We wrap up the first four days with impressions, opinions, hints, and allegations. Okay, no allegations. But lots of the other stuff.
The great thing about the beginning of training camp, besides the fact we have actual football to talk about, is that, well…we have actual football to talk about. Yeah, that’s really all that matters. Lots of football, lots of speculation, lots of ideas of who will be playing where, and how often.
Through the first four days of camp, we’ve gotten some definite trends, but not necessarily anything definitive. Because after less than a week, it’s the equivalent of having a stone rolled away from the door to get a quick peek inside.
Rolling away a stone. Hmmm…it seems I’ve heard a song with that title. Take it away, Mr. Mumford. And your sons, natch:
Roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine
Together we can see what we will find
Don’t leave me alone at this time
For I am afraid of what I will discover inside
Your SMR of unrealistic expectations and kneejerk reactions follows. But hey, FOOTBALL YO!
Blue Chip Stocks:
Matt Cassel, QB: Cassel’s had a solid training camp up until this point. He’s in command of the offense, his body language exudes confidence, and he seems to love Norv Turner’s playbook. If things keep going the way the first four days of camp have gone, Matt Cassel will be the starting quarterback on opening day.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB: Teddy gets it. He understands the fact that he’s been brought in to be a franchise quarterback, but he balances that with the standard lines of ‘I’m a rookie and I’m here to learn’ type canned quotes. And he is learning. In the four days I watched him, two things are clear: Yes, he’s a rookie, and he has a lot to learn. But my goodness, does he throw an accurate, perfectly spiraled football. He had the most awe inspiring overthrow I’ve ever seen, and both Arif and Di agreed it was one of the prettiest throws we’d ever seen. Look, is this early season optimism? Probably, but only to an extent. Bridgewater’s had his ups and downs, but he knows the offense, he can make all the throws, and it’s just a matter of time before he’s running this show.
Adam Thielen, WR: In looking through my notes, I’m trying to find one pass that Adam Thielen dropped, and I can only come up with one. Seriously, this kid catches everything. Everything. Low, high, behind him, way ahead of him, it doesn’t seem to matter. He went from buried on the depth chart on day one to working in with the first team, in four days. He’s been impressive, and right now the chances of him making the roster are legitimate.
Kyle Rudolph, TE: Rudolph looks healthy, is catching everything thrown his way, and it looks like the tight end will be a key weapon in the Norv Turner offense. He also got rewarded with a big new contract a couple days ago, and the Vikings are banking on him living up to it. If the first few days of camp are any indication, Rudolph is going to have a monster year. Monster.
Anthony Barr, LB: Barr’s had an up and down camp so far, but there’s a lot to like. It seems like the missed OTA’s and mini camps due to UCLA’s quarter system put him behind the power curve. That said, you can’t teach his natural ability, and it was apparent more than once over the first four days. His speed off the edge is almost frightening, and if he can get the mental part of the game nailed down, this kid is going to be a force. The Vikings are giving him every opportunity to do that, too. During the Monday morning walk through, Barr was on the field with both the first and second team defense, and Mike Zimmer was, at times, personally coaching him.
Everson Griffen, DE: One of the hardest things to evaluate during the first few days were the offensive and defensive lines. The team was in shells, and when they were going 11 on 11, the lines went fast, but not all out. That said, Griffen looks as fast as ever off the edge. During individual drills, Matt Kalil got the better of him, but when they went to pads and 11 on 11, Griffen looks to be a legitimate answer to Jared Allen leaving.
Kain Colter, WR: For the first couple of days in camp, Colter and Thielen quickly separated them selves from the rest of the receivers below the top four. I even speculated Colter might have an edge on Thielen because of his versatility as a punt returner, but Colter struggled fielding punts from Jeff Locke on Sunday, and he now seems to be a definite step below Thielen on the WR depth chart. Still, he’s standing out more than anyone else in that group, and he still has a decent chance at a roster spot.
