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NOTEBOOK: Training Camp Bringing ‘A Lot of Competition’ Among Younger LBs

EAGAN, Minn. – Now more than a week into full-team practices at Vikings Verizon Training Camp, players are finding their rhythm and working to make an impression with coaches.

Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards addressed media members following Saturday morning’s walk-through session and was asked specifically about the young linebackers group vying for a shot at the team.

Edwards said “all of them” are working hard and competing every day, and then he mentioned some specifics that he’s seen from the first- and second-year players.

“[Kentrell] Brothers has done a good job throughout training camp; you can really tell he’s got a good grasp of what we’re doing,” Edwards said. “RC [Reshard Cliett] has done a good job of picking up, here’s a guy that hasn’t really played a lot behind the line of scrimmage but really has started to pick up things. Antwione [Williams] has done a good job, moving around to the different positions as we’re going through the check downs.”

Edwards pointed out that 2018 seventh-round draft pick Devante Downs missed almost the entire offseason rehabbing an injury but “really has a good grasp” of the system.

“There is a lot of competition in the second and third group of guys. We just look to keep pressing on,” Edwards said. “[Garret] Dooley has done a good job of picking up what we’re asking him to pick up. It’s just a matter of going through the process and keep learning and keep working on the fundamentals and the techniques that we are teaching at the position. Especially with control and vision and those types of deals.”

Edwards also responded to questions about the Vikings secondary, including reactions to Mike Hughes’ progress and expectations for Mackensie Alexander in year three.

The defensive coordinator said that Hughes has done a good job since being drafted 30th overall by Minnesota.

“We’ve moved him around, so he’s played inside at the nickel and outside at the corner,” Edwards said. “He’s really embraced all the things that we’re trying to teach him right now. He pays attention to all the fine points, coaching points and those kinds of things for what we do schematically.”  

Alexander is entering his third campaign in Purple and told media last week that he’s embraced the role of playing nickelback. According to Edwards, Alexander is competing at a high level and “paying attention to the details” of his position.

“He really has done a pretty good job in camp so far, but this is a long process. We just want to see it every day,” Edwards said. “Competition, we want to see just understand the fundamentals and techniques that we are teaching, the communication part of the position. We just need him to keep being consistent every day to come out here and compete.”

Remembering rookie experience, Morgan quick to help young teammates

In the middle of his third NFL training camp, David Morgan now knows what to expect from the experience.

He remembers what it was like to be the new guy, however, and is quick to offer help or advice to the younger players just getting their feet wet.

Morgan reminded that he played at the University of Texas – San Antonio and was the first player drafted in the program’s history, so he really didn’t have anyone to teach him about making the jump to the NFL.

“I remember being a rookie, and I didn’t know anything that was going on,” Morgan said. “Coming into the NFL, I was at [Kyle Rudolph’s] hip and at [former Vikings tight end Rhett Ellison’s] hip, and I was always asking them questions and talking to them, just trying to figure out things.

“I know what it was like to come into the NFL and not know anything, to be a rookie, so I know what those guys are going through now,” Morgan added. “Any chance I can get – from something huge to something small to something on the field, off the field, whatever it is – I’m trying to help them as much as I can.”

Morgan played in 15 games last season and recorded 10 receptions for 95 yards. He also stepped in as long snapper at Green Bay in Week 16 when Kevin McDermott suffered an injury. Looking ahead at year three, he’s feeling confident and is ready and willing to do whatever is asked of him.

“The NFL is just a learning process. Everyone in the NFL is super talented, big, strong, fast – you know, those things are a given – but it’s really about learning the small things,” Morgan said. “Learning technique and learning offensively the big picture, reading defenses and schemes and things like that. So that’s where I feel like I’m really starting to continually grow in that aspect of just learning and knowledge of the game.”

Anthony Harris on new tackling rule, learning behind Harrison Smith

Teams across the league will be adapting this season to the rule change that will penalize a player for lowering his head on a tackle.

While all players will need to be aware of their technique, the new rules especially could require an adjustment for fast play in the secondary. Vikings safety Anthony Harris was asked if the team is being taught anything completely new this season, and he said the same guidelines are emphasized.

“Continue to tackle with your head up. That’s always been stressed. That’s always been something that they’ve preached here and around the league,” Harris said. “Now they’re just emphasizing that a bit more. They’re just constantly reminding us to come in, keep your head up, see what you hit, and then hopefully using that good form tackling, you’ll be able to prevent those penalties.”

Harris, who joined the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2015, also shared what it’s been like to learn from All-Pro safety Harrison Smith over the past three years.

“It’s been fun. Playing behind him, learning his position, then going in and kind of taking some of the things he’s taught me at the free safety has helped a lot,” Harris said. “But then [also] playing alongside him, whenever I had to step in for [Andrew] Sendejo, playing in a strong safety position, I’m just trying to take what he’s taught me at the free safety position over to the strong safety and just continue to learn – and not only be knowledgeable at my assignment but [those of] the guys around me.”

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