Vikings Training Camp: Night Practice Observations

Vikings Training Camp: Night Practice Observations

Vikings Barroom Assistant Editor Drew Mahowald was on hand for the annual Minnesota Vikings training camp night practice on Saturday. Here are some observations he made from the practice.

Throughout Minnesota Vikings training camp, the defense has been the superior unit in a majority of drills conducted. Unsurprisingly, the fifth-ranked defense in 2015 has taken care of Minnesota’s offense in most situations practiced.

That wasn’t the case during the annual night practice on Saturday night.

Norv Turner’s offense put on a show for a crowd of over 10,000 people. This isn’t to say that the defense played poorly, either — it was simply a result of the offense clicking better than it had to that point in camp. This is surely a good sign for a team that was mostly unimpressive on that side a season ago.

With that, here are a few observations from the Vikings training camp annual night practice.

Three rookies impress under the lights

A number of Minnesota’s 2016 draft picks made their presence felt Saturday night. First-round receiver Laquon Treadwell made consecutive impressive catches in traffic on throws from Teddy Bridgewater. The first came on an impressive out route that had Xavier Rhodes on skates. On the following play, Bridgewater squeezed a laser into a tiny hole in the zone between safety Michael Griffin and cornerback Jabari Price. On both throws, Bridgewater placed them a bit high for Treadwell, allowing the rookie receiver to elevate and pluck them out of the air.

Mackensie Alexander had one of his best performances of camp Saturday night. Specifically in the 1-on-1 drills, the former Clemson Tiger blanketed receivers and forced Minnesota quarterbacks to throw into either very small windows or windows that didn’t exist. Alexander possesses serious talent, and once he gets past the learning curve of playing cornerback in the NFL, he’ll be a very good piece to Mike Zimmer’s defense.

Sixth-round tight end David Morgan continues to show why he is a favorite for the Mr. Mankato award. His run blocking was terrific, setting the edge on multiple outside runs and displaying the power to drive back players like Danielle Hunter. Additionally, Morgan’s soft hands were on display on multiple crossing routes. He possesses the ideal skillset to fill in for Rhett Ellison while he recovers on the PUP list.

Bridgewater, Hill show extra zip on throws

Teddy Bridgewater and Shaun Hill both were impressive throwing the football. Notably, Bridgewater wasn’t hesitant to air it out, connecting several times with Stefon Diggs throughout all drills. His best throw of the night, however, was dropped in perfectly to Adam Thielen. The former Minnesota State Maverick torched Rhodes down the sideline on a streak route, and Teddy hit him in stride. Bridgewater also connected on several intermediate routes with some sizzling velocity on the ball. In particular, the consecutive throws to Treadwell were both accurate and contained some heat that Teddy hasn’t possessed in the past.

Hill performed drastically better than what his status quo has been during camp. It helped that the second-team offensive line was dramatically improved. The veteran backup was able to step into a clean pocket much of the time and show velocity on throws not seen from him in years. He connected with tight end MyCole Pruitt in the seam on a beautiful laser while also dishing out underneath crossing routes with accuracy as well.

Offensive line units perform well

During the 2015 season, Minnesota’s offensive line dealt with injuries and ultimately became a bottom-tier unit. Whether the unit rises through the ranks in 2016 is yet to be seen, but the unit at least looks serviceable now. With Joe Berger filling in at right guard for the injured Brandon Fusco, the starting offensive line appeared to communicate well both against te run and the pass. Considering the opponent is an elite and deep defensive line group, the first-team offensive line was terrific Saturday night.

As for the second- and third-team units, a couple of players stuck out. Zac Kerin and Nick Easton were both moving their opponents with ease on the inside and made a serious case for a roster spot. If Berger winds up moving to the guard position, one of Kerin or Easton will likely make the 53-man roster in that backup center role.

Two defensive linemen stick out

Fourth-year defensive end Zach Moore’ spot on the 53-man roster looks promising right now. The big, physical athletic specimen out of Concordia-St. Paul was a force once again Saturday night. It’s been a theme throughout camp that Moore has been having his way along the second-team defensive line.

Tom Johnson has proven his ability as a backup three-technique defensive tackle already. But that proof was visible again Saturday night. The 6’3′, 288-pound beast unleashed multiple spin moves inside and utilized his strength to disrupt the offense’s running game. Johnson truly is not an average backup defensive lineman.

Age is just a number

Ageless wonder Adrian Peterson continued to look like a superhuman that was created in a lab. His explosiveness in and out of cuts and elite acceleration were on full display. Additionally, the 2015 rushing champ was more fluid taking handoffs from shotgun, something that hasn’t been true in his career. At this point, there’s no doubt about whether Peterson is ready for the 2016 regular season to start. He’s 100% ready.

Rhodes open, then closed

Cornerback Xavier Rhodes experienced highs and lows Saturday night. Early on, Rhodes was beat often both in 1-on-1 drills and 11-on-11 situationals. Most notably, Thielen torched him deep on a streak route down the sideline. However, Rhodes came back strong during the two-minute drill notching a few impressive pass-breakups. In fact, Rhodes made two fantastic interceptions, although neither of them counted. (One was on a free play, the other was a tip-toe catch along the sideline ruled incomplete).

Harris, Kearse continue to impress at safety

Third-team safeties Anthony Harris and Jayron Kearse have been impressive throughout training camp, and Saturday night was no different. Harris, an undrafted free agent a year ago, flashed correct positioning and run-stopping ability throughout the night. Additionally, the former Virginia Cavalier earned some run with the second team, rotating in with Antone Exum. It was only a matter of time before that transition occurred.

Kearse, a favorite for Mr. Mankato to this point, made another splash play in picking off a Joel Stave pass. It’s the second time Kearse has picked off Stave in camp, and it continues to point towards Kearse’s ability to read the quarterback and be in the right place. On top of his ability to stuff the run, Kearse’s sideline-to-sideline speed is especially impressive. At 6’4″, he looks like a deer darting across the field with those long strides.

Injury News

Zach Line, Sharrif Floyd, Edmond Robinson, Cordarrelle Patterson and Brandon Fusco all missed practice. Rhett Ellison, Mike Harris and Taylor Heinicke have all missed the entirety of camp thus far, and that didn’t change Saturday.

Eric Kendricks got up slowly mid-way through Saturday night’s practice and left the field with the training staff. He did not return. Audie Cole took Kendricks’ place in the first-team base defense, while Chad Greenway shifted into the Nickel package alongside Anthony Barr.

 

For more Minnesota Vikings training camp content, be sure to follow @VikingsBarroom on Twitter and “Like” Vikings Barroom on Facebook.

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