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5 Things To Watch Tonight

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 13, 2011 – 1:15 pm

The Vikings preseason opener is tonight in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans. Here are five things to watch tonight when the Vikings and Titans clash in Nashville…

5. Mental mistakes, procedural penalties
No one on the field has a lack of competitive desire, but the truth of the matter is that the preseason is not about wins and losses. With the exception of guys at the bottom of the roster trying to bite, scratch and crawl for a spot, it’s about looking good, knocking the rust off and progressing every day. Coaches are more concerned about seeing zero missed assignments than they are about seeing 31 offensive points on the board. What we don’t want to see tonight are blitzers running free at Vikings QBs, running backs from the Titans bursting through the line of scrimmage without a hand on them and Vikings WRs cutting one way and the QB tossing a pass the other way. We also don’t want to see botched QB-center exchanges, false starts and illegal formation penalties.

4. The QB eye test
We’re going to have to go easy on crafting a water-tight judgment of Vikings QBs after this game. Remember, three of them are new Vikings (Rhett Bomar, Donovan McNabb and Christian Ponder) and the other (Joe Webb) may as well be new to the team because he’s learning a brand-new offense. With the lockout cancelling all offseason practices, offenses across the League have only just begun to install their strategies. So we’ll see a very vanilla style from the Vikings offense tonight, but I still want to see any Vikings QB who trots out there pass the eye test and at least look comfortable in all situations, whether it be a snap on first-and-ten or a pressure moment late in the half with time winding down and the defense dialing up a blitz.

3. Vikings pass rush
Jared Allen and Everson Griffen had great camps, but I’d like confirmation that they’re playing well tonight. Confirmation will come in the form of a few disruptive plays against the Titans. This might be a bit tougher to see from Allen because head coach Leslie Frazier may want to limit his reps to reduce exposure to injury, but I think Griffen will get plenty of reps tonight and I expect him to play well.

2. Kick and punt returners
The Vikings have a deep group of players competing for kick and punt return duties. This is an important role on the team not only because it helps the team win the field position battle, but also because anyone who can contribute on special teams will increase their chances of making the roster. If a WR can be relied upon to return kicks and cover kicks as well as run the correct routes on offense, he has a better chance to make the roster. If a RB can do the same while also showing good pass protection ability and a burst with the ball in his hands, then he has a better shot to make the roster. The same can be said for a CB trying to win the return job. RB Lorenzo Booker, WRs Stephen Burton, Percy Harvin and Jaymar Johnson and even a few members of the secondary are examples of players who can increase their value to the team by giving a good accounting of themselves in the return game.

1. Reserve offensive linemen
There are six offensive linemen you can count on (barring injury) being around once the regular season begins – LT Charlie Johnson, LG Steve Hutchinson, C John Sullivan, RGs Anthony Herrera and Chris DeGeare and RT Phil Loadholt. But who will fill in as reserves? The process of determining that begins tonight and, specifically, begins about midway through the first quarter when the starters will exit the game. Draft picks C Brandon Fusco and OT DeMarcus Love have had nice camps. The versatile Ryan Cook was brought back and could fill in anywhere. Veteran Scott Kooistra is a big body that can play both LT and RT. What about Seth Olsen, who filled in for Hutchinson at LG during camp a few times? There are several more names in the mix for reserve offensive linemen jobs and it’ll be interesting to see who plays well tonight.


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Intensity Picking Up At Training Camp; Notes From Practice #3

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 3, 2011 – 11:14 am

An offseason void of minicamps and OTAs and then rules in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that prohibits players with new contracts from practicing and also prohibits contact during the first few days of camp created an unusual environment at NFL training camps.

But things are starting to feel a bit more normal now after the Vikings strapped on shoulder pads and helmets for Practice #3.

The intensity rose a notch on Wednesday morning at 2011 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, as the team worked for roughtly two hours and 15 minutes on the outdoor practice fields under sunny skies and balmy temperatures. Vikings fans took advantage of the day, too, by packing both sets of bleachers and lining the fences surrounding the three practice fields.

Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer both held press conferences following practice and we’ll have those in on-demand format for you to view, so stay tuned for that. Until then, here are a few notes from practice…

– My favorite drill to watch is the 9-on-7 drill, in which nine offensive players go against seven defensive players (four down linemen and three linebackers) in a drill that features only running plays. The drill is a full-contact drill that focuses on blocking for the offense and filling gaps on defense. LBs Chad Greenway and E.J. Henderson looked the best in the drill.

– Another LB – Heath Farwell – got his hands on an INT. QB Joe Webb tried to force a pass into coverage and Farwell was there to take advantage of the miscue. Farwell was playing outside LB with the first team during some portions of practice.

– Catch of the day goes to WR Stephen Burton, who was drafted by the Vikings this past April in the 7th round. He went full extension and dove for a pass along the right sideline during a team drill. He was able to get his hands on the ball, secure it, go to the ground and maintain possession through the play.

– Passing the eye test today: Chad Greenway, Cedric Griffin and Percy Harvin

– I’ll have more notes from the Musgrave and Priefer press conferences later. Stay tuned…


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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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