On the fourth day of training camp, the Vikings held their second consecutive padded practice of the summer. Daniel House provides key takeaways in his latest training camp notebook!
On the fourth day of training camp, the Vikings held their second consecutive padded practice of the summer. It was one final chance for coaches and personnel staff to evaluate players before an off day on Tuesday. After film is reviewed, a few depth chart changes will likely occur on Wednesday. The Vikings have slowly increased the intensity of practices and a heavy portion of sessions are dedicated to the installation of running game concepts. Many of the team periods haven’t involved many passing plays, but we’ve had a chance to see key reps in the trenches. Monday’s practice featured another lengthy 1-on-1 OL/DL drill, which allowed coaches to continue evaluating play in the trenches.
Mannion’s deep ball, Browning’s play-action skills
Minnesota’s quarterbacks haven’t been asked to push the ball downfield much, but when they have, it’s resulted in a few positive plays. Quarterback Sean Mannion connected with wide receiver Jordan Taylor on a deep corner route in Jayron Kearse’s zone. This was the second consecutive day where Mannion has shown positive flashes when throwing the ball deep. He still has moments where he tries to force the ball into areas he shouldn’t. One instance involved a play where he tried to find Ameer Abdullah in the flat, but defensive back Derron Smith batted it away. Mannion didn’t have many options, but tried to drive the check down pass into a tight window for Abdullah.
After watching quarterback Jake Browning for a few days, I’ve been really impressed with how he sells the play-action. There were several instances where the Vikings ran a similar personnel grouping or play. When Browning uses play-action, he gets linebackers to suck forward. The Vikings have been asking him to do work under center and he’s comfortable in this area. Many people don’t realize the amount of reps he received while working under center in a pro-style system at Washington. Browning learned how to effectively sell play-action in college and it’s allowed him to transition well into Minnesota’s offense.
Executing in the WR Room
Early in camp, the wide receivers have struggled to consistently execute their responsibilities. During Monday’s practice, there was one instance where Jordan Taylor slammed into Chad Beebe in the secondary. It looked like Taylor didn’t run his route at the correct depth and it led to a busted play. These are the type of little errors that have frustrated head coach Mike Zimmer. He expressed his displeasure with the performance of his wide receiver room on Sunday. Several of the young wide receivers haven’t been sharp with their route running and it’s led to pass breakups for the defensive backs.
The slow start provides an opportunity for wide receiver Brandon Zylstra, who was activated off the physically unable to perform list on Monday. Zylstra went through individual and positional work, but is easing back into full-time practices. It will be worth monitoring his play as the coaches search for viable options on the depth chart. Not only that, but it’s worth mentioning Laquon Treadwell saw a few reps with the first-team. This is the first time I’ve spotted him even blending into the unit.
Battles in the trenches
Monday’s practice was the second session that featured 1-on-1 OL/DL drills. Jaleel Johnson had numerous positive reps, including two victories against center Garrett Bradbury. He also stood out in team periods and had a notable “run stop” during a Dalvin Cook run. Johnson ripped hard to get in the backfield and used his hands to shed contact. He has shown flashes early in camp and is battling with Garrett Bradbury inside.
Guard Danny Isidora also put together his second consecutive strong performance of camp. Isidora had two excellent reps against Armon Watts where he had a strong pass set, anchored his outside foot and displayed excellent hand technique. He was beaten badly by Watts in team drills, but they both battled throughout the day. Isidora has been a quiet surprise early in camp and continues to work with the second-team at right guard. For the second consecutive day, guard Brett Jones has performed well in 1-on-1 drills. He hasn’t lost a practice rep and had two great pass sets against defensive lineman Tito Odenigbo. In team drills, Jones also opened a hole for a notable Alexander Mattison run.
Aruna makes an impression
Defensive end Ade Aruna had two excellent reps during the 1-on-1 period, including a bull-rush against tackle Storm Norton. Aruna powerfully pushed Norton backward and earned a high-five from defensive line coach Andre Patterson. A little later, he managed to bend around the corner and create a pressure in team drills. Aruna, a sixth-round pick in 2018, missed all of last season with an ACL tear. He was a player with above average testing metrics, but needed coaching. Spending time under the instruction of Andre Patterson will continue to benefit Aruna’s development.
After missing Sunday’s practice, Jalyn Holmes returned on Monday, but Hercules Mata’afa continued to work with the first-team. Mata’afa had a notable run stop and used a beautiful spin move to win against Pat Elflein in 1-oin-1 drills. We’ll see how long this lasts, especially after Holmes had a strong afternoon. Holmes executed a dominant rep in 1-on-1 drills against Josh Kline. Holmes also used a rip move to pressure quarterback Sean Mannion in team drills.
Cliett's skills against the run
One of the most difficult positions to evaluate in training camp is linebacker. During the running drills, Reshard Cliett was showing off his quickness and ability to diagnose and react. Last training camp, I was impressed with Cliett’s speed, but he looks more comfortable from a processing standpoint. On Monday, he had two notable plays against the run. One involved him reading the play, shedding a block and scraping across the line of scrimmage for a run stop. Cliett is one player who has shown a noticeable amount of physical growth this offseason, too. Preseason games are an important evaluation point for the linebacker group, but Cliett made a strong impression on Monday.
AAF signees standing out
In the secondary, AAF signee Duke Thomas displayed excellent technique to force an incompletion in team drills. He also broke up a pass in a DB/WR zone coverage drill and quickly diagnosed a short pass in the flat. Over the past two days, Thomas has been earning more snaps with the second-team. He has shown off his quick feet, ability to drop his hips and stay tight to wide receivers out of breaks. Another AAF signee – Derron Smith – had a great pass breakup in team drills and has continued to work with the second-team unit at safety. In addition to the plays by these two defensive backs, sixth-round pick Marcus Epps had a physical pass breakup in a 7-on-7 drill. He snuck behind wide receiver Jordan Taylor and poked out the ball from behind. Epps has a much larger physical build than I was anticipating. He has enough size, strength and speed to potentially move between safety and cornerback. This type of versatility will be favorable when roster cuts approach.
Maalouf emphasizes “punt block”
Special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf’s past special teams units have always done a fantastic job of scheming for punt blocks. He spent a large portion of practice teaching punt block technique. After seeing how he is coaching the players in this area, it’s clear it will be a big emphasis in his system. There were numerous small groups working on the technical and schematic aspects of blocking punts.
For the first time in camp, there was a small portion of kickoff return work. Ameer Abdullah, Mike Boone, Holton Hill, Olabisi Johnson, Alexander Hollins and De’Angelo Henderson all took kickoff return reps.