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Notes From Tuesday’s Practice, Coordinator Press Conferences

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 23, 2011 – 4:33 pm

The Vikings had a long, grueling practice on Tuesday afternoon as they continue their rigorous preparation for the 2011 regular season, which begins in just under 3 weeks. The team worked in full pads for the approximately 2-hour practice and they did so in humid, sticky conditions.

Coaches paused more frequently for extra water breaks and the tough work in even tougher conditions gave the squad an idea of their conditioning. All indications are the team’s conditioning is good, especially considering how well the first-team defense and offense played against the scout teams.

Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier indicated after Saturday’s preseason win over the Seattle Seahawks that the team would do a little bit of game-planning for their next opponent – the Dallas Cowboys – to try and simulate a week of preparation in the regular season. The Vikings did so today, with both the first-team defense and offense working against a scout team that was presumably simulating looks the Cowboys have given opponents so far during the preseason.

Here are a few notes from Tuesday’s action…

– The Vikings secondary was the standout group in practice, with S Tyrell Johnson collecting on INT in 7-on-7 drills and CBs Marcus Sherels and Antoine Winfield grabbing INTs during full team periods of practice. Johnson showed great range on his INT, coming from the deep right side of the field to the middle. Sherels also had a tremendous pass break up (PBU) during 1-on-1 drills in the period right after his INT.

– CB Chris Cook also performed well in 1-on1 drills and drew praise from DBs coach Joe Woods when he locked rookie WR Stephen Burton up at the line of scrimmage to disrupt the route. Cook made another nice play late in practice when he trailed WR Dominique Johnson all the way across the field on a drag route and extended his left arm to break up the pass.

– On the first play of the first period of full team work for the first-team defense, LB Erin Henderson intercepted a pass and returned it to the endzone. That marks the second consecutive day Henderson has grabbed an INT in practice.

– The first-team offense looked just as impressive going against the scout team defense. QB Donovan McNabb found WRs Bernard Berrian and Percy Harvin several times, with Berrian able to get over the top of the defense at least three times that I saw for long receptions all over the field.

– DT Kevin Williams (foot) is on the mend a bit, so Letroy Guion got first-team reps at the 3-technique.

– Harvin made the play of the day and it came early in practice. He was running a route deep down the right side of the field and McNabb launched a pass in Harvin’s direction. By the time the ball came down it was actually falling into bracketed coverage, but Harvin cut in front of the coverage, leaped off of one foot and grabbed the ball with one hand, hauling it in and controlling the ball all the way to the ground.

– Vikings Defensive Coordinator Fred Pagac was asked a few times about the starting safety position opposite Husain Abdullah and he did not indicate whether Tyrell Johnson or Jamarca Sanford had an edge in the competition. In fact, Pagac said both players have played about the same number of snaps and the competition may not be decided soon. The coaching staff is still talking about how to split up playing time this week against the Cowboys, but look for Sanford to get the start because Johnson started last week in Seattle.

– Pagac did not have an update on Kevin Williams’ status and he said he expects the defensive starters to play roughly 20-25 plays before exiting the game on Saturday night.

– Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave did not give much indication as to how long the offensive starters would play on Saturday night and instead explained that the coaching staff still had to make those decisions.

– Here was Pagac’s response when asked to assess the defense’s performance against Seattle: “Improvement of tempo; I thought we were running to the ball a little bit better. Our tackling was better. We still had a couple missed tackles, but our tackling was much better. Just the attitude that we played with and obviously the sudden change situation when we had the turnover for the touchdown and then that goal line stance after a long series. That means a lot to us, is something that we preach about all the time and the kids responded.”


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Defensive Highlights: Goal Line Stand, Sherels INT Return For TD

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 21, 2011 – 10:45 am

The Vikings carried a 13-point lead into the locker room at halftime on Saturday night in Seattle. And although they had outscored the Seahawks by 13 points through 2 quarters, there was no question the defense was primarily responsible for the advantage.

