Sunday, August 30, 2015

mistral raymond

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.

One of the key fundamentals of sharp quarterback play is precise footwook. Christian Ponder and Matt Casell on the surface may have similar stats and appear to play the same typical West Coast game-manager style, however, it is their footwork that separates the two and consequently paints a picture of inconsistent play.

 Cassel is a technician when it comes to his 5 step drops. The former Pro Bowl QB has sharp quick strides and he is able to consistently make his reads and release the ball a bit quicker than Ponder. I also think Cassel gets the hand off to the running backs slightly sooner as well. Now, with that said, after 5 steps all bets are off. Ponder is much better at stepping up in the pocket, throwing on the run or making a play when things break down.

I had safety Jamarca Sanford pegged as the Vikings top priority as far as retaining their own pending free agents go, and Sanford recently announced via Twitter that he is “coming back home.

It isn’t impossible that the Vikings will still look to upgrade the starting safety spot across from Harrison Smith, but Sanford provides them with experience, depth, and special teams value.  Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford, and Mistral Raymond are the current safeties atop the depth chart which provides continuity from last season to the upcoming one.

Details are not yet known on the deal, but we’ll let you know as soon as we do.  Fullback Jerome Felton is now the only major free agent of the Vikings that remains to be signed.

Percy Harvin did not practice Friday and will likely miss this weekend’s home game against the Detroit Lions. Harvin, who sprained his ankle last weekend against the Seattle Seahawks, has been an integral part of the Vikings offense and it remains to be seen how the Vikings will fare without him.

In an effort to minimize the effect Harvin’s absence will have, the Vikings have activated rookie wide receiver Jarius Wright. Wright, taken in the fourth round of last year’s draft, has yet to see the field during the regular season. The dynamic receiver from Arkansas is deemed to have a skill set similar to Harvin but it is unlikely he will come close to filling his role this Sunday.

Adrian Peterson Returns To Practice

After missing Thursday’s practice with a stomach virus, Adrian Peterson returned to practice Friday and is expected to play Sunday. Peterson will likely be relied on heavily as the Vikings means of offensive production.

Last week, the Vikings mysteriously abandoned running the ball in the second half of the game against the Seahawks while Peterson was averaging an astonishing 10+ yards per carry.

Peterson will have his hands full this weekend against a Detroit Lions front that has been playing better than since they last met in Week 4 at Ford Field where the Vikings managed to escape with a 20-13 victory. In that game, Peterson just barely broke the century mark with 102 yards on the ground.

Interesting note:

Other Vikings Injuries

Letroy Guion returned to practice Friday (turf toe) but is doubtful against the Lions. Fred Evans will start in his absence.

Mistral Raymond is likely to be active this weekend but it is unknown what his contribution will be.

Vikings tight end John Carlson is expected to start Sunday after missing a couple games with a concussion.

Vikings Probable: “FB Jerome Felton (shoulder), LT Matt Kalil (knee), CB Antoine Winfield (knee), TE John Carlson (concussion), P Chris Kluwe (knee), RB Adrian Peterson (ankle/illness), S Mistral Raymond (ankle), S Jamarca Sanford (knee) and WR Jerome Simpson (calf).”

 

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