EAGAN, Minn. — The placement of last night's practice on the calendar means the Vikings are already on the back end of training camp practices.
There's a lot of football — three preseason contests and a pair of joint practices with the 49ers — remaining between now and the end of the month, but what have we learned about the 2022 squad and first-year Head Coach Kevin O'Connell?
Here are 10 takeaways so far, in no particular order.
1. Being strategic with player mileage | by Craig Peters
O'Connell entered camp with 11 practices scheduled for full pads out of a max of 16. He hasn't upped that number.
On Sunday during a non-padded session, he had the team participate in a great deal of the practice at a jog-through speed ahead of the Monday night practice.
Beyond that, the Vikings have been attentive to workloads, mixing in younger players in place of veterans, which can have a two-fold impact. In addition to the rest, the reps for the less-experienced players provide growth opportunities.
The approach has been appreciated on both sides of the football.
"I love the style that this staff and organization has brought, because it's kind of a mixture of both," Adam Thielen said. "It's kind of a mixture of the old-school mentality, 'When you go, you go. You grind, and we stack days on top of each other,' and then bring sports science into it, to say, 'Hey, maybe take some reps off this day, maybe give some guys an off day here and there,' but I still love the approach of when it's a day to go, you've got to go and grind and stack days on top of each other."
Danielle Hunter added: "[Coach O'Connell] definitely knows when to turn it on. He gives us maybe a couple of days of going as hard as we can and then he takes care of us, but at the same time, we still need to put in a little bit of work. They have a good balance."
2. Greg Joseph making nearly everything | by Lindsey Young
There's only one kicker in Vikings Training Camp this year, and Greg Joseph is impressing.
Joseph is entering his second season in Minnesota and has been on the mark all summer long, hitting the ball well during Organized Team Activities, minicamp and now training camp.
"I have the utmost, highest confidence," Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Matt Daniels said earlier this month. "I'll put it on record right now and say that I firmly believe Greg Joseph will have his best year of his career this year.
"You can just tell the process and approach he's taking on each and every individual kick," Daniels later added. "You can tell he's really dialed in, and I'm excited for Greg."
On Aug. 5, Joseph drilled two winning field goals from 53 and 58 yards, respectively, during team drills.
By the editors' count, Joseph has missed two attempts during team drills in training camp practices – a 55-yarder at U.S. Bank Stadium that he followed with a make from the same distance and a 41-yarder Monday night. Joseph responded to that with five makes in a row, including another 58-yarder.
"The way he prepared and how he's come back and hit the football has been the best I've seen him," Daniels said.
3. Makin' the switch to 3-4 | by Lindsey Young
The Vikings have transitioned to a 3-4 base defense for the first time since 1985.
New Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell has emphasized mixing things up and keeping opposing offenses on their toes, but Danielle Hunter is getting used to the role of an outside linebacker rather than defensive end.
"It doesn't matter to me," Hunter told Twin Cities media members in late July. "As long as I'm in the same vicinity, edge, I'm cool with that."
Hunter and Za'Darius Smith, whom the Vikings signed in free agency, are providing that dynamic edge rush for Minnesota.
"He brings a lot of character to the field, a lot of energy," Hunter said of Smith. "He goes out there, we share our ideas of techniques and all that stuff. He teaches me something, or I teach him something. And that's good for the younger guys."
4. Defensive core | by Lindsey Young
Defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson has been invaluable to the Vikings as they transition out of a 4-3.
Tomlinson played in a 3-4 base with the Giants over his first four NFL seasons and collegiately at Alabama. He has been helpful to teammates who maybe aren't as familiar with the scheme.
"Dalvin, just his veteran-ship of being in a defense for, what, six years? He did it at 'Bama, so he's been doing this for a while," Harrison Phillips said. "I'll turn around after seeing something on film and ask him, 'Hey, would you have played this this way? Am I OK if I tighten up here, because I'm more of an attack guy?' "
The pairing of Tomlinson with Phillips has been part of a core strengthening exercise by Minnesota's defense.
Behind the defensive line is a pair of veteran inside linebackers who rank in the top 10 in tackles since 2015.
Eric Kendricks is entering his eighth season in Purple, and the Vikings signed former Eagles and Cardinals linebacker Jordan Hicks to line up next to him. They've discovered they see many things the same way.
"We have a general idea of defenses, and we both played in multiple types of defenses," Kendricks said. "Anytime we have a question about how things are drawn up or how things may play out we always kind of look at each other and usually we're on the same page, so it's refreshing."
5. Shaping up in the secondary | by Craig Peters
The Vikings used their first two picks of 2022 to select safety Lewis Cine and cornerback Andrew Booth, Jr.
Cine has been involved as a third safety in a dime package and also has taken reps in place of Harrison Smith and Camryn Bynum, who converted from cornerback to safety as a rookie in 2021.
Bynum has played well in partnership with Smith, highlighted recently by an interception Saturday and by over-the-top coverage of Justin Jefferson on a deep pass Monday.
Booth recorded an interception in his first full-team NFL practice, and he brings a spicy physicality to his approach. He's worked mostly with the second team but did get a call up to join Cameron Dantzler when Patrick Peterson was issued a vet day on Aug. 2.
