Saturday, July 26, 2014

Day 2 Notebook: Asiata is improved, Joseph disruptive in the middle

Daniel House analyzed day two of Vikings training camp and chronicled the highlights of both practices. 

Updated: July 26th, 2014 8:52pm

By: Daniel House

Day two began at Vikings training camp with cloudy skies and sprinkles during the morning walkthrough, but the skies cleared for the afternoon session. The intensity continued and the coaching staff was testing player knowledge by throwing a ton of information at them. I opened my notebook and jotted down all the specifics from today's practice and have sorted them out in this post.

Offense is ahead of the defensive backs:

Early in training camp, you can see the defensive backs are slightly behind the wide receivers at this time. The coaching staff has recognized this today and were really working on improving technique and footwork in the secondary. Jerry Gray and Mike Zimmer were in the secondary during 11-on-11 drills and were constantly instructing players on ways to improve. Players like Josh Robinson and Xavier Rhodes were working hard on their footwork and stood out as cornerbacks who are a work in progress. Today, the Vikings used a nickel package with three safeties, and Mike Zimmer said he also has a three corner, one safety base 4-3 look that he'll unveil later in camp. Of course, it is difficult to analyze the cornerbacks without full pads and things could change when the defensive backs can press harder at the line of scrimmage. Tomorrow will be our first true look to see whether the offense is really that far ahead of the defensive backs.

Linebackers are being shuffled heavily

As I discussed yesterday, the linebackers were being rotated frequently, as the coaching staff is searching for the right mix in this position group. The day started with Audie Cole, Jasper Brinkley, and Chad Greenway taking first-team reps. Later in the day during the afternoon session, the Vikings shifted Greenway to middle linebacker and added Gerald Hodges to the outside. In addition, Anthony Barr saw first-team reps at outside linebacker in the walkthrough and during the afternoon practice he played in nickel with Greenway. Draft pick Brandon Watts even rotated into the second-team defense and has been seeing more defensive reps than Larry Dean. Players were constantly shifting at this position and the only two who didn't move from the first team were Audie Cole and Chad Greenway today.

Cassel has the edge in the QB race

Matt Cassel continues to see the first-team reps at quarterback and he has impressed early in Vikings training camp. He appears to have total command of the offense and his throws are placed in a spot where only the wide receiver can make the play. Cassel has looked specifically sharp throwing the ball to the to the sidelines and down the seam. He hasn't been asked to air the ball out deep down the field, but he has made the throws necessary to be successful. Matt Cassel has done nothing to lose the starting job, but Teddy Bridgewater has done nothing to pass him on the depth chart. Bridgewater isn't as consistent and he has minor lapses where the ball is overthrown. Nothing major, but Cassel seems to be holding down the fort and making throws comfortably in Norv Turner's system. Bridgewater throws a nice tight spiral and stands extremely tall in the pocket. Cassel isn't good when he is pressured and the ball is consistently knocked down at the line of scrimmage by defensive lineman. It is too early to crown a starter, especially since neither quarterback has put pads on and faced challenging coverages and blitzes. That is the time when true quarterbacks are separated from each other. Both players have been impressive, but have done nothing to change their positions on the depth chart at this time.

QB Stats from 11-on-11 today:

Matt Cassel: 11 for 14 (one WR drop)
Teddy Bridgewater: 9 for 12 (one WR drop)
Christian Ponder 6 for 8

Asiata is much improved

The first attribute I have noticed from Matt Asiata is how much he has refined his body. He must have cut about 10-15 pounds of weight and is more swift on his feet. His hands are very good out of the backfield and he is hitting the second level at a higher level. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner discussed how Matt Asiata may be one of the most improved players since mini-camp.

"He finished the season strong, he's in great shape," offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. "He gives you that great pounder. He's an excellent athlete, has good change of direction, a good pass protector. I know Jerick has got a lot of attention and I've said good things about him, but I think our backfield situation is in good shape."

