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5 Observations: Cook, Kendricks Lead Way for Vikings in Broncos Joint Practice

EAGAN, Minn. — That's a wrap on joint practices with the Broncos and on U.S. Bank Vikings Training camp as a whole.

Minnesota has completed nearly three weeks of practice and will now turn its attention to its first of three preseason games before returning to practice next week.

Week 1 of the regular season, when the Vikings will face the Bengals in Cincinnati, is one month from today.

Christian Darrisaw was not at practice at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center. Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer confirmed after practice that Darrisaw underwent a small procedure Thursday and that it was a frustrating situation.

Justin Jefferson, Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr, Mackensie Alexander, Riley Patterson and Nate Stanley were in attendance but not in pads. Dede Westbrook did not participate in full-team drills, and Rashod Hill was slow to get up midway through practice and did not partake in drills the rest of the way.

View photos of Vikings players at the second joint training camp practice with the Broncos on August 12 at the TCO Performance Center.

Here are five observations from Thursday's joint session presented by Minnesota Eye Consultants, the Proud Ophthalmology Partner of the Minnesota Vikings:

1. Cook, ground game run past Broncos

It's no secret the Vikings prefer to run the ball, and that's exactly what they did Thursday against the Broncos.

And it was Dalvin Cook who led the way, as the Pro Bowler broke off a pair of long runs that got the crowd going in Eagan. Cook also caught a screen pass that would have gained at least 20 yards against a surprised Denver defense.

Alexander Mattison and Kene Nwangwu also showcased sizable runs that likely would have gone for first downs in an actual game.

The success on the ground came as the Vikings offense and Broncos defenses engaged in plenty of heated competition, especially in the trenches.

There were plenty of post-play conversations and even a few minor scrums as players from both sides seemed to embrace the chippiness that came with the second day of joint practices.

2. Kendricks flashes in the red zone; Dye makes plays

Eric Kendricks was an All-Pro in 2019 and was likely on the same path in 2020 before an injury forced him to miss the final five games of last season.

But the linebacker showed Thursday, as he has for most of camp, that he's in midseason form already.

One of the league's top all-around linebackers, Kendricks flashed his coverage skills in the red zone during 7-on-7 drills Thursday.

He snagged an interception in the red zone and followed that up with a pass deflection on the next play.

Troy Dye also turned in multiple nice plays, recording what would have been a sack during a blitz up the middle during a team period, breaking up a pass in 7-on-7 and disrupting a throw on a post route.

3. Browning leads successful 2-minute drill; Defense makes stand

Jake Browning put together a second strong day in a row, as he also impressed coaches and teammates alike in camp.

The Vikings backup quarterback led a successful 2-minute drill at the end of practice, showing great leadership and poise to orchestrate the drive.

Browning and the offense trailed 30-24 with 90 seconds left and had the ball on their own 25-yard line in the game situation.

He hit Ihmir Smith-Marsette for nine yards to open the drive before the Broncos jumped offsides. Dan Chisena then moved the chains again with a 23-yard catch down the sideline where Browning showed great touch on his pass.

Smith-Marsette then gained 9 yards again before a 10-yard catch from Brandon Dillon in traffic brought the ball to the 19-yard line.

The Vikings stalled a bit and eventually faced fourth-and-11 at the Denver 20 when Browning delivered in the clutch.

He stood tall in the pocket and fired a strike to Smith-Marsette for a 20-yard score that sent the Vikings offense into a frenzy. The ensuing extra point (if successful), would have given the Vikings a 31-30 lead with under 30 seconds left.

The Vikings defense also held against Denver's first-team offense in the identical situation. Kris Boyd, while running with the first group at right corner, provided coverage on two incompletions, and the Broncos never crossed midfield.

4. Thielen thrives in the end zone

Adam Thielen was a popular target of Kirk Cousins over the past two days, especially with Jefferson still out with an injury.

Thielen caught multiple passes from Cousins Thursday, and that included a score in the end zone in 7-on-7 drills.

Thielen had 14 touchdown catches in 2020, which tied for the third-most in a single-season in franchise history.

5. Nwangwu, Osborn shine as returners

Minnesota and Denver opened and closed practice by working on kickoffs.

The Broncos kicked off to start the session, which gave a handful of Vikings returners a chance to show their skills in that position battle.

Ameer Abdullah was up first and had a decent return, but Nwangwu followed up with a large gain with an impressive cutback up the middle.

K.J. Osborn was up next and also produced a lengthy return down the left sideline that likely would have reached near midfield.

Smith-Marsette didn't do much on his return, but Nwangwu and Abdullah followed with back-to-back good returns that likely would have reached at least the 35-yard line. Osborn's final attempt was bottled up by the Broncos.

Abdullah and Nwangwu were listed as the top two options, in that order, in the Vikings first unofficial depth chart.