3 Observations From Saturday’s Practice

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 28, 2012 – 7:41 pm

The Vikings conducted their second practice of 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp on Saturday and worked under ideal weather conditions to do so. The team also saw a spike in attendance on Saturday, as Vikings fans filled the bleachers and the fence line to see their favorite team and, consequently, create a fun buzz in the atmosphere during practice.

The team has yet to practice in pads – that will start on Monday. So it’s hard to draw too many conclusions after two non-padded practices. But it’s not hard to draw observations. Here are three observations from Saturday’s practice…

Tremendous 12
Without question, Percy Harvin has been the most impressive player on the field through the first two practices. He’s been a frequent target of the QBs during team and drill work, and he’s been in the rotation for kickoff return. Harvin has made several go-to-the ground catches so far, and midway through Saturday’s practice he made a catch along the sideline that was as good as you’ll see all of camp.

Leg Work
About three or four minutes into an early period of practice I started paying attention to field #2, where the Vikings specialists – P Chris Kluwe, LS Cullen Loeffler and K Blair Walsh – were working on their own. Loeffler and Kluwe were working together on landing punts inside the 20 while Walsh was kicking field goals. Kluwe was consistently landing punts inside the 10 with good hang time, even one time buzzing the tower of FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer after calling his shot. While I was watching, Walsh made six consecutive kicks from 46 yards and then was 2 of 3 from 55 yards. I was also told that Walsh hit a 60-yarder on Friday while working on the side.

“He knows being the only kicker here, he is putting a lot of pressure on himself to improve,” Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer said of his rookie kicker. “He is very conscious, a very hard working man, it’s extremely important to him. He competes with himself and that’s why I didn’t think we needed another guy at camp. I wanted to get as many reps as he can with Cullen, with Chris, with our whole first unit to put him in the situation where he can be successful.”

3rd And Long No Problem For Ponder-To-Rudolph
There is a period in practice called “special cats” (special categories) where the coaches put the players in certain game situations, such as red zone or the 2-minute drill. Saturday’s special cats period featured 3rd and long. The first-team offense looked the best of any group during the drill, as I saw Ponder convert at least three of five times. The first two conversions were accurate passes to TE Kyle Rudolph. On the first play of the period, Ponder found Rudolph on the right side for a completion near the 1st-down marker. CB Antoine Winfield was right in the area, but my guess is Rudolph would’ve had enough for the 1st down. The second conversion was also to Rudolph, as Ponder placed a pass perfectly along the sideline for Rudolph to haul in and get out of bounds.

“Kyle has had a great offseason,” Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “He has gained strength without losing any movement. He is one of the guys that we are going to count on to contribute who wasn’t a full-time starter last year.”

The Vikings will have Sunday off and return to the field on Monday morning for a walk-thru and Monday afternoon for a padded practice.

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To Return Or Not To Return? That’s The Question

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 28, 2012 – 5:11 pm

So what do you do when you’re best offensive player is also your best kickoff returner? It’s a question the Vikings have faced previously and will face again with respect to WR Percy Harvin, the team’s most dynamic offensive weapon as well as one of the best kickoff returners in the NFL.

It’s not a bad problem to have, but it’s one that still requires a solution. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier was asked about the issue after his team’s training camp practice on Saturday. and summed it up pretty well.

“He’s such a threat as a returner, but at the same time he’s one of our most valuable players on offense,” Frazier commented. “We have to balance that, and he’s one of those guys that goes so hard that you don’t want to jeopardize what he can give you in totality.”

The good news is Frazier has good perspective on the matter. He’s a defensive-minded head coach, so he won’t have an innate bias whenever a decision has to be made, which will surely be on a weekly basis. Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave certainly has an expectation that Harvin will be available for offensive duties, and you can’t blame Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer for lobbying Frazier to have Harvin on the return team – Harvin was a  Pro Bowl returner in 2009, after all.

“As far as I’m concerned, Percy is our number one kickoff returner,” Priefer said on Saturday. “We have several other returners on the roster and we’re going to work as many guys as we can in training camp and in preseason games. Come Week One, if he (Harvin) is ready to roll, we’re ready to have him back there, absolutely.”

Other players who took turns returning kickoffs in Saturday’s practice included DB Reggie Jones, CB Marcus Sherels, WR Kerry Taylor, RB Jordan Todman, WR Bryan Walters and WR Jarius Wright. Will the Vikings try to develop a regular starter among that group? Or will Harvin remain the primary returner? It sounds like Frazier and his staff have a pretty good idea, and that the situation will remain somewhat fluid.

“Yea we have an idea of how we want to use him,” Frazier said. “It’ll be one of those things where we’ll always be conscious of how much we’re going to be using him on offense and what we need from him on kickoff return. We do have a plan, but we’ll see how things go from game to game.”

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