Thursday, February 26, 2015
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josh robinson

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.

The ideal situation for the Vikings secondary probably involves Xavier Rhodes and Captain Munnerlyn staying healthy with Josh Robinson progressing in a meaningful enough way to make him the clear cut number three.

There are plenty of reasons to worry about Robinson‘s ability to step up, however, and the top “Plan B” candidate appears to be free agent acquisition Derek Cox.

Last offseason, Cox was a hot commodity as an unrestricted free agent and he jetted across the country to play for San Diego after a productive first four seasons in Jacksonville.  He signed a four year deal with the Chargers worth $20 million, but disappointment followed shortly when he was unproductive enough to be benched and then released this offseason.

Photo Courtesy of Vikings.com
Photo Courtesy of Vikings.com

The Vikings claimed Shaun Prater off waivers on October 22, 2013 from the Philadelphia Eagles. Prater was originally drafted in the fifth round with pick 156 in 2012 by the Cincinnati Bengals. A knee injury derailed his rookie season and forced him on injured reserve for almost the entire year.

Geoff Hobson, the editor for Bengals.com wrote this about Prater last March.

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2013 proved one of the Minnesota Vikings’ best draft years to date. The Vikes grabbed first-rounders Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes and Cordarrelle Patterson at No. 23, 25 and 29, respectively. Patterson delivered an outstanding rookie year, making his mark offensively and guaranteeing to be one of the top receivers in the game.

On defense, though, in an area where Minnesota has historically struggled, Rhodes impressed fans with his speed from Day 1.  He logged a 4.43 40-yd-dash at the NFL combine, and that explosiveness carried over into games.  Rhodes was not perfect—and has plenty left to improve upon—but he showed the kind of promise that hasn’t been seen from a defensive rookie in MN for quite some time.

Rhodes tallied 48 tackles in his debut season. Let’s put this into perspective.  Former CB Antoine Winfield, one of the best in Vikings history, had 38 tackles as a rookie in 1999. Nobody wants to put the cart before the horse, but it is an interesting comparison to draw.

At 23 years old, Rhodes struggled a bit with penalties in the beginning—oftentimes, his close coverage and quickness crossed the line, drew a yellow flag. Toward the end of November, though, Rhodes’ playing style began to level out. Physicality no longer proved the only aspect of his game, and his numbers reflected the development.  Rhodes combined for 13 tackles and eight passes defended over three games. Prior to Thanksgiving, the CB had totaled only two passes defended all season.

“[Rhodes] is starting to make more plays now,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “He’s playing with more confidence. [I’m] seeing some things you’d like to see long-term […]he’s beginning to hit his stride now.”

The rookie developed a physical edge and dexterity to his game, and he looked to be finishing out the season with a bang.

“The next step is, some of those balls he’s knocking down, they can turn into interceptions,” Frazier said. “When I was watching one of those balls he got his hands on […] I was saying, ‘man, a year from now, that’s going to be an interception.’ He’ll have the confidence to not go up with one hand, but two and catch the ball. This is where he is in his development, so hopefully he’ll keep growing.”

(photo credit: www.rantsports.com)
(photo credit: www.rantsports.com)

Unfortunately for Minnesota, Rhodes suffered an ankle injury on Dec. 15 against Philadelphia. The damage sidelined him for the remainder of the season.

If Rhodes had finished out the season, he would have no doubt continued to improve with each game.  You can be sure that he will come out for the 2014-15 season raring to go. The CB left on a high note, and that confidence and energy will carry through the offseason and into next year.

Rhodes will play a major role in the Vikings defensive scheme in 2014.  Especially with a new coaching staff led by former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, fans can expect big things from the second-year CB.  Zimmer can be credited with the turnaround of Adam “Pacman” Jones in Cincinnatihe is no stranger to guiding young athletes and pulling out every bit of potential.  He comes to Minny with the defensive mind that the team needs to succeed; we can expect Rhodes to thrive under new and rejuvenated direction.

In addition, Rhodes will likely not automatically inherit the starting slot, which may actually be to his advantage.  Fellow CB Josh Robinson missed several games last season due to injury, and he and Rhodes can be expected to duel it out for the starting position when they both return healthy.  That early motivation is good for any player, and a sense of competition will hopefully increase performances and consistency.

The 2014 NFL season is a mere six months away … and Xavier Rhodes is ready to make an impact.

 

 

 

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Josh Robinson, Chris Cook

At just 23 years old, Minnesota Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson holds two years of pro experience and is making a bigger impact on the league with each and every game.

Born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, FL, Robinson started playing football in fourth grade. It didn’t begin with organized little league and fundamentals; rather, Robinson found it fun to just play around with friends. “I grew up playing street ball!” he exclaimed.

Robinson loved the game from Day One and was clearly a natural athlete. However, the cornerback says he didn’t see the NFL as a very real option until after his second year of college. As a junior at the University of Central Florida, Robinson started all 12 games at corner and recorded 48 tackles, 15 passes broken up, and two interceptions—with one returned for a touchdown. He also returned seven punts (51 yards) and four kickoffs (94 yards).

That same year, the UCF Knights beat Georgia in their first-ever bowl win. “I was able to face an elite WR in AJ Green, which gave me a lot of confidence,” Robinson said. Finding consistent success against top receivers and being encouraged by a strong coaching staff, Robinson started down the path to the pros.

Robinson played college ball under the direction of head coach George O’Leary, who had previously served as the Vikings defensive coordinator under Tice. At UCF, O’Leary described Robinson as having “great closing speed and great transition speed.” This statement certainly proved true at the 2012 NFL Combine—the cornerback ran a 4.33 40-yard dash. Several teams took notice of the impressive combine numbers, but two months later, Robinson ironically found himself drafted by his coach’s former team.

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