The Vikings opened their mandatory three-day minicamp on Tuesday at Winter Park, holding walk-thru in the morning and a practice in the afternoon. The team worked in near-ideal conditions during the morning and training camp-like conditions in the afternoon, a good prelude to what life in Mankato will hold for this year’s 2014 Vikings team during the lead-up to the preseason.
A lot happened during the afternoon practice…here are a few notes to recap the action.
A good day for the QBs
It was hot and sticky at Winter Park on Tuesday, but the quarterbacks opened the minicamp with a cool and crisp performance. All three passers performed well, displaying accuracy with their ball placement and rarely making the lethal mistake; I didn’t see one interception on the afternoon.
Matt Cassel was solid on the day, Teddy Bridgewater dazzled at times with throws from the pocket to outside of the numbers, and Christian Ponder provided perhaps the most impressive series of throws. The Ponder series came during a 7-on-7 drills and occurred on consecutive throws, as he hit tight end Chase Ford on an out-and-up route, receiver Kamar Jorden across the field and outside the numbers and then to receiver Adam Thielen on a comeback route along the right sideline.
Cassel’s best throw came earlier in practice when he piped one into Cordarrelle Patterson on a crossing pattern. The throw was perfectly-placed and allowed an outstretched Patterson to haul in the reception despite blanket coverage from Xavier Rhodes.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of charting which players are running with the first team, which players are running with the second team, and so on. But at this time of year that may be an elementary process because coaches are more concerned with experimenting than they are with filling out depth charts. That time will come, but for now it’s about working different combinations to test players and see what they can offer. For example, I noticed one defensive snap where most of the back seven was first team players but the coaches decided to plug defensive tackle Kheeston Randle and defensive ends Spencer Nealy and Justin Trattou into the mix. Perhaps those guys will turn into regular contributors, but that’s not the point. The point is this is the time of year when coaches play with combinations, and the aforementioned snap is just one of many examples.
Barr works briefly with the first team
Anthony Barr returned to Winter Park for the first time since rookie minicamp back in May. With Pac-12 schools on the quarters system and their graduation dates later than is typical, players from those schools haven’t been able to participate in offseason programs until now. It’s fair to expect Barr to work with the second and third team defense as coaches slowly work him into form, but there were some first-team snaps for Barr on Tuesday.
Punt return rotation
Marcus Sherels was second in the NFL with a punt return average of 15.2 in 2013. While he is certainly the favorite to land that role for the Vikings in 2014, he obviously won’t take all of the reps at punt return. Sharing those reps with him on Tuesday were receivers Josh Cooper, Kain Coulter, Thielen and Jarius Wright.
A few other notables…
-- One of the better defensive plays of the day was registered by rookie cornerback Jabari Price during one-on-one drills. Bridgewater lofted a pass deep down the middle of the field to Cooper, who had gotten over the top of the defense. Price used recovery speed, though, and caught up to the play in time to bat the pass down and cause an incompletion.
-- Jerick McKinnon looks fast and fluid on kickoff return. Obviously Patterson is as good as it gets at that role and I do expect he’ll be the Vikings primary returner in 2014, but it doesn’t hurt to have another capable returner in the fold and McKinnon certainly has the speed and hands to provide that for the Vikings.
-- You can’t help but be impressed by Everson Griffen’s explosion as he rushes off the right edge of the Vikings defense. If he can establish a pass-rushing presence early in a practice or a game by using outside rush moves, he will have an opportunity to throw left tackles into a tizzy by developing good counter moves to the inside to keep them off-balance and guessing.