In the fourth day of practice, the first real hits occurred. Daniel House shares his thoughts on the many players who emerged during today's practice, in his notes post.
Ponder plays well, Cassel steady
Christian Ponder has his moments, but today I didn't witness any of the things that have been causing headaches the past year. He was hitting fades over the top and connected with Greg Jennings and Jarius Wright in a vertical fashion. He only had two plays where he didn't make a decision and was either touch sacked, or had to throw the ball away. A much bigger improvement from where he was even a few weeks ago.
Matt Cassel is really coasting upon his similar routine and style of play. He is drilling the seam passes, but struggles to extend the field. He threw a pass over the top to Jarius Wright, which was nicely deflected by A.J. Jefferson and tipped into the hands of Robert Blanton. He isn't very good at extending the field, which is something Ponder has done well in moments. I don't see any quarterback controversy brewing in Minnesota, despite some reports.
Gerhart struggles at times
Toby Gerhart certainly isn't impressing by any stretch of he imagination. He seems a step slow and isn't bursting through holes like he was a year ago. He was blown up in the backfield by Larry Dean, for one of the best hits we will see during all of training camp and just hasn't been the same this year. I question whether the huge brace on Toby's left knee has something to do with his tentative play, but it definitely perplexes me. Could there be a hidden injury we aren't aware of?
Simpson taking strides
Jerome Simpson had his best day of training camp this year and seems to be developing nicely. He's much more focused and willing to be coached. He made a nice reception on an out from Ponder, in which he ran a perfect route and shielded himself from the defense. In addition, he also had a beautiful catch on a perfectly thrown fade from Ponder. I talked to Vikings wide receivers coach George Stewart before practice and I asked him his thoughts on the wide receiving corps.
"This is the best group I've ever coached here in Minnesota," said Stewart. "That's a good problem to have though, isn't it?," he added.
Simpson is showing that he is maturing and developing, which is encouraging for the success of this team.
Wright and Jennings continue to impress
Greg Jennings is the leader of the group of wide receivers and even starts each drill during individual work. He wants more than anything for this team to win and for young players to be developed. Jennings is being targeted heavily in the seam and outside, but was hit vertically twice in today's festivities. If he can stay healthy, he is definitely poised for success.
Jarius Wright continued his emergence as a receiver and is running great routes. He executed several double moves and smoked the defense over the top on several occasions. I'm expecting big things this season from the second year Razorback.
Tight ends are flourishing
John Carlson and Kyle Rudolph are being utilized in many different ways, which should add an interesting element to the offense. They were being packaged in the back field and split out wide in several formations. In addition, Carlson was being lined up as fullback in the I-formation as the main blocker for Adrian Peterson. Something to monitor this week, especially during the Saturday night scrimmage will be do the Vikings use this formation frequently?
Blanton stepping up
Robert Blanton is a candidate I highlighted early in my preseason rankings and safety discussions. He missed most of the 2012 training camp due to injury and finally is contributing now that he is healthy. Today, he recorded a nice interception on a fade from Matt Cassel and recorded a brilliant tackle for loss on a Matt Asiata carry. With Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond in the normal rotation, Blanton could find his way into the starting lineup. He is definitely a player to monitor during game action leading up the to the regular season.
Jefferson continues success
A.J. Jefferson has been one of the biggest surprises for me at training camp and seems to be closing on plays this year. The Vikings traded for Jefferson at the end of 2012 training camp and used him as the starter when injuries plagued the Vikings secondary. He wasn't able to close on plays, but this year it seems like he is around the ball and closing on situations more frequently. He is seeing time with the second team defense and is a dependable backup in the Vikings secondary.
Dean and Cole getting noticed
As discussed earlier, Larry Dean recorded one of the hardest hits we will see during the entire training camp. In addition, he also had two impressive tackles for loss and was constantly around the ball. Audie Cole is making himself noticed and was praised by special teams coach Mike Priefer on several occasions. He also recorded a tackle for loss and the coaches were constantly screaming for the offense to block Audie. These two players will need to gain separation from players such as Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges, in order to gain a better chance at a place on the 53-man roster.
Defense dominates line of scrimmage and goal-line situations
The defense definitely has the early edge on the offense and the front 7 is dominating the line of scrimmage. Much of this could be attributed to the absence of fullback Jerome Felton, who missed practice today after leaving yesterday's practice early to deal with a personal matter. Felton is the main cog to the run game and is huge at understanding defensive schemes. Despite all this, I love the pressure we are getting up the middle and the help we have from the edge. The defense recorded 3 stops in goal-line situations and only allowed the offense to score once. If the Vikings can defend the run this season, and rush the passer efficiently, I think the defense will be successful.
Patterson elusive on returns
Cordarrelle Patterson had two moments during kick return where he turned on the jets and blew past the coverage team. He is so big that he is tough to wrap up, but he has speed and agility to elude any tacklers. He seems really comfortable and easily is the best option for kick returns on the current roster. Hopefully he is durable and can handle this because an injury could be devastating for the Vikings offensive attack.