The Minnesota Vikings opened their three-day minicamp on Tuesday at TCO performance Center and things seemed to go swimmingly. They were forced indoors after rain threatened to prevent head coach Mike Zimmer from accomplishing what he hoped to, but the excellent indoor facility served the purpose—even enabling punters to kick the ball without hitting the ceiling. But the big news happened overnight before the rain, the punts and practice: the Kyle Rudolph contract extension saga came to an end.
The 29-year-old Rudy signed a four-year extension (reportedly worth $36 million) that will make him a Viking for five more seasons—until he reaches his 13th season, like his predecessor Jim Kleinsasser did. Whether or not he does so (the contract is reportedly team friendly at the end), the Vikings have locked down a decent player who is a locker room leader and a great community man.
“Kyle’s, number one, a great teammate, really good person,” Zimmer said. “I’ve bumped into a few people in the last week or so and that was probably the number one question I got, ‘How’s Kyle? Kyle going to be here?’ And every one of them when I said, ‘Yeah,’ were all glad. That’s the kind of guy he is in the community and how he represents the Vikings.”
There has been plenty of commentary out there during this drawn-out negotiation process (and since the signing) that the money is wasted on a mediocre player who is often hurt. But you need to look at Rudolph’s stats (non-drops, leading the team TD receptions in 2017, games played—after missing half the game in two season, he has missed one game in his other six seasons) to know that this take is somewhat a fallacy. For my money, and like that of many Vikings fans (maybe even some haters can be won over), this statement says a lot:
“The biggest thing I’m relieved of is that I won’t be all of your guys’ headlines for the rest of the summer,” Rudolph said. “I’m not used to being that guy in the headlines, so I apologize, now you’ll have to have something else to write about for the rest of the summer. I’m certainly excited that this is behind us and now I can just focus on football. I can focus on being a leader of this football team and doing everything I can to make sure that we’re the first.
“That’s my only goal, I want to be a part of the first team to win a championship here. We got a taste of it two years ago. When we got close, you got a feel for how important that would be to this state, to this community, to this fan base. Certainly to every player and employee of this organization, but Rob [Brzezinski] and I were talking this morning, that as important it is for all of us to win [a championship] for us, it’s equally important to win it for this community and for this state, because they deserve it.”
Okay, that is over. Welcome back (oh, wait, you never left), Kyle. So, now back to football. A few observations from Day 1 of minicamp.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins looked great. Aside from one missed passed that looked like either a timing issue, wrong route or miscommunication to a non-starting receiver, Cousins was spot on. He threw passes with zip and confidence that didn’t belie a QB trying to figure out a new system but rather a player getting quite comfortable to his surroundings. He continues to connect with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen no matter how well they are covered (and they are covered well often). A lot of those catches are the result of two very talented wideouts with large catching radii, but it takes two in this endeavor and the $84 million man was on the money (pun intended).
The highlight of the practice was a seam route from the left side in which Cousins zipped it in to a streaking Diggs just past the diving, outstretched hands of Mackensie Alexander. The ball was delivered on time and right in stride in a small window, and Diggs raced it to the house, raising the ball as though a crowd of onlookers were watching.
Diggs, despite his absence last week, looks quick, fast and strong, exhibited in many catches on the day. Thielen did the same. Laquon Treadwell looked better than last week in limited opportunity, but he still looks slow compared to the likes of the starters.
There are other speedsters in the WR group that includes Jeff Badet (not practicing) and Chad Beebe (in uniform and on fire). Beebe is picking up where he left off last season with precise routes and very good hands. That could separate him from some of the many other receivers fighting for a spot on the game-day roster. His handling of the punting duties will secure it.
(Speaking of the punting, I can’t believe it is possible for the punters to kick inside at TCO and not hit the ceiling. But I saw it happen several times at the workout. Well designed.)
Others present but not participating in the practice (and the reasons for the absences have not been divulged since Zimmer doesn’t have to answer questions on it until his first injury report in September—and he won’t) were David Morgan (he hasn’t been on the field this offseason), Tashawn Bower, Jordan Taylor and linebacker Rashard Cliett. Not to worry, yet (but we always do).
Regarding the offensive line and the defense, I personally find them difficult to assess until the players are in pads. That should be noted for the offense, as well, taking their performance down just a hair until the defense can hit them (or at least the threat of it is there). The best thing I can say about newly installed center Garrett Bradbury and left guard Pat Elflein is that there were no false starts or bad snaps and the unit appeared to be operating smoothly. And that is a fine thing to be saying, for now.
Rookie running back Alexander Mattison continues to impress. As I reported last week, the game isn’t too big for him yet, he runs with speed and quickness and he catches the ball with great confidence out of the backfield. What was noticed today is that he is splitting the reps with starter Dalvin Cook almost evenly. I didn’t count them out, but if this holds until the season (once again, it’s minicamp in June), Mattison might see more snaps than Latavius Murray did when Cook was healthy. Zimmer wants to run; better to have two good backs to do it.
The quarterback rotation continues to be Cousins, Sean Mannion, Jeff Browning and almost no Kyle Sloter. We’re not sure if this means anything, as Sloter was the odd man out last week at OTAs, or that they just want to see what they have in Browning (as they have seen Sloter for a couple seasons). If that is the case, then Browning may want to call for a mulligan, as he struggled a bit under- and over-throwing passes. His best move in the practice was outracing Kentrell Brothers to the sideline when a play broke down and he was forced to scramble out of the pocket. The decision was sound and the speed displayed was decent—he looked faster than Cousins, anyway. Let’s hope that is not all he’s got.
Catch of the day was a sideline route by Brandon Zylstra, who was blanketed by Trae Waynes. Cousins threw it to his back shoulder in stride and the local boy reached back for a one-handed grab. Impossible to defend. A lot of fun to watch.
Day 2 of minicamp tomorrow, when we hope to see more of the same.