EAGAN — There may not be as many noteworthy battles at Vikings training camp as in years past, at least for starting positions.
The Vikings have used the same starting offensive line at virtually every practice throughout OTAs, mini-camp and training camp. The starting secondary and linebackers remain intact from last year. And the top two receivers, starting tight end and starting running back are entrenched on offense.
Most compelling is the third wide receiver battle, where Jordan Taylor and Chad Beebe have both gotten work. Beebe made an impressive one-handed grab during individuals that woke up the crowd.
“No pressure,” said Beebe about his approach this year. “It’s the same mindset I had last year coming in. I’m always going to have something to prove. I’m always going to feel like I’m an underdog.”
On the defensive side the Vikings are getting some looks at their defensive tackle depth because of injury. Neither Linval Joseph (rehabbing from upper body surgery) nor Shamar Stephen (non-football injury) have taken live reps yet, and second-year player Jalyn Holmes limped off the field Saturday with an apparent leg injury. With three tackles down, Hercules Mata’afa joined Jaleel Johnson with the first team.
As far as depth battles go:
- Kris Boyd got second-team cornerback reps with Holton Hill — suspended for eight regular season games — watching from the sideline.
- Derron Smith and Marcus Epps have each seen second-team safety snaps.
- Tight end Irv Smith Jr. got significant snaps in two-tight-end sets with the first team, and Zimmer said he’s looking forward to seeing what Smith can do in-line once the pads come on.
- Dakota Dozier and Danny Isidora have been getting second-team guard reps while rookie Dru Samia remains with the 3s.
- QB Sean Mannion has consistently worked with the second team over Kyle Sloter.
A look at special teams
There is continued talk from new special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf about attempting a punt-returner-by-committee approach to replace Marcus Sherels. After nearly a decade with the Vikings, Sherels departed for the New Orleans Saints in free agency after a prolific run with Minnesota.
Maalouf has expressed the desire to try out as many candidates as possible to return punts and hints that he may not settle on just one. Taylor, Beebe, Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and a bevy of young receivers and corners have fielded punts at practice.
“I’d rather have a variety of different guys that are good at different things because then we can use them in different situations,” said Maalouf, “and I think that keeps opponents guessing.”
After a tough first day for kicker Dan Bailey, where he missed three of seven field goals, Maalouf cautioned that it’s still early in training camp and the kicking operation isn’t fully synced up. The Vikings are alternating long snaps between veteran Kevin McDermott and rookie Austin Cutting.
“We’ve got two long snappers, so you have to get used to a lot of different things,” Maalouf said. “It wasn’t all on Dan (Bailey). We have to clean up the operation. It is just so early.”
With Hill’s suspension and Mike Hughes’ rehab from a multi-ligament tear, the Vikings reportedly worked out veterans Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne earlier this week.
Scandrick, the longtime Cowboys corner, signed Saturday with the Philadelphia Eagles while Claiborne remains unclaimed. Claiborne, a former first-round pick, also started his career with the Cowboys before playing two seasons with the New York Jets. He ranked tied for 85th in pass coverage grade in 2018, per Pro Football Focus, and committed nine penalties.
“Just kind of keep turning over rocks and see if we can find something that fits,” Zimmer said of the team’s approach. “We obviously are up against the cap too, so those things are a factor.”
The Vikings have a history of bringing in castoff defensive backs after the start of camp, doing so in the past with Chris Crocker, George Iloka and Tramaine Brock.
Towering former Vikings tackle Phil Loadholt has been at camp the past two days watching the offensive line. He is serving as a Vikings scouting intern — the same role that former fullback Jerome Felton filled a season ago.
Loadholt shared a moment during practice with Vikings legend Carl Eller, who also took in practice from the sideline.
Phil Loadholt: Large human. pic.twitter.com/cETazdApc0
— Sam Ekstrom (@SamEkstrom) July 27, 2019