The Vikings strapped on the pads for the the first time during training camp. Daniel House takes you inside his notebook with a few observations from Monday's practice.
Updated: July 30, 2018, 7:10 p.m.
By: Daniel House
One could argue the best day of training camp is the first padded practice.
It was finally easier to start evaluating players for the first time in partial contact situations. Monday’s practice session featured 1-on-1 OL/DL and DB/WR drills. As camp progresses, battles will start to intensify, but players have been itching to at least pop the pads a little.
Treadwell wins the day
Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell won my award for best player on the practice field during Monday’s afternoon session. He started the day by smoothly cutting out of his break to make a tip-toe grab on the sidelines vs. Terence Newman. He was gaining separation in the drills against Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander and Xavier Rhodes, too. In fact, his most notable rep came during the red zone 7-on-7 drill. He ran a beautiful corner route to the back of the end zone. Treadwell was able to gain separation at the stem with a little physicality to make the contested grab. Of course, in the spring there was hype surrounding Treadwell’s growth, but it garnered plenty of skepticism. Early in camp, it's easy to see the coaches have more confidence in him. He has been running with the first team unit in 3-WR sets and showed he could get separation against some of the team’s best corners on Monday. This is a great development for the 2016 first-round pick, who has struggled to run crisp routes in the past. He’s worth watching throughout camp and the preseason as the Vikings continually push him.
The other receiver who stood out was free agent signing Tavarres King. The veteran pass catcher has an ability to gain separation vertically. His best route is a dig because he can sell the route, drop his hips and be fluid out of the break. He gained extensive separation during the DB/WR drills when he ran this route. King also ran a notable comeback, where he about five yards of separation on Trae Waynes. He has been a pleasant surprise in camp and could emerge as the No. 4 wide receiver on the depth chart. Brandon Zylstra also showed he can win off a variety of concepts, specifically in the short-to-intermediate game. He has solid hands and finished a notable comeback by absorbing contact and winning through the catch point. Zylstra has been working on the main special teams units and is a player many people were talking about in the spring, too.
Cousins looking comfortable, Sloter struggling
Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been showing off his arm talent when throwing a few specific routes in the tree. He tosses the corner route with excellent anticipation and drives it to the sideline. On Monday, he showed off his touch and accuracy up the seam when targeting Kyle Rudolph, who was covered tightly by linebacker Ben Gedeon. Cousins has been displaying his comfort level with some of his favorite targets, including Rudolph, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. At the backup spot, Kyle Sloter has struggled the past two days. He hasn't been getting the ball out quick and made two incorrect reads on Monday. One poor read led to a woefully inaccurate throw and a receiver wasn't within ten yards of the pass. Sloter certainly has talent, but has to improve the mechanical aspects of his game.
Boone is making an impression
Running back Mike Boone has been working with the third team unit as the Vikings search for a third down back on the depth chart. He has caught my attention early in the practice sessions and showed off more of his skills on Monday. Boone was running an inside zone look and beautifully cut back with acceleration and agility. It was a small glimpse of the explosiveness he can provide as a runner. Not only that, but he has the pass catching skills to be a versatile third running back. Boone can run swing passes or arrow routes and tracks the ball extremely well. You can definitely see his background as a wide receiver in high school helps him substantially.
O'Neill sees plenty of reps, defense ahead of offense
The offensive line ran one small 1-on-1 drill with the defensive line in the first padded practice. During those reps and the 11-on-11 drills, Brian O’Neill struggled to handle Danielle Hunter. Hunter used a spin move to win in the 1-on-1 session. Later in practice, Hunter long-armed O’Neill, while using his speed to get to the quarterback. O’Neill had a few positive reps, but is still adjusting to NFL pass rushers. It will certainly benefit O'Neill to line up against someone like Hunter, who is a blossoming rusher. On Monday, the reps were maximized because Rashod Hill missed the afternoon practice. He has been battling an illness and should return soon.
One of the offensive lineman who had a strong showing was guard Danny Isidora. He had numerous positive reps in pass protection during the 11-on-11 drills. Isidora also down blocked hard to open a rushing lane during a team running drill. Isidora was working with the second team in practice, so it will be interesting to see whether he moves up the depth chart and earns reps with the starters on Tuesday.
Overall, the defense is ahead of the offense right now, which is something Mike Zimmer has noted. The pass rush won the day because the pocket was muddy and inconsistent during certain stretches. It led to a few rushed throws and timing issues downfield. On the defensive line, David Parry had a few great reps in the 1-on-1 drills, logging two notable wins. He is really quick and has a powerful lower body to play the gaps or rush the passer. Ifeadi Odenigbo also had a few great snaps playing inside at defensive tackle. He had a strong camp in 2017 and is a surprising name to monitor inside.
Wilson has the movement skills, Barr rushing the passer
At linebacker, Eric Wilson has really caught my eye. He not only looks like he has additional muscle in his frame, but he’s a very fluid mover. Wilson has enough athleticism to get into passing lanes and make plays. When watching the linebackers in coverage drills, he stood out because of those skills. He was a tackling machine at Cincinnati and carved out a pivotal role on special teams last season in Minnesota. Wilson might be asked to play linebacker more this season if injuries strike, especially considering the thin nature of the depth chart.
Linebacker Anthony Barr was rushing the quarterback and completed numerous reps where you saw all of his bend and explosiveness as a rusher. This is something the Vikings could use to their advantage as they continue to search for ways to rotate rushing and create pressure.
Sherels continues to battle -- like always
Every year, people are always clamoring about whether Marcus Sherels will make the team. He always buckles down and shows everyone he is valuable. On Sunday, he picked off a pass in team drills. One day later, he added another. He beautifully jumped a Jeff Badet route across the middle, drawing excitement from his teammates. He was also in perfect position to force an incompletion on a Tavarres King fade in the final situational drill. In a room stacked with young defensive back talent, Sherels must show he can provide value not only as a return man, but defensive back.
Cornerback Holton Hill continues to show off his work ethic and willingness to learn. Following the afternoon session, he spent more than 15 minutes on the practice field with Terence Newman and Xavier Rhodes. Hill had another strong day, including a pass breakup in the back corner of the end zone during a 7-on-7 red zone drill. Mike Hughes also notched a beautiful pass breakup on a Tavarres King out during a team session. Hughes blended in with the first team during 11-on-11 drills and handled Stefon Diggs well out of the slot. He is extremely quick, fluid and continues to grow with every rep. The defensive back room has been fun to watch in camp thus far and might be the deepest position group on the roster.
The kicker battles begins....
Monday was the first day where the kickers worked in live situations. During the session, Kai Forbath and Daniel Carlson were tested on a range from 32 to 45 yards. They each drilled all four of their attempts with ease. Forbath also knocked down a 39-yard field goal when he was brought onto the field in the late stages of the team’s final situational drill. The battle will likely stretch into the final moments of the preseason as the Vikings determine which kicker they would like to use in the regular season.