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Punt Return Job Looks Wide Open; Practice Notes

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 16, 2011 – 4:11 pm

In this week’s Monday Morning Mailbag, I made the case for Lorenzo Booker to take care of kickoff return duties for the Vikings this season. The punt return job, however, is not quite as simple to delegate at this point.

Before Tuesday afternoon’s practice officially began, I watched 8 Vikings take turns fielding punts. They were: CBs Asher Allen, Cord Parks, Marcus Sherels and Devon Torrence; WRs Stephen Burton, Greg Camarillo and Jaymar Johnson; and RB Lorenzo Booker.

Camarillo was the primary punt returner last season, fielding 39 of the team’s 42 punt returns. He hasn’t done anything to lose the responsibility and is in fact one of the surest-handed returners in the group, but there’s nothing wrong with opening up the job for competition. Through one preseason game, Johnson has the best results (1 return for 40 yards) and Sherels has returned a pair of punts for 4 yards.

There are higher-profile position battles on the Vikings roster this year, such as backup QB and starting safety, but the importance of the punt return position battle should not be understated. The candidates for the job come from a variety of different positions, which means the punt return job has an impact on several areas of the team when it comes time for coaches and scouts to pick the 53-man rosters.

We’ll continue to monitor this position battle for you on vikings.com throughout the rest of training camp and the preseason. Here are a few notes from Tuesday afternoon’s practice…

– The team worked in full pads for just short of 2.5 hours under partly cloudy skies. The temperature was fairly warm, but there was a persistent wind that cooled the air and made life a bit more difficult for P Chris Kluwe and K Ryan Longwell.

– Longwell, though, was solid during the special teams period and connected on a high percentage of his FG tries.

– RG Anthony Herrera practice for the second straight day and continues to ease back into the swing of things. He worked with the first-team offense. Also working with the first-team offense again on Tuesday was Scott Kooistra.

– Tyrell Johnson was a safety on the first-team defense and Chris Cook worked with the first-team nickel defense.

– The Vikings coaching staff gave the one-on-one drill between WRs and CBs/safeties a different twist. Ordinarily the drill pits just one WR against one CB, but on Tuesday the Vikings worked on route combinations. There were three DBs on the field for the drill (one safety, two CBs) and two WRs. The drill not only had the offensive players working on route combinations and the defensive players working on defensive schemes, but it also forced the defense to communicate and it forced the QB to make a decision on which receiver to target.

– There is usually a “special category” period of practice, which is commonly referred to as “special cats.” Tuesday’s “special cats” period had the offense working in the no-huddle against a 40-second play clock. A few interesting things to note about this period of practice: QB Donovan McNabb ran the no-huddle for the first-team offense flawlessly and without error; Camarillo saw a lot of extra time with the first-team as a slot WR with Harvin sitting out (more on that below); and rookie Brandon Burton grabbed an INT during the period off of Christian Ponder on an impressive play where he tipped the pass and was able to concentrate in traffic to haul in the pick.

– Guys who sat out of practice on Tuesday: S Simeon Castiille, LBs Heath Farwell and Kenny Onatolu, DE D’Aundre Reed and TE Visanthe Shiancoe. WR Percy Harvin took part in the early portions of practice but then sat out for most of the workout. It looked like a precautionary move more than anything because he stuck around outside for the entire practice and was interacting with his teammates. Harvin was bothered by a rib injury near the end of the Mankato portion of training camp. Also, LB Jonathan Gilmore left practice early; no indication on his injury.

– I’m not sure how much it’s worth tracking which players are playing with the first-team, second-team and third-team, mostly because coaches are still experimenting with different combinations as they try to shape their position groups. So at the risk of jumping to conclusions, or causing you to jump to conclusions, here’s how a few positions appear to be shaking out: Adrian Awasom (LDE) and Everson Griffen (RDE) are consistently with the second-team; Letroy Guion and Fred Evans are second-team DTs; rookie LB Ross Homan and veteran LB Mark Washington have been primarily with the second-team defense the past two days; Asher Allen and Chris Cook are the second-team CBs, but Sherels is rotated into the mix on occasion; Mistral Raymond and Jamarca Sanford are the second-team safeties and both have taken turns with the first-team; the second-team nickel features Burton and Devon Torrence at outside CB, Marcus Sherels in the slot, Jasper Brinkley and Ross Homan at LB and a rotation at safety among Chris Adingupu, Raymond and Sanford.

– Rookie DeMarcus Love, a 4-year starter at the University of Arkansas in the talent-rich Southeastern Conference (SEC), seems to have established himself as the second-team LT.


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Roster Full Of Options At Fullback

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 16, 2011 – 7:21 am

There are a lot of position battles going on within the Vikings roster and many of them have captured the attention of the media and fans. But one of the most competitive and unsettled position battles to date on the Vikings roster is one that hasn’t generated much conversation.

It’s the fullback (FB) position and the Vikings have a healthy competition for that spot on the roster. While in some respects the FB is a dying position on NFL rosters, the Vikings plan to carry a FB, or at least carry a player who can fulfill the role of a FB.

“The fullback position in our league has almost been eliminated,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier explained on Monday after practice. “There are some teams that don’t even carry a fullback anymore. But there’s a place for a fullback in our offense and we just have to identify the right guy.”

So who is the right guy? There are two FBs listed on the roster – Matt Asiata and Ryan D’Imperio. Asiata is an undrafted rookie free agent and he’s been a standout during camp, largely because he’s a nimble athlete who can make defenders miss and he’s also a more-than-capable receiver out of the backfield. D’Imperio was a seventh-round draft choice in 2010 whom the Vikings transitioned from college LB to NFL FB. He made the practice squad last year and is now looking to make the next step in his career and nail down a spot on the 53-man roster.

But Asiata and D’Imperio aren’t the only guys the Vikings are looking at to play FB.

“It’ll be more of a traditional role,” Frazier said of the Vikings FB position. “A guy who can run the lead play for us and help us with the power play and some things we’re doing. But we’d like to be able to utilize tight ends at time in that fullback role and we’ve got to identify the right guys for that. We know Jimmy Kleinsasser can do it; he’s done it before.”

Also in line for that type of role are TEs Jeff Dugan and Ed Barham. Dugan has been a constant on the Vikings roster since 2004 and has the kind of skill set and work ethic to be an NFL FB. Barham is another undrafted rookie free agent, but so far he’s proven to be more of a pass-catching threat in the offense. The same can be said, of course, for second-rounder Kyle Rudolph and another undrafted rookie free agent TE, Allen Reisner.

As you can see, the competition is thick at this position. The Vikings are looking for a player who can lead block and be physical, but also a player who is versatile and can be relied upon to line up in various spots in various formations. I’m guessing we’ll learn a little more about the Vikings search for the right FB onTuesday afternoon because offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave will meet with reporters after practice.


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