It’s a 90-man roster, but losing six targets may take a toll on a Vikings team trying to run first, second and third-team offenses during Tuesday’s mandatory minicamp practice.
There were highs. Quarterbacks Sean Mannion and Kyle Sloter ended their goal-line sessions with touchdown passes to running back Ameer Abdullah and receiver Olabisi Johnson. Quarterback Jake Browning elicited a strong and vocal approval from Everson Griffen, the spectator, when he outran a linebacker to the sideline for a short gain.
The lows were more pronounced for rather inexperienced quarterbacks behind Kirk Cousins. Mannion, the presumed backup, had just one obvious gaffe when he overthrew receiver Alexander Hollins on a short pass to the sideline. Sloter had one of his early passes deflected in heavy traffic. Rookie linebacker Cameron Smith dropped an interception thrown to him by Browning during passing drills.
Perhaps excusing some inconsistencies was a revolving door at receiver and tight end, where five players — Irv Smith Jr., Tyler Conklin, David Morgan, Jordan Taylor and Jeff Badet — were sidelined Tuesday and another — Brandon Zylstra — left the practice field with an athletic trainer. But the Vikings’ collective inexperience behind Cousins has been noticeable.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins looked sharp. The Vikings’ star receiving duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs were together again as the offseason practice schedule turned “mandatory” this week. Both had touchdown grabs Tuesday. Thielen snagged his in the back of the end zone to end the first team’s goal-line drill. Diggs ran a deep post route and caught the ball over a diving Mackensie Alexander, who then surrendered a long touchdown run to Diggs. Before Zylstra left due to an apparent injury, Cousins also found him on a nice deep ball against the starting defense.
Cousins did get redirected once by linebacker Anthony Barr, who shouted, ‘Hell, naw, Kirk,’ when Cousins looked to fullback C.J. Ham in the flat covered by Barr. Cousins was forced to look the other way for an open target. Cornerback Trae Waynes also got his hand on a Cousins pass intended for Thielen on a quick out route.
Worth noting is coordinator Kevin Stefanski taking a step to better simulate a game environment during practices. Stefanski has radioed in play calls to his quarterbacks from the sideline instead of standing near the huddle.
Receiver Chad Beebe was plenty involved, first fielding punts for the scout team before catching a bubble screen that helped Cousins evade a storming pass rush. Beebe, entering his second NFL season, is one of the young receivers to remember as the Vikings’ logjam on the depth chart gets resolved come training camp and the preseason.
The offensive line groups have not changed during four practices open to reporters this spring. Rookie guard Dru Samia (fourth- round pick) and tackle Oli Udoh (sixth-round pick) continue to anchor the right side of the third-team offensive line. Guard Danny Isidora and tackle Rashod Hill have taken those spots on the second-team offense. Since players won’t wear pads until training camp this summer, there’s little to read into until the big men can truly separate themselves by playing actual football come August.
Defensive tackle Hercules Mata’afa is still getting seldom work with the first-team defense, which is impressive considering 2019 is truly his “rookie” season. Mata’afa, the 2018 undrafted signing, is a year removed from ACL surgery and 20 pounds heavier. We’ll see how he carries that weight once the physical part of football comes back. The critique on Mata’afa has been he’s “too small” to project as an NFL defensive tackle, but he’s hoping the added weight will combine well with his already-impressive agility for a big man.
We’ve seen varied fronts from the Vikings defense this spring. How many of them will stick? We’ll have to wait to see. But Zimmer said Tuesday that Vikings coaches are continuing to install different looks this week, which is the team’s last chance to evaluate players before preparing for training camp. At the forefront of those changes are the defensive ends. Whether standing over the edge or aligning tight with a hand in the turf, the likes of Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen and Stephen Weatherly have had a lot of different roles put on their plates this spring. We’ve even seen a package that features all three on the field at once.
Kicker Dan Bailey converted 4 of 5 field goal attempts, including a long of 54 yards during team drills. Bailey’s lone miss bounced off the right upright from 44 yards away. He made the rest of his kicks from 39, 43 and 48 yards.