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Football is back. Vikings training camp is back. And after a year away due to COVID-19, fans are back. Roughly a thousand members of the Vikings faithful were on hand at TCO Performance Center for the first full practice of camp on Wednesday, adding some energy — including a few SKOL chants — and a sense of normalcy to the day.
The Vikings had nearly their full 90-man roster out there on a windy, overcast day in Eagan, with the likes of Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr back after missing the 2020 season to injury and newcomers like Dalvin Tomlinson and Patrick Peterson kicking off their first camp with the team.
After stars Eric Kendricks, Justin Jefferson, Kirk Cousins, and Dalvin Cook spoke at press conferences in the early afternoon, the Vikings held a two-hour practice that featured all kinds of intriguing performances and notable depth chart and injury information. They haven’t put pads on yet, but the intensity was still high as players compete for roster spots and roles.
Let’s dive into some of the main takeaways from Day 1.
Several key players limited or out due to injury
We did a rundown of the injury situations this morning, but there are a few updates from practice. Christian Darrisaw (groin) and Riley Patterson (PUP, undisclosed) were present but not participating on the field. Darrisaw watched on the field without a helmet, and Patterson — who is apparently close to returning — spent most of the afternoon riding a stationary bike off to the side. Jeff Gladney (legal) was the only player on the roster not present at all.
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Three important players were limited: Michael Pierce (calf), Bashaud Breeland (shoulder), and newcomer Dede Westbrook (ACL). I wouldn’t say Danielle Hunter was limited, but he wasn’t taking too many full speed reps on Day 1, which was to be expected. Pierce being out there with a helmet was encouraging. He had a wrap around his left calf and did some individual drills before heading off to work with a trainer. Breeland started off strong with an interception and a PBU in 7-on-7 drills but didn’t take any live reps in 11 on 11s, with Cameron Dantzler and Patrick Peterson getting those reps as the starting outside corners. Westbrook caught some punts early on during drills, but he then left the field and was without a helmet when he came back. He’s still not quite back to full health after tearing his ACL nine months ago.
Oli Udoh gets first-team reps at right guard
We knew rookie Wyatt Davis was unlikely to start out as the first-team right guard, given that Mike Zimmer always makes rookies earn their way up over the course of camp. But instead of Dakota Dozier or Mason Cole, it was guard/tackle Oli Udoh — a sixth-round pick in 2019 — getting the first reps with the 1s at RG. Rick Spielman said on the radio earlier this week that Udoh “has earned the opportunity” to be part of the competition for that job.
The Elon product looked good from what I could see, holding up in live reps and winning some 1-on-1 drills as well. The 6’6″, 325-pounder has the length you’d associate with a tackle, but his athleticism and strength could easily translate to successful play on the inside. There’s a long way to go, and Dozier got some reps with the 1s as well, but Udoh is a real player to watch going forward. With that said, I still think Davis will be the best right guard on the roster, as he was a brick wall during 1-on-1 reps (admittedly against lower-tier defensive tackles) and had an outstanding career at Ohio State.
The first-team O-line was (from left to right) Rashod Hill, Ezra Cleveland, Garrett Bradbury, Udoh, and Brian O’Neill. The second team was Blake Brandel, Dru Samia, Cole, Davis, and Evin Ksiezarczyk, with Dozier and Kyle Hinton mixing in as well.
Kellen Mond has ups and downs, makes play of the day
As was the case during rookie minicamp and full-team spring practices, Kellen Mond is always going to command attention when he’s out there. That’s the nature of being the Vikings’ highest-drafted quarterback in seven years and a potential Kirk Cousins successor down the line if he develops nicely. Mond’s first training camp practice got off to a shaky start, as he underthrew this pass for Ihmir Smith-Marsette and watched it get picked off by safety Luther Kirk.
But Mond bounced back, showing some nice timing and accuracy in 7-on-7 drills and then unleashing the throw of the day, a perfectly-placed bomb to Smith-Marsette for a touchdown of at least 40 yards. That one drew some cheers and high-fives for the rookie quarterback and rookie wide receiver.
Admittedly, Janarius Robinson probably gets there for the sack if it were a game rep, but that doesn’t take away from the quality of the pass. If Mond can put together more throws like that while becoming more consistent in his processing and decision-making, he should beat out Jake Browning for the backup job.
K.J. Osborn is a factor at WR
He had a disappointing rookie season, struggling as a returner and failing to climb the depth chart at wide receiver, but 2020 fifth-rounder K.J. Osborn appears to be a different player in year two. He worked out a lot with Justin Jefferson this offseason in Miami and impressed in spring practices, drawing unprompted praise from both Spielman and Zimmer recently when they were asked about the WR room.
With Westbrook limited, Osborn got plenty of reps as the No. 3 receiver with the starters. He was out there when the Vikings did one rep in the low red zone towards the end of practice. Osborn made some nice catches throughout the day during drills, and it was notable to see that he was the last one on the field after practice, catching balls from the JUGS machine.
Westbrook is the favorite in that competition, but he’s still coming back from the ACL injury. Osborn seemingly has put himself up there with Chad Beebe, Bisi Johnson, and Smith-Marsette in the battle for roster spots (and playing time) at receiver.
Danielle Hunter made his presence felt in his first full training camp practice since 2019. Not only is he just a very large human being, he had some nice reps early on and also demonstrated his leadership by helping out the young pass rushers.
The usual suspects on offense — Jefferson, Cook, Thielen, Irv Smith Jr. — made plenty of plays like they always do. Nothing spectacular, but it’s clear that those four are the top weapons for Cousins. Their consistency and confidence are easy to detect.
Cameron Dantzler practiced for the first time this year after missing OTAs and minicamp due to injury. He looked sharp, which he’ll need to be to hold off Breeland for a starting job.
New offensive line coach Phil Rauscher is LOUD. He was barking at his guys all afternoon while coaching them up. This was his first practice since being promoted to O-line coach.
One down, 13 to go.