Friday, July 25, 2014

Day 1 Notebook: QB Battle is wide-open, Thielen lives up to the hype

Daniel House opens his notebook and relays all the information he learned from the Vikings first practices at training camp. 

Updated: July 25th, 2014 8:47pm

By: Daniel House

Day one of Minnesota Vikings training camp began with the morning walkthrough and the energy was rapid from the start. The coaching staff kept the focus and intensity level high and the amount of information being presented was extremely high. Below I have corralled the notes and will provide the most relevant information from both practices.

Intensity high from the start

The morning walkthroughs have typically been light practices in the past, but full attention was required during today's session. Some formations were ran for the first time and the players were expected to retain information at a high rate. Kain Colter and Joe Banyard both lined up in the wrong formation and the play was stopped and explained throughly to everyone involved. The transition from a walkthrough to an afternoon practice is huge. Many of the formations ran by the offense are run in live situational work in the afternoon, so retention rates were a big aspect for players today. Teaching from the coaches was on display and it was a true sight to see. Antone Exum fixed a technique issue and later was praised by the coaching staff after making a great play. Robert Blanton was provided footwork advice from Mike Zimmer and a play later he added an interception. The coaches are working hard to coach the fundamentals, while being disciplined.

Communication is key

Early in the morning walkthrough, the quarterbacks were communicating heavily at the line of scrimmage. Calling out different looks and directing traffic was a heavy occurrence. The coaches continually were stressing verbal communication and it helped place players in the right location on several occasions.

The 'two-horse' QB competition

Entering training camp, Mike Zimmer was stressing how all three quarterbacks would share reps in training camp. Today, you could definitely see the job will be won by either Matt Cassel or Teddy Bridgewater. Christian Ponder seen a limited amount of reps and while Cassel and Bridgewater were working with the receivers, Ponder was passing to the running backs. When Ponder saw reps, he continually zoned in on one wide receiver and instinctively ran aimlessly up the middle. That won't win you the quarterback job.

The QB competition is wide-open

Matt Cassel worked very well today and was rather precise on his throws in the seam and on the outside of the route tree. His balls were well placed and were put in a location where only the wide receiver could make the play. Defense was put on Cassel in 11-on-11 drills and he still continues to struggle to throw the ball over the top of the defensive line. Two balls were batted at the line of scrimmage during the live portion of practice. Otherwise, he made the throws necessary in the offense, but seen a limited amount of pressure. No deep balls were completed by either quarterback today, but several were very close. As for Teddy Bridgewater, I made the determination that he throws an extremely smooth pass. In the afternoon session, Bridgewater aired the ball out in an effort to connect with Jerome Simpson, but slightly overthrew the pass. The throw was a tight spiral and the ball rolled of his hand, about as well as any quarterback that has been on the Mankato practice fields in a long time. He threw three bad balls, but two of them appeared to be miscommunications with wide receivers. Bridgewater has great footwork and mechanics and the ball comes of his hand very well. He seems to have handled the learning curve and when he was blitzed, he seemed collected and found open receivers. The quarterback job is wide-open and Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater both appear to be viable options. The real test will come when the pads are put on this Sunday and the quarterbacks see more live and realistic action.

QB Stats from 11-on-11 today:

Matt Cassel: 8 for 13 (2 WR drops)
Teddy Bridgewater: 6 for 9 (2 WR drops)
Christian Ponder: 1 for 4, 1 INT

Thielen lives up to the hype

I inked a post earlier this week discussing how Adam Thielen will be the top under-the-radar player to watch during Vikings training camp. Today, he lived up to the hype and caught every ball thrown in his path. Thielen has developed as a route runner and got out of his break at an extremely quick rate. He caught one pass in the seam and a diving catch across the middle, showing his acceleration speed coming out of his break. He has groomed many of the tools that I saw last year in Mankato and the skills are more refined this year. Thielen has a long way to go before training camp is over, but at the rate he continues to show his value to the Vikings coaching staff, he may just make this team.

