Training camp is a very important part of every NFL team’s offseason. It’s the first time the teams are allowed to practice in pads, and this is where the real evaluations of each team can occur.
The Minnesota Vikings’ training camp begins on Friday July 25th, with players reporting on Thursday. According to vikings.com, the Vikings have spent 44 years in Mankato for their preseason activities. Although it’s a familiar place for Vikings’ fans, there will be plenty of new players and coaches at this training camp.
It will be Mike Zimmer’s first training camp as a head coach, so it will be very interesting to see how different this training camp will be from previous camps under Leslie Frazier. One thing that can be taken away from previous off season activity is that Zimmer is very vocal at practice, and is going to be holding players accountable for mistakes or for not stepping up to the plate to be a leader.
One player that I’ve become more impressed with as the offseason rolls on is rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Although he hasn’t won the starting quarterback job, he’s doing everything that a franchise could want out of their rookie quarterback. According to Tom Pelissero of USA Today, Bridgewater did not want to discuss the ongoing quarterback competition. Instead, Bridgewater was quoted as saying “I’m just looking forward to training camp. Can’t wait to get to Mankato, put the pads on and just continue doing what we’ve got to do: play football.”
Fortunately for the Vikings, their rookie quarterback is more focused about playing football and improving as a quarterback than anything else. He may still seem a bit shy and reserved during interviews, but as long as he can be outspoken on the field and lead his offense effectively, then it really doesn’t matter how he fares during interviews. Another thing that really impressed me with Bridgewater is the fact that he reported to Minnesota early, to begin working with Kyle Rudolph at Larry Fitzgerald‘s annual football camp. If Bridgewater wants to be successful as a young quarterback (whenever he does get the chance to start) he’ll want to rely heavily on the big bodied 6-foot-6 pass catcher, especially in the red zone.
Another thing that has jumped out to me about this offseason is all of the hype surrounding Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson was a guy I thought would fly under the radar going into this season, considering he was a player most people thought would be a long term project with his biggest upside being his athletic ability. However, Patterson has been subject to a lot of attention, and for good reason. The speedy young receiver has been refining his route running, and both Greg Jennings and Norv Turner have been impressed with the results. According to Ben Goessling, Turner made it clear that he wants to do anything he can to get Patterson the ball, which is great news for the number of Vikings fans (including myself) who struggled to figure out why Bill Musgrave used Patterson so sparingly last season.
[Analysis: #1 player to watch at training camp]
On the defensive side of the ball, the Vikings’ secondary is very young, so newly signed cornerback Captain Munnerlyn will have to be a vocal leader on and off the field to help the less experienced players in the defensive backfield.
Listed at 5-foot-9, Munnerlyn is one of the more effective slot corners in the NFL, which is where he will without a doubt play in the nickel defense. When the Vikings line up in their base defense, however, I expect Munnerlyn and 2nd year corner Xavier Rhodes to play most of the snaps on the outside. Josh Robinson has been taking a lot of snaps during the offseason at the outside corner too, after a poor season last year playing in the slot. Robinson could be the extra defensive back brought in for the nickel package, where he takes Munnerlyn’s spot on the outside, and Munnerlyn shifts inside to cover the slot receiver.
One player I want to see more out of is Matt Kalil. Kalil had a disappointing sophomore season by my standards, considering he was selected to the pro bowl as a rookie. However, a knee injury was bugging the left tackle out of USC for most of the year last year. Luckily, Kalil had the problem fixed this off season, and will really need to work hard during training camp to get his knees back under him. If Kalil can keep his quarterback clean, especially on deep play-action passes, the Vikings’ offense will be in a good position to succeed.
With a new coaching staff in Mankato this off season, training camp will be an important time for the new regime to really be able to evaluate the talent they possess. Young players need to take advantage of the opportunity of being at training camp, to try and prove their worth in a shot to make the final roster. Although most veteran players don’t need to worry about making the roster, it is still an important time for them to refine their skills and to help guide younger players in the right direction. Despite having a 5-10-1 season last year, Mike Zimmer and the Vikings will look to improve in every dimension this training camp.