|Photo Courtesy of Post Bulletin|
Today, the Vikings strapped on pads for the first time at training camp. Daniel House takes you inside his notebook and highlights the happenings from day three in Mankato.
Updated: July 28th, 2015 9:57pm
By: Daniel House
Some overnight thunderstorms cleared and the Vikings were able to hit the practice field for their first padded practice of the 2015 season. The pads were popping and the helmets were cracking for the first time since the season finale. This was the first physical look we have seen from the players since they arrived at training camp on Sunday.
Bridgewater struggles in second 11-on-11, backups still shaky
Teddy Bridgewater practiced for the first time in pads today and quarterback performed well. However, he did struggle in the final team session of practice. Bridgewater overshot Kyle Rudolph on a pattern heading towards the sideline and Harrison Smith snatched the pass for an interception. A few plays later, Bridgewater stepped out of a crowded pocket and threw off of his back foot into a jammed lane. Smith nearly hauled in the pass for his second interception of practice. It's worth noting Bridgewater perfectly placed passes off of double moves to Charles Johnson and Jarius Wright. He has shown growth in the vertical passing game and continues to throw sharp passes on routes towards the sidelines. Conversely, Bridgewater's backups are struggling. Shaun Hill still cannot throw passes towards the sideline and receivers are consistently waiting for the throw. His velocity is very low and his passes are occasionally like a Steph Curry floater in the lane. In the 11-on-11 period, Hill looked better when he threw longer passes up the sidelines and over the middle. Taylor Heinicke and Mike Kafka still looked overwhelmed with the pace of the game. In team drills, Heinicke overthrew Jordan Leslie and was intercepted by safety Anthony Harris. Kafka is having a mixture of problems with his passes and the coaching staff has been consistently working on his footwork. There is still plenty of training camp left for the reserve quarterbacks to become more comfortable.
Asiata looks smooth, DuJuan Harris getting it done
Not many of us have been talking about Matt Asiata during this year's edition of training camp. It's worth mentioning the excellent physical condition that Asiata has developed. His burst through the hole and cutbacks are much quicker and elusive. At one point, he took an inside carry and put an excellent move on linebacker Brandon Watts. DuJuan Harris has been one of the most surprising players in training camp thus far. One carry between the tackles left me so shocked at his speed, elusiveness, and lateral cut-back skills. He has the rushing and pass catching abilities to be a change of pace threat at running back. Finally, you could tell Adrian Peterson was ready to get into pads for the first time since his suspension. He cut his first run to the outside and was ready to lower his shoulder on Robert Blanton.
Wallace is a playmaker, Patterson is getting open
There is no other way to say it -- Mike Wallace looks fantastic. A polished route runner; Wallace is constantly finding ways to get open. He nearly left Trae Waynes' shoes in the ground as he changed direction to find the ball on a comeback route. He put a double move on Shaun Prater in the 1-on-1 drills and Teddy Bridgewater perfectly placed the pass over the top. He admirably beat cornerbacks on five separate occasions and is solidifying himself as a playmaker on this team. Cordarrelle Patterson is getting open without much effort this year. He is keeping his head towards his target, but uses a head fake to get open on multiple occasions. Patterson came back for the ball and knew exactly when to break off his route. He isn't having any issues catching passes and most of them he's dropped have been from poor throws by the quarterbacks. Patterson is making contested catches and is using his athleticism to his advantage. Now what needs to be shown is some consistency from the third-year wide receiver.
Pruitt can do it, Rudolph rather nondescript
MyCole Pruitt is using his route running to get open in many different ways. His footwork and technique allow him to seal the linebacker or defensive back off at the point of attack. Pruitt beat Brandon Watts on a corner route that flanked off towards the sideline. By the time he hauled in the pass, he was already five yards ahead of Watts. I've been fielding many questions about Kyle Rudolph in the early stages of training camp. Rudolph has been very nondescript over the first three practices. He dropped two passes today, but hasn't really been targeted consistently in training camp. Rudolph looks a bit bigger this year and I'm not sure he is as quick getting open. He will be someone to keep an eye on as the practices evolve in the coming days.
Kalil can't handle Griffen, Yankey getting a good push
If the Vikings offensive line is going to improve as a unit, Matt Kalil neeeds to perform significantly better this season. Today didn't leave much optimism for this to happen. Griffen used an inside spin move to beat Kalil twice. He also powered around the edge with one quick swim move to the outside. During the final team period, Kalil could only handle Griffen on two or three occasions. Hopefully his performance will improve as more physical battles occur in training camp. Second-year left guard David Yankey was getting a great push on the inside of the offensive line. He and Carter Bykowski powered the way for Jerick McKinnon during an interior running play. Yankey is playing with a stronger physicality and isn't getting pushed backwards at the snap of the ball. Bykowski has been better as a run blocker, but certainly hasn't performed terribly as a pass protector either.
