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3 Observations: Vikings Emphasize 3rd Downs in 1st Full-Padded Practice

MANKATO, Minn. — The Vikings donned full pads for the first time at training camp, bringing a noticeable buzz to the practice fields in Mankato.

The biggest crowd of camp so far added energy to the approximately 2-hour practice, as Vikings fans clad in Purple cheered every big play or catch.

Minnesota will hold a walk-through Sunday from 10:30-11:30 a.m., followed by practice from 2:45-5:10 p.m.

Here are three observations from Saturday's session:

1. The importance of third downs

A year ago, the Vikings opened the first team drill in full pads with a goal line session.

That wasn't the case Saturday as Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer opted to focus on third-down conversions to begin practice. 

The defense had the early hand as Sam Bradford's deep throw to Stefon Diggs was well-covered by Trae Waynes on third-and-2.

Case Keenum and the second-team offense also tried a deep shot on third-and-4, but Tre Roberson was all over Bishop Sankey. Taylor Heinicke's group also couldn't move the sticks, as his third-and-7 pass to Josiah Price went for only 6 yards before Ben Gedeon was in position for the stop.

Minnesota's offense struck back later in practice in a third-and-1 situation.

Bradford drew in the defense with a fake handoff to Dalvin Cook before hitting Kyle Rudolph for a roughly 40-yard gain in the middle of the field.

"It was a good play call," said Vikings safety Harrison Smith. "But we should still be able to cover everything, no matter what the play call is.

"That was a good one there, we just have to tighten it up a little bit," Smith added.

The Vikings offense tied for 18th in the league in 2016 with a third-down conversion rate of 38.03 percent.

2. Individually intense

The biggest reactions from the capacity crowd came during 1-on-1 drills between wide receivers and defensive backs.

Perhaps the best battle of the day was between Adam Thielen and Mackensie Alexander, with each getting the upper hand at times.

Michael Floyd against Terence Newman was a compelling matchup, while Diggs made a smooth move to elude Waynes.

Roberson had the lone interception of the drill as he stepped in front of Rodney Adams for a pick. RJ Shelton had a nice double move on Jabari Price for a large gain.

3. Red zone repetition

The Vikings offense ranked 28th in red zone percentage last season at 46 percent, while the defense was 15th at 54.55 percent.

Zimmer threw his team into the fire late in practice as the Vikings ran 12 total plays inside the 10-yard line, and each unit won six times.

Rudolph had a pair of touchdown catches from Bradford, and Alexander had strong coverage on Thielen at the goal line.

Nick Truesdell had a sliding scoring grab, Floyd had a touchdown catch and Heinicke ran it in from 2 yards out. Isaac Fruechte caught a touchdown before Antone Exum had nice coverage on Truesdell.

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