Those who’ve come to 2014 Verizon Vikings Training Camp with pen and paper in an attempt to chart out the reps each player has taken on defense and then put together a mock depth chart will soon run out of ink and paper.
Head coach Mike Zimmer and his defensive staff continue to mix it up at training camp, trying different combinations in different situations all in the name of building a depth chart that will produce results, benefit from versatility and survive injuries. On Wednesday, the defense jumped up significantly and seemed to have the upper hand much of the way. The Vikings offense has had a great camp, running the ball well all five days and dominating the goal line period of Monday night’s practice. But the defense was equally as impressive on Wednesday as the Vikings worked for two hours in front of a packed house and under mostly sunny skies and warm temperatures.
Here are a few highlights from Practice No. 5…
Looking for a ball hawk at safety?
At the risk over authoring a wide-sweeping conclusion based on five practices worth of observations, it’s fair to wonder after Wednesday’s practice if the defensive staff is looking for a ball hawk to pair with Harrison Smith at safety. Reason being is that with Robert Blanton sidelined with an injury (hamstring, according to Zimmer), the Vikings inserted Mistral Raymond into the lineup with the starting group while Jamarca Sanford ran with the second team. Sanford was last year’s starter, but can be fairly characterized as being more of a “bring the hammer versus the run” safety than one who thrives in coverage.
In an ideal world, the starting safeties would be truly interchangeable – both adept at bringing the hammer in the run game, covering in the pass game, and blitzing on occasion; Smith possesses this skill set. Often times, though, teams go the route of finding one safety with this all-around ability and another who specializes in one of the areas.
Are the Vikings thinking Blanton or Raymond can be the ball hawk to pair with Smith? Or was Raymond’s time with the first time just the start of a longer experiment with Blanton sidelined in which Sanford and other safeties will see their time with the first team, too? Only time will tell.
Lots of combinations
To further illustrate how much the Vikings are mixing things up on defense, consider this: rookies Antone Exum, Jabari Price and Brandon Watts plus veterans Marcus Sherels and Kurt Coleman were all running with the first team at one point. About three-quarters of the way through practice, six different linebackers had run with the first team in either the base defense or sub packages. Yes, it makes it hard to chart which players are impressing coaches, but that is far less important than creating a depth chart that can withstand the adversity a 16-game NFL schedule is sure to provide.
Bridgewater takes snaps with the first team offense
In a move the ball period midway through practice, rookie Teddy Bridgewater stepped in with the first team offense. But Brian Robison and the rest of the first team defense didn’t allow much moving of the ball. In a day that was filled with good defensive performances, this was perhaps the most impressive moment.
On the first snap, Bridgewater dropped back and was perfectly protected. He stepped up into a clean pocket and delivered an accurate touch pass down the right sideline to Kyle Rudolph. The pass was caught by Rudolph, but Coleman came in at the last moment and knocked the ball from Rudolph’s hands for the pass breakup (PBU). The next three snaps of the period went like this: Robison sack, Robison/Smith stay home to stop end-around, Robison tackle for loss on Adrian Peterson run wide right.
McKinnon flashes again
It wasn’t all defense, all the time on Wednesday. Chalk it up as another good day for rookie running back Jerick McKinnon. He caught the ball well out of the backfield, particularly in the blitz period, and also flashed once again on some inside runs. One of the better moments came during a team period when rookie guard David Yankey pulled from his left guard position and teamed with fullback Zach Line to open a lane. McKinnon started wide right, stuck his foot in the ground and cut through the lane for a large gain.