Sunday, July 31, 2016

Day 3 Training Camp Notebook: Defense takes a leap as Vikings put on pads

Photo Courtesy of Luke Inman

The pads came on for the first time at Vikings training camp and it was an excellent way to evaluate the battles up front and in the defensive backfield. Daniel House provides his analysis as the Vikings wrapped up day three of training camp in Mankato, MN. 

Updated: July 31st, 2016 9:25pm

By: Daniel House


The pads came on for the first time at Vikings training camp and it was an excellent way to evaluate the battles up front and in the defensive backfield. The offense was ahead of the defense for the first two days of practice, but they reversed roles today. As the intensity picked up in the trenches and the defensive backs pressed at the line of scrimmage, it provided a whole new element of evaluation. The depth the Vikings have on defense really stood out as the Vikings wrapped up day three of training camp in Mankato, MN.

Learn more by taking a dive inside my training camp notebook:

Bridgewater non-descript, Hill and Stave having trouble
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's play on the field didn't jump off the charts in today's afternoon session. Bridgewater was asked to throw shorter passes and had no trouble with the intermediate routes he was asked to throw. He only delivered about three deep balls up the field. One of them came on a fade up the sideline to Charles Johnson. The pass went off of Johnson's hands, tipped off Captain Munnerlyn's helmet, and Munnerlyn hauled in the circus interception. The second deep ball went off of Jarius Wright's hands and was lightly deflected by cornerback Tre Roberson. The pass was well placed, but Wright couldn't close on the ball. The third vertical pass was a fade intended for Charles Johnson. Rhodes had excellent coverage, but Johnson was unable to high-point the pass in traffic. One of Teddy's best throws came on a flag route to Adam Thielen. He fired the ball into a tight space and led Thielen on the throw towards the sideline. Additionally, Stefon Diggs used beautiful footwork during individual drills to beat Harrison Smith on a comeback ball. Diggs used his speed to set up Smith inside and came back on the ball. Aside from that, Bridgewater was asked to throw the ball short and to his running backs in the backfield. His only poor pass of the day came during team drills. Bridgewater errantly threw the pass into the middle of the field as he tried to connect with a streaking Charles Johnson. Safety Andrew Sendejo was in position to make the play and came up with the diving interception.

Early in training camp, quarterback Shaun Hill has been playing really poor. One of his overthrows should have been intercepted by safety Michael Griffin. Another bad throw came on the next play as Hill missed Mortiz Böhringer, who was wide open towards the sidelines. Hill is having trouble throwing with velocity up the field. His passes are taking forever to reach the receiver and Laquon Treadwell even had to wait for a pass that was later broken up by Trae Waynes.

Joel Stave is so inconsistent on almost all of his throws. Isaac Fruechte was open up the seam and Stave overshot him by several feet. Rookie safety Jayron Kearse was behind him ready to lower the boom. Stave twice missed his receivers towards the sideline and airmailed a throw deep to Terrell Sinkfield. However, Stave did connect on a 45-yard deep ball to Isaac Fruechte who beat cornerback Melvin White over the top. The Wisconsin Badger pass perfectly hit the Minnesota Golden Gopher in stride.

The Vikings might need to look for other alternatives at backup quarterback because both Hill and Stave have underachieved early in camp.

McKinnon looks smooth in the passing game
Everything Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon does is explosive. Whether he is running down hill, catching a pass, or laying a block, he does it with incredible force. His pass catching ability was on display as the running backs ran routes today. McKinnon smoothly hauled in the passes and made a move up the field. More importantly, his technique on the sled was textbook. He anchored down and exploded with both his arms as he delivered the block. Every facet of McKinnon's game is improved and the young running back is making an impression as he looks to gain more playing time in 2016.

Diggs continues to be dynamic
Stefon Diggs has been working on getting open against press coverage after practices and today he did just that. He used his footwork and insane speed to make some fantastic plays. He beat Xavier Rhodes off the line of scrimmage, hauling in a post across the middle. He also used his light footwork to comeback on a pass against Harrison Smith in a 1-on-1 drill. Diggs is getting open on nearly every route and has been spreading across the field on both the outside and in the slot. His versatility and dynamic playmaking abilities will pair nicely with the likes of Charles Johnson, Jarius Wright, Adam Thielen and Laquon Treadwell. From a footwork and technique standpoint, Diggs is by far the most skilled.

Laquon Treadwell has been staying 30-40 minutes late after practice and has been arriving about 20-25 minutes early. He is constantly working with Diggs to take his game to the next level. It's clear both of those wideouts have the chance to be really special players because of their strong work ethic.

