The Vikings wrapped up their spring practices a few days ago, and most players have already reached the beach or wherever they are spending their summer vacations. Before I follow their lead and forget everything we learned this spring, I better type it all up and post it on the blog.
The team held 13 practices this spring — 10 voluntary OTAs and a trio of mandatory minicamp workouts — and we were allowed to attend six of them. There is a danger in drawing conclusions based on a half dozen practices without pads, but there were some things to be gleaned.
Here are 10 observations after watching the Vikings this spring:
1. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater had a sharp spring and has settled in as the man here now that he is in his second year in the NFL and in Norv Turner’s offense. He clearly has a lot of chemistry with wide receiver Charles Johnson, who will soon be two years removed from the torn ACL he suffered as a rookie. Bridgewater is building a relationship with Mike Wallace, too. It certainly helps Wallace’s cause that he seemed to make a tough, contested catch every practice. Those two were always with the ones, with Jarius Wright joining them when they went three-wide. I don’t know if the Vikings will have a 1,000-yard receiver because Bridgewater will spread the ball around, but the Johnson-Wallace should be an upgrade over Greg Jennings and the 2014 version of Cordarrelle Patterson.
2. Many people want to know how Patterson looked this spring and if he appeared to be a different player than the one who disappointed last season. I don’t feel comfortable making any declarations there. Based on a couple of conversations with him and what I saw on the practice field, I do believe he is more focused this season, though I can’t say how much more. I thought he had a solid spring working with the second-stringers. While he was far from dominant, Patterson did flash a few times, including a nice play in a minicamp red-zone drill where he lost his defender on a crossing route, caught Shaun Hill’s pass in stride and hit another gear as he turned up the sideline and ran into the end zone untouched. When Patterson gets reps with the ones this summer, he will have to maximize them by earning Bridgewater’s trust, something he was unable to do last season.
3. The Vikings spent the spring shuffling young offensive linemen in and out of the starting group. David Yankey, T.J. Clemmings and Tyrus Thompson all got first-team reps at guard. Throughout minicamp, it was Thompson who held down the vacant right guard spot with Yankey splitting time with Brandon Fusco, who wasn’t being given a full workload, at left guard. Based on that, Thompson might have the edge at right guard, but truthfully, it is too early to say. The Vikings want to see these young linemen in pads. And if none of them secures the job in training camp and in early preseason games, they could go with Joe Berger at guard. He was the second-team center this spring because the Vikings know what they have there.
4. Much of the focus has been on Adrian Peterson since he returned to the Vikings three weeks ago, and coach Mike Zimmer confirmed that Peterson will get most of the carries this season. But Jerick McKinnon looks poised to take a step forward. After recovering from back surgery this offseason, McKinnon looks to bulked up a little bit. And he ran with more patience, especially between the tackles, something that Peterson noticed, as well. The Vikings will sprinkle McKinnon in to give defenses a different look. There could be increased opportunities on third downs, too, but perhaps only if the second-year back’s pass protection has improved.
5. The coaching staff had good things to say about fifth-round pick MyCole Pruitt and Bridgewater gave Pruitt praise as well. The athletic rookie tight end was given the opportunity to line up with the first-stringers whenever the Vikings were in two-tight-end sets, and they constantly had him on the move, whether he was lined up as a traditional tight end, out wide like a receiver or in the backfield. The Vikings have used a lot of three-receiver formations since Turner, the offensive coordinator, arrived last season, but he has historically liked two-tight-end sets, too, and if Pruitt continues to impress with the pads on, we might see more of them this season.
6. There is no question that Eric Kendricks can find the football if no one is impeding his path. He was one of the standouts this spring with his ability to fly all over the field, particularly in pass coverage. The second-round pick made a few eye-opening plays where he disrupted passes in the flat, bringing a new dimension to this linebacker group. Of course, all this comes with the caveat that the players were in shorts. Kendricks, who is a little undersized for a middle linebacker, will have to show he can shed blocks or avoid them without taking himself out of the play to secure the starting Mike spot. But right now, he clearly has the edge over Audie Cole.
7. Scott Crichton was not a factor as a rookie, but as I have said before, writing off the 2014 third-round pick would be foolish. Crichton returned to Winter Park looking noticeably bigger than he did last season. And the injury to Brian Robison allowed Crichton to get valuable first-team reps at left end. The Vikings also gave him work at three-technique defensive tackle. The coaches seem pleased with how he performed, and if Crichton keeps it up this summer, he could cut into Robison’s playing time.
8. Robert Blanton was the only safety I remember seeing next to Harrison Smith in the open practices that we were permitted to watch, and I suppose that says something. But the competition there, which includes Andrew Sendejo and Antone Exum, probably won’t be decided for a while. Last summer, Zimmer waited until a few days before the start of the season to declare that Blanton would get the nod in Week 1, and he will probably take a while again this year. Zimmer wants to see the safeties tackle in preseason games and decipher other offenses before picking his man.
9. If you are looking for a potential longshot to make the team, look no further than linebacker Brian Peters, who signed as a free agent after spending the past two years playing in Canada. Injuries to linebackers Anthony Barr, Gerald Hodges and Casey Matthews created an opportunity for Peters this spring, and the coaching staff had some positive things to say about him. That includes Mike Priefer, which is significant because special teams will play a big role in whether Peters makes the 53-man roster.
10. With Captain Munnerlyn injuring his foot a week into OTAs and Josh Robinson missing minicamp with an undisclosed injury, it was hard not to notice how much deeper the Vikings are at cornerback than they have been in recent years. Even with those two sitting out, top pick Trae Waynes remained with the second-team defense as Xavier Rhodes and veteran Terence Newman, the projected starters right now, held things down for the first-stringers. Jabari Price, a 2014 seventh-round pick, manned the slot for Munnerlyn, though he had an up-and-down minicamp. Zimmer and the Vikings were fortunate to make it through the 2014 season with Rhodes, Munnerlyn and Robinson all playing every game, so their depth — or lack thereof — was not tested. Now they have numbers, and that should make the final roster cuts at the end of the preseason very interesting.