anticipate anything — him not being here,” Spielman said, via Master Tesfatsion of the Startribune. “Right now we’re looking at quarterbacks, so we would say we don’t have the position solidified. I know Christian does have the physical abilities to do it, but for whatever reason things haven’t come together for him.”

 Norv Turner enjoys watching young players develop. He told a group of reporters at last week’s press conference that it’s one of the reasons why he coaches. When ask about his thoughts on working with Cordarrelle, Norv talked about his experience developing a young Josh Gordon and went on to say, “We got a really good group of young players here, not only Cordarrelle but a number of guys and a pretty good running back. I look at the potential this group has, and you’re anxious to get started and see how far they can go. Cordarrelle has all the physical skills you would like in a player. When I watch tape, one of the things I look for are the things that they already do well, and how they match up with the things we want to do. I think he (Cordarrelle) will fit our offense extremely well.”

 Later in the press conference Norv said, “I look at the roster, and certainly I look at the offensive side of the ball, and I think this is a group that can be very good. I think we can be good real fast.”

Whether we’re talking about route-running, explosiveness or overall play-making ability, this team has enough firepower for Norv to take some positive steps forward in the passing game as well as the running game.

Norv certainly likes a balanced offense with a physical running attack. One goal he said is,  “We would like to get him (Adrian) in space a little bit more and get the field spread a little better for him.”

The key to spreading the field and getting Adrian Peterson and also Cordarrelle Patterson good touches in open space will depend on how effective the Vikings can be when taking shots down the field.

Norv gets excited when he talks about explosive plays, vertical passing and yards per catch. His record speaks for itself as he has coached a number of wide receivers who have finished near the top in yards per catch. That could be good news for Jarius Wright. Jarius emerged last season with the Vikings as a legitimate big play threat by leading the team with a 16.7 yards per catch average. At Arkansas he had three consecutive seasons where he had 40 or more receptions and averaged over 17 yards per catch.

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Last year, when the Vikings thought they had a fourth round steal when the selected Greg Childs, the talented receiver out of Arkansas that slipped in the Draft due to injury concerns.  So far, almost two full seasons into his career, only the concerns have been realized and the talent level remains to be seen.

Childs tore both patellar tendons on August 4th of the team’s 2012 training camp and has been in rehabilitation mode ever since.  He has been a fixture in the locker room and his determination has been the subject of hundreds of Vikings-focused articles ever since he sustained the injury.  Monday marked the NFL deadline for the Vikings to either let Childs practice, put him on injured reserve again, or release him outright.  They decided to let him practice and that is a huge milestone for his comeback campaign.

He practiced for the first time in 15 months on Wednesday.

The Vikings now have three weeks to decide what to do with him next.  A 21-day deadline is now going to be imposed, per NFL rules, and the Vikings will either have to activate him or put him on injured reserve… or release him.  Considering the time invested into their young wide out, it would be surprising if they gave up on him at this point, as they would surely like to get him into training camp next year to see what he can do.

Childs was once thought of as a possible answer for the Vikings at the receiver position, but they were forced to move forward without him, and he will be joining a crowded group with decent talent.  Since his injury the Vikings have invested heavily into first rounder Cordarrelle Patterson, paid handsomely to obtain Greg Jennings, and converted Joe Webb back to receiver.  They have also allowed youngsters Rodney Smith and Adam Theilen to hang around and Jerome Simpson is the team’s leading pass catcher.

Still, Childs is determined to make it back to the field of play, and when he does I doubt he’ll be any less determined when it comes to making an impact.

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