Griffen and Hunter are athletic freaks
Everson Griffen was absolutely dominating Matt Kalil during today's practice. He was disruptive on eight occasions and used his strength to gain position. Griffen has really developed a superior inside spin move and exterior swim move when rushing the passer. He has sniffed out several plays in the run game and stopped a screen pass in its tracks during a defensive drill. On the other side of the defensive line, the coaches actually gave Danielle Hunter two reps at left defensive end with the first-team defense. He got an excellent jump off the ball and received interior position on Phil Loadholt. Hunter continues to flash his superior quickness and athleticism in the pass rush. He has all the tools to be an excellent defensive end in this league, but needs more experience against first-team offensive lineman. Sharif Floyd is much quicker off the ball this year and is picking up right where he left off last season. We haven't seen much out of the defensive line against the running game, but it is clear this mix of players are going to get after the quarterback.
Kendricks mixes into nickel package, Hodges all over the field
We have seen Eric Kendricks take a few snaps with the first-team in the nickel package, but it hasn't been anything too significant. Today, he saw more snaps in the team drills with Chad Greenway in this capacity. It is unclear whether this is because Anthony Barr is slowly being eased into play or if Kendricks is being evaluated to play in this role. However, he still showed his superior pass coverage skills and actually made a contribution in run defense. He attacked Joe Banyard and forced him to redirect quickly. If he can continue to make contributions as a run defender, he has the chance to see extended playing time this season. In the afternoon session of practice, Gerald Hodges continued to fly all over the field. He stopped two runs and forced them to extend outside. Hodges also defensed two passes in coverage during team drills. The Vikings linebacker play is much improved, but it will be interesting to see how the players are utilized and structured on the depth chart.
Cornerbacks finally press at the line of scrimmage
It was the day we have all been waiting for since training camp started -- the defense backs were allowed to press at the line of scrimmage. This was the first time we were able to see the cornerbacks realistically perform 1-on-1 drills with the wide receivers. Xavier Rhodes continued to look dominant and knocked away two passes intended for receivers. On the other hand, Terence Newman really struggled today. Charles Johnson and Mike Wallace both torched Newman on double moves down the vertical portion of the field. Newman was a step slow and took a hard bite on the head fake. That is somewhat concerning when you consider the role he might be asked to fill this season. Trae Waynes showed flashes in the 1-on-1 drills, but definitely needs time to perfect the footwork and technique required for this system. He has been in position, but with some footwork tweaks, Waynes could use his aggressiveness to break-up passes. On some occasions, Waynes has been a step slow recognizing what is happening in front of him. However, Mike Zimmer has continually spent time with Waynes to show him how he wants defensive backs to play in his system. Marcus Sherels added a pass defensed and saw some snaps with the second team defense when Trae Waynes was shifted into the slot.
Exum Jr. excelling in coverage, Harris & Smith corral interceptions
Antone Exum Jr. continues to show he can handle the rigors of coverage at the NFL level. He defensed two passes today and held back from laying a solid lick on running back Jerick McKinnon. Exum Jr. is an aggressive player who is starting to show more instincts as a player. If awarded the opportunity, he could make a splash in training camp and the preseason. Undrafted rookie Anthony Harris added an interception on an overthrown pass from Taylor Heinicke. Harrison Smith also corralled an interception on an errant throw by quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The safety position is cluttered and at this point, Robert Blanton certainly hasn't done anything noteworthy to distinguish himself.
Walsh perfect from downtown, long snapper battle continues
Blair Walsh kicked in a live session for the first time in training camp. He kicked on a range from 33 to 52 yards. He nailed all eight of his kicks and easily had 10+ yards left on the final one. Jeff Locke punted today and he shanked some balls that favorably rolled down the field. All of his punts, weren't terrible, but you could certainly see it wasn't his best effort. During the kicking session, Cullen Loeffler started at long snapper, but Kevin McDermott rotated into the fold every two snaps. It was tough to tell how well either one of them snapped the ball, but the competition certainly will come down to which player the specialists are most comfortable with.
Josh Robinson (pectoral) and Shamar Stephen (knee) remained sidelined today. However, Coach Zimmer indicated Stephen could be back "soon." DaVaris Daniels was activated from the NFI list and practiced for the first time today.
The Vikings will have a morning walkthrough from 10:30am-11:30, followed by their second full-padded practice from 2:45pm-5:00pm
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