As coach Mike Zimmer spends spring tinkering with his Vikings defense, third-year defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson has been at the center. Filling in for Linval Joseph as he recovers from offseason surgery, Johnson has aligned as the starting nose tackle for the first-team defense. The reps have given Zimmer plenty to evaluate from Johnson, who has a chance to earn playing time in the 2019 rotation.
During Tuesday's practice, Zimmer approached Johnson after a set of 11-on-11 reps and walked through some coaching points off to the side.
"I think he's being more receptive to coaching," Zimmer said. "Sometimes Jaleel is like a bull in a china closet — he just wants to go, go, go. We have to get him to understand where his gap is, how he's playing it and where his hands should be. I think he's done a much better job this spring."
The Vikings' D-line rotation didn't come together last season as expected. Zimmer's eight-man carousel in Week 1 quickly thinned as injuries and ineffectiveness changed the plan. It's clear the Vikings want reserve end Stephen Weatherly more involved. Zimmer has experimented with a five-man front, featuring Weatherly, during offseason practices.
Next up in the rotation could be Johnson, who is learning alongside Vikings starters as Zimmer pulls the strings on new defensive schemes.
"We're even installing a little this week," Zimmer said, "because there's things I want to look at to see if it's something we can do in the fall."
Seeking 'same page'
At the conclusion of this week's minicamp, Vikings coaches and players embark on a five-week vacation. Receiver Stefon Diggs, who has been in and out of voluntary OTAs before this week, said he and quarterback Kirk Cousins will meet up for throwing sessions during the down time.
"You don't want to have any drop off," Diggs said. "As far as having this time with him, building something and then having months off and coming back and trying to do it all over again. You want to roll into training camp at least somewhat be on the same page."
After signing his new five-year contract Tuesday morning, Kyle Rudolph was just one of three Vikings tight ends healthy enough to practice. The other three, including rookie Irv Smith Jr., David Morgan and Tyler Conklin, were sidelined by unspecified ailments. So it was Cole Hikutini and undrafted rookie Brandon Dillon taking reps next to Rudolph.
The Vikings were also without two receivers — Jordan Taylor and Jeff Badet — while another, Brandon Zylstra, walked off the field with an athletic trainer during practice. Cornerback Mike Hughes (knee), defensive end Tashawn Bower (ankle) and linebacker Reshard Cliett also did not practice Tuesday.
No snap decision
Long snapper Austin Cutting, the seventh-round pick out of Air Force, continues to practice with the Vikings despite being the only draft pick still unsigned. The Vikings and Cutting's representatives have agreed on his rookie contract, according to a league source, however both sides are awaiting government approval on aspects of the deal.
Cutting, an Air Force acquisitions officer, is expected to work at the Air Reserve Station at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport as part of the agreement, which should allow him to practice in Eagan and fulfill his military obligations.
Cutting has said he's required to serve 24 months.