Harris spends more time with the second team, defense does some shuffling
Anthony Harris has primarily spent time with the third-team alongside rookie Jayron Kearse. Today, during the morning walkthrough, Antone Exum dropped down the depth chart and Harris made the leap to the second-team unit. During a portion of the morning walkthrough, Harris even saw one or two snaps with the first-team. It was very minimal, but it was the first time he saw any action aside from the second or third team. Harris did substitute in with the second team in the afternoon session, but that was the case with all the defensive players. Danielle Hunter was on the edge in passing situations as the coaches kicked Brian Robison inside with Tom Johnson. Emmaunel Lamur substituted into the base 4-3 package a few times for Chad Greenway. What's more, Edmond Robinson took a few snaps with the first team defense as well. Trae Waynes was in for a few plays with the first-team in 11-on-11 drills, but it wasn't anything significant. Finally, within a hybrid first/second-team squad, Mackensie Alexander saw a few snaps in the slot. The offense wasn't changing personnel, but the defense made plenty of substitutions throughout the day.

The secondary takes a nice step forward
Putting the pads on and executing more press coverage helped several of the Vikings defensive backs improve upon their first couple days of practice. Trae Waynes nicely deflected a Laquon Treadwell pass in the seam. Waynes was beaten off the line of scrimmage, but used his speed to recover and make the play. Waynes also locked down Charles Johnson on and out to the sideline and Teddy Bridgewater was forced to throw short to a running back. Mike Zimmer spent plenty of time on his side of the field instructing Waynes and it seemed to benefit the young cornerback.

In addition, Xavier Rhodes was in position to make plays today. Rhodes nicely broke up a fade to Charles Johnson and knocked away a pass intended for Jarius Wright during a WR/DB drill. Rhodes didn't have a good first two days of camp, but really benefited from being more physical with the wide receivers. His only flaw came on a spectacular post route by Stefon Diggs. Diggs used phenomenal footwork to gain a slight separation on Rhodes. Stefon might have pushed off a little, but no flag was thrown.

Many readers have messaged or emailed me about rookie Mackensie Alexander. Today, he was slightly confused in team drills as Kyle Rudolph ran a flag route to the sideline. In the process of Rudolph running his route, Alexander's man (Stefon Diggs) was dragging across the field. Alexander dropped into the zone to cover Rudolph and left Diggs open. It appeared to be a blown assignment by Alexander and the second-team linebackers. Alexander had a nice pass breakup in 7-on-7 drills and flashed a little in 11-on-11 drills. Right now, he is trying to adjust to the scheme and that is to be expected from a young defensive back.

Undrafted rookie Tre Roberson added two more passes defensed, including one on a fade intended for Jarius Wright up the sideline. Roberson swiped the ball away at the last minute as Jarius Wright tried to haul in the Bridgewater pass. Roberson continues to show he might have some developmental talent as he transitions from college quarterback to NFL cornerback.

Offensive line depth chart shifts again
Yesterday, Joe Berger replaced John Sullivan at center and T.J. Clemmings saw action for Andre Smith at left tackle. In the morning walkthrough, Sullivan and Smith returned to their starting roles. It's not a surprise the offensive line grouping continues to shift as the coaches attempt to find the best mix of starters for the regular season. Zimmer said they would try to choose the best five as soon as possible but they won't rush either. In 11-on-11 drills, Matt Kalil struggled the most, but Andre Smith held his own as a pass blocker. His most impressive attribute is definitely as a run blocker. Smith is a road-grader in the second level.

Defensive lines wins the day
John Sullivan was pushed around in 1-on-1 drills and Linval Joseph put him on his back once. In this drill, I was easily most disappointed with Sully. He couldn't handle the strength of Joseph at the point of attack. It will be interesting to see if this is a reoccurring theme as Sullivan does these drills over the next couple of days. Alex Boone had no trouble with Sharrif Floyd on both occasions he went against him. Fusco split his two battles with Tom Johnson and Andre Smith was beaten on an inside rush by Brian Robison. It appeared Smith lost footing as Robison set up his move. Shamar Stephen had one run stop in 11-on-11 drills, but didn't get anything done against Joe Berger in 1-on-1 drills.

Surprisingly, Willie Beavers was very solid in the 1-on-1 drills. He was matched up with defensive tackle Toby Johnson, but I was most notably impressed with Beavers technique and attention to detail. Additionally, Jeremiah Sirles looked great in two reps against Justin Trattou. Sirles did a pretty good job in 11-on-11 drills too and might be a serviceable option as a backup swing tackle.

