Vikings

Day One Training Camp Notebook: Receivers Impress, Defensive Backs Need to Catch Up

The first day of training camp doesn’t ever give you the kind of information that ends up being useful throughout the season. The reps there are just bits and scraps that need to be thrown on top of a pile of other bits and scraps from other practices and preseason games to give us a better picture of how players have improved or regressed in the offseason.

So, consider the following as pieces of a very large puzzle—a puzzle whose whole picture will remain unclear throughout the preseason but whose shape should hopefully be discernible by the end.

The first day of camp, unusually, was a bigger day for the offense than the defense. Perhaps when contact is allowed and pads come on, things will change, but for now, it seems like the aerial passing attack took prevalence over anything else we saw today.


Wide Receivers

Primarily, Stefon Diggs had an excellent day. In sideline drills—both for out-and-up drills and toe-tap drills—Diggs looked natural catching the ball and smooth moving after the catch. He continued his day with impressive sideline catches in the drills and then sharp one-on-one work. He performed well against Xavier Rhodes, Terence Newman and Jabari Price.

Diggs was able to box out against real defensive backs as well as the mock DB work the receivers put in when working by themselves as one unit—he even got an impressive pass deflection in.

Aside from him, we saw some pretty good work from Jarius Wright until late in the practice, when he saw a ball jet through his hands on a quick out. He looked fluid in drills as well and showcased serious speed.

Charles Johnson might have been the most satisfying to watch. He wasn’t quite as in-tune as Stefon Diggs, but he had a great day worthy of being a starting receiver. He remained aware in sideline drills and agile enough to turn upfield without much problem—though he’ll always seem to have a little bit of awkward gazelle in him, he’s moving effectively before and after the catch.

Johnson’s performance in one-on-ones was where he shined the most, pulling down contested catches and fighting through (illegal) contact from Rhodes. He was able to find ways open deep and intermediate and largely seemed to create room for himself. He will want to do that more consistently and attack the ball more aggressively in comebacks, but for the most part ran routes well. He did drop a pass, so it wasn’t a perfect day, but it was a pretty good one.

https://twitter.com/Luke_Spinman/status/759125729011314688

By far, the most questions I anticipate I’ll get will be about Laquon Treadwell. Treadwell definitely had some great moments, headlined perhaps by burning Price deep.

He had a few other great moments as well, but he also had some low points, including inconsistency during the sideline drills and some issues catching his footing at various times, slipping twice during drills. Still, his highlights were pretty good, and not just the catch over Price—getting acres of space on an in-breaking route against safety Anthony Harris and crossing Rhodes up for a short completion were among the highlights.

Still, getting closed out by Price on a different route, losing his footing and trying to stay in bounds will mark this day more as “mixed” than positive for Treadwell.

I wish I could have seen more of Cordarrelle Patterson before he fell injured to the ground. What little I saw was positive and he showed up in drills without dropping a pass and maintaining fluidity and possession on the sideline drills, cutting upfield with relative ease. But I couldn’t tell you much about the space he created or anything like that. My impressions before the injury were positive but pretty incomplete, and I liked his work going deep downfield.

Moritz Böhringer looked like he belonged. If we ignore a drop in walkthroughs (let’s do that), he had his highlights and lowlights. It seems like faint praise to say “there was nothing egregiously bad,” but given the talk coming out of minicamps and OTAs about his inability to focus and catch the ball, it makes sense to evaluate him against the standard that he set for himself. I thought he performed just fine. He occasionally would get open against third-team DBs and reel the ball in, while also performing as expected in sideline drills. There was one moment in a drill where he slipped and fell to the ground, but he retained possession of the ball through the catch.

I thought the only “bad day” among the receivers was Adam Thielen. He had drops in drills and in one-on-ones, and though his run in the first team is a big positive for him, his performance was not great. Even without the drops, he had issues keeping the ball inbounds and issues with staying fluid throughout the process of the catch or turning upfield. Thielen also seemed to have issues getting open.

Isaac Fruechte looked fine and Terrell Sinkfield performed well but looked stiff. From a “grading” perspective, I’d say Sinkfield looked good, but I wouldn’t project him to continue to look good given that stiffness (which is interesting because he didn’t just slay the 40-yard-dash at his pro day, but every single drill, including the agility drills). I didn’t see much of Troy Stoudermire, but he seemed to be “on” more than “off,” which I always like to see from position converts.

