The Vikings finished off 2016 Verizon Vikings Training Camp on Tuesday, then quickly pivoted for a pair of practices against the Bengals in Cincinnati where both teams will open their preseason slate on Friday.
The team opened camp with General Manager Rick Spielman announcing the Vikings had extended Mike Zimmer's contract prior to his third season with the club. Zimmer and fans, who showed up by the droves, have in mind to defend Minnesota's NFC North title and more in the future.
Here are 16 takeaways (four apiece from the Vikings.com crew) from training camp:
Brian Robison's expanding role/nickel rush
Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks? About to enter his 10th season, Brian Robison has seen a lot during his Vikings tenure, and now, Head Coach Mike Zimmer and Defensive Coordinator George Edwards are showing (and teaching) him even more. The defensive staff is getting creative with how they use Robison, particularly in sub packages. The bigger picture is that the Vikings have a deep and talented crop of rushers to send after quarterbacks this year. At any time, the Vikings can line up a four-man combination of Sharrif Floyd, Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Tom Johnson and Robison to pace the pass rush. And that doesn't include Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith, who also could crowd the line of scrimmage with the down linemen to add pressure.
Brandon Fusco regaining confidence
Offensive linemen often lead football lives of anonymity. But it didn't take long to notice Brandon Fusco at 2016 Verizon Vikings Training Camp. He's been shifted back to his original position of right guard after spending last season at left guard. Fusco, who has caught some praise from his coaches during the early part of August, looks comfortable and confident back on the right side, and he's adding some competitiveness and intensity to boot.
Greenway still doing things the right way
Chad Greenway will go down as one of those players who personifies what it means to be a Viking. He was in Mankato for his 11th training camp this year, and it's quite apparent he isn't on any sort of sentimental scholarship. Greenway lined up with the first-team base defense and also worked in some sub packages. While his exact role and playing time is likely a fluid situation, what remains constant is his leadership and tone-setting mentality for the linebackers and for the entire defense.
Adrian Peterson is still Adrian Peterson
Age is only a number, and Father Time doesn't have Adrian Peterson's yet. Yes, Father Time is undefeated, but it seems like it has a long way to go in the battle against Peterson. The Vikings all-time leading rusher displayed no signs of slowing down at his 10th training camp, even after a season in which he led the NFL in rushing and had the third-most attempts of his career. Peterson looked fresh, moved fast, cut sharply and was a bear to thud. He looks primed for another big-time season in 2016.
By Eric Smith
Treadwell's work ethic
Laquon Treadwell's work ethic was a key reason the Vikings selected him with the 23rd pick of the 2016 NFL Draft. But the rookie wide receiver really showed his commitment to getting better while in Mankato, as evident by his daily routine of catching hundreds of passes from a JUGS machine after each practice. Treadwell said he still has some work to do in terms of learning the offense and adjusting to the pro level, but it's clear he's giving the Vikings all he has.
Strong camp for Walsh
Perhaps no other player had as many eyes on him during camp as Blair Walsh after the way the 2015 season ended. Minnesota's kicker had a stellar camp, however, nailing 22 of 24 kicks during team periods in Mankato to show his steely resolve. A handful of those were PAT attempts from a distance of 33 yards, while the rest were field goals as up to 50 yards, including a 51-yarder to finish his session at the night practice.
Upping the ante
Moments after the Vikings capacity-crowd Saturday night practice, Head Coach Mike Zimmer told more than 10,000 fans that his team is prepared to defend their NFC North crown … and go even further. Vikings players echoed Zimmer's confidence in his team throughout camp as they said they have their sights set on improving last season's 11-5 record and advancing deep in the postseason.
Trae Waynes steadily improved during his rookie season, even grabbing a crucial interception against Seattle in the playoffs. Fast forward a year, and the 2015 first-round pick was one of the standout players of camp. He seemed to make at least one big play each day. With all 11 defensive starters returning from last season, the Vikings defense will only get stronger if Waynes continues this progression.
Boone bringing attitude to O-line
Head Coach Mike Zimmer wanted to increase the intensity level of the Vikings offensive line, and Alex Boone has done that. Since arriving in Minnesota, and bringing his larger-than-life personality with him, Boone has made a positive impact on the position group and is well-respected in the locker room.
"He's been vocal in a good way," Zimmer said of Boone. "He has kind of changed the mentality of the offensive line room, him and [offensive line coach Tony] Sparano, and that's a good thing. That's part of the reason why we did what we did this offseason."
Following the Vikings final practice in Mankato, wide receiver Charles Johnson said he would give "the Mankato game ball" to either Brandon Fusco or Boone for their grind on the line day-in and day-out.
Depth on the D-line
The majority of 2015 Vikings roster is returning for the upcoming season, including Minnesota's starting four defensive linemen. Everson Griffen, Sharrif Floyd, Linval Joseph and Brian Robison continued to play well during camp, the third since Joseph was signed as a free agent.
Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson is leading a deep position group. Danielle Hunter, Shamar Stephen and Tom Johnson also received plenty of looks throughout their time in Mankato and will prove strong rotation and sub-package options. Defensive Coordinator George Edwards said Stephen is a reliable asset at either the 3-technique or the nose tackle, and Patterson said Johnson has honed his skills and become more of a technician.
"Whoever is hot at the end of the game, that's who I'm rolling with," Patterson said during camp. "The most important thing is to worry about doing your job when you get out there. If you're playing well, the four guys that are playing the best at the end of the game are the guys that I'm going to have out there."
Jerick looking good
Running back Jerick McKinnon entered training camp with extra weight – 11 pounds, to be exact – but the same level of athleticism. "The Jet" looked as fast as ever starting out camp, and when he was sidelined for a few days after tweaking his lower back, he was antsy to return to the field. When he did, he hadn't lost a step. McKinnon fed off crowd noise during Saturday night's practice, and he broke through the defense for a couple of good runs under the lights.
"It feels good," McKinnon said. "Getting used to getting hit, bouncing off of tackle and stuff like that. I think the 11-on-11 reps [are really] good for me, and I look forward to it in the joint practices in Cincinnati."
Both Zimmer and running backs coach Kevin Stefanski said McKinnon has continued to do well heading into his third season.
"He works [really] hard, smart, doesn't hardly ever make mistakes," Zimmer said. "He's a threat out of the backfield but also as a runner."
Thielen keeps getting better
Every year Adam Thielen takes the field at Minnesota State University, Mankato he appears to have become a better player. And that dates all the way back to college, when Thielen suited up in Mavericks purple rather than Vikings purple.
With a fourth training camp in the books, Thielen continues to leave an impression with fans, coaches and teammates alike.
"The Mankato Legend, Adam. He's a guy who comes to work every day. He has a high motor, he plays with a chip on his shoulder," Teddy Bridgewater said following Saturday's practice. "He's a detailed guy, well-assigned, and he's been a reliable guy in this offense."
Thielen, who received both first- and second-team reps during training camp, made a number of flashy grabs, including 40-plus-yard plays on Saturday night and in Tuesday's final practice.
By Craig Peters
Teddy and the deep ball
Encouraged to "cut it loose" a little more by his head coach, Teddy Bridgewater spent a good part of his offseason working on his deep ball, and the Vikings frequently threw the ball down the field during camp.
Bridgewater played effective and efficient football for a team that ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing and fifth in the league in points allowed. It was a winning formula in 2015, and the combination of running the ball, controlling the clock and keeping defenders fresh is fairly time-tested, but if camp is an indication, the Vikings may take a few more calculated chances.
The third-year pro frequently tried to take advantage of "free plays," throwing deep after first drawing defenders offsides with a hard count. If a flag is thrown by officials against the defense, be on the lookout for Bridgewater to take a shot.
Diggs' double moves are double-g great
A frequent target for Bridgewater this summer has been Stefon Diggs, a fifth-round pick in 2015 who spent a good bit of last year's camp with the second team. Diggs made a dynamic debut in Denver in Week 4 and finished his first campaign with team highs of 52 receptions and 720 yards.
Diggs said he wants more from himself and looks positioned to achieve it. He lined up at multiple spots during camp and again showed great ability to create separation with speed and agility, as well as a knack for setting up double moves, forcing a defender to commit to one direction, then going the other, drawing gasps and "Whoas" from Vikings fans.
The added time together, including throwing sessions in Florida that were organized by Bridgewater for several teammates, should enhance the passer-to-receiver connection, as seen in a one-handed catch Diggs made in the end zone on a corner route.
Everson's expanding threat, battles with Kalil
Everson Griffen carded his first Pro Bowl after the 2015 season in which he led the Vikings with 10.5 sacks after posting a career-high 12 in 2014 when he first became a starter. Griffen appears not only to have picked up where he left off as NFC Defensive Player of the Week in Week 17, he's also better at maximizing his talents and mixing a blend of speed, power and spin moves.
The continued development by Griffen helps left tackle Matt Kalil go against great competition. Zimmer said Kalil, who has started all 64 regular-season games he's played in four seasons, improved this camp. He's healthy and has been working hard for offensive line coach Tony Sparano. The phrase "iron sharpens iron" is on one of the Vikings workout shirts for a reason.
Game action could help determine position battles
Although training camp was enlightening in more than the ways above, there are still a couple of questions that remain, particularly in a couple of spots in the starting lineup.
John Sullivan and Joe Berger are competing at center. Sullivan is back in action after two back surgeries for an injury that caused him to miss all of 2015, when Berger started all 16 games and played well.
The Vikings also are taking a look at the safety position opposite Harrison Smith. Minnesota re-signed Andrew Sendejo, who started all 13 games he played last season, and brought in veteran Michael Griffin during free agency and drafted Jayron Kearse. The Vikings also have returned Antone Exum, Jr. and Anthony Harris. Zimmer said he wants part of the evaluation to include what he sees from the players in preseason games.