Sunday, August 4, 2013

Night Scrimmage Notebook: Ponder and offense flourish

During the night scrimmage, many positive situations were executed. Daniel House shares his thoughts in his daily notes post.

Ponder flourishes, Cassel average

Christian Ponder is facing steep criticism and understands he needs to produce in the league this season. The Vikings bolstered the receiving corps by bringing in Greg Jennings and drafting Cordarrelle Patterson.

In scrimmage action on Saturday night, you could see the connection between the two new additions and the familiar faces such as Jerome Simpson and Jarius Wright.

Ponder connected with Jerome Simpson on a 50-yard bomb off of a go-route. The throw was in a perfect spot, Simpson made the catch and put the Vikings in a goal-line situation. Two plays later, Ponder found John Carlson in the back corner of the endzone for the touchdown.

Overall, Ponder finished 11 for 15 with one touchdown and an interception in 11-on-11 drills and added two more touchdowns during 7-on-7 work. He was only sacked once by Lawrence Jackson and maintained his poise in the pocket.

 He handled the rush and only made one poor decision, in which he misguided a pass to wide receiver Greg Jennings, which was intercepted by Marcus Sherels. Despite all of this, he stood tall in the pocket, threw well of his back foot, and more importantly, made good decisions the majority of the time.

Matt Cassel struggled during many moments and failed to convert on 3rd and 4th down situations on two occasions during the evening. He struggled by underthrowing a fade to Joe Webb in the back corner of the endzone and badly overthrew a wide open Stephen Burton in the flat. He managed to finish 6 for 11 in 11-on-11 drills, but was sacked two times after the pocket collapsed.

Furthermore, Ponder won last evening's quarterback contest and performed nicely in front of the announced crowd of 12,000 fans at Blakeslee Stadium in Mankato, MN.

Injuries adding up on defense

Desmond Bishop (groin), Xavier Rhodes (hamstring), and Mistral Raymond (hamstring) all sat out the scrimmage. Josh Robinson was limited with a sore knee, but Coach Frazier seemed optimistic in his post-practice media appearance about the three hamstring issues.

He admitted he was more worried about Bishop, who has had injury problems in the past.

"Can't say I'm surprised it happened considering all the time [Desmond Bishop] missed a year ago," Frazier acknowledged. "Just have to go day to day and hopefully get him back before the first preseason game. We really need to see him in some live situations considering all the time he's missed. We also have to be smart if he's not ready to go this week."

Frazier announced it's to early to tell whether any of these players will miss time during the preseason opener vs. Houston this Friday.

"We'll come back and evaluate it on Monday and see where they are," Frazier concluded.

Offense capitalizes on injuries

The Vikings offense capitalized on these injuries by looking clean in many aspects of the scrimmage. When asked about the offensive strides, Coach Frazier expressed his pleasure with the progress.

"Much sharper, was encouraging to see. A lot of times in these settings, the defense is ahead of offense," Frazier said. "But it was nice to see the offense level off a bit."

Randle turns on the jets

Bradley Randle got the crowd going early as he sped down the sidelines for a 60-yard touchdown early in team work. He quickly broke left and abruptly shifted to his right, busting down the sidelines and into the endzone. On display was his motor, acceleration, and patience during the duration of Saturday evening's festivities.

In a interview below, I talked with Randle after practice to get his take on the first scrimmage action of his NFL career.

Carlson steals the show

John Carlson was targeted in redzone situations frequently and hauled in a touchdown in 11-on-11 drills and added two more in 7-on-7 work. Carlson is finally staying healthy and has been one of the positive storylines during the early stages of Vikings training camp. He runs fluent routes, is a physical impression, and has developed a firm grasp of the scheme.

When asked his thoughts on Carlson's practice, Coach Frazier was very encouraged.

"He did some good things in the redzone, good to see him make some tough catches," Frazier said. "The fact he stayed healthy up to this point is a good thing."
Defense applies pressure early

Everson Griffen and Jared Allen recorded sacks in the early portions of the night scrimmage. The pressure brought forth the speed and acceleration from two players in contract situations at the conclusion of this season. Griffen has transformed his body and is showing he can beat Matt Kalil at times, which is something that takes talent. Allen struggled with injuries less season, but still managed to record 12 sacks, while facing a plethora of adversity. These two players will rotate time among the defensive line and pose an immediate threat for opposing offenses.

Sherels impresses in coverage and return game

In one of my recent notebooks, I discussed Marcus Sherels and his past struggles in coverage. He proved he has been working in this area and recorded an interception of a misguided pass from Christian Ponder. In addition, he added two impressive deflections of passes throughout the evening. During punt situations he looked the most comfortable and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer has stressed he likes Sherels' familiarity of the job. Despite main reps from Jerome Simpson, Stephen Burton, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Jarius Wright, Sherels continued to show he is the most ready for this job.

Cook struggling early in camp

Chris Cook still hasn't recorded an interception in four NFL seasons with the Vikings. He has been struggling to close on plays when they are presented to him. In addition, Greg Jennings has been running crisp routes that Cook has been struggling to handle. The secondary is my biggest concern that I will address in a future post, but I know one thing is certain, Cook needs to emerge this season.

Walsh kicking ball well, accuracy issue early

Blair Walsh has been drilling the ball in practice, but as I have discussed during recent notebooks, he has struggled with his accuracy. He drilled 7 of 10 field goals during the scrimmage, missing from 45 yards twice, and once from 33 yards. One of the 45 yard misses was the result of a poor Cullen Loeffler snap, which led to a hitch in the rhythm of the kick. I asked Walsh during a recent interview about whether some of these accuracy issues are connected to the addition of Jeff Locke as his holder. He denied this and said they just need more time to work together and develop a sense of how they like things done. All of this is a minor concern, but is something that could cause more analysis as the Vikings enter preseason action.

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