Rookie recon: Vikings’ speed shows early

Several rookies showed their rare speed at the first day of Minnesota Vikings rookie minicamp. Here are numerous observations from the practice field.

If the Minnesota Vikings were going for speed in the 2015 NFL Draft, it became apparent on the field Friday at rookie minicamp.

Eric Kendricks (second round) and Edmond Robinson (seventh round) each tied for the second-fastest 40-yard dash time among linebackers at the NFL Scouting Combine at 4.61 seconds.

Third-round defensive lineman Danielle Hunter was similarly impressive. His 4.57-second 40-yard dash was bested by first-round pick Vic Beasley (4.53) but better than another first-round defensive lineman, Dante Fowler (4.60), who tore his ACL Friday with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and 3/10ths of a second or more faster than many in the class of defensive linemen typically running in the 4.8- to 5.1-second range.

And those aren’t even the positions known for speed. Receiver Stefon Diggs was impressive Friday, getting defensive backs on edge with his quick-cutting abilities, and first-round pick Trae Waynes was easily the fastest cornerback at the Scouting Combine, running a blazing 4.31-second 40-yard dash.

It all showed up on Friday with the rookies on first display in front of the media. Here are our initial observations:

  • Diggs, a fifth-round pick, was most impressive. He said he watched a lot of Percy Harvin growing up and there are some similarities. Diggs loved Harvin’s physicality for a smaller receiver, but Diggs doesn’t have Harvin’s build – “not yet,” he cautioned at that observation – but his ability to cut on a dime was evident early and throughout Friday’s session.

    His short-area explosive was reminiscent of Harvin, but his feel for setting up a defender for a false step looked a lot Greg Jennings with the ball in his hands. Like Harvin was early in his rookie season, Diggs is already being tested with end-arounds.

    Diggs showed great awareness coming back to the ball in flight and was consistently impressive in gaining separation. He also flashed his elusiveness in kickoff return duties. Even with a drill set up to favor the coverage men pinching him in on a two-on-one drill, Diggs gained the outside contain – a clear win for him – with one quick move and the ensuing speed. He also was used on punt returns.

  • Waynes showed the speed to keep up with deep routes, but he surprisingly appeared a bit too hesitant in giving too much ground. At Michigan State, his calling card was a physical press-man style, but it was almost groundhogs day from last year’s early camp sessions with Xavier Rhodes. Simply substitute Waynes for Rhodes. After nearly every play, Waynes was getting instruction from either head coach Mike Zimmer – whom Waynes calling a “DB guru” – or defensive backs coach Jerry Gray. If they are able to coach up Waynes like they did Rhodes last year, good things are in store for a pass defense that finished No. 7 in the NFL last year. Waynes was used exclusively on the left side, an indication he is the natural favorite to play opposite Rhodes.

  • Like Zimmer and Gray on defense, receivers coach George Stewart was demanding precision from his raw receivers on offense, making sure that routes cut off before their intended depth weren’t going unnoticed. Several receivers understandably struggled with some of the new techniques in their first NFL practice, but undrafted rookie Gavin Lutman from Pittsburg State also struggled with holding onto catchable passes early.

  • It’s easy to see what the Vikings liked in undrafted quarterback Taylor Heinicke. From the outset of team drills, he took charge. The qualities he showed in one-on-one passing sessions – a tight spiral, hitting his back foot and releasing the ball immediately, great timing on out routes –transferred to the full-team sessions when it was offense versus defense. If there was a drawback, it appeared Heinicke was more accurate throwing to his left than his right. He should wage a strong battle with Mike Kafka for the third spot.

  • In addition to Diggs, versatile tight end MyCole Pruitt had a generally impressive first outing. He isn’t the tall target that Kyle Rudolph presents, but Pruitt has solid change-of-direction skills that create havoc for linebackers trying to cover him. He also has great awareness how to position his body to wall off the defender. However, later in the session, he dropped a couple passes that should have been easy receptions, despite making more difficult catches earlier.

  • Despite proving he had the speed at the Combine, Robinson struggled a bit in coverage, especially with trying to keep from clutching at offensive jerseys trying to make a move on him. He did, however, prove he can keep up in foot races downfield.

  • Kendricks showed some of the same tendencies to grab onto tight ends and running backs switching direction in the middle of the field. One of his strengths, though, was shown with a keen awareness of when to stick out his lead arm to knock down passes within his reach.

  • Hunter showed why coaches see some of the same traits as Everson Griffen. He is quick off the snap – easily beating fourth-round pick T.J. Clemmings on one play – and knows how to dip and rip under a block to gain the angle to the quarterback. But even after one of the occasions he pressured the quarterback, Zimmer had an involved one-on-one session with him about what he can do better. For the first outing, it’s easy to see what the Vikings liked in Hunter.

  • Undrafted safety Anthony Harris sat out practice while he continues to recover from right shoulder surgery that prematurely shut down his senior season.

  • The good humor moment of the day: A sideline observer was just trying to be helpful when throwing a ball back into play after an incompletion, but he nearly hit offensive coordinator Norv Turner, whose blue-streak best was directed at the inaccurate offender. Apparently it’s never too early to break out Turner’s intensity.

  • Viking Update Top Stories