Peterson said Sunday that Dantzler "is playing with a lot of swagger and a ton of confidence."
"You can tell he understands the situation that he's in completely and taking that task head on," said Peterson before later adding he's "just extremely proud of the strides he's been taking. Now he just has to go out there and put it on tape when it counts for real."
6. Cousins solid, competition behind him | by Craig Peters
Kirk Cousins has had a strong training camp. Sure, there have been a couple of interceptions, but he's made more elite throws across multiple sessions during training camp.
He also has been sharp in getting teammates in and out of the huddle, as well as handling pre-snap motions. The multiplicity of Minnesota's offense is designed to stress defenses, but it also puts a significant amount on the quarterback beyond making the throws. O'Connell and Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips have applied their prior knowledge of Cousins to help the QB.
Cousins has done some of his best work late in practices during 2-minute drill situations, often leading the offense into field-goal range for a winning kick and doing so efficiently. The ends of halves is an area where Minnesota's offense and defense can improve this season.
Sean Mannion and Kellen Mond have taken reps with the second team, and it will be interesting to keep an eye on O'Connell's approach to the position during preseason games.
7. J.J. and K.J. and Adam, oh my! | by Lindsey Young
Cousins has capitalized on the options in the passing game.
Jefferson, Adam Thielen and K.J. Osborn all have shined throughout training camp, showing off impressive route-running skills and making flashy catches in front of the camp crowds.
It's no surprise Jefferson is picking up right where he left off from two phenomenal seasons. And while Thielen may be one of the eldest players on Minnesota's roster, he really isn't showing the signs.
Osborn took a massive step forward between his 2020 rookie campaign and last season, and he seems to have hit yet another level.
O'Connell said fans will continue to see Osborn making "a lot of plays down the field." It should be applauded, he noted, but not surprising.
"I've seen him make critical catches on third down. I've seen him benefit from being in the huddle with guys like Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen," O'Connell said. "With the marriage of the run and the pass, that third receiver position requires a guy to do a lot of jobs.
"Those jobs aren't always the glitzy glamor ones where we all take note of that. It might be setting a block or understanding how to hit a block in the run game and, ultimately, how he plays with some of those screens and variations of what we do," O'Connell added. "He's been really, really good. There's no other way to describe it early on in camp."
8. Silver linings without the playbook | by Craig Peters
It was really tough to see Irv Smith, Jr., hit a speed bump in his return to action, but there are a couple of silver linings.
The first is that Smith, who worked his way back from a torn meniscus this offseason, is hoping to recover from a thumb injury that required surgery by Week 1.
The second is that Smith's rehab and time away comes when Minnesota is not trying to fool an opponent with offensive scheme. Smith's dual threat as a receiving target or run blocker can help keep defenses off-balance and feed into Xs and Os designs that the Vikings are likely to reserve from using until the regular season.
The third is that all of the reps Smith would have taken have been distributed to other tight ends, led by Johnny Mundt and Zach Davidson. Mundt has played more of the role of a blocker in his career, while Davidson put up wild receiving numbers at Central Missouri. Each has been able to work on what they are known less for.
9. Dalvin and some good company | by Lindsey Young
Dalvin Cook gives 110 percent whether it's game day or a training camp practice rep – and he also does so with a smile on his face.
Cook continues to impress with his speed and power, and he's obviously a lock for Minnesota's starting back. There's plenty of talent behind him, though, making the Vikings running back room one of the league's deepest.
"It's just a fantastic room, top to bottom," O'Connell said last week.
Alexander Mattison and Kene Nwangwu offer the Vikings multiple options in the run game – not to mention Nwangwu's impact as a returner on special teams. Rookie Ty Chandler also took more reps while Nwangwu was sidelined with a soft tissue injury.
The Vikings also continue to utilize fullback C.J. Ham as a Swiss Army knife within the offense.
"We're going to try to activate C.J. in a lot of ways," O'Connell said. "But nonetheless, you've got to be able to do the basic job of playing fullback, which is not an easy thing to do in this league, and C.J. does that really, really well."
10. Mostly the same on o-line | by Craig Peters
Going back to the early days that followed O'Connell's hire, he expressed excitement for the Vikings status at right tackle with Brian O'Neill and at left tackle with 2021 first-round pick Christian Darrisaw. Both have delivered what O'Connell envisioned.
Minnesota is excited about pairing Darrisaw with Ezra Cleveland, who is at left guard for a second consecutive season after playing every offensive snap for the Vikings there in 2021.
Center Garrett Bradbury has received credit for his command of the offense and the communication.
The Vikings opened the competition at right guard by signing three veteran interior offensive linemen in free agency and drafting Ed Ingram.
Jesse Davis has worked the bulk of the reps with the first team, but when Davis has been issued vet days on non-padded practices, Ingram has been called up.
Minnesota has taken looks at Chris Reed and Austin Schlottmann at guard and center. Reed was the pivot Monday between Schlottmann at left guard and Ingram at right guard.
O'Connell was asked multiple questions about the o-line in a media session last Saturday, at the conclusion of the first week in pads.