A reminder that this isn't your father's NFL came a 9:13 p.m. tonight when the Vikings concluded their second practice in full pads and fourth overall before being sprung free for their first day off of training camp on Tuesday. Les Steckel's 1984 boot camp, this is not. But that's not coach Mike Zimmer being soft by any stretch. That's just the modern NFL collective bargaining agreement trying harder to protect and preserve the league's players.
It's probably not a coincidence that Zimmer chose a night practice the day before an off day. Players exiting the locker room at about 10 p.m. are less likely to end up somewhere they shouldn't be than if they had been going pedal to the metal up I-169 around 5 p.m. So the rookie head coach gets veteran savvy points for that decision, even though he said it had more to do with changing the routine of camp.
SETTING THE SCENE: A decent-sized crowd for a Monday night filled nearly one side of Blakeslee Stadium's bleachers and a smattering of the other side as the Vikings practiced for about an hour and 45 minutes. The weather was perfect and the air cool enough to chase off the skeeters who usually gnaw us to pieces when the Vikings practice under the lights.
YOUR DAILY QUARTERBACK SMORGASBORG: Here's something you don't overhear very often when you're around the Vikings these days: "I wish Christian Ponder had played more." That unidentified fan was bemoaning the fact that Ponder, the No. 3 quarterback, played virtually no role in tonight's practice. He threw two passes, going 1 of 2 with a touchdown during the goal-line session. Nothing changed in the QB competion -- again. Matt Cassel worked with the first unit, rookie Teddy Bridgewater with the second unit and Ponder with the third unit. The third-team reps were more limited tonight that they have been in previous training camp practices. Cassel completed 6 of 9 passes, including touchdown passes to Rhett Ellison and Matt Asiata during the goal-line session. Bridgewater completed 7 of 8 passes, including a touchdown pass to fullback Zach Line during the goal-line session. So far in camp, Bridgewater has remained with the second unit. But look for that to change as he gets some first-team reps. It's coming. He seems to be getting more comfortable. He's got that quick release and he seems to trust himself. When first-round picks do that, they're going to be moved up the ladder. Teddy seems like he'll be a climber, not a slider.
BLAIR'S BIG NIGHT: This is where we'll tell you how a place-kicker performed in a training camp practice with virtually no pressure whatsoever. In this case, Blair Walsh isn't fighting for his job. Yeah, he went 2 of 5 from 50 yards and beyond last year after going an NFL record 10 of 10 as a rookie the year before. But let's just say he's not feeling any heat at the moment. But tonight was the first time he kicked in training camp. He made 6 of 7 field goal attempts. He was 2 of 2 from 50 and beyond (50 and 52) and missed wide right from 44 yards.
SHERELS STILL SCRAPPING AT CB: Another camp, another round of "Ya know, Marcus Sherels might not make this team" talk. It happened last year, when he made the team and set a team record while finishing second in the league in punt return average. This year, when one looks at all the young cornerbacks on the roster, one catches himself thinking that Sherels, a cornerback, could be in trouble again since it's difficult to keep a player who only returns punts. Well, maybe it's time to stop thinking this way about the former Gopher. Not only is he an excellent punt returner, he's also a reliable backup kickoff returner, which has come in handy this camp with Cordarrelle Patterson sidelined. Plus, Sherels always bails this team out when its other corners get hurt, get in trouble or flat-out can't play. He's a scrappy little guy who gets in proper position more often than most of us give him credit for. He did that perfectly during an individual drill. Giving up five inches in height to receiver Kamar Jordan, Sherels undercut the pass route, reached through Smith's arms and swatted a pass away incomplete. Sherels isn't a starting-caliber corner. But he's a good enough backup to earn a roster spot as a key return guy.
WHERE'S AP? NOT IN GOAL-LINE, THAT'S FOR SURE: Zimmer smiled earlier today when asked how many reps Adrian Peterson will get during the preseason. The answer; Not many. "I don't need to see him play," Zimmer said. That goes for full-go goal-line drills as well. Each of the three units competed in three goal-line snaps tonight. Carrying the ball for the first-team offense was backup Asiata. Asiata was stopped for a 1-yard loss on first-and-goal from the 2. The first-team offense then beat the first-team defense on touchdown passes to Ellison and Asiata. The second-team offense scored twice in three attempts, once on a dive by rookie Jerick McKinnon and another time on the Bridgewater pass to Line. The third-team defense gave up only one touchdown -- the Ponder pass to AC Leonard -- while stopping rookie free agent running back Dominique Williams short of the goal line twice.
BARR'S PHYSICAL PRESENCE EVIDENT ON SACK: Defenders aren't allowed to touch the quarterbacks, which was a good thing for Matt Cassel on one pass attempt that would have ended with him being clobbered by blitzing rookie first-round draft pick Anthony Barr. Barr, who already looks unusually large for a 4-3 outside backer, showed off some power and quickness on an inside blitz during an 11 on 11 session. Safety Robert Blanton also had a sack on Cassel.
INJURY REPORT: PATTERSON SEES LIMITED ACTION: As promised by Zimmer earlier in the day, receiver Cordarrelle Patterson dressed in full pads and ran a handful of routes during individual drills against the defensive backs. He wasn't running full speed, but Patterson has done enough off to the side with the athletic trainers the past fiew days for us to believe the Vikings when they say it's not a serious injury. Meanwhile, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (hamstring) remains on PUP. He could return Wednesday, Zimmer said. As for safety Andrew Sendejo (back), he shows no signs of coming off PUP anytime soon.