Another day, another opportunity to get to know more about new Vikings coach Mike Zimmer. During today's two-hour practice, the first in full pads during the Zimmer era, we learned that the hard-nosed coach will emphasize the running game and isn't afraid of practicing in the rain.
The 11-on-11 drill periods during the entire first half of practice were dedicated to running the ball and stopping the run. It was obviously designed that way so the coaching staff could finally get a look at these players in pads. Zimmer had talked the day before about needing to see how the offensive and defensive lines handled their "pad levels, how we strike, how we get off blocks."
SETTING THE SCENE: In recent past years, even the possibility of rain sent practices indoors to a small gymnasium that made practice essentially a second walk-through. Today, the Vikings opened practice in a soft rain. The skies cleared, although it remained unseasonably chilly throughout the practice. Toward the end of practice, a brief, but heavy rain fell. But rather than run for cover like a bunch of reporters, Zimmer and the Vikings continued to run 11-on-11 passing drills before wrapping up with some special teams work. Zimmer sets aside multiple periods for special teams work during his 2-hour practices.
YOUR DAILY QUARTERBACK SMORGASBORG: An unofficial tally of practice throws during 11-on-11 competition saw Matt Cassel complete 11 of 13 passes, while Teddy Bridgewater went 10 of 11 and Christian Ponder 4 of 7. Most of the passing work focused on shorter routes and check-down passes to the running backs. Ponder had one drop among his three incompletions. There was no movement in the pecking order. Cassel is still the No. 1 QB, while Bridgewater was No. 2 and Ponder a distant No. 3. Bridgewater appears to be gaining momentum daily though. Cassel was being wise Friday when he said he still had a long way to go in this competition.
GREENWAY EXPERIMENT CONTINUES: The Vikings definitely are exploring the possibility of playing longtime strong-side linebacker Chad Greenway in the middle and Gerald Hodges, a second-year player, at Greenway's regular spot and Audie Cole at the other outside spot. In addition to playing his usual spot, Greenway also got some more first-team reps today at middle linebacker in place of Jasper Brinkley. Greenway had a strong middle rush during a blitzing period. He pushed Adrian Peterson back into Cassel for a sack. Peterson isn't the best pass protector in the world, but knocking him backward the way Greenway did isn't an easy thing to do.
VINTAGE AP MOVE IN TRAFFIC: If I had to pick a winner during the 11-on-11 segment that focused on the run, I'd say the defensive front gets the nod. Running backs were backed up several times as the line of scrimmage moved backward. The offense also had some nice plays. Peterson had one move that looked like some of the things he did en route to 2,097 yards rushing in 2012. On one particular play, he burst through a seam in the middle, did one of those vintage hops to his right and shot down the field. The Vikings don't tackle in practice, but there's a good chance the defense wouldn't have tackled him on that play even if he were fair game.
TEDDY TO MR. MANKATO: The guy who's turning heads most consistently down here is receiver Adam Thielen. It's a nice story considering he went to school here and is a long-shot prospect who certainly looks like an upgrade to Joe Webb, the No. 5 receiver a year ago. Thielen clearly has gotten stronger and is in even better shape than he was last year when he made the practice squad. He's also confident and has been a consistent standout since OTAs began. Today, Bridgewater threw him a deep-out pass that Thielen came down with in tight coverage. The pass was perfect in its trajectory, spin, velocity and accuracy. If Bridgewater can repeat that throw with poise under pressure and release quickness, he'll be the starter sooner than later.
KEEP AN EYE ON PRICE: If not for Thielen, the guy who might be turning the most heads is cornerback Jabari Price, the rookie seventh-round draft pick. He doesn't have ideal size, but he fights hard for the ball and has a knack for being close enough to make a play on the ball. During individual drills today, he lined up across from Jerome Simpson on one snap. He muscled Simpson out of his original route and then got a hand on the incompletion about 10 yards downfield. Two officials working practice threw flags on him for pass interference. Price threw his arms up and complained about the call. It definitely was a penalty, but it was impressive how hard Price competed for the ball. That hasn't always been the case for Vikings corners in recent years.
HE SAID IT: Speaking about his former teammate and still longtime friend Jared Allen, defensive end Brian Robison smiled and said, "I told him I hope his streak of losing game in Chicago continues." Allen, now a Bear, lost his last six games at Soldier Field.
INJURY REPORT: Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson remained sidelined because of a foot injury. Zimmer continues to say Patterson is day to day and could return as early as Monday. ... Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn remains on PUP because of a hamstring injury. He appears to be getting closer to practicing. Meanwhile, safety Andrew Sendejo, also also is on PUP because of back and ankle issues, doesn't appear close to returning from injuries that have sidelined him since the end of last season.