There’s a reason Rashod Hill was doing extra wind sprints on his own after Monday’s non-padded morning practice for the starters and select veterans assured of making the Vikings’ final 53-man roster.
His boss, coach Mike Zimmer, wants the big swing tackle in better shape than he’s shown while filling in for Brian O’Neill, the starting right tackle who will miss the entire preseason because of an injured right elbow.
“I would say Rashod has improved,” Zimmer said. “He has to continue to work on his hand placements. There’s been times typically at the beginning of the drive or the series or the game that he does pretty well.
“And then he seems to lose a little bit of concentration as he gets a little bit tired. Conditioning for him is going to be big.”
The Vikings have turned to Hill several times since Nov. 15, 2016, when a decimating run of injuries at tackle led to signing Hill off Jacksonville’s practice squad as a rookie.
After making his debut in that year’s season finale against the Bears, Hill went on to start nine games, including playoffs, in 2017 and eight games last year. He has 13 starts at right tackle and four at left tackle.
During the offseason, Hill went to an “O-line Masterminds” summit where 30-some NFL players got together under trainer Duke Manyweather in Dallas and discussed everything from how to stop Khalil Mack to keeping the right mind-set. Hill thought his 2018 season was poor, and said he told his agent, Brett Tessler, “I don’t want this to happen no more. I want to get better.
“I’m still working on my pass [protection] a little bit, but when it comes to that run blocking — oh my gosh, [Manyweather] got me so much better as far as the little details, little small things. When I was down there, the stuff I learned from older guys and how they approach the game: ‘How the game’s on Sunday, but the game is really won during the week. How are you preparing? Are you eating the right things? Stretching?’”
When asked to describe the drop-off between O’Neill and Hill, Zimmer said: “Rashod is good enough to play. I don’t want to get into drop-offs and things like that. But we’ll be all right” if Hill has to start against the Falcons on Sept. 8.
Hughes comes off PUP list
The Vikings took cornerback Mike Hughes off the Physically Unable to Perform list Monday, meaning he is ready to return to practice.
The 2018 first round pick had surgery to repair left knee ligaments on Oct. 23 last season after being injured in the Vikings’ sixth game.
Coming off the PUP list doesn’t mean Hughes will play in the opener against Atlanta on Sept. 8, but it does mean he won’t have to miss the first six weeks of the season, which would have been the case if he started the season on the PUP list.
Vets to ‘recuperate mentally’
Zimmer changed his practice schedule this week to get the starters and key veterans some work in the morning and some down time when the rest of the 90-man roster practices later in the day.
He said he’s not taking it easy on the starters and key veterans.
“No, they’ll practice,” Zimmer said. “They’ll actually get a lot of practice.
“My thinking is I want to work them real hard with the things we need to work on and then give them some time off to recuperate mentally before we get into the grind of the season.”
Most if not all starters will be rested in Thursday’s preseason finale at Buffalo.
Many hiccups on offense
Zimmer has said he accepts the fact there will be some hiccups as the Vikings transition to a new offensive scheme. The first one came in first unit’s final regular-season tune up.
“We didn’t have a good outing offensively [Saturday],” Zimmer said.
The first team ran 23 plays and trailed 9-7 at halftime before exiting. It gained 130 yards, but 85 came on one Dalvin Cook touchdown run. The other 22 snaps averaged 2 yards.
“There’s a lot of things we need to correct … And it really wasn’t just one guy or one thing.”
Praise for Luck
Zimmer was asked for his thoughts on the stunning retirement of Colts 29-year-old quarterback Andrew Luck.
“He’s a great player,” Zimmer said before memories of their last meeting came to mind.
“I wish he would have retired [three] years ago,” Zimmer joked.
Zimmer’s team was 7-6 after a 5-0 start when Luck and the Colts arrived at U.S. Bank Stadium on Dec. 18, 2016. Luck completed 21 of 28 passes for 250 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 125.6 passer rating in a 34-6 beatdown of the Vikings.
“I’ve always admired how he throws the ball, his competitive nature, everything about him,” Zimmer said. “He’s a terrific, terrific player.”
Hill fined $10,527
Vikings cornerback Holton Hill must hand over another $10,527 of this year’s salary as punishment for the helmet-to-helmet hit on Seahawks quarterback Paxton Lynch. The hit put Lynch in the NFL’s concussion protocol and got Hill ejected from the game.
Hill also will be surrendering $270,000 of his $570,000 salary to the NFL because of two four-game suspensions for failed drug tests for PEDs and illegal substances.
Staff writer Andrew Krammer contributed to this report.