McKinnon is a 'Jet'

Entering the draft, Jerick McKinnon was given the nickname, 'Jet.' Today, he proved why those who watched him play were truly dazzled by his athleticism. In a jogging mode for most of the day, he was faster than most running backs sprints. He hit the second level once and sent a tidal wave through the city of Mankato. He saw a high amount of passes out of the backfield and he dropped just one pass in this role. McKinnon was used heavily in the flat and was a frequent safety valve for the quarterbacks. Matt Asiata saw the majority of the number two running back reps, but McKinnon mixed in during certain situations. As for the other running backs, Joe Banyard fumbled a ball during the walkthrough and Dominique Williams didn't see many reps today. The main observation: Jerick McKinnon is the real deal.

Linebacker position sees plenty of shuffling

Early in the walkthrough, we could see the linebacker positions were far from set. The starters saw Chad Greenway and Audie Cole on the outside, with returning veteran Jasper Brinkley seeing the majority of the reps in the middle. First-round selection Anthony Barr saw time with the second-team, but rotated in once with the first group. The Vikings are slowly evaluating Barr and want to see where he is at before they throw him into the fire. Mike Mauti and Gerald Hodges rounded out the second team linebackers and it appears these players will need to prove themselves early in camp and the preseason to make a jump up the depth chart.

Blanton and Cox stand out in the secondary

Robert Blanton saw the majority of the first-team reps and impressed early in the first Vikings training camp practice. He took a nice angle on a pass thrown by Christian Ponder and made a leaping interception, following a major push-off by Jerome Simpson. Blanton nearly added a second interception off of a tipped pass, but he came up just short. He continually disrupted the passing lanes and was a solid asset next to Harrison Smith today. As for Derek Cox, he corralled two passes defensed during today's afternoon session. He blanketed Jerome Simpson on a deep route and deflected an out pass thrown by Christian Ponder. Cox rotated with Shaun Prater and saw second-team reps in the secondary.

Punt team is the main special teams focus

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer was working specifically hard on the technique behind the punt team and was focusing on staying in lanes up the field. As for who was working on receiving the punts, Marcus Sherels, Jarius Wright, Jerick McKinnon, Kain Kolter, Erik Lora, Adam Thielen and Josh Robinson all saw reps. Jeff Locke was booming punts and dropped 5 of his 6 punts over 60 yards, including a 68-yard bomb.

Vikings sign two, waive two

The Vikings waived tackle Matt Hall and receiver Josh Cooper to make room for a pair of new receivers on the roster. Cooper's cut comes as a mild surprise, especially given the familiarity he had with Norv Turner's offensive scheme. Wide receivers Ty Walker and Andy Cruse joined the team for the morning walkthrough and later were officially announced as members of the team. Cruse comes from the Houston Texans after spending the 2013 season on the practice squad. Walker was released when the Green Bay Packers trimmed their roster down to 53 players before last season. He was also released by the Seattle Seahawks two weeks later.

Vikings place three players on PUP

The Vikings opened practice on Friday with three players placed on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. Captain Munnerlyn (hamstring), Andrew Sendejo (back) and Chase Ford (foot) all were added to the list. Ford broke his foot and had surgery on July 16th, Sendejo had back surgery this off-season and is still recovering from that injury. Munnerlyn being placed on PUP came as a mild surprise. He didn't participate in the morning walkthrough and later Mike Zimmer confirmed he was added to the list with a hamstring strain. Both Sendejo and Munnerlyn aren't anticipated to miss much time and should be back in the next week.

Patterson misses first practice

Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson missed the first practice of training camp with a foot injury. Patterson is listed as day-to-day and will be evaluated in the coming days. The injury doesn't appear to be serious, but his status will be updated by Coach Zimmer in the coming days.

What's Next?

The Vikings second practice session begins tomorrow with a morning walkthrough from 10:30 a.m to 11:30 a.m. The walkthrough will be followed by an afternoon practice (shells), which begins at 3:00 p.m. and lasts until 5:10 p.m.

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