The Vikings spent nearly three weeks and practiced 15 times at 2014 Verizon Vikings Training Camp. In that time, there was a lot to learn about the Vikings. There are still two preseason games and nearly three weeks in front of the regular season, but here’s what we learned about the Vikings in this year’s training camp.
1. Starter has not been named
The list of things we’ve learned actually begins with something we haven’t learned – the Week 1 starting quarterback. The Vikings entered camp with
A big storyline early in camp was that Adrian Peterson is expected to become a more significant part of the passing game. This has not been one of Peterson’s strengths in the past, but it’s also not been something Vikings playcallers have asked him to do much. Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner may have a different approach in mind, and Peterson seems ready to add a new wrinkle to his game.
From a personnel standpoint as well as a schematic standpoint, it’s hard to keep up with head coach Mike Zimmer on defense. He likes to use different combinations of players, even plugging second and third team players in with starters to give them experience. He also likes to play linebackers as defensive ends, nickel cornerbacks as safeties and drop defensive ends into coverage.
It seemed tight end Kyle Rudolph was poised for a huge 2013 season after he scored nine touchdowns and was Pro Bowl MVP in 2012. But an injury cut short his season last year. That injury has suppressed expectations for Rudolph externally. But internally, Rudolph is looked at as a key cog in the offense. He signed a lucrative contract extension at the beginning of camp and can now put his entire focus into playing within Turner’s offense, which has been very tight end-friendly over the years.
5. Offensive line is building continuity
Turner loves a punishing rushing attack and he loves to throw the ball down the field. In order to both, you must have a solid offensive line. Through 15 practices and one preseason game, the Vikings offensive line continues to build continuity. The projected starters right now are the same as last season’s and the same as the season before that, which means this year’s group should have no problem gelling and playing well together despite learning a new offensive scheme.
6. Zimmer cares about situational football
A point of emphasis in practices so far this year has been executing well in situational football. This goes beyond just having a red zone or 3rd down period. Zimmer puts his team in specific situations that are encountered in games on occasion but are rarely practiced. For instance, the Vikings offense has practiced rushing up to the line of scrimmage to run a play before the opposing team can challenge the previous play. The offense has also practiced milking the play clock to under five seconds before running the next play to help preserve a lead late in the game. They may sound like simple situations, but they are rarely practiced, except in Minnesota.
One of this year’s standouts in camp was Blair Walsh, who rarely missed during practices and was one for two in the first preseason game; the miss was from 53 yards. In the three night practices, Walsh was six for six, eight for eight and eight for eight. He’s been converting tries from 55 and even 60 yards during practice, and he’s been an ace on kickoffs.
8. Special teams gets a veteran hand
About halfway through training camp we learned that veteran special teams coach Joe Marciano would give the Vikings a helping hand throughout camp as well as during the three-game suspension to be served by Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer. Vikings assistant special teams coach Ryan Ficken will have significant influence, as well, but no one can do it alone. Marciano is a 28-year NFL coaching veteran who has spent time with Houston, New Orleans and Tampa Bay.
Yes, Jerick McKinnon is just a rookie and yes he plays the same position as Adrian Peterson, the best running back in the NFL. Even still, McKinnon looks to be a player who will contribute to the Vikings offense immediately. He was billed as a scat-back type who could contribute on 3rd downs as a receiver, and that is true, he can do that. But he has also displayed some inside running ability and the ability to perform on special teams in a variety of capacities. The Vikings found a gem in the 3rd round with McKinnon.
Greg Jennings may not be quite as quick as he once was. Maybe he’s not as fast. But you can’t tell. The veteran receiver is polished, has as good a set of hands as you’ll see in this League, is a GREAT leader, and is always open. What more could you ask for from a veteran receiver who presides over an otherwise very young group of pass catchers? Yes, Jennings still has it, and had one of the best training camps of any Viking. He also made one of the best training camp’s best plays just a few days ago.