Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Notebook: Thielen splashes, Mauti emerges

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In the fifth day of practice, several players separated themselves. Daniel House shares his thoughts in his daily notes post.

Ponder making strides, Cassel mediocre

Christian Ponder is making better decisions, throwing the ball with more precision, and has much more velocity on his passes. Specifically he has improved upon throwing the out route, which is something the coaches stressed improvement on this offseason. He has developed continuity with Jennings, Wright, and Simpson, which is showing in his comfort level of the offense and his abilities. If he can make good decisions, throw the ball with accuracy, and stay healthy, much like he is doing now, the Vikings will be successful.
Nothing blew me away from Matt Cassel in today's afternoon session. He continues to throw the seam pass with success and loves to shred the middle of the defense. Although he has been successful in that aspect, he has been badly underthrowing any pass over 45 yards and isn't the best vertically. I see Christian Ponder being better from the fade category, but Cassel has him beat in the seam area right now.

Felton returns and improves blocking

Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton missed the past two days while dealing with what Coach Frazier called a personal matter. Yesterday, the team struggled in goal line situations and the defense dominated the line of scrimmage. Today, the running game was much improved and the offense was gaining positive yardage in the majority of the situations. This is a prime example of the way Felton has enhanced the Vikings running game since his arrival last season.

Thielen steals the show

Adam Thielen continues to impress me and I can't wait to watch him play in preseason action. He made three very difficult catches today, including a diving, one-handed, and over the shoulder snag. In team drills he runs very good routes and dominates cornerbacks in individual drills. He has speed, size, and the ability to shred the slot. I can tell you this much, I hope he makes the roster or I think a team with a need may snatch Thielen as we attempt to slide him onto the practice squad.

Jennings continues to lead

Greg Jennings has been the biggest point of optimism for me during the training camp session. He is a crafty route runner and more importantly a leader of the young group of wide receivers. Today, he spent extra time after practice working with quarterback Christian Ponder and is doing all he can to make Ponder the man in charge of this team.

Webb has an on and off day

Joe Webb dropped a couple of passes, but made an impressive one-handed grab from quarterback James Vandenberg as he broke on an out route. The passes Webb dropped were plays where he was running in stride and needed to corral the ball over his shoulder. He is very good when the ball is thrown straight to him on comebacks or seam routes, but he needs work on over the shoulder fade routes.

Simpson continues impressive camp

Jerome Simpson hauled in a impressive sideline grab as he was falling out of bounds. Quarterback Christian Ponder placed it perfectly in a spot where only Simpson could grab it. The coverage was great by cornerback A.J. Jefferson, but the connection between Ponder and Simpson was executed to perfection.

Rhodes sees time in 1st-team nickel defense

Xavier Rhodes finally saw time with the first team nickel defense and continued his strong showing. He tripped several times and struggled with footing, but the majority of the time he was in perfect position for a deflection. He has been very impressive and seems to be making a quick transition to the league, which is something the Vikings desperately needed. Rhodes tripped at one point in passing drills and was kicked in the back by a linebacker. He remained on the field for a short time, before making his way to the sidelines. Rhodes was checked by the training staff and returned after a brief absence.

Floyd makes a notable appearance

Sharrif Floyd recorded a nice deflection of a McLeod Bethel-Thompson pass and received nice interior pressure. We haven't witnessed much from Floyd, but he seems to be growing each day with the mentorship of Kevin Williams. I will monitor him closely in the Saturday evening scrimmage, when we witness true live action.

Desmond Bishop great in coverage

Coverage was a major issue last season for the Vikings cast of linebackers. They struggled to correctly cover the running back and sufficiently stay in position. Desmond Bishop was signed in hopes that he would provide an upgrade in the coverage scheme of the picture. Today, he made a nice play in the flat and leveled Matt Asiata immediately after the catch. In addition, he had one very nice deflection and is whispering his way to a potential first team spot. 

Mauti joins the linebacker party

Michael Mauti is making progress in his road to recovery from a torn ACL he suffered during his senior season at Penn State. He made a nice "head-on" tackle of an attempted catch by running back Joe Banyard. He still has a brace on his left knee, but is looking more comfortable after several days of contact. I will continue to monitor him closely over the next few days.

Cook can't close on interceptions

Chris Cook is in his fourth year in purple and still hasn't recorded an interception in his career. Today he missed out on his second opportunity at this season to record a pick. Ponder threw a pass in the seam, in which wide receiver LaMark Brown slipped and the ball flew right between Cook's numbers. I have major concerns surrounding Chris Cook being the leader of the secondary and hope he can handle this step.

My top 5 cornerback rankings as of practice number 5 go as follows:

1. A.J. Jefferson
2. Xavier Rhodes
3. Josh Robinson
4. Chris Cook
5. Bobby Felder

I'm very concerned about this cast of characters, which yields little experience and with the "pass-happy" division we are in, it leaves a huge question mark.

Locke placing punts perfect

Punter Jeff Locke took out the pitching wedge from his bag for the first time today. The special teams unit was working on placing balls in the coffin corner and inside the twenty. Locke was booming high, end over end kicks that perfectly bounced inside the 5-yard line on most occasions. The angle coming off his foot and his "Aussie" punting style offer a very favorable and difficult challenge for punt returners.

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