The Vikings concluded their three-day mandatory minicamp on Thursday. With the dust settled from the final on-field work before 2014 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, here are three lessons and three questions that have emerged.
1. Coaching staff preaches fast tempo at practice
It’s common to hear “Come on! Come on! Come on!” and “Let’s go! Let’s go!” and “Pick it up!” at Vikings practices these days. The message is bellowed by everyone on staff, but most frequently by Zimmer and his three coordinators – Defensive Coordinator George Edwards, Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer and Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner, as they want their players practicing at game speed. Subscribing to the theory have making practice hard so the game seems easy is nothing new for NFL coaches, but it’s a point of emphasis for the new coaching staff, and the players seem to be taking to this philosophy quite well. The Vikings have had competitive, spirited practices and not one phase of the team consistently dominates over the other.
2. Matt Asiata, Adam Thielen and Jarius Wright are impressing
Starting jobs haven’t been handed out and roster spots haven’t been earned…that will happen during training camp and will come to fruition following the preseason. But player’s who’ve impressed during the offseason program do have a leg up on the competition. Vikings GM Rick Spielman, Head Coach Mike Zimmer and their staffs won’t tip their hand as to whom is impressing so far, but it’s hard not to be impressed with Asiata, Thielen and Wright after watching this week’s minicamp. Asiata takes the majority of the reps at running back with the second team, Thielen makes a “wow” catch almost daily and is involved in several special teams phases, and we could make a daily highlight reel of Wright’s catches.
3. There is a real quarterback competition
Matt Cassel seems to have taken the majority of the first team reps, but Teddy Bridgewater and Christian Ponder are getting their turns, too. Each of the three quarterbacks have had their moment(s) in the sun, too. Bridgewater was working with the first team during a 7-on-7 period on Thursday, but Cassel was with the ones in the final team period. Ponder had a solid three days and watched his last pass of the offseason program, during a 2-minute drill team period, fit perfectly into the hands of receiver Kamar Jorden for a touchdown. Cassel has been solid, Bridgewater flashes frequently and Ponder is poised to compete. Yes, there is a real quarterback competition at Vikings camp and it will be fun to watch it unfold.
1. Who looks good in the trenches?
The Vikings had a competitive and rigorous three days of practice, but they weren’t in full pads. As such, there is only so much you can glean, particularly when it comes to the defensive and offensive line. With the linemen not in pads, it’s hard to get a true gauge on the progress being made. And this limitation isn’t unique to the linemen – the same can be said for linebackers at times as well as fullbacks and running backs during pass protection drills.
2. Will Robert Blanton win a starting safety spot?
The Vikings have both of their starting safeties from 2013 (Jamarca Sanford, Harrison Smith) returning to the team in 2014. Sanford had a very good offseason program and has been everything and more than the Vikings could’ve asked since being selected in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft. But an injury kept him out of action during minicamp, and Robert Blanton took many of the first team reps. Blanton looked good in doing so, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can challenge Sanford for the starting job. Sanford is a vocal leader on the field for the Vikings and he’s an outstanding downhill thumper in the run game, so unseating him will not be an easy task for Blanton or anyone else on the roster.
3. What can be expected from the Pac-12 rookies?
With their schools on the quarters system, rookies Anthony Barr, Scott Crichton and David Yankey weren’t able to participate in all of the Vikings offseason program. They were at Winter Park for rookie minicamp and for the mandatory minicamp, but were absent for everything in between. In addition, all three play positions in which full pads are needed to author a thorough evaluation – both Crichton and Yankey in the trenches and Barr at linebacker primarily but also playing some defensive end. So with not a lot of time spent at Winter Park since draft day and with no pads during minicamp, the three aforementioned rookies are just getting going as Vikings. Training camp will be an important time for them in their development.