Vikings coach Mike Zimmer broke minicamp with a speech reminding the players to stay in shape and be good citizens as he will effectively go over a month without seeing them. Training camp begins late July and until then, there are no mandatory team practices.
In the meantime, despite the fact that no pads were strapped on this spring, there was some enlightenment brought by minicamp. Let’s take a look at a few of the big ones.
John DeFilippo “pleased” with offense’s progression
Though Pat Shurmur and John DeFilippo both come from West Coast trees, a lot will still go into the Vikings learning a new offense. However, DeFilippo said that he has been happy with how his team has responded thus far.
“As we wind down here, I’ve been very, very pleased with the way our offense has gotten better each day,” DeFilippo said. “There’s been some areas of improvement, there’s been some areas where I think we need to continue to improve.”
DeFilippo seemed to stress speed and game-like atmosphere over everything in his approach to camp. That includes not only his players’ speed but also the speed in which he calls plays.
“I keep [calls to Kirk Cousins] as game-like as I can because during the season, they cut it off at 15 seconds,” he said. “I won’t talk past 15 seconds on the play clock…But the other thing, too is when he’s calling the play…he doesn’t need to hear me in his head too much.”
If nothing else came out of camp, it appears at the very least quarterback and coach have established a good football rapport.
Cousins has rough stretch
Cousins struggled a bit on the second day of minicamp, throwing a pair of interceptions. He admitted to being “salty” and “frustrated” with his performance, but also took it as a positive.
“I was testing a little bit, trying to see what I could get away with and I learned pretty quickly I can’t get away with that throw,” Cousins said. “Some of the beauty of OTAs is you can test stuff, you can experiment, you can try things without the ramifications that you would have during the season. Just got to learn from them and use them and bank those reps so that come the season, you’re making good decisions in those critical situations.”
Cousins’ offensive coordinator seemed less concerned, complimenting Cousins on his ability to come back and make quality throws later on.
“One of the main hings you need to play quarterback in the national football league is short-term memory,” DeFelippo said. “If you don’t have that, it’s gonna be really hard for us to move onto the next play.”
No new faces on first team offensive line
Despite using two draft picks on offensive linemen and signing another in free agency, the Vikings appear to be moving forward with a familiar group to protect Cousins. The first team unit included Mike Remmers at right guard and Rashod Hill at right tackle. Tom Compton and Danny Isidora each got reps with the first group and Nick Easton handled first team center duties while Pat Elflein is recovering from ankle surgery. Despite Compton’s and Isidora’s time with the first group, one would assume the starting line will be (from left to right) Riley Reiff, Easton, Elflein, Remmers and Hill, based on what we have seen in the spring.
Remmers did say he is prepared, however, to play tackle, should that end up being the case.
“I’m just going to do whatever they want me to do,” Remmers said. “When I go home, I’ll do guard and tackle stuff to be ready for anything.”
Hill started nine games last year for the Vikings with mixed results. He had a solid regular season at right tackle, but come playoff time, he had his struggles. However, there have been no indications that rookie Brian O’Neill is in competition for the job, so it appears it is Hill’s to lose.
Brandon Zylstra, roster sleeper
The back end of the Vikings’ wide receiver roster is wide open. Truth be told, as many as ten players could have legitimate shots at two spots. Zylstra has taken advantage of his opportunity in minicamp, serving as one of the primary play-makers this spring.
“Obviously, he’s got skills,” Adam Thielen said. “He had a ton of receptions and a ton of yards in the CFL. Obviously he knows the game and can play.”
It is that CFL experience that makes Zylstra an interesting watch come training camp. He is essentially an undrafted rookie, but one with professional experience, unlike fellow undrafted rookies Jake Wieneke and Korey Robertson. He not only played in the CFL, he was one of the league’s top players, leading in receiving by a wide margin.
Zylstra, a Spicer, Minnesota native, was the leading man on the minicamp highlight reel, including a leaping grab in the end zone. He even made catches working against Harrison Smith, one of the top cover guys in football last season.
The kicker battle
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer did not get into great detail about who has the edge in the kicker battle between rookie Daniel Carlson and veteran Kai Forbath. He complimented each, particularly Carlson’s big leg and Forbath’s experience, but gave little extra insight. He did, however, provide Carlson’s spring accuracy numbers, saying he made 16 of 19 through day two of minicamp.
Mike Hughes‘ strong showing
The Vikings’ first round selection has earned nothing but rave reviews thus far. Though he has primarily worked with the second and third teams, players and coaches alike have been pleased with his progress. Zimmer even told KFAN that Hughes has been the best of any rookie corner in terms of picking up Zimmer’s system. He has admitted that moving from outside to nickel is a learning process, but his teammates have been pleased with his adaptability. Xavier Rhodes in particular was quick to point to Hughes’ willingness to learn.
And it was not only Hughes’ coachabilty that impressed. He made some plays, as well. In the last day of minicamp, Hughes returned an interception off a tipped pass for a touchdown and undercut another route for a pass breakup.
Anthony Barr in a hybrid role?
Barr’s pass rushing ability was a major selling point when the Vikings selected him with the ninth pick in 2014. Since then, however, he has taken on a relatively traditional 4-3 outside linebacker style. True, he blitzes a fair amount, particularly through the A-gap. But through four seasons, Barr has only 10.5 sacks with 7.5 coming in his first two years.
But now it appears Barr could be seeing more opportunities to rush the passer in 2018. He worked with the defensive linemen in pass rush drills in minicamp and Zimmer said they wanted him “more comfortable rushing against linemen.” Now, that does not necessarily indicate Barr will spend time with his hand on the ground this year. But it is certainly possible we see him line up in five- and nine-techniques on a more regular basis.
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