Jerick McKinnon, RB: Here’s the deal with McKinnon…he’s got all the tools to be a very good starting running back in the NFL. From his work ethic, to his attitude, combined with his natural ability, McKinnon has the tools to be a a number one on the depth chart guy. Speaking of his tools…his speed is something that’s difficult to describe if you haven’t seen it first hand. I tweeted this out the other day, but it bears repeating–I never saw Randy Moss in a training camp setting, but I have seen Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson. I am convinced McKinnon could beat both of them in a flat run. He’s got a lot to learn, but he’s had a pretty good camp so far.
Christian Ponder, QB: Ponder has third string locked up, plain and simple. Cassel has taken almost all of the first team reps, Bridgewater all the second team, and when Ponder does get in he seems to throw more errant passes than Cassel and Bridgewater.
Every receiver below the top 4, plus Colter and Thielen: The Vikings currently have 12 wide receivers on the roster, and none of them, save for maybe a few flashes by Rodney Smith, have done anything to warrant surviving the first set of roster cuts. And what little they may have flashed have been overshadowed by either Thielen or Colter. And as those guys get more reps with the first, second, and third teams, opportunities for these guys start dwindling, and an opportunity to impress decreases.
Chase Ford, TE: It’s pretty cut and dried for Ford. He’s got a broken foot, and can’t play. In an environment where competition is life for this staff, if you can’t compete, you’re gone. It’s tough luck for Ford, to be sure, but with no opportunity to get on the field, I don’t see a way where he’s still with the team, unless it’s on injured reserve.
Buy: Teddy Bridgewater being the long term answer. He has talent, mental smarts, and can make all the throws needed by an NFL quarterback. He’s an articulate, smart guy that understands what his role is now, but also what it is expected to be down the road. I feel bad that he got shafted in the days leading up to the draft with all the ‘skinny knees’ bullshit, but I’m glad it resulted in him landing in the Vikings’ lap. He is a legit talent, and is going to be very good.
Sell: Matt Cassel losing his starting job anytime soon. All those great things about Bridgewater aside, Cassel has looked very good so far. If the season were to open today Cassel would be your starting quarterback for two simple reasons. For one, Cassel has done nothing in terms of his play to warrant being benched in favor of Bridgewater. And secondly, Bridgewater hasn’t played at a level that would warrant him getting the nod over Cassel.
Buy: Adrian Peterson healthy and ready to explode. Mike Zimmer mentioned in his Monday press conference that he doesn’t believe Adrian Peterson is 30. And when you watch him practice, you understand what Zimmer is talking about. Peterson looks as explosive and powerful as ever, and his cutting and cut back ability is at a level that no one in the NFL could match. He won’t play much in the pre-season, but he’ll be ready.
Sell: Jerick McKinnon overtaking Matt Asiata. As much as I like McKinnon, and as much as I think he will be the primary backup to Peterson eventually, it isn’t going to be soon. Matt Asiata, who I called an ill fit for Turner’s offense, has looked very good so far. He’s hitting the hole and running with authority, getting yards in chunks between the tackles. He also looks good catching passes out of the backfield, which is the one thing I thought was his Achilles Heel.
Buy: The linebacker corps as much improved. You can tell that the linebackers are young, talented, and athletic. Guys like Barr, Audie Cole, Mike Mauti, and Gerald Hodges are working in with the first team, both in the base 4-3 and nickel, and the coaching staff is mixing and matching this unit, and in the 11 on 11 periods, they’ve all seemed to step up and make a play.
Sell: Knowing who will start where on said linebacker corps. That said, it’s tough to say who’s going to start. So far, the three guys in the base 4-3 have been, with few exceptions, Cole, Jasper Brinkley, and Greenway. In the base nickel, it’s been Greenway and Hodges. But this is still, probably, the most unsettled unit on the team. Greenway is a lock to start, but outside of him, it’s a free for all. I’d like to see Greenway, Mauti, and Hodges, but it still seems way too early to say definitively who the starters will be.
So Di Murphy and I wrap up our portion of camp coverage. We had a blast, and we now hand the reins over to CC Norseman on Wednesday, and Eric on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. And of course, Arif Hasan will be there for the duration. Make sure to follow them on Twitter so you can keep getting the live camp updates. CC is @CCNorseman, Eric is @Eric_j_Thompson, and Arif is @ArifHasanNFL.