With the Minnesota Vikings’ organized team activities wrapping up on Thursday, Viking Update recaps the players who stood out during these past three weeks. The media were only able to view one practice each week, but the viewing is a good start to see who is on the right track so far this offseason.
The first player is one that has been talked about quite a bit this offseason and that is second-year defensive end Danielle Hunter. He has added muscle this offseason and now measures in at 6-foot-5, 252 pounds and what it even more impressive is he didn’t seem to lose any of his speed.
To be fair, these offseason workouts - where there are no pads and minimal contact - usually favor defensive ends, especially those who utilize their speed well, like Hunter. If he gets a good first step there is not a lot an offensive tackle can do to stop him, but he has looked so dominant on multiple occasions that it is hard to believe that pads would make much of a difference.
Hunter has been getting multiple reps with the first-team defense, but Brian Robison and Everson Griffen remain the starters. What has been a common practice, though, and is something fans may see more of during the 2016 season, is the Vikings have moved Robison inside to defensive tackle on pass-rushing downs and brought on Hunter to play defensive end. Add a defensive tackle such as Sharrif Floyd or Tom Johnson, who excel in rushing the passer, and the Vikings have a very dangerous front four in passing situations.
Offensive tackle Phil Loadholt has also stood out during the team’s OTAs, but not for the reasons many would have hoped for. He is usually the one on the wrong side of all of Hunter’s good plays, as the young, athletic defensive end has seemed to have his number during some of the offseason workouts. It is important to remember, though, that Loadholt is coming off a full season of missed time because of a torn Achilles’ tendon. It will probably take him some time to shake off the rust and fully trust the healing, which would make it even more difficult to handle a speed rusher like Hunter. Either way, Loadholt could start to see his first-team reps challenged by Andre Smith even more.
Another second-year player that has stood out so far during OTAs is offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings. He has been taking reps at both right tackle and left tackle and has looked much better than he did during his rookie season. He even received some time with the first team at left tackle when Matt Kalil was still limited and Clemmings seemed to be able to hold his own against Everson Griffen, which is an encouraging sign.
This is Clemmings’ first time ever playing left tackle and just his fourth year playing offensive tackle, so the coaching staff knows that there are still bound to be some learning curves for him. Still, they seem to be relatively happy with the progress he has been able to make so far this offseason.
Of the rookies the Vikings have drafted, the most impressive one would probably be their second sixth-round pick, tight end David Morgan. Not only does the long hair flowing out of his helmet cause him to stand out on the field, but so does his play. When the Vikings drafted him, they knew how good he was blocking in the running game, but without pads it has been hard to assess that area of his game.
Where he has really made a statement is catching the ball. It’s hard to say if he has recorded a dropped pass yet, as he seems to catch any ball thrown his way. Whether he is wide open in the flat, or crossing the middle with defenders draped all over him, he always seems to hold onto the ball. He is not the fastest player on the field, but he is not expected to be since he plays tight end and blocking is considered his forte. He appears to have a good understanding of the routes he is running and seems to be able to create the separation he needs.
Another player that has been standing out so far through the offseason workouts that might surprise some is undrafted free agent linebacker Jake Ganus. Gauns played inside linebacker during his time at Georgia, but Vikings coaches decided to move him to the outside and he has seemed to adapt pretty well so far.
It just looks like he has a nose for finding the football and always seems to be making a play, whether it is rushing the passer, filling the correct hole in the running game, or even dropping back into coverage and intercepting the football.
The big thing going against Ganus is that he is undersized. He measures in at 6-foot-2, 233 pounds, so things could get more difficult for him when the pads come on and the offense is able to put more bodies on him. But he has definitely stood out so far and is on the right track toward earning a roster spot or at least a spot on the team’s practice squad when the regular season rolls around.
One thing that is important to remember is that these players are all going against different levels of competition. A player like Ganus is usually working against the third-team offense, so he is not going against the same caliber of players that someone working against the first-team offense is facing.
The players can’t always control who they go up against. They just have to make plays in the situations they are given and hope the coaches notice and act accordingly. So far, these are the players who have really stood out, but there is still a long way to go until the start of the regular season and that could all change over time.