Daniel House returned to Mankato, MN for the night practice at training camp and opens his notebook for your morning reading material.
Updated: August 12th, 2014 10:00am
By: Daniel House
The Vikings returned to Blakeslee Field for the final night practice session of 2014 training camp. After getting rushed off the field following a rain storm on Sunday, the team worked extra hard in the Monday night session. The practice moved at a high clip and there were four situational drills, including redzone, 2-minute drill, no-huddle, and a move-the-ball drill. The defense definitely rose to the occasion and played extremely well during the practice. I compiled all my notes from the night practice and let you take a glimpse into my notebook.
Rushing the passer a focus
Mike Zimmer indicated in his press conference on Monday that rushing the passer would become a prominent focus following a lackluster performance in the preseason game against Oakland last Friday. The focus definitely shifted in that direction during last night's practice session. Anthony Barr was lined up in the nine-techinque on a frequent basis and was rushing the passer on nearly every occasion. On almost every pass the defensive line and linebackers were getting to the quarterback off of a rush. Sharrif Floyd was getting a great push and Fred Evans is complimenting him well in Linval Joseph's absence. This interior pass rush led to Brian Robison coming off the ball better and gaining the edge. Linebackers Audie Cole and Mike Mauti both added pressures off blitz packages and it appeared the coaching staff was searching for ways to cause quarterback hurries last night. Don't kid yourself, the Vikings haven't shown us how their defense will look this season.
Secondary being coached up
Defensive backs coach Jerry Gray has been spending plenty of time working with the secondary on technique and this work has continually progressed throughout camp. Last night, the defensive backs were working on swiveling the hips and 'opening the door' towards the sidelines. This task can be difficult when playing more press coverage, especially when you are beaten off the line of scrimmage by the wide receiver. Cornerback Josh Robinson experienced this on a double-move up the sideline by Rodney Smith. Robinson didn't initiate contact or open hips and was smoked off of the line of scrimmage. Smith proceeded to break off his route towards the sidelines, while catching the pass in stride from Matt Cassel. Jerry Gray used this as a teaching moment for the defensive backs and later implemented a drill to help fix this issue.
Cox and Prater continue to play well
Cornerback Derek Cox should have intercepted two passes, but they went through his hands. He was in the right place and knocked the pass down, but he couldn't close on the play. He added two more passes defensed and literally closed the door on two passes across the middle. Cox has performed at an extremely high level during training camp and continued the trend into the first preseason game last Friday. Many believe Cox could challenge Josh Robinson for the starting job on the outside, but considering he hasn't witnessed reps with the first-team, it doesn't seem likely. Shaun Prater added an interception on a pass from Teddy Bridgewater that skimmed off the hands of running back Jerick McKinnon. He added three more passes defensed, including a sweet deflection in the back of the end zone. Prater played rather well in the preseason game and emerged at the end of last season, as well. It appears he should be rather safe when roster cuts roll around, especially since he has played for Mike Zimmer in the past.
Bridgewater shows more growing pains
Teddy Bridgewater is showing more growing pains as he is placed in more high pace situations on the field. He was intercepted in the redzone by Audie Cole and later by Shaun Prater in a move-the-ball drill. One ball should have been caught by Jerick McKinnon and the other was just thrown a moment too late. Teddy did add one more interception in the 7-on-7 drills and Captain Munnerlyn made a beautiful play on a pass that was somewhat telegraphed by Bridgewater. I don't understand why everyone is so worried about Teddy's reported 'struggles.' He is making correct reads and is staying in the pocket, but his decision making appears to be just a moment late. If he makes attempts to complete his passes just a split-second quicker, the issues are resolved. Teddy just seems a little overwhelmed with the pace of the NFL right now and this is extremely normal when you evaluate rookie quarterbacks. Not many signal callers are able to step into the NFL and make an immediate impact. Usually they aren't called into action until two years into their professional career. This gives them time to mature as a quarterback, adjust to the pace of the league, and to be coached at the next level. Don't press the panic button. Teddy is making correct reads on the field and isn't running outside the pocket like a chicken with his head cut off. Matt Cassel is making all the throws necessary in the offense and he may not be the sexy pick to start, but he is the best option. You could see how well he commanded the huddle and grasped the offense in the first preseason game on Friday. Last night he made all the throws in the system and is continually showing why he is the best option for this team. In the meantime, don't give up or worry about Teddy Bridgewater; he'll be just fine.