Finally, Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen are animals. Hunter destroyed T.J. Clemmings once in team drills and was beaten on an outside rush in 1-on-1 drills too. Hunter isn't just using his raw athleticism anymore. He has more moves and his technique has definitely been refined this offseason.

Finally, Everson Griffen has such a quick burst and has perfected several passing rushing moves that make him even more dangerous.

Scott Crichton will see time inside
When the Vikings drafted Scott Crichton in 2014, he was primarily utilized as a defensive end. Early in camp, Crichton has shifted inside to defensive tackle. After the morning walkthrough, head coach Mike Zimmer said he "looked pretty good" when playing inside. Additionally, he noted that playing inside was Crichton's "best chance to make the team." The third round pick will need to step up in a big way during training camp and the preseason to slide his way onto the final 53-man roster.

Pressley, Ham, and Robinson get some praise
Coach Zimmer doesn't dole out praise too often, but today he noted three players that have stood out early in camp. He particularly called out running back Jhurell Pressley for being impressive, but said he still had some work to do in pass protection. Pressley stood out in the afternoon session as he methodically weaved between the tacklers. He will be a player worth evaluating in the preseason. Additionally, Mike Zimmer really liked what he saw out of undrafted rookie C.J. Ham.

Finally, Zimmer was most excited to talk about second-year linebacker Edmond Robinson. Zimmer said, "The guy that has been impressive to me is Edmond Robinson. I think he'll show up a lot in preseason games." Robinson has been a player that has attracted my attention in the first two practices. He nearly had an interception on a swing pass and has been rather disruptive. Robinson is a great fit in the system and uses his athleticism as an advantage.

Coaches changing Kalil's technique 
Mike Zimmer noted in his press conference that Matt Kalil has changed his technique a little. Zimmer said, "we have changed Kalil's technique some -- he was turning too soon." When the pads are on for an extended amount of time, it will be worth evaluating Kalil against opposing defensive ends in 1-on-1 matchups. Today in OL/DL 1-on-1 drills, Kalil managed to stop Everson Griffen once, but was destroyed on the next two reps. Griffen made an inside rush and a power spin move that turned Kalil around. The new technique might be a work in progress at this point. In fact, defensive end Everson Griffen praised Kalil in an interview with Chris Tomasson after practice.

Griffen said, “(Matt Kalil) looks good, man. He’s been a guy that we always knew he could be and that’s a good sign for our team."

Keith Baxter in the hospital, then waived
Cornerback Keith Baxter missed practice yesterday and wasn't on the field again today for the morning walkthrough. After the morning session, Mike Zimmer told the media he was in hospital but didn't have any additional details. The Vikings later waived Baxter and linebacker Jason Whittingham. This means two roster spots are now open on the active roster. The most logical roster decision would be to add a quarterback to compete with Shaun Hill and Joel Stave.

Injury Report + Kenrick Ellis activated off the PUP
Defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis was activated off the physically unable to perform list. He missed the first two days for an undisclosed reason. Cordarrelle Patterson (shoulder), Rhett Ellison (patellar tendon recovery), and Taylor Heinicke (ankle) missed practice as well. Additionally, Adrian Peterson did not practice as he recovers from a slight hamstring tweak.

Walsh is perfect, Locke kicks for the first time
Blair Walsh attempted eight kicks and made them all in his first reps of training camp. All of the kicks were between 29 and 40 yards. It is clear the coaches want him to focus on the short/intermediate field goal tries. He hit field goals in this order: 29, 30, 35, 38, 33, 38, 40, and 33.

Jeff Locke punted for the first time and boomed just five kicks. Four of them went between 50 and 55 yards. Locke had a strong south wind at his back and boomed a kick 60+ yards that rolled behind Marcus Sherels and out of bounds.

What's Next? 

The Vikings will continue their training camp practices tomorrow with a 10:30-11:30 a.m. walkthrough and their second full-padded practice from 2:45-5:10 p.m. It is the final day of practice before they have an off day on Tuesday, August 2nd.

9 comments:

  1. Thank you for such a detailed report from camp! Keep up the good work!!

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    1. No problem! Thanks for reading. I'm glad you are enjoying the articles.

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  2. Replies
    1. Thanks for the kind words and support!

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  3. Awesome job. Appreciate your efforts. How did Trae Waynes look? Rhodes better with the pads on? Reading from the Great White North - Canada!

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    1. Waynes is improving every day and Rhodes looks like the same old player with the pads on! Thanks for reading all the way from Canada!

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  4. As always,nice coverage Daniel. I appreciate your breakdowns of various position groups and your obvious extensive knowledge of the game. Did Thielen and Johnson continue to excel with the added contact? Thank You for the valuable information

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