EAGAN, Minn. – If there's one name who has generated plenty of buzz through the first few days of padded practices, it has been Cameron Dantzler.
The Vikings rookie cornerback — a 2020 third-round pick out of Mississippi State — has turned plenty of heads early on as he battles with a host of other young corners for playing time.
Dantzler deflected a pass away on a deep ball to Adam Thielen on Monday, then followed that up with an interception Tuesday with the first-teamers against quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, who spoke on a video call with the Twin Cities media Wednesday, has liked what he has seen from the 6-foot-2 and 188-pound Dantzler early on at Verizon Vikings Training Camp.
"He's got great length and size, long arms," Zimmer said. "He's been a pleasant surprise as far as the discipline that he plays with and understanding what we're trying to do concept-wise, whether it be technique or zone coverage or man-to-man."
Dantzler, who goes by the nickname of "The Needle," started 22 of 35 games in college, allowing just 36 catches for 459 yards on 568 pass coverage snaps.
He totaled 108 career tackles, including 6.0 for losses and 1.5 sacks and five interceptions.
Here are four other topics Zimmer discussed Wednesday:
1. Thielen leads the WR group
Thielen turns 30 years old on Saturday, as he is the senior-most player in the wide receiver room.
The two-time Pro Bowler is also the most experience, as he enters his seventh pro season with 323 receptions for 4,315 yards and 25 scores.
While Thielen is certainly looked at as the No. 1 receiver in Minnesota, Zimmer said he's noticed plenty of leadership from Thielen on and off the field.
"He's very subtle, especially at the top of the routes, and sometimes versus press he'll give you a lot of different things," Zimmer said, "but he does help the young receivers a lot as far as when they turn your head here when you're doing this, make sure that you lean into them on this particular top of the route.
"Make sure that you set him up this particular way," Zimmer added. "He talks to those guys a lot about those things, but it's a knack that you accrue over time."
Thielen missed roughly half of the 2019 season with a nagging hamstring injury. Zimmer said he simply wants to see another productive year from the Minnesota native, whether he lines up in the slot or on the outside.
"I don't know about No. 1s and No. 2s or anything like that," Zimmer said. "But I think Adam — his role won't change much at all.
"We'll continue to use him in the ways that he's effective," Zimmer added. "He's very competitive. And I think it's important that we try to spread the ball around."
View photos of Vikings players from a Verizon Vikings Training Camp padded practice at TCO Performance Center.
2. A decision coming soon?
It appears the Vikings starting offensive line is mostly set, with Riley Reiff, Garrett Bradbury, Pat Elflein and Brian O'Neill constantly lining up together with the first-team offense.
A pair of players — Aviante Collins and Dakota Dozier — have been splitting reps at left guard throughout the first two days in pads.
Zimmer said last week he wanted to give it a few days to evaluate the competition at left guard, and noted Wednesday that he expects a decision soon.
"Not really yet," Zimmer said about cementing that spot. "We've only been in pads two days now, so we'll continue to look forward here and try to settle in fairly quick."
3. A pair of pass rushers
With Danielle Hunter not practicing the first days in pads, and Everson Griffen now in Dallas, the Vikings are giving meaningful practice reps to a handful of defensive ends.
Ifeadi Odenigbo is with the first-teamers, along with Jalyn Holmes, while the likes of Anthony Zettel, Eddie Yarbrough, Stacy Keely and rookie D.J. Wonnum are running with the other defensive units.
Zimmer was asked about Odenigbo and Wonnum, specifically, and commented on what he has seen from those two players so far.
"I think Ifeadi's had a good camp so far. He's got the physicality and he seems to be more comfortable in his role," Zimmer said. "I think right now. D.J., he's still learning, he's a young player, and he shows athleticism, though, but he's trying to learn all the different techniques and the things that we're trying to teach him.
"But you can see his athleticism, the way he can bend, his power," Zimmer added. "Things like that."
Odenigbo recorded a career-high 7.0 sacks in 2019. Wonnum was a 2020 fourth-round pick out of South Carolina who had 37 tackles, including 9.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, as a senior in 2019.
4. More work for Mattison
Dalvin Cook partook in an increased workload at Tuesday's practice, but second-year running back Alexander Mattison has been getting the bulk of the first-team reps.
Mattison was a 2019 third-round pick out of Boise State who rushed for 462 yards and a score on exactly 100 carries as a rookie.
Zimmer said he expects to see even more progression with Mattison in 2020, especially with the Vikings penchant for establishing the ground game.
"Alexander has really done good. I think he looks quicker to me," Zimmer said. "I think he's ready to have a good year. He's been catching the ball well, obviously got a lot of reps early on.
"And when he went in there last year, he did a nice job. I was very impressed with him," Zimmer added. "I think he's going to be a very good back. Dalvin has helped him quite a bit and so has [Vikings running backs coach] Kennedy Polamalu."