It was Seattle who made the game’s first big play, about midway through the opening quarter. The Vikings defense had forced a second Seattle punt and CB Marcus Sherels was back to return the kick. He hauled in Jon Ryan’s punt and started making his way upfield. Sherels was eventually tackled after a 16-yard return, but then the ball squirted loose and Seattle picked it up. The call on the field was that Sherels was down by contact and did not fumble, but a challenge by Seattle resulted in the ruling being overturned, which gave the Seahawks possession.

Just four plays later on a 3rd and 7 from Minnesota’s 43, Seattle QB Tarvaris Jackson rifled a pass to WR Golden Tate. But Tate was unable to haul in the pass and it deflected off his fingers and up into the air. Sherels was there in coverage and grabbed the deflection. In an instant he had secured the ball and sprinting the other way, leaving no Seahawks offensive player with a chance to catch him. Sherels was too fast and he dashed 64 yards for the TD, more than making up for his fumbled punt return just moments earlier.

The second defensive highlight of the first half was just as dramatic, but it was a bit more drawn out. After Sherels INT return for a TD, Seattle began their next possession on the 27. Jackson led the Seahawks on a march downfield and had his offense with a 1st-and-goal situation from the 2.

On first down, Jackson handed off to RB Justin Forsett on a dive play up the middle, but DE David Akinniyi and DT Letroy Guion were there to stop him from going in. On second down, LB Larry Dean and DL Christian Ballard teamed up to stop Forsett for no gain and then on third down it was DE Adrian Awasom who halted Forsett short of paydirt. Seattle Head Coach Pete Carroll decided to go for it on 4th and inches from inside the 1, but great efforts by CB Chris Cook and LB Erin Henderson helped Guion make another stop and the Vikings defense had held Seattle from a TD on 4 straight plays from inside the 2.


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Vikings Offense, Defense Look Good Early In Win

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 20, 2011 – 10:26 pm

The defense took care of the 1st quarter and the offense handled much of the 2nd quarter as the Vikings built up a 13-0 lead through the first half of Saturday night’s preseason game against the Seahawks in Seattle and went on to win by a 20-7 score.

Seattle’s offense, featuring former Vikings QB Tarvaris Jackson and WR Sidney Rice, was on the field for 13 minutes in the 1st quarter, yet they were unable to muster any points. It was the Vikings defense that scored a TD, in fact, as CB Marcus Sherels picked off a deflected pass from Jackson and returned it 64 yards for the score.

The 2nd quarter was a much different story and it was the Vikings offense that hogged the ball early. QB Donovan McNabb led the Vikings on an 81-yard drive in 13 plays that consumed over 7 minutes and began on their own goal line after an impressive stand by the second-team defense. McNabb hit new WR Michael Jenkins for 21 yards on the drive, but eventually the offense stalled and Ryan Longwell came on to kick a 36-yard FG.

McNabb was 6 of 8 for 81 yards with no TDs or INTs on the night (106.8 passer rating) and RB Adrian Peterson finished with 16 yards on 6 carries and 2 catches for 11 yards. Ponder, who came in after McNabb, was 6 of 12 for 63 yards with no TDs and no INTs.

Late in the fourth quarter and leading 13-7, rookie RB Tristan Davis made the most of his one carry on the night as he scampered 35 yards to ice the game for the Vikings, who moved to 1-1 on the preseason with the victory.

Next up for the Vikings are the Dallas Cowboys, who make their way to Mall of America Field on Saturday.


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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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Notes From Training Camp Practice #1

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 1, 2011 – 4:36 pm

The first training camp practice of the Leslie Frazier era is in the books. Vikings players and coaches hit the outdoor practice fields for about 95 minutes under partly cloudy skies and windy conditions. The wind didn’t provide a great teaching environment but it probably helped everyone tolerate the humidity.

Vikings rookie QB Christian Ponder met with reporters after practice and one of his first comments was about how great the weather was for the workout; Ponder is of course used to the suffocating heat and humidity in Tallahassee, Florida for training camp practices. Speaking of Ponder, we caught up with him before he met with reporters, so be sure to check back to vikings.com for that video interview tonight.

