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Vikings-Bengals Practice 1 Recap: Surprise Backup at Nickel Back

CINCINNATI — Michael Griffin has started 133 of the 141 games he's played at safety.

He's seen and done a lot on the football field, and after Wednesday, he can add taking a bevy of reps at nickel back to the list.

The Vikings held the first of two joint practices with the Bengals on Wednesday and were a little short on cornerbacks to go around in Cincinnati.

The desire by both teams to work on third-down plays in the red zone enhanced the number of reps the Vikings were in the nickel. Griffin helped spell Captain Munnerlyn, despite never having played the position before.

"I played a lot of nickel today, and that just goes to paying attention to the film room when coach is installing defense, and as a safety, knowing what everybody else's guy is to put people in the right position, so that's a good thing," Griffin said. "The more you can do, the better it is for this team. It makes us stronger.

"You try to tell the younger guys that you never know when your time may come, you go into a practice like this and think the 1s and 2s may get more reps but with some guys in certain situations and things like that, everybody got some playing time, and that was a good thing," Griffin said. "Everybody was able to get some reps, get some film out there. We'll get to critique ourselves tonight when we watch film. From that standpoint, we've got a game coming up, so you kind of know what these guys are doing and that gives you a little leeway for the younger guys."

Munnerlyn said Griffin, who had a nice pass breakup in the end zone on a third-and-7, did well for his first time at the position.

"He said, 'Man, I learned from watching you,' " Munnerlyn said. "I saw you doing a pretty good job. He did a pretty good job for getting thrown in there for practice, him and [safety Antone Exum, Jr].

The Vikings were without Terence Newman, Marcus Sherels and Melvin White. Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes opened the practice on the outside, and Jabari Price, Mackensie Alexander and Tre Roberson put in significant work.

Munnerlyn liked what he saw from the defense, especially after the Bengals opened with a fast-paced passing drill.

"We competed, we made plays on the ball, tried to eliminate the big plays and with the corners and stuff we had out there, everybody competed and tried to get better," Munnerlyn said. "It seemed like I was the only nickel, but I knew we had some guys down, so I just tried to go out there and play my tail off and hope I got a break, and I did."

Defense reps Zimmer

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer spent six seasons overseeing the Bengals defense (2008-13) before he was hired by Minnesota. Zimmer's new team had some success against his old squad, despite the rotations in the secondary.

"Great job by those guys of winning up front," linebacker Anthony Barr said. "We have a great o-line ourselves and go against that in practice, so any time we face an opponent, I'm not saying it's a drop off, but we're used to going against high competition."

Everson Griffen continued to impress off the edge. With left tackle Andrew Whitworth out, Griffen lined up against Jake Fisher a good bit. On consecutive third down plays in the red zone, Griffen definitely recorded one sack and had the makings of another if not pulling up to avoid contact with Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.

"It was a good day at work, fun," Griffen said.

Hot, but not bothered

It was a warm one in Cincinnati, with the temperature display on the external video board of adjacent Paul Brown Stadium reaching 90 degrees Fahrenheit. A humidity level of 79 percent added to the feel's like temperature on fields that are somewhat surrounded by an asphalt jungle. Interstate bridges that cross the Ohio River wrap around above the fields to the west and north.

The temperature was hot, but tempers remained cool — in part on orders from Zimmer and Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis, who had the teams meet before practice, and because of a mutual respect between the teams who won their divisions in 2015.

"It was just a great, controlled environment, where the competition is high, but you're trying to keep guys up and keep guys healthy," Anthony Barr said. "That's what it's all about: practicing hard, playing hard and competing at a high level, but being smart at the same time.

"I think it helps having a coach who previously coached these guys and to kind of understand where he's coming from," Barr added. "He knows where Coach Lewis is coming from, so they have a great camaraderie in that sense, so we respect these guys. We feel like they're obviously a great playoff team and it was great to come out here and compete against them."

Notable plays

It's admittedly difficult to see everything that goes on in a practice involving one football team, but that is amplified when two teams are going head-to-head on separate fields.

— Teddy Bridgewater connected with Charles Johnson and Stefon Diggs on receptions of 25-plus yards.

— Mackensie Alexander made a nice interception on a deep toss by A.J. McCarron.

— Isaac Fruechte made an impressive diving grab near the sideline on a throw from Shaun Hill.

— It looked like Anthony Harris and Harrison Smith are on point with their timing of safety blitzes.

Another solid day for Walsh

Blair Walsh continued his solid showing at training camp with the change of scenery. He was 2-for-2 on kicks from the extra point distance of 33 yards and 6-for-8 on field goal attempts through a rapid session. He was good from 36, 38, 41, 43, 48 and 50. The two misses were from 45 yards and 53 yards.

With the 1s on Wednesday

Joe Berger took first-team reps at center, and John Sullivan took second-team reps on Wednesday.

With Sharrif Floyd out, the Vikings turned to Shamar Stephen at defensive tackle alongside Linval Joseph. Vikings coaches have been pleased with what Stephen has shown in his return after missing 11 games in 2015.

View images from Wednesday afternoon's practice in Cincinnati between the Vikings and the Bengals.

Quotable

"Teddy Bridgewater throws a ball 32 yards in the air, and it very sweetly just flies over the outstretched hands of Adam Jones right into Diggs' hands," he added. "I said, 'That's a beautiful throw.' And the fact that Adam Jones yells an expletive when that play happens said to me, 'It's on.' Very impressed today with Teddy Bridgewater, by the way." — Peter King of The Monday Morning Quarterback

Attendance

The Vikings had a solid showing from a few hundred fans in purple at the practice who intermingled with the hometown crowd. The total attendance on the day was 1,950.

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