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10 Takeaways at Verizon Vikings Training Camp's Midpoint

EAGAN, Minn. — We've reached the halfway point of Verizon Vikings Training Camp.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer's squad has held 10 practices so far, with nine more scheduled before transitioning to a game week structure.

And while there will be plenty of notable moments ahead — including Friday's practice from U.S. Bank Stadium — there have also been players who have stood out over the past two weeks.

Here are 10 takeaways that writers have from training camp so far:

1. Young cornerbacks have shined | By Eric Smith

Minnesota's cornerbacks have just nine combined NFL starts, but the group has seemingly answered early questions about its readiness.

Mike Hughes and Jeff Gladney have spent time both outside and in the slot, while Holton Hill, Cameron Dantzler and Kris Boyd have been lined up on the outside.

Dantzler has splashed early and often in camp, while Hill and Hughes — who account for those nine combined starts — have shown consistency throughout camp.

There's no question that Minnesota's crop of young corners has relied on veteran safeties Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris, but the group has also continued to improve on its own.

And with the second half of camp on the way, Zimmer likes where the Vikings cornerbacks are right now.

"All of our young defensive backs are doing everything we're asking them to do," Zimmer said. "They've been very disciplined in what they're doing and are trying to be as consistent as possible … each and every one of them."

2. Position Battle Continues on Offensive Line | By Craig Peters

The Vikings have focused their attention on one position along the starting offensive line.

After moving Pat Elflein from left guard to right guard and keeping Riley Reiff at LT, Garrett Bradbury at C and Brian O'Neill at RT to open camp, the Vikings have been evaluating options at left guard.

Dakota Dozier, 29, and Aviante Collins, 26, have shared first-team reps, bouncing between the 1s and 3s. Second-round pick Ezra Cleveland, who played left tackle at Boise State, has spent most of his time with the 2s.

Both Dozier, who started games at both guard spots in 2019 and has experience at center, and Collins, who started at left tackle before moving to guard in Week 17, explained their versatility and enthusiasm for the opportunity to pursue a starting gig.

"Being versatile has definitely helped me out throughout my career, but being able to focus on one spot is something that any player wants the opportunity to do," Dozier said. "So I'm super excited to have this opportunity."

Collins said: "It's definitely a lot more pressure. I would say that playing a lot of positions, they know they can count on me doing multiple things. But also now, 'Hey, we want you to focus solely on this one thing.' So you have to kind of go through things with a fine comb and make sure everything is down to the little t and is perfect. So the stakes are definitely a lot higher, and I'm just trying to live up to those things for the coaches."

For more on the guards, check out Eric Smith's recent deeper dive.

3. D-line reboot taking shape | By Lindsey Young

How is the new-look Vikings D-line taking shape?

The unit appears to be getting into a groove after being reshaped this offseason. With the departure of Linval Joseph (Chargers) and Everson Griffen (Cowboys) in free agency, the Vikings are turning to a rotation of younger players up front.

Ifeadi Odenigbo, who impressed last season with 7.0 sacks, has stepped in respectably for Griffen. Danielle Hunter has missed practice time due to a "tweak" as described by Zimmer, so coaches have also gotten a look at Jalyn Holmes, whom they moved from defensive tackle to defensive end for the 2020 campaign.

On the interior of the line, Shamar Stephen slid from 3-technique to replace Joseph at nose tackle and is doing underappreciated work, and 2017 fourth-round pick Jaleel Johnson has been practicing with the first group at 3-tech.

The Vikings are using variety at defensive tackle and have an interesting pair of veterans — Anthony Zettel and Eddie Yarbrough — and rookies — D.J. Wonnum and Kenny Willekes — that are getting looks on the edge.

4. Importance of game-like situations | By Eric Smith

Zimmer has incorporated game-like situations into training camp practices in recent years, but those drills are as important as ever with no preseason games in 2020.

Minnesota simulated the final 10 minutes of a fourth quarter Sunday and played an entire quarter Tuesday, giving veterans, young players and coaches more exposure to game-like situations.

There's been some give-and-take in those sessions — scoring drives led by Kirk Cousins mixed with forced three-and-outs by the first-team defense — but all of those plays have been valuable.

So, too, have smaller game-like situations, whether it's a 2-minute drill or a last-second pass breakup in the end zone by safety Anthony Harris.