There was a larger-than-normal contingent of players who sat out of practice on Monday, due mostly to rules in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that prohibit players operating under a new contract from participating in practice until the League year stars, which is on Thursday, August 4. Notable players not practicing because of this rule included S Husain Abdullah, WRs Devin Aromashodu and Michael Jenkins, DT Remi Ayodele, LB Erin Henderson and QB Donovan McNabb.

Beyond unavailable personnel, another limitation for the Vikings in practice today was because of another new CBA rule which prohibits teams from contact practices for the first three days of camp, including report day. This means that tomorrow (Tuesday) will be another day of no contact.

So because of the limited personnel available and because of the no contact rule, we’ll take it easy before we start listing off which players are running with the first team and which players are running with the second team. For now, suffice it to say that there were no major surprises in terms of the unofficial depth chart.

Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier held a press conference following practice and vikings.com streamed it live. We’ll have that available for you in on-demand format at some point tonight, so be sure to come back for that. Also, RB Adrian Peterson left practice early, but it’s for a good reason. Frazier disclosed after practice that Peterson’s fiancé went into labor; don’t be surprised if Peterson misses a couple days.

Here are a few more quick notes from Monday’s practice…

– CB Marcus Sherels and WRs Stephen Burton, Greg Camarillo and Jaymar Johnson took turns returning punts. It was a tough task because of the wind. We’ll continue to monitor the punt returner – as well as the kick returner – rotations throughout camp to try and give you an idea of who to expect back there for preseason game #1.

– There was a #4 jersey out on the field. No, it wasn’t Brett Favre. With new QB Donovan McNabb having negotiated #5 away from Kluwe, the Vikings punter has switched to jersey #4 for the season.

– I thought I’d make a simple note each day of players who just looked good…players who pass what is called “the eye test.” We’ll track this throughout camp and then see if it translates onto the field during games. Passing the eye test today was: FB Matt Asiata, RB Toby Gerhart, LB Chad Greenway, CB Cedric Griffin, WR Percy Harvin, DE D’Aundre Reed, RB Alexander Robinson and TE Visanthe Shiancoe.


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Vikings Tweak Roster Heading Into Sunday’s Game vs. Lions

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 1, 2011 – 5:27 pm

The Vikings tweaked their roster on Friday and Saturday in advance of Sunday’s contest in Detroit against the Lions. Here are the details…

On Friday the team placed S Madieu Williams on Injured Reserve and then filled the open roster spot by promoting CB Marcus Sherels from the Practice Squad to the 53-man roster.

On Saturday, the Vikings placed another safety on Injured Reserve – Tyrell Johnson. The Vikings signed WR Juaquin Iglesias from the Chicago Bears Practice Squad to take the roster space created by placing Johnson on IR.

Iglesias was a 3rd-round pick of the Bears in 2009 but wasn’t able to grab a full-time 53-man roster spot. He played college football at the University of Oklahoma from 2005-2008.


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Griffin Placed On IR; Sherels Back On Practice Squad

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 13, 2010 – 3:09 pm

Signing veteran CB Frank Walker wasn’t the only roster business the Vikings conducted on Wednesday.

A roster spot became available because the Vikings placed CB Cedric Griffin on IR.

The team also brought CB Marcus Sherels back to the team and placed him on the practice squad.

 


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Former Gopher Sherels Flashes In Morning Practice

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 12, 2010 – 12:21 pm

His name likely won’t ring a bell for many NFL fans, but Minnesota football fans may be familiar with him – CB Marcus Sherels. And now he should be sounding familiar to readers of the vikings.com Blog because he’s received mention in consecutive days.

In Friday’s minicamp observations, I mentioned that Sherels made the defensive play of the day during 1-on-1 drills by intercepting a pass intended for WR Percy Harvin. In the morning practice on Saturday, Sherels flashed a couple of times and even earned an acknowledgment from Head Coach Brad Childress.

