EAGAN, Minn. — The pads came on and the intensity ramped up Monday afternoon at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
The Vikings practiced for 90 minutes, the maximum amount per NFL rules on Day 1 of pads. Practices can be longer as the week progresses, going to a maximum of 105 minutes on Tuesday and 120 on Wednesday. Thursday's session is scheduled to be non-padded.
Players and coaches were excited for the pads to come on, as it upped the competitive nature on the field.
"I always look forward to that. That's when the game gets real — you're running around and the speed of the game is what we always try to practice," said Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak. "When we don't have pads on, obviously we're very fast and staying off the ground.
"All of a sudden, when the pads come on, the game gets different. That's just the way it is," Kubiak added. "Got to adjust — guys will get tired this week, and watch them stay focused on their job and keep competing. We'll learn a lot about our guys."
Defensive end Danielle Hunter did not practice. Neither did linebacker Ben Gedeon, who is currently on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform List.
Here are three observations from Monday's session presented by Minnesota Eye Consultants, the Proud Ophthalmology Partner of the Minnesota Vikings:
1. A pair of picks for Smith
They call him "Harry The Hitman," but Harrison Smith also patrols the secondary through the air, too.
The veteran safety looked just fine in the first day of pads Monday, as he intercepted Kirk Cousins in two different drills.
Smith's first pick came in a 1-on-1 drill against rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson, as he stepped in front of the pass for the turnover.
He later added another pick in the middle of the secondary, quietly sneaking in front of a Cousins pass before going the other way.
Smith's 23 career interceptions rank seventh in team history, and he ranks first among all Vikings players with four career interception returns for touchdowns.
2. Bisi continues strong start
There's been plenty of focus on Jefferson so far in camp, and for good reason. But through the first three practices open to the media, Bisi Johnson has been lined up as the No. 2 wide receiver beside Adam Thielen quite often.
Johnson continued his strong start to camp Monday, with three plays that stood out.
He hauled in back-to-back passes in a team drill, taking a pop from linebacker Eric Kendricks on the first play over the middle. He then broke free on a crossing route and likely picked up 20-plus yards down the left sideline.
The Vikings later did a drill that worked on getting the ball moving early in drives, with Johnson making a sliding catch near the sideline.
Johnson recorded 31 catches (on 45 targets) for 294 yards (9.5 yards per catch) and three touchdowns in 16 games (six starts) as a rookie in 2019.
3. Dantzler dazzles on deflected deep ball
The Vikings continued to rotate multiple cornerbacks in numerous roles Monday, but it was a rookie who made the play of the day at the end of the session.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer had his first-team units go against each other, with Cameron Dantzler getting the chance at cornerback with the top unit.
The lengthy Dantzler — who measures in at 6-foot-2 and 188 pounds — hung with Thielen on a deep ball before batting it away at the high point to defend a big play for the offense.
Zimmer shared some feedback on Dantzler during an interview with "Voice of the Vikings" Paul Allen and analyst Pete Bercich during the simulcast that followed Monday's practice.
"We liked [Dantzler] a lot on tape," Zimmer said. "Adam Thielen came up to me during practice today and said 'No. 27's going to be really good.' He's got long arms and good length."