Staff writers Mark Craig and Dan Wiederer blog at Access Vikings on startribune.com. Here is Dan's report from Thursday:
Sanford's special-teams value noted
Jamarca Sanford's days as a starting safety may be numbered. Ideally, the Vikings hope to slide Sanford back into a reserve role. And the ascension of rookie Harrison Smith will likely trigger that move before the preseason is finished. But don't underestimate Sanford's big-picture value as a special teams contributor.
Special teams coach Mike Priefer spoke up Thursday to deliver his endorsement, commending Sanford's speed, toughness and ability to use his hands well. Sanford's hyperactive nature? Also a plus.
"He's almost as crazy as I am," Priefer said. "I think you have to have a couple screws loose when you play special teams. ... He's got great heart. He's got great want-to. I wish I had 10 of him."
Priefer's praise came a day after head coach Leslie Frazier delivered an assessment of Sanford's skills. Frazier hinted that Sanford's grip on a starting safety spot may be tenuous, noting that the fourth-year veteran hasn't consistently made enough plays on balls down the field. But Frazier also said Sanford's energy level is "off the charts" and highlighted his special teams value.
"He's one of those guys who goes 100 miles per hour," Frazier said. "So there is never time where he takes any time off. And if you are an opposing special teams player and you are trying to get your breath, look out. Because Jamarca will rock you now."
Youth being served
The Vikings defensive line, with All-Pro Jared Allen, standout defensive tackle Kevin Williams and end Brian Robison, is likely the most established unit on the team. Yet the long-term welfare of the line may hinge on the development of its younger players.
Topping that list: tackles Letroy Guion and Christian Ballard and defensive end D'Aundre Reed.
New line coach Brendan Daly has been impressed with all three players so far in camp.
Guion, playing exclusively at nose tackle now, has seemed more confident. And Daly was thrilled he came to camp in such great shape.
"He's lighter than what he's been the past couple of years," Daly said. "I think his body feels better. And I think he's seen himself moving and playing a little bit better because of that."
Daly likes Ballard's athleticism and his knack for rushing the passer but believes the second-year tackle "has a ways to go" in improving his technique against the run.
As for Reed? Versatility is his calling card.
"He's a guy who gives us tremendous flexibility. He can flip both sides, play left end and right end without much issue," Daly said. "And he's done some pass rush stuff inside where he can use his athleticism to create some nice mismatches."
Competition for the Vikings' punt returner job remains open. So while Marcus Sherels is the incumbent and will be the No. 1 return man heading into next week's preseason game in San Francisco, the Vikings will also give rookies Jarius Wright and Josh Robinson a look, with Bryan Walters in the mix as well.
Given that Sherels and Walters face an uphill battle to make the roster and Robinson has missed most of training camp practice so far because of a pulled hamstring, Wright may have an inside track.
Wright didn't return punts last season at Arkansas. For his college career, he averaged 5.9 yards on eight returns.
Did you see that?
Rookie Greg Childs delivered the highlight reel play of the day in the final team session of Thursday's practice. Childs' 26-yard touchdown catch from Joe Webb came on a grab during which cornerback Brandon Burton had near-perfect coverage. Yet with the two face-to-face in the end zone, Childs leaped, reached both arms around Burton and managed to pin the ball on the cornerback's back long enough to haul it in.
Said Wright, a friend of Childs' since childhood: "I've seen that since our school days. Greg making catches like that? There's nothing new for me to see."