Sunday slant: Players to prove it in pads

The Vikings won't be wearing pads in training camp this week, but when the hitting starts there are seven players we want to observe as they adjust to the NFL and the Vikings.

Welcome to training camp week. Only four more days until players check in at Minnesota State, Mankato and five more days until the first practice to see what the players are all about … sort of.

In reality, it won't be until next week before the pads go on and things are any different than they were for the 10 organized team activities this spring or the mandatory minicamp in June. We've already gotten a look at what the players can do without pads, but in eight days we should know much more about several players that need to show what they can do when the hitting starts in the heat of camp.

Here are the top players this writer is curious to see in pads:

CB Xavier Rhodes – The first-round cornerback looked like he got fooled on a couple of double moves in his first practices as a Viking, but he looked sharp the rest of the way through and showed the make-up speed when needed. Physicality is his game, and he cracked a smile when we asked about producing with pads on. If he continues to ascend in a scheme that seems tailor-made to his skills, he could be a productive staple of the defense for the next decade.

CB Chris Cook – For as long as Cook has been with the Vikings, he still isn't that experienced because he hasn't been able to stay healthy and on the field. This is his year, a contract season. It's time for him to step forward and be the player the Vikings having been hoping for the last three years.

LB Gerald Hodges – It's hard to imagine Hodges playing safety early in his college career because he's already built like an NFL linebacker. What will it look like next week when Hodges gets to meet Adrian Peterson or Toby Gerhart at the line of scrimmage? That's what we're waiting to see.

DT Sharrif Floyd – Offensive and defensive linemen are hard to gauge at the non-contact practices that entail OTAs and minicamp. It won't be until we see Floyd try to disengage from a starting guard until we start to get a feel for how good he can really be. For now, we know he has a quick initial burst, but can he sustain that past an NFL offensive lineman? That's the big question mark in his game.

WR Cordarrelle Patterson – The last of the Vikings' three first-round rookies can stretch the field, and coaches are excited about also getting the ball in his hands early in the down. However, what happens when he tries to get off a physical jam by a cornerback at the line of scrimmage? Here is guessing he has the size and quickness to make an overly aggressive defensive back pay, but we are forced to wait until at least next week and more likely until preseason action before we can say with certainty.

LB Michael Mauti – Although the contact of the game is something that's intriguing with every rookie, the biggest question surrounding the team's seventh-round linebacker is how he returns from his third surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament. How long will it take him to trust that knee while turning to get his drop for pass coverage or changing direction quickly to pursue a ball carrier? Those questions could extend well beyond training camp, even if he avoids starting camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list.

LB Desmond Bishop – We know Bishop can play and be a bona fide starter. We've watched that with the Packers and he has received strong reviews from his time in Green Bay. The question is how quickly he acclimates to the Vikings' 4-3 scheme after playing in a 3-4 with the Packers.


  • While we're waiting to see how Floyd responds to the pads of training camp, he received a strong review from his practice time in May and June.

    "He's quick twitch. He can anchor in the run. He's very disruptive at the 3 (Kevin Williams' position). And he has good pass-rush moves," defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. "I know his stats may not have shown it, but he's been tremendous in these OTAs. He's another one we can't wait to get the pads on to kind of see what happens when we get the pads on, if he's still productive. … But he's game-ready. He had a good coach at Florida and they prepared him well. So it's not too much different what we're doing here so a lot of things translate over to what he did in college. We're looking for good things from him."

  • Four months after being signed, how quickly can backup QB Matt Cassell integrate into the Vikings offense as the speed of practices during 11-on-11 drills ratchets upward?

    "I've been in the last five years six different offense. I know how to do it, but the terminology, you have to get that nailed down pat so you're not making any mistakes," Cassel said early in the transition process.

    "You try to keep it simple. It can get confusing at times, but if you work hard and continue to study it will all work itself out."

  • Whether it's Cassel or Christian Ponder, there will be an adjustment period between the quarterbacks and all the new receivers. Gone are Percy Harvin, Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu, three of the most-used receivers last year. In are Greg Jennings, Patterson, possibly Greg Childs, Joe Webb and several rookies hoping to catch on to a final roster spot.

    "It just depends on how much he develops and how much chemistry you can build in camp and how he is," Cassel said when asked about the timeframe for a veteran QB to adjust to new receivers. "We're going to get more reps and more reps, and then before you know it we're going to be in camp and then we're going to be out there in preseason and you're going to see how he performs with the lights on. From there, we make an evaluation and make a decision and go from there."

    Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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