Sherels’ first standout play came when he broke up a pass that Harvin had nearly secured along the right sideline. Harvin jumped to make the catch and as he was coming back to the ground Sherels got his hands on the football and ripped it away. Just minutes later, Sherels, who wears #35 for the Vikings, stepped in front of WR Jaymar Johnson and picked off a Joe Webb pass. That’s when Childress came over to tap him and extend a compliment on the play.

Sherels has been returning kicks for the Vikings during OTAs and minicamp as well, which will enhance his skill set and perhaps afford him a roster spot for training camp. The Vikings currently have 16 DBs on the roster and Sherels is a longshot to make the 53-man roster, but his performance during minicamp so far is doing nothing but helping his chances.

The 5-10, 175-pound speedster played college football for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers and was signed by the Vikings as an undrafted rookie free agent earlier this offseason.


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Fresh Faces Highlight Start Of Minicamp

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 11, 2010 – 4:45 pm

The rain subsided and practice fields drained in enough time to allow the Vikings to work outside as they conducted their first of 5 scheduled minicamp practices on Friday afternoon at Winter Park. The team worked for about 90 minutes on the outdoor practice fields and ran through a typical OTA-type of practice.

What was different from OTAs, though, was the number of players participating in Friday’s activities. OTAs are voluntary, but this weekend’s minicamp is mandatory for most players. As expected, DE Ray Edwards, QB Brett Favre and RB Adrian Peterson were non-participants, but aside from those 3 players the Vikings had everyone together.

It was interesting to see some of the fresh faces in a Vikings uniform for the first time since last year’s NFC Championship Game, notably CB Antoine Winfield and WRs Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice. It was also good to see a pair of rookies – RB Toby Gerhart and WR Ray Small – who were unable to participate in team activities until recently because of college graduation rules. I had an on-camera conversation with Gerhart immediately after practice, so be sure to check vikings.com tomorrow to see that interview.

Here are a few observations from today’s practice…

– Interesting to note that CB Lito Sheppard, who signed with the Vikings this offseason, was taking turns returning punts during the special teams portion of practice. I don’t read too much into this – Sheppard has only 8 career punt returns – but it’s interesting to note. Ray Small, an undrafted rookie WR from Ohio State, was also practicing punt returns.

– Speaking of special teams, K Ryan Longwell looked sharp early in practice. Rotating from left hash to right hash and backing up after each kick, Longwell was 5 of 6 of FG tries – he missed his final attempt.

– Both Harvin and Rice look as if they’ve added solid muscle mass during the offseason. Rice told reporters after practice that he’s planning on working out with Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald, Jr. again in July.

– It was great to see LB E.J. Henderson participating in individual drills with the rest of his LB teammates. He of course suffered a season-ending leg injury in Week 13 last year and it would be a big boost for the Vikings defense to have him back for training camp.

– Vikings minicamp was a popular place to be for some national media members. ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert, who covered the Vikings for the Star Tribune before joining the ESPN family, was roaming the sidelines and so was one of his ESPN colleagues, Ed Werder. NFL.com’s Vic Carucci was on-hand as well.

– The most impressive defensive play I saw came from rookie and former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher CB Marcus Sherels. He was covering Harvin down the middle of the field and stretched to haul in an INT during 1-on-1 drills.

– Minicamp is open to the media and it wouldn’t surprise me to hear/read a lot of analysis/reaction to which QBs are taking snaps with which teams. Tarvaris Jackson spent the 2009 season as the #2 QB and I’m sure he’ll take a lot of snaps with the 1st team during minicamp and training camp, but I’m not reading too much into things at this stage.

– TE Visanthe Shiancoe met with reporters after practice and was in a jovial mood – par for the course for him. He was asked about Favre and Peterson not being at camp and said their absence wasn’t a problem with him because he knows they are professionals who will be ready to play when it’s time to play. I met with Shiancoe after practice and he shared a couple of other interesting thoughts that I’ll explain in a soon-to-be-published blog entry or headline story. Look for that early tomorrow morning.


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