Vikings minicamp minutia: The rotations

The Vikings were forced to adapt because of injuries and get rotational players time with the starters.

While many of the starting spots appear set for the Minnesota Vikings, there were plenty of positions with a starting spot up for grabs.

The offensive line saw tremendous rotation throughout the three weeks of organized team activities and minicamp. Some of that was due to injury and not wanting to push players back too soon following surgery and risk a setback. But there is an advantage to a probable starter missing practice at this time of year: backups are put in a position for coaches to evaluate with the starting units.

“I tried to be very careful this spring because, for the most part, our injuries have been nothing major and I wanted to get to camp healthy. That’s a big thing,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “And then I want us to, when we come back, to kind of be where we left. I understand some of the technical things, but we progressed so much quicker this year than last year at this time because of knowing the system, knowing the terminology, knowing all of the different things. I want us to continue where we are right now. I would like that.”

With Phil Loadholt taking part in only individual drills, Mike Harris got the starting reps at right tackle, just as he did last season after Loadholt tore his pectoral muscle.

With Brandon Fusco in a similar situation but slightly ahead of Loadholt’s schedule, Fusco went through individual drills and took limited full-team reps. When he wasn’t at left guard, second-year lineman David Yankey was there.

Fusco’s move to left guard opened an opportunity at right guard, where rookies T.J. Clemmings (in OTAs) and Tyrus Thompson (in OTAs and minicamp) are in a battle for the opening.

“We are trying to build a smart, tough, aggressive football team that knows how to play in crucial situations and that was part of our offseason emphasis,” Zimmer said.

Defensively, Robert Blanton took the vast majority of the first-team reps, but coaches say that spot is still undecided opposite Harrison Smith.

The linebackers also have some questions to answer before the start of the season. Anthony Barr, when healthy, which should be by the start of training camp, is the strongside starter, and Chad Greenway is on the weak side. However, Barr was limited in full-team work at minicamp, creating opportunities for Gerald Hodges to get better.

Second-round pick Eric Kendricks is also working to find a role at middle linebacker, but Audie Cole was taking the bulk of the first-team reps in the base defense. But when it came to nickel linebackers, a vast rotation was in play. At times, it was Greenway and Hodges, then Kendricks and Greenway, and even Hodges and Kendricks. In other words, the top linebackers are clear, but who plays when is still very much an open competition heading into training camp.

“I think everybody’s a lot more comfortable in their roles right now. We seem to be playing faster and not thinking quite as much,” Zimmer said. “Defensively, we actually had a couple of things in this week that were difficult and they handled it very well. That was good to see.”

  • With Brian Robison (pectoral muscle) not taking full-team reps at left defensive end during full-team work, second-year player Scott Crichton was getting plenty of run with the starters. Crichton and Yankey played sparingly as rookies, but they are getting their shots to prove their worth with starters recovering from injury.

  • Blair Walsh was 7-for-8 in field goals, missing his final opportunity on the last day of camp, a 55-yard attempt that went wide left.

  • Cullen Loeffler has competition at long snapper with Kevin McDermott signed, but Loeffler took the first reps in both punting and field goal situations on Thursday and was the more accurate of the two.

  • Kendricks’ athleticism showed throughout minicamp. He was especially noticeable in pass coverage, where he intercepted passes. On Thursday, he almost added to his total with a high, leaping attempt over the middle that he was able to deflect but not fully corral before hitting the ground.

  • The highlight of the passing game came from a Shaun Hill-to-Stefon Diggs connection. Diggs showed off his speed streaking down the left sideline with Jabari Price trailing in coverage. Hill perfectly placed a deep pass to Diggs in stride and he was off to a 50-yard completion.

  • Price had one scary moment on a pass play on the same sideline. Hill tried to thread a pass to Cordarrelle Patterson. Safety Antone Exum and Price both went up for the ball and Exum made contact with Price’s helmet in the air. Price stayed down for a bit before returning to action on the next play.

  • The offense was generally sharp in two-minute situations. Each of the top three units were given 45 seconds and one timeout from their own 40-yard line to get into field goal position. Teddy Bridgewater got them into position with a series of intermediate completions before spiking the ball at the 32-yard line. Hill got the second unit there mainly because of completions of 10 and 21 yards to Patterson before spiking it on the 24-yard line with 2 seconds left. Taylor Heinicke got to the 17-yard line with the third-team offense when he completed a 26-yard pass to Jordan Leslie.

  • Most of the key players out with injury (Robison, Captain Munnerlyn, Loadholt and Rhett Ellison) should be ready for training camp, but Zimmer said he wasn’t sure if CB Josh Robinson was among those that would return at the start of training camp on July 25.

  • The Vikings wrapped up minicamp with an alumni barbeque that saw about 20 in attendance, including the franchise’s newest Hall of Fame member, center Mick Tingelhoff. Current coaches and players attended the event in perfect weather conditions.

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