Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Vikings Training Camp Takeaways

Vikings training camp ended in Mankato as the Vikings left town for joint practices and a preseason game with the Cincinnati Bengals. After 19 practices, Daniel House provides his takeaways from Vikings training camp. 

Updated: August 10th, 2016 6:50pm

By: Daniel House

After watching 19 training camp practices during Vikings training camp, I had several takeaways from a variety of position groups. My overall impression: the Vikings have insane depth. In the 14 years I have traveled to Mankato for training camp practices, this is the most complete team I have ever seen. Whether it is young talent, playmakers, or the coaching staff, the Vikings have it all. They are building a debilitating defense and their offense is finding an identity with young quarterback Teddy Bridgewater at the helm. Stefon Diggs has taken another step, Laquon Treadwell is developing, Adrian Peterson looks ferocious, and Jerick McKinnon is an athletic freak. The major key to offensive success will start with the protection up front. If Teddy Bridgewater has a clean pocket and can comfortably find his targets up the field, the offense has the chance to be very good. After 19 practices, I'm more confident that can happen. With the talented defense the Vikings have, the offense doesn't need to be top-5, but they must at least become a middle of the road operation. If they can do that, some major success could be on the horizon for the Minnesota Vikings.

Here are my training camp takeaways:

Bridgewater has a better deep ball
Entering training camp, many fans and analysts were concerned about Teddy Bridgewater's inconsistent throws up the field. Throughout camp, Bridgewater was tested on deep vertical passes. For the most part, Bridgewater passed the exam. There were only a few deep throws he didn't complete, which is excellent considering how much he was tested.

Additionally, Bridgewater's mechanics seem more consistent. His passes aren't sailing and they have more overall velocity. No matter the situation, Bridgewater threw the ball with more confidence in training camp. He wasn't afraid to sling a throw into a tight window. Bridgewater took more risks and flashed his confidence in the offensive system. What's more, one could see the excellent rapport the young quarterback has established with wide receiver Stefon Diggs and tight end Kyle Rudolph. Bridgewater was slinging the ball all over the field to both of them. Stefon Diggs easily had the best training camp of any player in Mankato. His route running, dynamic playmaking ability, and intense attention to detail (such as footwork/technique), stand out. Diggs will be one of the main targets in the offense and can line up across the field both on the outside or in the slot. It is encouraging to see Diggs is one of Bridgewater's favorite targets this early in the season.

As for Rudolph, he looks quicker and has been a making some very tough catches in traffic. More importantly, he has developed as a run blocker and handled those duties very well in training camp. If both Diggs and Rudolph can be reliable targets, it will only help a young quarterback like Bridgewater even more. Pair those talents with a young blossoming receiver like Laquon Treadwell and the sky is the limit. Treadwell is an underrated route runner and gets open very well for a player his age. He had some drop problems, but those appeared to become less frequent as camp progressed. Treadwell has the work ethic and dedication to be great. Staying after practice for 40 minutes on the JUGS machine and arriving early to work with wide receiver coach George Stewart are just a couple examples. It is clear he will put in the time to be the best player he can be and that's certainly refreshing.

Bridgewater has more weapons, but it will all come down to his overall progression as a quarterback. With a better group of playmakers and an improved offensive line, Teddy needs to take the next step. It appears he is heading in the right direction and put together the best overall training camp of his NFL career.

Backup O-Line depth is still a concern
Most of the concern with the Vikings has been directed towards the offensive line. New offensive line coach Tony Sparano has brought a new culture to the unit. His hands-on approach, combined with his emphasis on technique, has developed some of the talent up front. He expects the most out of his players.

The first-team unit is still shuffling, but they look much improved this year. Andre Smith put together a solid training camp and Alex Boone lived up to the hype. Matt Kalil still has some problems with consistency, but I did see a small improvement in his performance. Kalil still has work to do, but as camp progressed, he was a little better every day. Leaving camp, I wanted to have more confidence about Kalil at left tackle, but there is no need to panic until he is evaluated in preseason action. Brandon Fusco appears to be at full-strength after returning from an injury last year. His fiery personality and strength appear to be back. If Fusco can return to 2013 form, it would be huge for the entire offensive line unit. The biggest battle on the first-team unit will be a center. Joe Berger and John Sullivan are going to continue mixing in with the first-team until the best rotation is found. Based upon performance in camp, I would give the edge to Berger. However, Sullivan improved as camp progressed. With Berger's position flexibility the coaches might want him to be the versatile backup in the interior of the offensive line. Nonetheless, they could decide to start Berger and keep Nick Easton as a developmental project. Easton had a great camp and I'm confident he has the chance to be a pretty good player in the league.

The biggest area of concern I have up front starts with the swing tackle position. Tackle Jeremiah Sirles was very inconsistent during training camp. He put together two consecutive days of solid performances and then followed it up with two poor practice sessions near the end of camp. Additionally, T.J. Clemmings is still concerning as a pass protector. He flashed as a run blocker, but Danielle Hunter, Brian Robison, and Justin Trattou frequently beat him off the edge. He had trouble with the inside spin move and speed rushes. Aside from those two players, the team doesn't have many options at tackle. If Matt Kalil doesn't pan out, or an injury strikes either Kalil or Andre Smith, I'm not entirely confident with the other alternatives. However, the preseason will be a better evaluation of the depth the Vikings truly have on the offensive line.