11-on-11 QB Stats:
Matt Cassel: 16 for 22
Teddy Bridgewater: 14 for 18, 2 INT's
Christian Ponder: 4 for 5
Patterson continues to shine
Cordarrelle Patterson caught three passes in the preseason game on Friday and he continued to haul in balls at last night's practice in Mankato. He has become a more fluent route runner and can gain separation off the ball much better than last year at training camp. Patterson has dropped just one pass during my time in Mankato and it appears he is poised for a breakout year in Norv Turner's offensive scheme.
Running backs working on catching passes
It seems every practice has involved the running backs catches passing out of the backfield. This is going to be a huge part of the Vikings offense and Norv Turner wants the running backs to adjust to this new philosophy. Adrian Peterson has never been a big pass catcher and he has struggled at times adjusting to this new role. He dropped one pass yesterday, but made four catches and some excellent cuts in space. Matt Asiata also dropped one pass, but added five more receptions out of the backfield. Jerick McKinnon did more of the same and it appears he will play a huge part in the Vikings offensive plans. Running backs Joe Banyard and Dominique Williams both combined for a total of zero snaps last night and it appears the coaching staff isn't worried about providing reps for them.
Floyd and Barr heavily rush the passer
Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd played extremely well in the first preseason game and has done well throughout training camp. He is more athletic and is blowing the center off the ball on a frequent basis. He was in the backfield and probably would have had two sacks and a quarterback hurry if practice had live contact. Floyd will be a huge piece to the puzzle for the Vikings defense and if he can make plays on a frequent basis in the interior, the Vikings can provide pressure, which in turn will create turnovers. Anthony Barr was lined up in the nine-technique on several snaps last night and was just blowing around the edge of the offensive line. On several occasions he was nearly unstoppable when getting after the quarterback. The coaching staff was adding more rushes last night, along with blitzes. As I discussed earlier, the goal is to get a better push as a defensive line and Mike Zimmer appeared to be focused on fixing this issue last night.
Hodges is all over the field
Gerald Hodges is growing with every practice he has participated in during training camp. He added a pass breakup and was blanketing running backs on a frequent basis last night. Hodges added two quarterback hurries and would have had sacks on both rushes. He continues to shine on special teams and was getting praised for alignment on kick coverage. It appears Hodges will play second-team linebacker, but he is developing at a quicker rate than many anticipated. His intensity and tenacity have been a pleasant surprise early in training camp.
Crocker sees first-team reps
Newly signed safety Chris Crocker witnessed all the first-team reps at safety alongside Harrison Smith last night. Kurt Coleman and Jamarca Sanford spent time with the second-team and it appears the team will give Crocker a try in some live action during Saturday's preseason game against the Cardinals.
Walsh perfect on field goals
Kicker Blair Walsh boomed eight field goals and was perfect on all of these attempts during practice. He showed range and dropped back to 48 yards and could have made some of his kicks from a much longer distance. Walsh isn't having any issues at training camp and should be ready for a solid 2014 season.
Robert Blanton (hamstring), Chase Ford (foot), and Linval Joseph (calf) all did not participate in practice on Monday. Blanton should be returning soon, Mike Zimmer indicated Ford should be back in about 10 ten days, and Joseph could miss the preseason with a calf injury he suffered when a stray bullet struck his calf at a nightclub in downtown Minneapolis.
The Vikings have the day off on Tuesday, but will resume practice on Wednesday with a walkthrough starting at 10:30 a.m. and ending at 11:30 a.m. That session will be followed by the afternoon portion, which begins at 3:00 p.m. and concludes at 5:10 p.m.