Fruechte


Defensive Backs

As always, determining safety performance is difficult, even in 11-on-11 drills, so these notebooks will mostly look at cornerbacks.

Xavier Rhodes looked awful. It’s something he’ll naturally improve on, but he had issues covering deep, then covering underneath. He didn’t move fluidly or anticipate well. I didn’t get a chance to look at defensive back drills, so mostly my evaluation of him and the other DBs is reliant on the 11-on-11 drills. Suffice to say, nearly every target in his direction hit his mark. He knows it, so probably no reason to dwell on it.

Also at issue was Jabari Price, who got beaten deep with Treadwell’s speed and underneath with Charles Johnson’s route-running. It’s not great for a cornerback to be in a situation that is only understandable if those names are switched.

Terence Newman on the other side of the field was a little harder to get a bead on, but it seemed like he had a fine day, though beaten deep by Thielen and Patterson each at least once. Newman was also the only DB of the day to seemingly get a highlight, after outpositioning Thielen on a deep pass and getting a deflection.

I wish I could have followed Trae Waynes more closely because his story will be one of the more exciting ones to follow as he tries to earn the starting spot the coaches want him to take, but it’s probably a good thing that I didn’t notice too much of him. It didn’t seem like any receivers in particular gave him fits, but perhaps the easiness (today, anyway) of targeting Rhodes and Price made Newman and Waynes’ jobs easier.

There’s not much to say about Munnerlyn, who didn’t get a ton of reps but also didn’t do poorly in coverage when asked. Mackensie Alexander had one notable misstep in his limited nickel reps, and so should look forward to Day 2 in order to reassert himself. My overall impression of Munnerlyn was positive, so that’s something to work with going forward.

DB Room

As for the safeties, Harris’ reception given up in man coverage could be slightly discouraging—and Harrison Smith gave up one in that situation as well—but overall, I thought he and Smith both performed well in single-high and two-high roles. I didn’t get much of a feel for others, though Exum didn’t squeeze to the sideline quickly enough on a play or two.

Michael Griffin had a bad day, and most of his missteps were in short zones in a strong safety role. He had issues with more than one receiver, and even took too long diagnosing more obvious routes. Like Rhodes, he’ll need to knock off some serious rust.

I don’t have any read on Marcus Sherels, Andrew Sendejo or any third-team cornerbacks other than to say I saw a good play from Tre Roberson.


Other Stuff

Teddy Bridgewater was the truth. As you can tell from the video above, he wasn’t batting 1.000, but there were a lot of deep shots he did well on. Early in the day against air, there were times when it felt like he had underthrown or overthrown a deep shot and he looked pretty average (which I suppose is an improvement) until there were DBs to play against; in those situations he was consistently hitting his receivers deep on go routes and post routes, while also maintaining his level of accuracy on intermediate and short routes.

He wasn’t perfect then, either—a floater over Patterson’s head was memorable—but he hit far more than he missed and even if we discount 70% of practice performance into real game situations, this represents a big improvement.

Bridgewater’s performance largely centered around hitting deep passes, but the reason this doesn’t lead the headline is that it simply isn’t enough of a sample size—especially with what looks to be a bad day by the DBs more than anything else—to say we’ve got liftoff when it comes to explosive playmaking. But this is how it starts, if it indeed does happen.

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The other quarterbacks did not live up to this.

I was more optimistic about Shaun Hill as a backup entering this season than much of the Vikings community, despite a poor showing in limited snaps last year. I had passed that off to very few reps and unusual playcalling and while that may have been the case then does not explain why Hill was so poor today.

His passes had no velocity to them, and the amount of time it took to get to receivers represented a clear liability rife for interceptions. While some weak-armed quarterbacks can make up ground with timing and accuracy, Hill did not seem to do that. Beyond that, he seemed rattled against ghost pressure and a little too willing to abandon the play and scramble.

Joel Stave, in contrast to the other two quarterbacks, actually started the day off well. He rapidly degraded. While he fairly consistently showed good arm strength, his passes were wild and generally outside the catchable vicinity of his receivers; often overthrowing by several yards and sometimes underthrowing by just as much. He’ll have to improve significantly if he wants a third quarterback spot, even if Taylor Heinicke is out for the count.

Kyle Rudolph looked pretty good, even if you exclude the nice seem route he ran before catching a well-placed ball in traffic. The other tight ends didn’t get much attention from me, though Brian Leonhardt seemed to have issues swinging his leg completely through a speed cut.

Hopefully tomorrow gives us even more information.

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