The tight end room is loaded
The tight end group is easily one of the best overall areas of the Vikings' roster. They have a solid blend of pass catchers and run blockers. As I noted earlier, Kyle Rudolph has taken a nice step towards improving his overall production. In addition, MyCole Pruitt has spent another year in the system and looks poised to play a major role in the offense. The most impressive player in training camp throughout this unit was rookie David Morgan. Morgan was one of the best run blockers in college football and he showed it in training camp. He was flexed in the slot, the backfield, and the end spot. He has the chance to take over some of the fullback run blocking duties. Not to mention, he is a threat in the passing game and has fantastic hands. His overall skill-set is pretty impressive and Morgan definitely has the chance to be one of the biggest surprises on the roster. Rhett Ellison is progressing and could be back in time for the regular season, which makes cutting down this position even more difficult. One has to believe they will keep four tight ends. However, could that mean eliminating the fullback position because Morgan can handle those duties? The preseason will provide more clarity to this question.

The defensive line depth is impressive
The defensive line is stacked with depth, young talent, and high-level performers. It doesn't matter the rotation up front, the Vikings are going to rush the passer consistently. Linval Joseph looks healthy, and frankly, pretty scary. Entering his third season in Minnesota, this was the best training camp he has ever had. Everson Griffen has even more moves and looks like he will be a major force off the edge. Sharrif Floyd battled an injury near the end of camp, but he certainly will continue to provide valuable production in the interior. Brian Robison looks like he might be in even better shape this season. Robison added a sweet leaping interception early in camp and will shift into the interior when Danielle Hunter enters the game off the edge. Hunter has become a more polished pass rusher this offseason. Last year, he was rushing with pure athleticism, but he now has developed some moves. Tom Johnson will enter on pass rushing downs and is such an asset because he uses his blend of size and speed so well.

Aside from those names, Zach Moore and Justin Trattou stood out. Moore was frequently getting interior pressure and used his size as an advantage. Finally, Justin Trattou just makes plays. When he entered the game last year, a huge game-changing moment always seemed to follow. Trattou was getting frequent pressure in camp and has become more polished as a pass rusher.

The Vikings have such a deep group of pass rushers and the way the coaches are experimenting with that depth is pretty exciting. Defensive line coach Andre Patterson knows how to get the most out of his players and each year the improvement from young players on the defensive line is so drastic. This season, the Vikings will get after the quarterback, which in turn will provide more opportunities for the secondary to make plays.

Barr and Kendricks are pretty dang good
Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks look even better this year. Barr looks to be in great physical shape and until his training camp injury, Kendricks looked extremely comfortable in the defensive system. He wasn't just playing off instincts and athleticism. Kendricks was making plays all over the field and early in camp notched a sweet diving interception as he beautifully diagnosed the play. Barr is such a talented player and the Vikings will do everything they can to utilize his skill-set. Whether it is in coverage, as a pass rusher, or reliable tackler, Barr is going to be one of the most integral stars of the Vikings defense. Emmanuel Lamur will be a great rotational weakside linebacker and has such an awesome grasp of the system. Audie Cole continues to make plays in coverage and Edmond Robinson has the chance to be a special player in the future. Aside from that, it seems likely Brandon Watts and Kentrell Brothers will battle for the final linebacker roster spot. The preseason will likely decide which player will come out on top.

Defensive backs are getting better every day
Early in camp, many fans were getting concerned because Trae Waynes wasn't standing out. After the pads came on, Waynes started to make his mark. He was in position to make plays and executed by picking up defensed passes on a frequent basis. Waynes was getting coached by Mike Zimmer frequently after drills and every day he showed improvement. By the end of camp, Waynes performed well enough to merit consideration for the starting outside cornerback slot opposite of Xavier Rhodes. Those who were labeling Waynes as a "bust" are impatient people who weren't at practice to see his constant growth.

Rookie Mackensie Alexander was progressing slowly, but near the end of camp, he was making plays. He is adjusting to learning the scheme at the next level, but his work ethic and attention to detail are evident. Alexander is playing in the slot during nickel packages. He was in better position by the end of camp and was making plays on the ball. It takes time to become a great cornerback in the NFL and fans can't expect immediate results overnight.

The safety battle is still ongoing
The safety battle was one that most fans had their eyes on entering training camp. Leaving training camp, it doesn't appear much has changed. Andrew Sendejo was seeing almost all of the starting reps at strong safety. However, Michael Griffin was blending into the mix near the end of camp. Griffin has made a few notable plays over the last couple days. The battle is far from over for the starting nod. Jayron Kearse had an impressive training camp, but it is hard to see him making the climb up the depth chart. Anthony Harris didn't really stand out in training camp, but made a few plays when he had the opportunity. The preseason will be critical to deciding who will become the starter.