Sunday, August 3, 2014

Day 8 Notebook: Bridgewater takes more risks, defensive line is mammoth

The night scrimmage was held in front of a capacity crowd of 9,300 fans and Daniel House shares his observations from the evening's festivities. 

Updated: August 3rd, 2014 2:08pm

By: Daniel House

The Vikings held their annual night scrimmage at Blakeslee Stadium on Saturday night in Mankato, MN. The capacity crowd of 9,300 fans were ready to catch a glimpse of some Vikings football at training camp. There was marginal live tackling, but there were plenty of live situational drills that were ran at last night’s scrimmage. I compiled all my notes from the night practice and let you take a glimpse into my notebook.

Coaching is key 

During the morning walkthrough, you could see the intensity was amped in preparation for the scrimmage later in the evening. The coaching staff was really working on alignments and stopped several plays to show the correct placement on the field of play. Norv Turner was really working with the quarterbacks on going through their progressions and showing them the reads they should be making during certain formation installs. Mike Zimmer was working with the defense yesterday for nearly half of the morning walkthrough. The specific focus was on linebacker alignments, along with defensive positioning as a whole. Following the morning walkthrough, Mike Zimmer indicated he thought his defense would be further along in their alignments at this point. Zimmer is a perfectionist and preaches strong fundamentals, which in turn should develop raw skills sets of certain players.

Defense continues to shuffle heavily

In the most recent days, the talk has been about how much shuffling has occurred on the defensive side of the ball. That trend continued on Saturday night, as multiple players shuffled around the depth chart and saw reps with the first-team. Cornerback Marcus Sherels saw reps on the outside in the nickel package and added a nice interception early in practice. Safety Kurt Coleman, defensive tackle Tom Johnson, and linebacker Gerald Hodges all mixed in with the starters at points during the practice. Mike Zimmer indicated at his press conference, that he would like to have his first depth chart formulated by the end of the first preseason game vs. the Raiders on Friday.

Rhodes and Sherels both snatch interceptions

Cornerback Xavier Rhodes made the most sensational play of the night scrimmage in Mankato. Matt Cassel attempted a fade up the sidelines to Jarius Wright and Rhodes corralled the ball at its highest point, making an incredible tumbling interception. We have witnessed the growing pains of Xavier as he has transitioned to Mike Zimmer’s defensive scheme. Early in camp, Zimmer was stressing footwork and fundamentals with Rhodes and over the last three days, he has making some great strides. Xavier is trying to adjust to the physicality of this defense and with more work in the defensive system with Mike Zimmer, it appears Rhodes can develop into a premier cornerback of the future for the Vikings. Marcus Sherels also added a leaping interception of a wobbly Matt Cassel pass that fizzled towards the sideline. Sherels continues to have a great training camp and has registered two interceptions in the last three days, while adding five passes defensed. Zimmer seems to be working with Sherels on his footwork and physicality and it appears to be making a huge difference.

Bridgewater shows growing pains, takes more risks

Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater ran onto the field at Blakeslee Stadium Saturday night to a thunderous roar of fans chanting his name. That’s a pretty big deal for a rookie quarterback, who is trying to secure the starting job. On the field, Bridgewater has been placed in tougher situations over the last three practices. The Vikings offense has evolved from more check downs and dumps across the middle, to more passes up the field. Teddy has shown the growing pains by throwing four interceptions over the last three training camp practices. He registered one of those interceptions last night in the redzone. Bridgewater saw time with the first-team offense during the redone drill. Bridgewater stepped back and fired a dart towards Greg Jennings in the back of the end zone, but the pass was fired straight into the arms of linebacker Chad Greenway. Teddy made a knee-jerk reaction on the play and stared a little bit too much into the eyes of Jennings. Greenway found the tendency and hauled in the interception just moments after the ball left Bridgewater’s hands. Following the night practice, Bridgewater was asked about his recent struggles and if he was concerned about his recent platoon over the last three days.

“It’s a huge concern. Playing quarterback you always want to take care of the football. For me, it’s all about not making the same mistake twice. With all the interceptions the past couple days, I’m going to work hard to try to cut that down,” Bridgewater explained.

It isn’t time to press the panic button with Bridgewater, but you are starting to see him placed in more situations he will need time to adjust to. The preseason is a time to evaluate Bridgewater with a live defense and to see whether he can make the throws necessary to be successful in Norv Turner’s offense.

