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The Vikings returned to the practice field on Tuesday and held their 4th of 10 Organized Team Activities (OTAs), moving the workout to the indoor field house to escape the rainy conditions outside. Leslie Frazier’s club followed up a solid first week of OTAs with a high-energy session to kickoff the second week.
Observations from these practices should be taken with a grain of salt because there are restrictions set forth by the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that limit much of what is accomplished in a typical training camp or regular season practice, and the Vikings abide by those restrictions.
In 2012 the Vikings drafted two safeties from Notre Dame – Robert Blanton and Harrison Smith – and also signed a free agent – John Carlson – who played his college football in South Bend. With former Golden Domers Kyle Rudolph and John Sullivan already on the team, the collection of former Notre Dame players on the Vikings roster led to some nicknaming the Vikings “Notre Dame North.”
But if you examine the roster now, you’ll notice that another traditional football powerhouse has taken over for Notre Dame as the most prolific producer of current Vikings – Florida State. There are 6 former Seminoles on the Vikings roster right now, including two who were selected by the team in the 2013 NFL Draft – 1st-round CB Xavier Rhodes and 7th-round DT Everett Dawkins.
Those 6 former Seminoles are the focus of today’s post-practice write-up…
QB Christian Ponder: We saw a couple different versions of Ponder in 2012 – the QB who led the Vikings to an 8-1 record in the first 5 games and last 4 games of the season, and then the QB who went through ups and downs during a 2-5 mid-season stretch. There’s no question which version the Vikings are seeing now – the 8-1 version. Ponder looks confident, plays fast and is throwing accurately and on time.
Ponder completed his first 4 passes of the 7-on-7 period and the completions went to 4 different receivers – Greg Jennings, Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson and then Jarius Wright. He looks like a QB who knows where the bones are buried in the offense. Two of his most impressive throws came to Wright – one on an out route that was thrown just wide enough to avoid the out-stretched arms of CB Xavier Rhodes and another on a short crossing route that led Wright perfectly so he was able to out-angle Rhodes and convert a 3rd-and-6.
CB Xavier Rhodes: Ponder-to-Wright connections were about the only thing that could top Rhodes’ effort on Tuesday. The 1st-round CB has impressed to this point with his coverage ability and recovery speed. On one play while covering the speedy Jerome Simpson, Rhodes ran with Simpson down the field but read the play perfectly and was able to stop on a dime before pursuing a completion to RB Toby Gerhart in the right flat. He was one of several defenders who were there to bottle up Gerhart after just a short gain.
But a more impressive play on Tuesday actually came in run support, as Rhodes displayed sound fundamentals that paid off. He stayed home on a running to play to the opposite side of the field and the CB’s discipline paid off because the RB made a sharp cutback to Rhodes’ side and wasn’t able to gain extra yardage.
Rodney Smith: With a depth chart that currently goes 12 deep, it’s not going to be easy for individuals within the WR group to standout. Smith, who joined the Vikings as an undrafted free agent following this year’s draft, didn’t stand out on Tuesday but he’s firmly entrenched in what should be an entertaining-but-tough competition for roster spots this offseason and training camp. Smith’s combination of size (6-5, 220 pounds) and athleticism are intriguing, and if he establishes himself as a reliable receiver with a knack for making the splashy catch every now and then, he could create some tough decisions for the Vikings coaching and scouting staff come the end of training camp.
Everett Dawkins – Letroy Guion – Anthony McCloud: So much of what’s done in the trenches on a game day cannot be practiced and is not practiced by the Vikings during OTAs, so any evaluation on these 3 DL (as well as the rest of the DL group and the OL group) will be incomplete until players are allowed to put the pads on during training camp.
A few non-Florida State notes from Tuesday's practice...
Catch Of The Day I
During a team period, TE John Carlson angled toward the sideline and reached high above his head to corral a pass from QB Matt Cassel. After securing the catch, Carlson tip-toed in bounds to complete the play.
Catch Of The Day II
Having the hot hand all day, Ponder rifled a pass down the middle of the field and WR Stephen Burton burst out of nowhere to pluck the ball from thin air and then come down, keep his balance, and finish the play by sprinting across the field toward the left sideline before turning upfield and heading to the end zone.
TE Chase Ford flashed quite a bit on Tuesday in the passing game. Ford, a product of the Miami Hurricanes, spent last season on the practice squad and will be interesting to watch during the rest of the offseason program and during training camp.