NOTEBOOK: Vikings Do Best to Prep for ‘Unpredictable’ Aspects of Rookie Sam Darnold

EAGAN, Minn. — Anthony Barr helped the Vikings defense give fellow former Bruin Josh Rosen a bad day last week.

Now, the Vikings have turned their focus to another rookie out of the Pac-12, former Southern Cal QB Sam Darnold.

The stats for the third overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft have been all over the place in his first six starts.

Week 1 at Detroit: 16-of-21 passing (76.2 completion percentage), 198 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception, 116.8 passer rating in a 48-17 win

Week 2 vs. Miami: 25-of-45 (61.0 percent), 334 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, 74.6 passer rating in a 20-12 loss

Week 3 at Cleveland: 15-of-31 (48.4 percent), 169 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions, 38.2 passer rating in a 21-17 loss

Week 4 at Jacksonville: 17-of-34 (50 percent), 167 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, 74.0 passer rating in a 31-12 loss

Week 5 vs. Denver: 10-of-22 (45.5 percent), 198 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, 98.1 passer rating in a 34-16 win

Week 6 vs. Indianapolis: 24-of-30 (80.0 percent), 280 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, 113.9 passer rating in a 42-34 win

New York’s rushing totals in those six games illustrate how much of a friend the running game can be to any QB, particularly a rookie:

Week 1: 169 yards

Week 2: 42 yards

Week 3: 107 yards

Week 4: 34 yards

Week 5: 323 yards (not a typo)

Week 6: 107 yards

Thus, when Vikings defenders describe potential keys to this weekend’s game, they explained the need to defend the run and a respect for what Darnold has done so far.

“I think it’s important to stop the run, force him to make plays with the ball in his hand,” Barr said. “Obviously he’s very equipped to do so. Good arm, great athlete, smart with the football. He’ll take his chances. But I think they’re at their best when they run the ball well, so it will be important for us to focus on that, and then we can try to get after the quarterback a little bit.”

Darnold is the third rookie quarterback who grew up in California that the Vikings will face in the first seven games of 2018.

Josh Allen led Buffalo to an upset in a Week 3 game that was tilted by early Vikings turnovers.

Last week against Rosen, however, the Vikings defense more closely resembled the unit that led the NFL in 2017.

Barr was asked about not necessarily knowing how a rookie QB will react.

Yeah, you might get hurdled, so you better be careful,” he said in reference to a play made by Allen during a scramble. “These guys, they’re in the league for a reason. They’re capable of going out there and making plays. A little unpredictable at times, but what they put on tape is kind of who they are, so watching as much of that [as possible], learn them as best you can and just go out there and play hard.”

Johnson getting back in the mix

Barr, who said playing more carefree recently has helped him, was able to free-up the ball from Cardinals running back David Johnson last week.

The loose ball became the first fumble recovered by Tom Johnson, who was playing in his 106th career game. Johnson said the recovery was more special because the Vikings offense scored on the ensuing possession (a 37-yard field goal by Dan Bailey).

“It was good,” Johnson said. “It helped the team get good field position, and I think we scored on that drive, too, so helping the team make plays gives us the opportunity to win games.”

Johnson started 25 of the 62 games he played for the Vikings from 2014-17. He signed with Seattle during free agency and rejoined Minnesota before Week 3. He’s played in three games for the Vikings but missed the Rams game with an ankle injury.

He said he’s “getting to where I want to be” in regard to his return to Minnesota.

“It can always get better, but I’m moving in the right direction,” Johnson said. “The ankle injury kind of set me back. I missed the L.A. game, so that was a little setback, but I think we’re back on track after the last few games.”

View practice photos from Thursday, October 18 as the Minnesota Vikings prepare for the New York Jets.

Cook, Vikings patient with hamstring

The Vikings on Sunday revved up the running game through a collective focus and were rewarded with several breakout runs. 

Latavius Murray had four of more than 20 yards, and rookie Mike Boone gained 20 on his lone carry.

Minnesota rushed for 195 yards on 32 carries and totaled 129 yards on just five plays, all without Dalvin Cook for the second straight week.

Cook has been dealing with a hamstring injury since Week 2 at Green Bay. After missing Week 3, he was on a “pitch count” in Los Angeles, rushing 10 times for 20 yards against the Rams. The 2017 second-round pick has been sidelined since.

Hamstring injuries can be particularly pesky to work through.

“Yeah, it makes it difficult because you never really know,” Zimmer said. “He comes out and says, ‘Hey, I’m good to go,’ and it’s just kind of how it goes. So you have to have versatility in your game plan.”

Cook did not participate in Thursday’s practice a day after fully participating.

Injury Reports

For the Vikings: In addition to Cook, Linval Joseph (ankle/knee/shoulder), Andrew Sendejo (groin), Riley Reiff (foot) and Everson Griffen (not injury related) did not participate. Danielle Hunter (groin) did not participate and was added to the report on Thursday. Tashawn Bower (ankle), Jaleel Johnson (ankle), Stephen Weatherly (ribs) and Kevin McDermott (hand) were full participants.

For the Jets: Buster Skrine (concussion), Isaiah Crowell (foot), Trumaine Johnson (quad), Terrelle Pryor (groin), Quincy Enunwa (ankle) and Marcus Maye (thumb) did not practice. Robby Anderson (hamstring) and Leonard Williams (back) fully participated after not practicing Wednesday. Kevin Pierre-Louis (foot) was limited after not practicing Wednesday. Spencer Long (knee/finger), Andre Roberts (foot/ankle), Brandon Copeland (ankle), Doug Middleton (hamstring), Sam Darnold (right elbow), Jamal Adams (ankle), Charon Peake (hamstring), Nathan Shepherd (shoulder) and Kelvin Beachum (foot) were full participants for a second straight day.

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