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Monday Morning Mailbag: Early Camp Standouts & Davis' Position Flexibility

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I agree with Coach Zimmer, I am angry at people that won't get vaccinated. This is NOT a political statement, it is a medical concern. Football is a team sport and I agree with Coach, unvaccinated players are not being team players. They are letting us all down. Can't the Vikings require their players like other employers to be vaccinated? They should for their health and ours.

— Jerry Carrier in Lakeville

This obviously the A topic surrounding the Vikings at the moment, as the team released a statement Saturday saying that multiple players will be held out of the Night Practice due to NFL-NFLPA COVID-19 protocols.

That left the Vikings with just one quarterback in Jake Browning, who made quite the impression while handling a very heavy workload.

View photos of Vikings players at training camp during the night practice at TCO Stadium.

So where does that leave things as we head into the second week of camp?

For one, the Vikings (and the NFL, for that matter), cannot require players to get the vaccine. The NFLPA has continuously pushed back on that idea.

But Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer made it crystal clear Saturday evening that if you look at this from a team perspective, it's crucial that as many players as possible get the vaccine.

He wondered aloud about what if "something like this happens a day before a game that has a chance to get you to the playoffs?"

If what happened Saturday were to happen on Jan. 8, the night before the regular-season finale against the Bears, the NFL-NFLPA COVID-19 protocols could cause multiple players to miss, or possibly even make a team have to forfeit the contest.

Zimmer has encouraged players and people outside of the locker room to get vaccinated. His belief in its effectiveness against the backdrop of a surging Delta variant illustrates that it's beyond players being able to suit up for him on Sundays.

Which under-the-radar Viking — who was on the team last year — have you been most impressed with through a week of practice?

— Eli Hartskin

Can I go with Danielle Hunter? I know he's not an under-the-radar guy, but he's been an absolute monster in the early stages of camp, and I'm highly anticipating today's first full-padded session.

The defensive end hasn't looked rusty at all, even if the two-time Pro Bowler modestly downplayed his recent performance.

"I'm definitely not where I want to be," Hunter said. "So, I mean it's good to see that I still have some stuff going on for me, but I'm definitely not where I want to be. I'll just continue each and every day to improve and get the rustiness off."

Irv Smith, Jr., and Eric Kendricks have also looked fantastic, but those are also known names.

But if you're looking for a true under-the-radar performance from a returning player, I might go with Browning.

That might be a little bit of recency bias after Saturday night, but he was steady and efficient through the first three practices before he was the only quarterback on the field.

And he certainly didn't hurt his chances for the backup quarterback job with the way he commanded the offense and tossed the ball all over the field in front of a packed house.

Browning hit Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson on deep passes, and also seemed to have a good rapport with tight ends Smith and Tyler Conklin.

It appeared that Browning was putting the ball in good spots and doing so on time. He seems to be making a good case for himself for the backup quarterback job early in camp, and more opportunities are on the way.

There are still plenty of practices and three preseason games to play, but Browning has surely stood out to me and many others thus far.

What are your thoughts on the Vikings running Wyatt Davis at center? I get having flexibility, but as a rookie he already has a tall order transitioning into the league at his natural guard position. Do you have concerns they're throwing too much at him instead of developing him at guard?

— Aime DeWitt

No, I don't have any concerns about the Vikings giving him reps at multiple spots so far in camp.

That's mostly been out of necessity and not because the Vikings don't like how he's doing at guard.

"We didn't really think that's what we were going to do," Zimmer said. "But as time went on, something happened in OTAs and we needed another center, so we used him. Now we've got a center hurt the other day, so we've been kind of mixing and matching."

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Sept. 13, 2021.

Zimmer was referencing Cohl Cabral, who participated with rookies and other players early last week but hasn't been in for a full-team session yet.

Davis was not at Saturday night's practice, but had primarily been the second-team right guard with some reps at third-team center here and there with Kellen Mond.

