Thursday, July 31, 2014

Day 6 Notebook: Running Backs work, Defensive Backs shine

Daniel House analyzed the sixth practice session of Vikings training camp and opened his notebook from today's practices. 

Updated: July 31st, 2014 9:25pm

By: Daniel House

It was a sunny and warm day as the Vikings began their sixth session of 2014 training camp. It was a rather light day of practice, but the intensity was still extremely high and full focus was expected. The pads were popping a little bit and we witnessed our first two scuffles of training camp. I complied all the notes from today's practice and have posted them below.

Two scuffles break out

We haven't really seen much high level intensity or scuffles early in Vikings training camp, but today that trend ended. During 11-on-11 drills, Jeff Baca engaged in a little extra-curricular activity with defensive end Justin Trattou. The coaches stepped in and got the two separated before anything escalated. Later, Jerome Simpson and Jabari Price mixed it up and were trash talking. A couple other players stepped in and separated the two players before anything happened. The players are getting antsy and are really looking forward to being able to hit for the first time in a preseason game a week from tomorrow.

The shuffling continues 

My notes were a little more sloppy today and I could hardly keep up with all the rotations taking place on defense. Mike Zimmer reiterated today that he is looking for the right mix and will continue to shuffle players on and off the field. Tom Johnson took one set of first-team reps in the interior of the defensive line, but quickly was substituted out for Sharrif Floyd. The safety position is where the shuffling is going on, especially since a hamstring injury struck Robert Blanton earlier in the week. Antone Exum, Jamarca Sanford, and Mistral Raymond all rotated at the safety position, next to Harrison Smith.

Mauti spends time with the third-team 

In a surprise to many, Mike Mauti was seeing reps with the third-team linebackers today. He was playing strongside linebacker with the third-string defense and never cracked above that position on the depth chart. The second team linebackers were Audie Cole, Brandon Watts, and Gerald Hodges. Watts has continued to impress at Vikings training camp and Mike Zimmer really likes the athletic skill-set he can provide to the defense. Anthony Barr saw first-team reps with the starters the entire day and played in nickel with Chad Greenway, as well. Barr is transitioning fast to the NFL and the coaching staff can't resist the temptation to use him in a variety of ways. Many are concerned with the Vikings decision to place Mike Mauti on the third-team, but it appears this change in the depth chart was a way for Mike Zimmer to get a look at a different mix of players. The depth chart won't be established until more preseason action is completed, so Mike Mauti supporters shouldn't be concerned at this point.

QB's have a tough day today

Both Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater practiced at an average level today, but that came with several lapses in between. Cassel had two overthrows in the two-minute drill session, while Bridgewater threw two interceptions. One of those interceptions came in the two-minute drill and Derek Cox beautifully jumped the route. Bridgewater seemed a touch uncomfortable with the installation today, which involved a heavy amount of intermediate routes, along with a gazillion passes to the running backs. It was tough to really evaluate the quarterbacks and both seemed to play at an even level today. Cassel seemed to make more efficient throws within the install today, but Bridgewater had moments where he performed better and placed balls better to receivers. At this point, I firmly believe that the preseason will determine who wins this quarterback job. Bridgewater saw a few reps with the first team and went 3-for-3 in reps with the starters. As a whole, today wasn't the best day to evaluate quarterbacks, especially with the style of plays implemented at practice.

11-on-11 QB Stats: 

Matt Cassel 14 for 20
Teddy Bridgewater 13 for 17, 2 INTs
Christian Ponder 1 for 2

Running backs work hard in the backfield 

As I said earlier, the offensive install heavily involved the running backs. Many runs between the tackles and passes across the middle as security blankets were on display. Matt Asiata hauled in a couple nice catches, but did add one drop during the team 11-on-11 session. Jerick McKinnon really stood out with the running backs today and displayed his insane athletic abilities. He received a couple handoffs between the tackles and he was shaking defenders all over the place. Norv Turner has many plays up his sleeves for the young running back and he will be a quiet playmaker for the Vikings. Adrian Peterson saw a limited amount of reps today and with the heavy implementation of the running backs, he didn't see more than a handful of snaps. Joe Banyard and Dominique Williams maybe saw two or three snaps, but neither player stood out among the group.

The Defensive Line is scary good

At one point during today's 11-on-11 period, the Vikings interior of the defensive line absolutely dominated. Scott Crichton was placed in the middle with Sharrif Floyd and the two players would have sacked Matt Cassel on two occasions. Not only have we witnessed success from those players, but Everson Griffen and Brian Robison both continue to pressure off the edge. The Vikings deepest position group is the defensive line and if they rush the quarterback well, they are going to create opportunities for the secondary. That is the sentiment that many players have echoed when I have chatted with them. They like the aggressive approach and the opportunities the tenacious philosophy provides in the whole scheme of the defense.

Audie Cole flashes coverage skills

Linebacker Audie Cole corralled Teddy Bridgewater's first training camp interception today. He beautifully intercepted a flat route intended for running back Jerick McKinnon and would have taken the pass to the end zone. Cole has continually shown the ability to make plays in coverage and has recorded multiple interceptions during his preseason games and he added one against the Packers in the regular season last year. Cole didn't see first-team reps today, but he worked heavily with the second-team and witnessed plenty of snaps. The Vikings are looking for playmakers in the defense and Cole has continually proven himself in that avenue.

Cox, Sherels, and James impress in the secondary

Derek Cox has been having a really impressive training camp and he continued that trend today. He intercepted a Teddy Bridgewater pass during the two-minute drill 11-on-11 session and added a pass defensed of a Matt Cassel throw later in the practice session. Cox is settling into his role with the Vikings and will provide solid depth in the event injuries strike the secondary. Marcus Sherels continues to dazzle and after an interception yesterday, he added another pass defensed in today's session. Sherels is developing into a rather serviceable option as a cornerback and his special teams abilities help make him a very underrated asset for the Vikings. Rookie Kendall James saw his first amount of extended action today and added a pass defensed, while blanketing Jerome Simpson on a touchdown catch. We haven't seen much of James at practice, but his physicality and athletic ability both appear to be great assets. Look for James to be an option as a practice squad player in the end of August.

Munnerlyn returns to team drills

Captain Munnerlyn rejoined the first-team during team drills today and has been fully cleared to participate in practice. Munnerlyn made a huge difference when he entered the fold with the starters and added an aggressive presence to the secondary. In turn, this opened up opportunities for Xavier Rhodes to have more chances to make plays. We haven't witnessed an immense amount of action from Munnerlyn, but he did see plenty of reps at nickel cornerback and on the outside in the base defense.

Leonard misses practice 

A.C. Leonard left practice early with a headache yesterday and missed today's practice because of the concern surrounding his ailment. We haven't heard any word about the severity of the injury, or what happened, but more information should be available tomorrow.

Injury Report

The Vikings' injury report includes Andrew Sendejo (back) and Chase Ford (foot). A.C. Leonard missed practice with a headache and no word was available about his status. Robert Blanton (hamstring), missed practice again yesterday and may miss several weeks, according to's Ben Goessling.

What's Next?

The Vikings seventh practice session begins Friday with a morning walkthrough from 10:30 a.m to 11:30 a.m. The walkthrough will be followed by an afternoon practice (full pads), which begins at 3:00 p.m. and concludes at 5:10 p.m

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