As for quarterback Matt Cassel, barring two interceptions, he played rather comfortable within the offense. The first interception to Marcus Sherels was partially underthrown, but the second came off of a spectacular interception by Xavier Rhodes. Cassel appears to be the most comfortable adjusting to the sophistication of the offense at this point. He has the experience and Teddy just doesn’t seem as comfortable right now. This could change as the season approaches and more preseason games are played, but it appears Cassel has the edge as the starter at this point.

11-on-11 QB Stats: 

Matt Cassel: 19 for 27, 2 INT’s
Teddy Bridgewater: 17 for 22, 1 INT
Christian Ponder: No snaps

Running backs becoming route runners

As I discussed above, last night was one of the first evenings we have seen the offense become more sophisticated outside of checkdowns. The running backs were running many specific routes out of the backfield and the plays were designed for them to do so. Adrian Peterson hauled in three passes out of backfield and since day one of camp, he has grown as a receiver. Norv Turner is looking to utilize Peterson’s athleticism to get him on the outside in space. As for Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon, they both saw many passes out of the backfield, but McKinnon continues to see the most of all the running backs. Jerick hauled in a nice one-handed catch from Teddy Bridgewater and put a sweet move on a defender after the reception. McKinnon is going to be utilized in this role frequently and the goal is to isolate him in space. Joe Banyard hauled in one reception, turning his body and adjusting to a ball thrown behind him. Dominique Williams hauled in the drop of the day on a Bridgewater pass that was right in his bread basket.

Simpson, Felton see limited playing time 

To the surprise of many, wide receiver Jerome Simpson and fullback Jerome Felton both saw limited amounts of playing time in the night scrimmage. Simpson didn’t get many looks in certain packages last night and the Vikings were continually using Jarius Wright and Rodney Smith instead. It will be interesting to see how Simpson is utilized, or whether he is suspended in the coming days. The Vikings might look for an alternative option if they feel Simpson isn’t worth the time. Jerome Felton wasn’t placed in certain packages too and it appears they like what they see from Zach Line. Line showed off his pass protection skills in the positional work and was easily the best blocker during that drill. On Wednesday, Mike Zimmer mentioned Line as a player that had impressed him thus far and you have to wonder if the Vikings will choose the cheaper alternative.

D-Line rotation is solid

The Vikings defensive line rotates about seven players throughout the grouping. All the way from Everson Griffen and Brian Robison to Tom Johnson, the Vikings defensive line is one big force to be reckon with. Sharrif Floyd dominated the interior again last night and forced Matt Cassel out of the pocket twice. Tom Johnson did much of the same and added two quarterback hurries, along with a big tackle for loss on Joe Banyard. Fred Evans looks way more athletic and added one run stuff off Dominique Williams. Scott Crichton rotated on the interior and outside and continued to be disruptive and nearly unstoppable at certain points. The defensive line is going to pressure the quarterback, which will provide the secondary with opportunities to create turnovers.

Hodges stands out with linebackers 

Gerald Hodges knocked away two passes in coverage last night and continues to show his ability to flourish in the base and nickel package. He is extremely athletic and can run with running backs and tight ends, while blanketing the play. Hodges has mixed in with the first-team nickel, but has spent the majority of his time with the second-string base package. Mike Mauti say some second-team reps in the absence of Brandon Watts and Audie Cole continued to share first and second team snaps. The linebacker position is still heavily rotated and Mike Zimmer will continue this trend until they find the correct mix of players at this position group.

Walsh booms field goals, Locke smashes punts

Kicker Blair Walsh boomed field goals and continued to show his massive leg, hitting all eight of his field goal attempts. His long was 52 yards and his kicks cleared the goal post by a landslide. Walsh probably had the distance to hit from 60 yards during the scrimmage. Punter Jeff Locke was booming the ball in the punting portion last night and dropped multiple 60 yard punts, along with a couple Aussie style rollers. Locke has spent the summer working on becoming more consistent and you can definitely see the growth he has made since his rookie season in the league.

A.C Leonard sits out of practice again

A.C. Leonard (headache) returned to the field in shorts and a top, but did not participate in either session of practice yesterday. Mike Zimmer indicated Leonard had a few more tests to complete before he could return.

Injury Report

Cornerback Josh Robinson (hamstring), safety Robert Blanton (hamstring), linebacker Brandon Watts (leg), and tight end A.C. Leonard all sat out practice on Saturday. Robinson is expected back on Monday, while Blanton could be out a couple weeks. Brandon Watts suffered a leg injury in practice on Friday after colliding with Rhett Ellison in a team drill. Nothing has been announced about his injury, but it doesn’t appear to be serious.

What’s Next?

The Vikings have the day off on Sunday, but will resume practice on Monday 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.

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