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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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Jared Allen, Michael Jenkins And Adrian Peterson Shine At Practice #8

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 5, 2011 – 5:17 pm

Friday was the best day of practice so far at 2011 Verizon Vikings Training Camp and the outstanding work on the field was seen by the biggest crowd of camp to this point and also most pleasant weather conditions. Mild temperatures, a slight breeze and complete cloud cover provided a nice break from the bright sun and humid conditions we’ve seen for most of the week.

The afternoon practice on Friday was a full pads, full contact affair and the intensity continued to rise. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier is guiding a smooth ship so far during his first training camp as a head coach. The intensity has steadily risen each day, crowds continue to get larger and there’s not an assistant coach I’ve spoken to who hasn’t said that his guys have improved each day.

The players that really stood out to me on Friday were DE Jared Allen, WR Michael Jenkins and RB Adrian Peterson. I’ll say a little bit about each of the three players…

– Allen is having an outstanding camp and no one has been able to slow him down. Vikings QBs should be very thankful for the invention of the red jerseys that signify they are off limits from being hit, because Allen would have VP of Player Personnel Rick Spielman looking for new passers if he was able to finish the plays he’s been making in the backfield. This is great news for the Vikings because having Allen at his best will help not only the defensive line look good, but it will also help the back end of the defense as they try and defend the pass. Less time for the opposing QB to find receivers means the Vikings secondary’s job gets a lot easier.

– Friday was just the second time Jenkins put on the pads for the Vikings because he was a player operating under a new contract, which meant that he couldn’t practice until the CBA was ratified (that happened on Thursday). But already Jenkins looks like a natural fit in this Vikings offense. McNabb and Jenkins connected for long receptions twice in the early part of full team drills. The first reception was deep down the right sideline and the second reception was in traffic as Jenkins sprinted down the right seam. We’ll have more from Jenkins later tonight because we taped an interview with him on the field right after practice. So stay tuned for that.

– Peterson returned from Houston last night and was back on the field this morning for the walk-through. He of course looked good at the walk-through – it’s natural for athletic specimens such as Peterson to look good while practicing in shorts and no pads – but he looked even better this afternoon when everyone strapped on their pads. Early on in practice was a 9-on-7 period, where nine offensive players go against seven defenders in a drill that features run plays only. This is one of my favorite drills because of the collisions that take place between the two lines and because you can really see which group – the defensive line or the offensive line – is getting more push and is winning more plays. It’s rare for a RB to go through the drill untouched, but Peterson did it twice in three carries on Friday. Also, Peterson was a major factor in the passing game on Friday. He was the reason McNabb and Jenkins connected on their first long reception because E.J. Henderson was coming in on a blitz and Peterson picked it up beautifully. Peterson hauled in at least three catches that I saw for long gains as well, including one down the right sideline that required him to slow down, spin around and leap before hauling in the football and then sprinting toward the endzone. I’m glad Peterson is on this team.

A Few Notes
– Former Gopher Marcus Sherels continues to stand out. He even grabbed an INT during Friday’s afternoon practice.
– Devon Torrence, an undrafted free agent who went to Ohio State and even played pro baseball before coming to camp with the Vikings, also grabbed an INT during Friday’s afternoon practice. He might be a guy to keep an eye on as a surprise bubble player who could content for a roster spot.
– Both CB Chris Cook and LB Erin Henderson dropped INTs on Friday afternoon. In my estimation both of these guys are having nice camps and it’s certainly great that they got their hands on a couple of passes, but those dropped INTs can be killers for defenses.

The Eye Test
Passing Friday’s eye test were: FB Matt Asiata, DEs Jared Allen and Everson Griffen, WR Michael Jenkins and RB Adrian Peterson.

Asiata is a little-known FB out of the University of Utah and was probably considered an extreme longshot to make the team. But I must say that I’ve really liked what I’ve seen to this point. He’s actually shifty and has good speed. I will pay more attention to his skills as a lead blocker, since that is what a FB does more times than not.

Griffen, I’m told, is having a nice camp and is showing up quite a bit on tape. This isn’t something I picked up on myself, but I’ll be sure to make note of it and follow up with an observation or two on the blog in the next couple of days.


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