Zimmer was also asked Saturday about the starting right guard spot, a job many expected Davis to compete for in camp. But it's been Dakota Dozier and Olisaemeka Udoh sharing those reps so far, with Zimmer also mentioning Dru Samia as the third candidate for that gig.

It's OK to remember that Davis is just a rookie, too. Not everyone takes the league by storm like Justin Jefferson did, and he didn't even start until Week 3.

I do think Davis is the future at right guard, even if it seems to be a slower process that many fans want at this point.

Stadium_Module

U.S. Bank Stadium Practice

Join us for the U.S. Bank Stadium practice on Aug. 7. Fans are encouraged to come early and visit the plaza to enjoy all the activities and excitement of a typical Vikings game day.

I know it's the time of year for every team to have high hopes going into the season, and I've heard so many players from different teams across the league this offseason saying they have a chance to really have a special season. In all honesty though, it's hard to argue against most of those beliefs as I feel the salary cap situation across the league has created tremendous parity going into this season. Where do you think Minnesota's record needs to be at the end of the season to be making a postseason run?

— Todd Jewell

Well, it will almost certainly take a winning record to get into the playoffs. Let's put the bar at 10 wins and say that will be enough for a Wild Card spot at the minimum.

I do agree with Todd's point about optimism running high among all 32 teams. Obviously some teams are viewed as being further along than others, but all organizations love the buildup and anticipation to the season.

And if you're the Vikings, you might be near the front of the line in terms of optimism, especially considering how disappointing the 2020 season was.

Minnesota's defense has been revamped and the offense appears to be primed for another explosive season.

But Zimmer and his players know the fine line between making the playoffs and missing out, which means the work the team gets done in camp over the next two weeks is crucial.

It also will be interesting to see how the added 17th regular-season game affects postseason opportunities.

I noticed in the last half of the 2020 season that Eric Kendricks was no longer playing middle linebacker anymore. The gentleman that left [Eric Wilson] had that position most of the time and Eric was playing outside. Are we going to see this again or are we going to see Eric continue to be our MLB?

— Burt Rynders

Kendricks is not only the Vikings middle linebacker, but he's also perhaps the best player at that position in the entire league.

Minnesota's linebackers group was thrown into disarray numerous times in 2020 — first with the loss of Anthony Barr in Week 2, and then having Kendricks missing the final five games of the season with an injury of his own.

Barr usually relays in the calls from Zimmer, but Wilson took that over when Barr went out.

And by the end of the season, it was a total mixed bag as to who was playing linebacker. Wilson initially filled in at Barr's spot but shifted to Kendricks' position down the stretch. Getting Barr and Kendricks back is going to be a key part of the defensive success in 2021. There's an interesting ongoing competition to see who will join them when Minnesota uses three linebackers.

Do you know if the practice squad rules for last year will be in effect this year, such as the expanded squad?

— Joseph Milner

They are, indeed. This is a good question from Joseph on a topic that will become relevant in roughly a month when practice squads get finalized.

ESPN's Kevin Seifert, a friend of the program, laid out the rules that carried over in this July article.

He explains it all succinctly, but the top rules to keep in mind is that the practice squad will once again feature 16 players, including a maximum of six who have more than two accrued seasons in the league.

Check that link above to Seifert's story, which gives a great breakdown of the current practice squad guidelines.

Watch Vikings Training Camp Live Presented by U.S. Bank

Today's practice will be the first full-pads session of 2021.

It will be simulcast, beginning at 2:15 p.m. (CT) with a livestream on Vikings digital and social platforms (YouTube, Facebook and Twitter), the Vikings mobile and Vikings Now Connected TV apps, as well as broadcast on FOX 9, KFAN 100.3-FM and the Vikings Radio Network. This will be your chance to watch the team remotely.

Subscribe to the Vikings YouTube Channel to be notified when practice goes live by clicking here.

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