It's 14 practices down and one to go for the Vikings after they completed another two-hour session on Wednesday in Mankato. The mostly-balmy weather conditions continued and so too did the competitive and fiery approach to practice for Mike Zimmer's team – just the way he likes it.
"We're still working. We still have a long way to go," Zimmer insisted in his Wednesday morning press conference. "I know everybody is thinking about the countdown of camp, but we are not in that mode at all. We've got a long ways to go before we are anywhere near where we want to be."
Zimmer's comments came off as more of a stream of consciousness than an indictment against his team. Asked later in his press conference about the team's mentality as they come down the stretch of practice days in Mankato, Zimmer explained he didn't think his guys were shutting down but he also said he wouldn't allow them to, even once they return to Winter Park after Saturday's preseason game.
"I don't think our guys are but I think that the schedule says we break camp in a couple of days or something like that and I know they need to start packing, but that will not be our mentality here," the first-year head coach said. "We are going to go back and be in training camp mode for at least a couple days after the game. We will have our night meetings like we normally do and then we will see how it goes from there."
Here are a few highlights from Practice No. 14…
-- Both Chris Crocker and Shamar Stephen worked some with the first team. Robert Blanton appeared to have a starting job locked down, but a hamstring injury has sidelined him. Crocker was signed to add depth and an experienced veteran who knows Zimmer scheme, and it looks like the coaching staff is preparing Crocker to play in his first game as a Viking this Saturday against Arizona. Crocker was on the roster for last week's preseason opener, but had only worked with the Vikings for a few days and was held out of action against the Oakland Raiders. Stephen led the Vikings in tackles in the preseason opener and has had a strong camp. With Linval Joseph out, Stephen has been seeing reps with the first team. Not bad for a seventh-round pick.
-- Linebacker Gerald Hodges had an impressive interception during a team period. Adam Thielen was running across his face in the middle of the field, stopped in his tracks and reversed back to the outside. Hodges remained with him stride-for-stride, demonstrating smooth change of direction skills, and dove to his right to grab the interception before Thielen could get his hands on the pass. Conveniently enough, Zimmer was asked about Hodges earlier in the day during his press conference, saying: "He is doing a lot better. He's doing much better. He's got good athleticism, he's got physicality when he strikes you, he can run and I'm hopeful for him."
-- Others with impressive plays during the team period included cornerback Derek Cox, who had a pass breakup, and Stephen, who would've had a sack.
-- Wednesday's situation period had the Vikings first team offense in 3rd and short with 40 seconds remaining and with the play gaining positive yardage, but with the officials needing to measure to declare either a 1st down or 4th down. If the play netted a 1st down, the offense was to spike the ball on 1st down to stop the clock. If the play didn't net a 1st down and it was 4th and short, the field goal team was to run on the field and attempt a try. The first team offense practiced one of each scenario, and Blair Walsh came on to nail a 43-yard field goal on the 4th and short rep. These are situations that pop up from time-to-time in a game but aren't always practiced by teams. But these are situations Zimmer has been running the Vikings through on a daily basis. A wise move by Zimmer and his staff.
-- Zimmer put another interesting period in Wednesday's practice – it was termed 3rd and 3-6-9. It was a live team period that pit the defense vs. the offense in three consecutive plays – 3rd and 3, 3rd and 6, and 3rd and 9. The first team offense converted on 3rd and 3 with a deep pass to Jennings down the right sideline. Jennings was running down the sideline and looked for the pass over his left shoulder. But Cassel, who stepped up into the pocket to avoid pressure from the edge, put the pass over Jennings' right shoulder. Jennings made the adjustment, hauled in the catch with both hands as the ball dropped in over his head, and got both feet in bounds for the reception. Sherels was in coverage and was actually in great position, but Jennings made a tremendous adjustment on the ball and made a big play. The first team offense also converted on 3rd and 6, this time with a completion to Kyle Rudolph. The first team defense got a stop on 3rd and 9.
-- The second team offense appeared to be stopped short on 3rd and 3 despite a completion from Teddy Bridgewater to Adam Thielen, but on 3rd and 6 the offense converted on a completion to Jarius Wright. On 3rd and 9, Bridgewater laid a perfectly-placed deep ball into the hands of Thielen, who ran past the defense, but Thielen couldn't hold onto the pass and it was an incompletion. The sure-handed Thielen was not happy with himself after the play.