While returning from a vacation down south, I couldn’t help myself in wandering back over to Vikings Training Camp for the final day in Mankato. Thursday was deemed “Fan Appreciation Day,” by the team. Halfway through the afternoon session, and an hour into the team practicing on the far-side field… I began wondering how much fan appreciation was really happening. But, it really sunk in when I walked over to the autograph area after practice and heard the fans chanting for their favorite sports star to come over towards them. As I stood along the fence I noticed AP wander over towards the fences (a rare sight) and wondered why I had forgotten my AP jersey of all days… today. None-the-less, we got his autograph on a nice piece of paper with some notes from the day’s practice on the back side. And here they are…
I guess I can’t really classify him as a “rookie,” but he most certainly is unknown enough to be considered a newcomer on the team. Wide receiver Rodney Smith spent most of last season on the team’s practice squad. If you are unfamiliar, Smith stands at 6’5 and he was the string bean who had several spectacular catches during last year’s preseason games.
I would have to say that it was Mr. Smith who stood out to me during the last practice session yesterday. He was the star of the day and is positioning himself to make a run at one of the final wide receiver spots on the squad.
Rodney had finger tip and sideline catches throughout the afternoon. The play of the day came mid-way through the afternoon when Rodney went one-on-one with Robert Steeples. Rodney extended his body over Steeples (who had decent coverage) and grabbed the ball. His style of play reminds me of a younger, and taller Jerome Simpson.
I heard some “Teddy” fan criticism after the first preseason game. After Coach Zimmer stated publically that he knew the young quarterback would settle down, it calmed the public’s anxiety.
The Teddy I saw in practice yesterday seemed poised at times and rattled at others. I’m going to stand behind my thoughts that this isn’t a quarterback competition any longer. I think Matt Cassel is undeniably the starter at quarterback for the Vikings this season. I don’t see that changing baring any injury issues. Cassel, although not as physically gifted as Teddy, is the consistent veteran presence that this team needs.
On one 11-on-11 scrimmage play, the pocket began to collapse around Teddy and he panicked and took off running. I see him doing this more frequently and it demonstrates to me that he does have rookie tendencies and we should come to expect a learning curve.
On a positive note, Teddy has unbelievable touch on his passes. He showed it twice, airing it out between the linebacker and safeties. During red zone drills, he threw the most accurate touch passes into the back corner of the end zone.
FAIL of the Afternoon
After the 1st preseason game, who else to win this award than Christian Ponder. Ponder’s performance in practice and games is lackluster. For some reason, the coach decided to plot the 1st team defense against Ponder and the 3rd string offense during a portion of practice.
Ponder dropped back, scanned the field and was “sacked” by Robison. BRob knocked the ball from out of his hands and it bounced to the dirt below.
Overheard at Vikings Training Camp
“JEROME” The crowd screamed in unison after he made a tip toe catch in the back of the end zone on his 2nd-3rd attempt.
“Get a hand on him. Hand on him. There you go!” Defensive Back’s coach Jerry Gray screamed to Jabari Price during drills vs Rodney Smith. On the next play between the two of them, Price broke up a pass intended for Smith.
“Hustle Back. Hurry up.” Jerry Gray (the most vocal of the coaches) yelled at his defensive back group.
“MVP, MVP, MVP!,” The fans chanted at Adrian Petersen before he came over to sign for the crowd waiting outside of training camp. This was proceeded by a fan telling AP, “Don’t ever leave us! Please, don’t leave us!”
-Xavier Rhodes continues to get the better of Patterson durng the 1-on-1 DB vs. WR Red Zone practice. Rhodes got his hand inbetween a pass intended for Patterson.
-Adam Thielen juked out Jabari Price on a cut into the end zone. Price lost sight of him and was two steps behind.
-While watching the 3rd team defense scrimmage, Mike Zimmer pointed across the field to one of the players standing along the sidelines watching. It was Brian Robison who hustled over to him and they had a chat for a few minutes. Zimmer seems to rely heavily on veteran leadership and speaks to his vet guys often throughout practice.
-Speaking of Coach Zimmer, he appeared unusually quiet while observing practice. He paid close attention to the 2nd and 3rd team offense/defense – as if evaluating for the final positions.
-Kurt Coleman and Harrison Smith started the day as the starting safeties. Chris Crocker and Harry ended the day as the two starters.
With camp coming to a close, I decided to pull a few questions from the fans following on Twitter. Here are three topic areas that were discussed and my thoughts on each. If you have other questions… feel free to get in touch with me and I’ll let you know what I observed.
Who’s Bigger Big Phil or Tiny?
I’ve wondered this myself while I’ve viewed practice the past few weeks. Some days Phil Loadholt clearly is more massive, but when I see Tiny Richardson up close… It’s debatable. When it comes right down to the numbers, Phil is 6’8, 343 pounds and Tiny stands at a “tiny” 6’6, 336. Both men are solid options on the outside as tackles.
Strongest and Weakest Position Group?
When I first started attending practice, I was positive that the cornerbacks group was weak. We didn’t supplement it very well in the draft (not picking a corner until the 6th/7th round). Behind Xavier Rhodes and Captain Munnerlyn, we didn’t have a solid nickel corner to throw in the mix. But, with Marcus Sherels having stepped up in a huge way… my opinion has been swayed. I still think the Vikings need to add another veteran corner (similar to the Chris Crocker type), but maybe that’s just my lack of faith in Josh Robinson’s play and ability to stay healthy.
With that said, I believe the weakest group if the linebackers. There is obviously going to be a transition for rookie Anthony Barr as he accumulates himself into the NFL. However, Greenway is aging and he doesn’t deny that. Jasper will be a settling force in the middle, but he doesn’t possess enough speed to play on 3rd down or passing situations. Barr hasn’t proven he can cover tight ends yet… and that worries me. With a liability in the middle of the defense, that leaves the safeties in a troublesome position.
The strongest position group is going to have to be running backs. Having a former MVP in the back field isn’t going to hurt my analysis of that any. However, it’s the other two backs that really help the cause. Asiata has stepped up as a marginal 3rd back, to a regular fill-in for AP. He’s a tough, hard-nosed runner who will get 3-4 yards every carry. The rookie McKinnon is a change of pace back. The defense won’t be expecting his style of play because it is so drastically different than AP and Asiata. McKinnon reminds me of McCoy (Eagles). He can catch passes out of the backfield and avoid defenders for 10-15 yards and even better… he can throw a ball down the field if need be.
Do You Think Priefer’s Ban Will Upset the Impressive Special Teams Unit From Last Year?
Not at all – Priefer has been heavily involved in special teams work throughout training camp and during the games. He is the most disciplined coach we have, which is saying something with the group that was brought in. He’ll have his guys ready, even in his absence. It also helps that the Vikings hired a veterans special teams coach to take his place. Things should go off without a hitch. And as a side note – the special teams unit continues to look just as strong this year.
It was a bit of a surprise to be back on the Vikings beat this week. Hopefully, a good one for the readers! We’ve got a game coming up tomorrow in Oakland. It’ll be interesting to see how Zimmer’s team looks on the road. Will they look as pumped up and prepared? I’ll likely evaluate the team prior to roster cut-downs and publish my projected depth chart. Look for that in the coming weeks! If you’d like to chat with me in the meantime…. find me on Twitter @Cbrusoewriter.