The Vikings will likely continue those sequences — Zimmer noted they will implement them in Friday's practice at U.S. Bank Stadium — all with the hope of determining the best 53-man roster before the Sept. 13 season opener against the Packers.

5. Running backs are Cookin' | By Lindsey Young

The Vikings returned their core group of running backs from 2019, and they've impressed throughout training camp.

Since taking on an increased work load beginning in the team's second practice in full pads, Dalvin Cook has been movin' and groovin' per usual, finding holes to slip through during team drills and catching passes from Kirk Cousins. Cook's energy on the gridiron never ceases, and it's clearly contagious for his teammates, as well.

Alexander Mattison garnered attention during his rookie campaign, and he's back in Year 2 having taken another step forward. Don't be surprised if you see him set a block on one play and dodge – or hurdle – a defender with the ball in his arms on the very next snap.

Add Ameer Abdullah and Mike Boone to the mix, and you've got a running backs group that isn't short on talent.

Oh, and don't forget about fullback C.J. "The Hammer" Ham, who's shown the ability to play multiple roles in Kubiak's offense.

6. Cousins, Thielen & Rudolph Keep Connecting | By Craig Peters

Cousins consistently has had sharp moments, positively responding to the relative continuity the Vikings managed to maintain despite having a third offensive coordinator in as many seasons with Minnesota.

He has placed passes through tight windows and shown the well-established faith he has in Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph, who have looked smooth during their routes.

Thielen appears on track to start 2020 the way he did 2019 (26 catches, 366 yards and five scores through six games sure was nice in simpler times) before an injury in Week 7.

Rudolph is so dialed in that he even executed this "no-look pass" after catching a touchdown:

7. Jefferson is as Advertised | By Craig Peters

The practice tape is brief, but Justin Jefferson's is matching the highlight reel he created last season at LSU.

Jefferson has looked ahead of his years with his comfortability when lining up at multiple spots, fluid after the snap and even better at the point of the catch. Add that combination, and it's easy to see why the Vikings were excited that No. 18 fell to them at No. 22.

8. Irv Smith impressing in 2*nd* training camp | By Lindsey Young

It's not uncommon for young players to take a significant step forward from Year 1 to Year 2, and that seems to be true of Irv Smith, Jr.

Midway through his second training camp in Minnesota, Smith has looked good overall, showing his athleticism throughout practice and coming up with some impressive catches.

He spoke earlier this month about everything he’s learned of the Vikings playbook since coming in as a rookie last year, and he's demonstrated that knowledge during team drills.

Smith has given media a first-hand look at the ways in which Kubiak likely will continue to implement two- or three-tight-end sets, and it's not uncommon to see him on the field with Rudolph, the 10-year vet.

"Irv wants to be great. That's all you can ask for as a coach for a player," Kubiak said. "His knowledge of running routes and doing things continues to grow."

9. Eric Wilson all over the field (in a good way) | By Lindsey Young

Linebacker Eric Wilson has earned a larger role for the Vikings every season since signing with Minnesota in 2017 as an undrafted free agent.

This season looks to be no different.

Wilson has consistently shown his versatility both on special teams and defense, and the high-energy 25-year-old seems to show up all over the field. He particularly stood out in a Friday practice*,* forcing an incompletion in the red zone on a throw to Brandon Dillon and later stopping Mattison at the line of scrimmage.

Veteran linebacker Anthony Barr complimented his teammate's versatility and football I.Q.

"He understands all three linebacker positions very well, [and] he has the physical tools to perform at any of those three jobs," Barr said. "He's very invaluable for us with what he does. He's extremely important, and it doesn't go unnoticed."

10. Dan Bailey is locked in | By Eric Smith

Bailey was perhaps the league's most consistent kicker at the end of the 2019 season, as he made his final 19 field goal attempts in regular-season play.

The veteran kicker then added three more field goals in the postseason, which brought his streak to 22.

Bailey has continued that hot streak in training camp, making his first 13 kicks in team periods. Those successful distances have ranged from 21 yards, to the 33-yard distance for a PAT, and even a 53-yard blast on Sunday.

Bailey is part of a kicking operation that includes holder Britton Colquitt and long snapper Austin Cutting, a group that worked together for all 16 regular-season games in 2019.

So far, that group has been cruising along in camp.