It has been an eventful week for the Vikings’ first week in camp, for better or for worse. Starting the 2018 preseason with the loss of Tony Sparano is hardly the circumstances anyone envisioned. Yet, head coach Mike Zimmer seemed to indicate that getting on the field was a therapeutic way for players and coaches to mourn the loss of their friend and mentor.
Unfortunately, time has to march on. Work has to be done in the wake of tragedy. And while it was primarily a week of walk-throughs and padless practices, there were some revelations and highlights from the first week of camp.
Zimmer names Sparano’s replacement(s)
Sparano played an indelible role in the Vikings’ offense, but his loss meant that Mike Zimmer had to suddenly find a replacement. And on Saturday, Zimmer named two men to take on the role, Clancy Barone and Andrew Janocko. Barone was formerly the tight ends coach, but he has also served multiple stints as an NFL line coach, most recently with the Super Bowl-winning Broncos in 2015 and 2016. Todd Downing will take over as tight ends coach. Janocko has served as an assistant for the Vikings for the last four years.
Zimmer said that he chose in-house hires for the job because continuity was a priority for him.
“For the last two years we’ve worked really hard on the footwork and the techniques and the schemes we were running,” Zimmer said. “So I felt like it was important that we continue to do that regardless of whatever we decided to do.”
Cook full-go, but limited
Dalvin Cook‘s recovery has been a main focus of the Vikings’ offseason. Given that much of the offensive success will rely on his health, everyone is waiting with bated breath as he returns to the field. Early signs from camp are that Cook is not limited physically limited, but the coaches are easing him into full speed. Cook operated without a brace on his knee the first few days, but John DeFilippo told media that they are being conservative with his reps. He was full-go in individual drills and blitz drills, but his full squad reps have been a little more sparse.
Defensive backs showing early results
Trae Waynes‘ step last year played a major part in the Vikings’ number one defense. In this, his fourth year, fans will focus on whether he can take an extra leap in play and become a well above-average corner. In two-minute drill on Saturday, he jumped a Stefon Diggs route, allowing the first defense and second offense to take the victory.
Rookies Holton Hill and Mike Hughes have also earned praise from teammates. Hill forced two incompletions in Saturday individuals and Xavier Rhodes described him as “the type of guy you want on this team, one who is willing to learn and can do whatever it takes to be the best.”
Rhodes was also complimentary of Hughes, the Vikings’ first round pick this year.
“Today, he’s looking awesome coming out of his breaks, getting low, transitioning his weight, keeping his eyes on his man,” Rhodes said. “To me, he looked awesome. He didn’t look like a rookie today.”
Sherels and Hughes both figuring into return game
There has been some speculation that the drafting of Hughes could spell the end of Marcus Sherels‘ time in Minnesota. After all, Hughes was one of the top return men in college football last year and Sherels is entering his age-31 season. But special teams coordinator Mike Priefer told media Sunday that at the moment, Sherels is slated as the punt returner and Hughes as the kick returner. As such, it appears Sherels’ spot on the roster is safe once again.
O’Neill takes some first team reps with Hill out
It was only for one day, but second-round pick Brian O’Neill took first team reps at right tackle on Saturday. Regular starter Rashod Hill sat out due to illness. While still generally considered a project, the fact that O’Neill was the guy called to step in is a positive sign for his development. As is O’Neill’s report that he is eating 6,000 calories a day in order to pack on the necessary weight to play NFL tackle.
Other line groups taking shape
Since Pat Elflein is on PUP to start camp, the offensive line combos seen currently are likely to shift by the end of preseason. However, the first, second and third line groups have taken a bit of shape already, and some of the results are worth noting. For one, Tom Compton took the first team reps at left guard with Nick Easton sliding into Elflein’s center spot. Danny Isidora, Aviante Collins and O’Neill took second team reps alongside Josh Andrews and Cornelius Edison. Rookie sixth-round pick Colby Gossett played right guard on the third team. It is unlikely that anyone outside of the top two groups will make the 53-man roster, so seeing Gossett in the last group is slightly disconcerting. But again, camp has just started and there is plenty of time for players to rise and fall.