The Vikings have used Matt Asiata as the second-string running back, while McKinnon has rotated into the group in certain situations. McKinnon continues to show his speed and insane athletic abilities when he hits the outside. Adrian Peterson has continually been seeing passes on the outside and he dropped two balls thrown his way today. He needs to learn how to adjust to this role, because when he catches the ball on the outside, a one-on-one matchup with a defensive back is exactly what the coaching staff is looking for. Joe Banyard has struggled and didn't understand a formation for the second straight day. The lower end of the Vikings running back depth chart hasn't been impressive and I wouldn't be surprised to see reinforcements called in, especially if the trend continues when the pads are put on.

Jarius is 'Wright' on

Jarius Wright has been the most impressive receiver, aside from Adam Thielen. We heard all the noise in mini-camp discussing how much he had improved and all of that buzz is correct. He is being used in a variety of ways and has saw some reps out of the backfield. As a receiver, Wright has become a more crafty route runner and his acceleration skills and footwork have been improved. Wright has been flourishing across the middle of the field and comeback balls on the outside of the defense have been his forte. I'm excited to see how he has truly progressed when the pads are strapped on tomorrow.

Colter opens some eyes

Kain Colter is a name many people were keeping an eye on entering training camp. Today, Colter caught about six passes, two of which were rather impressive. Teddy Bridgewater found him and with a defensive back draped over him, he leaped and made a difficult catch. Later in practice, Bridgewater found Colter again over the top of the defense on a corner post. Colter didn't see much time at wide receiver and was a hybrid player at Northwestern, but his skills at the position have impressed. He is more fluid at the position and his footwork and technique is far ahead of where I anticipated it would be.

Joseph is a disruptive presence

For the second straight day, Linval Joseph batted a ball down at the line of scrimmage. With his frame, it is extremely impressive to see his athleticism and strength in the interior of the defensive line. Joseph gets a great push and he has the awareness to get his hands in the air, if he can't get to the quarterback. Not only can he get after the quarterback, but he has the talents in run defense too. He was well-known for this skill in New York, but it was tough to see how well he can contribute without pads on. If Sharrif Floyd can step up in the middle, the Vikings defensive line will be one of the best in the NFC in 2014, with the addition of Linval Joseph.

Crichton can rush off the edge

At one point in today's 11-on-11 session, Scott Crichton absolutely blew off the ball at the snap. He has an insane burst and his athleticism is off the charts. If it had been a game, tackle Antonio Richardson would have been called for holding because he couldn't handle the rush Crichton provided. This is about the third occasion I have seen this from Crichton and the pads haven't been strapped on yet. The next few days will be interesting, especially to see his athleticism shine in live action.

Sherels, Price, and Prater stand out in the secondary

Marcus Sherels continues to improve his game and his coverage skills are where he has made the most strides this year. Today he added a pass defensed, on a comeback ball thrown by Teddy Bridgewater. His game has elevated to the point where he could be a serviceable backup in the secondary. Jabari Price blanketed Jerome Simpson on a deep ball and added a pass defensed on a ball thrown to the outside, intended for Kamar Jorden. Price played some at the starting nickel spot with the first-team defense during the walkthrough today. Shaun Prater some time with the first-team defense at nickel cornerback. During his time in the nickel and on the outside, he added a pass defensed and forced two quarterback overthrows. It appears the Vikings have a solid second-tier of cornerbacks, but just need the starters to show more from a technique standpoint. The true analysis of the secondary will come in the next fews days when the pads are strapped on and the chinstraps are truly buckled.

Kick team is special teams focus

Today the morning walkthrough ended with work on kick coverage and return. Mike Priefer was really stressing pursuit and staying in lanes down the field. The first-team kick return group goes as follows: Mistral Raymond, Mike Mauti, Allen Reisner, Jabari Price, Adam Thielen, Rhett Ellison, Matt Asiata, Brandon Watts, and Jamarca Sanford.

With Cordarelle Patterson out, Jarius Wright, Jerick McKinnon, Marcus Sherels, and Josh Robinson were all seeing reps during the kick returner portion of practice.

Injury Report: 

The Vikings' injury report includes Cordarrelle Patterson (foot), Captain Munnerlyn (hamstring), Andrew Sendejo (back) and Chase Ford (foot). Patterson and Munnerlyn are expected to return to the field very soon.

What's next?

The Vikings third 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, which begins at 3:00 p.m. and lasts until 5:10 p.m. The afternoon session will be the Vikings first full padded practice during training camp.

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