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8 Observations from Vikings Saturday Night Practice

MANKATO, Minn. — Chad Greenway rested on the 10, but only for a moment.

The Vikings linebacker, who is preparing for his 11th season in Minnesota, joined his wife, Jenni, and their three daughters on the field at Blakeslee Stadium Saturday night for a post-practice fireworks show.

Moments before, he had his hands full. Greenway was rotating through a pair of human JUGS machines. His oldest two daughters kept firing footballs his direction. He'd unload one, then catch another. All that was missing was the springing sound effect.

Eventually Audie Cole helped throw and catch. A few yards over, Kyle Rudolph and his wife, Jordyn, who is expecting twins, raced the third Greenway daughter, who had short but quick steps.

The entire Vikings roster was introduced to a roaring crowd of 10,123 boisterous fans, who saved the largest cheer for Adrian Peterson at the end as he was joined by his family and several guests from his hometown.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer thanked the Purple faithful he called the "greatest, most passionate and most knowledgeable fans in the world."

"This team is excited to get to U.S. Bank Stadium and defend the NFC North crown," Zimmer said to large cheers. "And we're prepared to go a lot further."

Players said they enjoyed the atmosphere under the lights after more than a week of morning walk-throughs, afternoon practices and dozens of meetings. It means they are one step closer to what they're working for.

"It's a good turnout and it was fun to be out here," left tackle Matt Kalil said. "Everyone's working a little harder when you get a little crowd (and) a little change of environment. It was a breath of fresh air."

Blair Walsh added, "You get out here and fans are cheering the whole time and it kind of feels like a game."

Adam Thielen, who played for Minnesota State University, Mankato said it reminded him of homecoming games.

"It's fun to have this atmosphere again," Thielen said.

On to the observations from our team:

Nickel rush is a rush

Offenses never like being in third-and-long, but it's looking like it will be particularly dreadful against the Vikings. The main reason for this is what's shaping up to be an explosive, versatile and deep rush package.

On Saturday night, it was Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Tom Johnson and Brian Robison who came at the quarterback in a flurry, with Robison sliding inside to a defensive tackle spot and Hunter stepping in to the defensive end spot opposite Griffen. That's impressive in its own right, but that doesn't include Sharrif Floyd, who was held out of practice, and all the tricks Zimmer has up his sleeve with S Harrison Smith and LBs Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks.

Zimmer and his defensive staff can mix and match personnel, scheme and alignment with this group of players and that has a chance to help the defense accomplish one of its goals in 2016 – increase the takeaway total from last season.

Berger, Kerin step up with Fusco out

Zimmer said earlier in the day that RG Brandon Fusco was likely to be held out of the evening practice. He was in fact a non-participant, which opened up a spot on the first-team offensive line for Joe Berger. Throughout camp, Berger and John Sullivan have been rotating with the first team at center, but the absence of Fusco caused the Vikings to include both among the first five.

The elevation of Berger to the first team at RG had a trickle-down effect on the second team. Nick Easton took reps at center, Zac Kerin was at LG and rookie Willie Beavers was at RG.

It's unknown how long Fusco will be out, but after Saturday evening's scrimmage it appears that (for now) Berger remains the top reserve along the interior offensive line and it also shines a light on both Kerin and Beavers on the second team.

Treadwell moves chains under bright lights

Laquon Treadwell saw plenty of action in his training camp debut under the bright lights.

The first-round pick mixed in with the first and second-team offenses, but seemed to especially find a strong connection with Bridgewater during team drills.

With the Vikings lined up at their own 29-yard line, Treadwell battled starting cornerback Xavier Rhodes near the sideline to pick up 13 yards and a first down.

The 21-year-old did it again on the next play, maneuvering past cornerback Jabari Price for a healthy 20-yard gain.

Treadwell said that's a glimpse of the chemistry he's been developing with Bridgewater.

"We're still building it and it will only get better," said Treadwell, who added the environment felt like a game but without full contact.

The chain-moving plays made an impression on Bridgewater.

"It's great to see [Laquon] come out here on a stage like this," Bridgewater said. "He mentioned on the sideline, 'Man, it feels real now.' That's what you like to hear from a guy like Treadwell.

"He works extremely hard, he's a confident guy. He knows and feels like he belongs here," he added. "He feels that he's just going to go out every day and show why he's here. To have a guy like him in our room, he's been working extremely hard, he's one of the last guys to leave the field."

Walsh has strong night in front of big crowd

Vikings kicker Blair Walsh had a strong night in front of the big crowd as he made a PAT try and six of seven field goal attempts.

Walsh hit his PAT try before nailing five straight between 37 and 47 yards — with plenty of room to spare. His 49-yard try was wide left, but he responded right away with a successful 51-yard kick.

"Any time you go out here and put a nice performance together, it helps," Walsh said. "I thought everyone practiced pretty well, too.

"I'm confident and feel good," Walsh added. "I'm ready to go."

Walsh received a large cheer when he took the field at the start of practice and again when he the entire team was introduced at the session's conclusion.

Diggs going deep

Stefon Diggs took the field for his second go-around of an under-the-lights practice. Similar to his rookie season, the receiver engaged fans with a handful of nice plays.

Diggs was the target for Teddy Bridgewater's first deep ball of the night, and he executed. Diggs made an impressive catch against safety Jayon Kearse for a 40-yard touchdown play. The crowd's energy fed into Diggs, who made a few more catches throughout the evening, including a smooth grab over the middle and quickly turned up field during drills.

"[Stefon's] a guy who understands what we want him to do," Bridgewater said after practice. "I try to get him to think like a quarterback, and he wants that challenge. He's doing a great job of just understanding what we're asking of him, and he's flying around making plays for us."

Mr. Mankato strikes again

Minnesota native Adam Thielen continues to be the hometown hero, and it seems he's turning more heads each season.

"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," Bridgewater said. "He's a detailed guy, well-assigned, and he's been a reliable guy in this offense."

Thielen received a solid number of first-team reps during Saturday's practice. He made the practice highlight reel when Bridgewater threw a tight spiral right where it needed to be. Thielen made the diving catch and maintained possession while sliding out of bounds at the 15-yard-line for about a 50-yard gain.

Life of a corner

Xavier Rhodes lived the life of an NFL cornerback Saturday night. Receivers won some battles against the fourth-year pro, but he came through during a pressure-packed situation and nearly logged two interceptions within a five-play span.

During a two-minute drill, one play after Bridgewater converted a fourth-and-8 with a 21-yard pass to Charles Johnson, the QB tried to connect with Johnson on a 27-yard touchdown pass, but Rhodes won the battle and secured it.

The drive with the first teams was extended by the coaching staff, and Rhodes skied into the air for a ball intended for Rudolph, but officials ruled the corner landed out of bounds in the end zone.

Peterson accelerating again

The fully padded practice was not a tackling exercise, but it did have a few moments of physicality. It's tough to assess the running game completely, but Peterson showed bursts of explosiveness that should extend fireworks into his 10th pro season.

Some have pondered whether he can win a fourth rushing title. If he does, he'll surpass Curtis Martin as the oldest player to do so.

The Vikings have understandably played it safe with the 31-year-old Peterson this camp, but he's starting to show he still has the juice to get loose. He's entering the season with 11,675 rushing yards, which is 17th all-time.

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