The Vikings are on to Cincinnati for shared practices with the Bengals, so let’s take stock of what we learned from training camp.
A shortened, 10-day stay in Mankato didn’t decide many position competitions outside of the offensive line, though there was plenty to glean from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and a surging defense.
Adding wrinkles – Mike Zimmer acknowledged midway through training camp there was more to come, schematically, for last year’s fifth-ranked scoring defense. One of those changes appeared to be a different personnel group featuring only one safety, Harrison Smith, along with three cornerbacks and three linebackers. Vikings defenders pride themselves on confusing quarterbacks, and in this look Captain Munnerlyn often dropped into a safety position. This is also where 6-4 athletic addition Emmanuel Lamur made most of his appearances at weak-side linebacker. They certainly still mugged the A gaps with Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks while crowding seven defenders at the line of scrimmage. Though it’s clear the Vikings aren’t getting stagnant after returning every starter from a season ago.
Lets it loose – Teddy Bridgewater faces increased expectations to help push this Vikings team beyond a first-round playoff exit. Adrian Peterson “will get his,” as Norv Turner explained. Though through camp, it was clear Bridgewater got the message from his coaches. He took fewer checkdowns than last year, his first camp as a starter, and pushed the ball into tight windows and down the field. Saturday’s night scrimmage was a good example of the third-year roller coaster that so far has seen more ups than downs. Bridgewater connected on deep strikes to Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. He allowed Kyle Rudolph and Laquon Treadwell to make contested grabs. Then he tested Xavier Rhodes again. And again. Then again in a failed two-minute drill. Rhodes walked away with three pass deflections, including a couple that would’ve been interceptions had he landed in bounds.
No assuming positions – The Vikings’ two most recent first-round picks continued to work with the backups throughout camp. Cornerback Trae Waynes, who snagged an interception in one of two days with the starters, and Treadwell still haven’t leapfrogged Terence Newman and Charles Johnson. They’re making Waynes take the job as Newman remains a stalwart at the head coach’s pet position. Treadwell began working with Bridgewater more toward the end of camp, though Johnson continues to lead the way at split end. Overall, the defense featured the same starters as last season. Safety Michael Griffin and Lamur are reserves who may overtake starters, though that shouldn’t be assumed.
For real – Stefon Diggs and a disruptive defensive line. Some players couldn’t be missed on the three-field practice expanse in Mankato. If you were watching linemen drills on one side, the crowd would let you know when Diggs made another impressive grab. The second-year receiver says he isn’t content with his game, and he took another step forward during a strong camp as one of Bridgewater’s favorite targets. What’s also became abundantly clear is this Vikings defensive line could be one of the NFL’s best. The group morphed into different faces and forms as Brian Robison continues to work as an inside pass-rush specialist, allowing room for rookie standout Danielle Hunter to carve out a role as a pass-rushing end entering his second season. When healthy, Sharrif Floyd is disruptive. Linval Joseph handed down lessons to some of his teammates and Everson Griffen could be looking beyond his 10-sack benchmark.
Depth to be tested – Attrition struck the offensive line early again, though not as devastatingly. Just before players reported for camp, Phil Loadholt retired and effectively decided the right tackle competition. Shortly after, last year’s right guard, Mike Harris, was placed on the non-football illness list. There appears to be no timetable for his mystery ailment, which removes Brandon Fusco’s primary competition. The only unsettled spot is center. If John Sullivan can regain form, the Vikings would then have a three-position backup in Joe Berger. T.J. Clemmings is the projected swing tackle. Depth will also be tested at quarterback as Joel Stave was elevated to third string when Taylor Heinicke showed up to camp with a severed tendon in his foot. Heinicke is not expected to be ready for the regular season.
Recoveries continue – Floyd might not have made the trip to Cincinnati after he missed three consecutive practices. The fourth-year defensive tackle was held out of many OTAs this spring with what was described as carryover from last year’s injuries. He practiced with a brace on his knee for much of camp before he was forced out after Friday’s practice. Linebacker Eric Kendricks had a strong showing in camp before he was injured in Saturday’s night practice. Kendricks was held out Monday and Tuesday. Rhett Ellison is on preseason PUP as he continues to recover from the torn patellar tendon suffered Jan. 3 against Green Bay. In lieu of Ellison, rookie David Morgan has been involved as a blocking specialist.