The dog days of training camp have officially arrived here in Mankato.
With head coach Mike Zimmer and the Vikings nearly two weeks into training camp and just four days away from their first preseason game against the Raiders at TCF, you definitely get the sense that the players are ready to start smashing helmets with someone in a jersey of a different color.
That’s not to say that today’s practice was chippy. We have yet to see anything that could be remotely described as a skirmish or an altercation during Zimmer’s first training camp. Honestly, I’m a little bummed out I haven’t been able to write the word brouhaha. Well, until now, that is.
But after nine long days in the sun, you can feel that the anticipation for an actual game is building. Zimmer will be challenged to keep his players focused on the now, as monotonous as these summer practices can become once you flip the calendar to August, instead of looking ahead to Friday.
SETTING THE SCENE: At the start of practice, the sky was overcast and a little ominous with a stiff breeze. But the nasty weather held off, and soon the sky was blue. The temperature was in the high 70s. Zimmer had the Vikings practicing in full pads for the sixth time in their past seven practices.
YOUR DAILY QUARTERBACK SMORGASBORD: After throwing a bunch of passes in team drills Saturday night, the quarterbacks weren’t asked to throw much in 11-on-11 situations today. Matt Cassel, who worked mostly with the ones, completed eight of his 10 attempts. Teddy Bridgewater completed eight of his nine attempts, including three of four in a stint with the first-team offense. And after he didn’t throw a single pass in team drills Saturday night, Christian Ponder got a chance to run a two-minute drill early in practice. He completed four of his seven attempts to third-stringers, but one of the incompletions was a drop and the other two were spikes to stop the clock. That was it for Ponder in 11-on-11 drills, though, as once again Cassel and Bridgewater hogged the huddle.
TEDDY CAN PUNT, TOO: Zimmer doesn’t fall into coachspeak as often as his peers, but he does talk a lot about situational football. During about every practice, he prepares his team for some rare and random occurrence. Today, he had quarterbacks practice pooch punts. Bridgewater can apparently punt a little bit, too. He booted both punts high into the sky. The latter of the two had a hang time of about four seconds. Jeff Locke need not worry about his job, but that was impressive.
CROCKER ISN’T EASED IN: The new guy, veteran safety Chris Crocker, wasn’t just limited to individual work and the occasional cameo during his first practice with the Vikings. Crocker was part of the safety rotation, usually with the second-team defense. Credit his familiarity with Zimmer and his defensive scheme for that. Crocker has played for Zimmer in each of the past seven seasons, and he said after practice that he wouldn’t have come out of semi-retirement for any other coach.
SPEAKING OF SAFETIES: With Crocker on the field and fellow safety Andrew Sendejo activated from the PUP list, the secondary was crowded with eight safeties, though Zimmer did let Harrison Smith take it easy, perhaps to get a better look at the other guys. Zimmer checked out a bunch of different combinations, and everyone from Jamarca Sanford and Kurt Coleman to Crocker and rookie Antone Exum got looks with the ones or twos. This camp competition gets murkier by the day.
TALKING ‘BOUT PUNTS: Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who returned punts for the Panthers, got a chance to field a few of them today, though the only thing I would take away from that is that his hamstring is healthy enough for him to practice without limitations. No, the Vikings won’t need him if they keep Marcus Sherels, who broke a punt return for a long gain down the left sideline at the end of practice. The only one standing in his way was Locke, and I wouldn’t have liked his chances.
INJURY REPORT: Rookie left tackle Antonio Richardson left practice after his left leg got rolled up on a run play. Linebacker Brandon Watts (hamstring) and cornerback Josh Robinson (hamstring) returned to practice. Remaining sidelined were safety Robert Blanton (hamstring) and tight ends Chase Ford (foot) and AC Leonard (head). Ford is no longer in a walking boot -- a good sign.