More than two months after the start of free agency, the Minnesota Vikings were finally able to get on the field for full-team practices pitting the offense against the defense with the start of organized team activities this week.
The changes since last season have been many.
Adrian Peterson, Matt Kalil, Captain Munnerlyn, Cordarrelle Patterson and Charles Johnson were among the players that left via free agency, and Chad Greenway retired. In addition, several of the short-term players that the Vikings had hoped would be solutions to a mess of injuries on the offensive line, like Jake Long and Andre Smith, are no longer with the team, either.
But free agency and the draft also brought new players aboard. On the offensive line, that meant the signings of tackle Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers and the drafting of interior blockers Pat Elflein and Danny Isidora. At receiver, Michael Floyd was added. At running back, Latavius Murray was signed and Dalvin Cook was drafted.
The changes are many, so here is how things looked at the first full practice open to the media.
First, the offensive playmakers.
Floyd looked the part of a strong receiver that can also stretch the field and seemed to surprise some of his teammates and coaches in his first two days with the team.
“A big-bodied receiver who can catch the ball and he’s not a slow guy at all,” receiver Jarius Wright said. “He brings another speed aspect to the game. It’s been fun working with him so far.”
Floyd seems to know that his 6-foot-2, 220-pound frame invokes the initial impression that he’s more of a possession receiver, but his stats and his production prove he’s much more than that.
“My speed is deceptive. Some of these guys think I’m slower than what I am, but I’m really not,” Floyd said. “Just my strength and my physicality that I bring on the field is an advantage for me.”
Floyd ran mostly with the second-team offense, as offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said Floyd’s learning curve is large – he just started working with the team this week - although he says Floyd is a quick learner.
Without Floyd working his way up among the starting offense at this point, second-year receiver Laquon Treadwell, coming of a bitterly and self-admittedly disappointing rookie season, got the opportunity to “run with the ones” and didn’t disappoint.
Coming off an injury in college that dramatically cut into his effectiveness and playing time in his rookie season, Treadwell finally looks healthy. Although speed was never his greatest asset, he appears to have gotten his quickness back, aiding his ability to get in and out of routes much quicker than last year.
“He’s had a great, in my opinion, 5½ weeks,” Shurmur said. “He came back and he was really on point with what he’s supposed to be doing mentally. He’s been out here competing and doing a nice job running routes and catching the ball, understanding where he fits in the running game and who to block. To this point, we’ve been really pleased with his progress based on a year ago.”
Seeing Treadwell in action for the first time since last year, Shurmur’s assessment seems to be more than just lip service.
He impressed on several occasions by gaining separation from defensive backs, a skill that was lacking last year – likely due more to his physical limitations with his injury than anything else. He also made a few impressive catches, either tightly contested or over the shoulder.
Cook continued to show why the Vikings moved up in the second round to draft him. The elusive running back was persistent showing off his speed. The last time we saw him in practice, he was doing that against rookies and first-year players who were all in their infant steps learning the offense. This time, it came against a veteran group of defenders and Cook still had the burst when he turned the corner on the outside and the decisiveness needed when running between the tackles.
With Murray out until training camp following surgery to remove bone spurs from his ankle, Cook is getting plenty of time with the starters to show what he can do.
With all the changes to the offensive line, that was one of the curiosities of OTAs. At rookie camp, Elflein looked like a strong possibility to start at center and he still is. But with the veterans on the field now, too, Nick Easton took most of the first-team snaps at center with Joe Berger at right guard. Eventually, however, Elflein should challenge at center and Isidora could do the same at right guard.
On defense, with Sharrif Floyd joining Murray, Teddy Bridgewater and Emmanuel Lamur as the veterans not at Wednesday’s practice, it was Tom Johnson getting the first-team reps next to Linval Joseph at defensive tackle. When it came to the nickel defense, it was often Brian Robison and Johnson inside, with Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen at the ends. Hunter, as Robison foreshadowed at the end of last season, got plenty of time as the starting left end in the base defense, which could signal a rotational role for Robison if that continues.
Without Lamur at practice, Edmond Robinson got the base-defense reps at Greenway’s old spot at weakside linebacker.
In the secondary, Mackensie Alexander and Terence Newman took turns at the nickel cornerback spot, previously manned by Munnerlyn, while Trae Waynes got most of the reps at left cornerback, opposite Xavier Rhodes on the right side.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS/BIG PLAYS
- Robison was on a roll early, tipping one of the first passes of full-team work and intercepting it at the line of scrimmage. Of course, he made sure to let his defensive teammates know he understood how to intercept a pass.
- CB Tre Roberson, an undrafted rookie in 2016, added another interception along the sideline, Rhodes had another on a pass intended for Kyle Rudolph in which the tight end took issues with no pass interference being called, and Kentrell Brothers took advantage of a ball tipped by safety Anthony Harris for another interception that would have been returned for a touchdown. That pass was intended for Floyd. All told, there were four interceptions made at all three levels of the defense.
- Rookie Jack Tocho, who is making the switch from college cornerback to NFL safety, also got some time as a nickel cornerback.
- They wouldn’t be classified as drops because of the difficulty of the catch, but rookie tight end Bucky Hodges had two passes in the end zone go off his fingertips. On a positive note, Hodges has admitted blocking isn’t his strong suit with a lack of experience doing it in college, but he was in a good position on one play to open a long gain on a running play.
- RB Jerick McKinnon had an athletic over-the-shoulder catch for a 30-yard gain with LB Eric Kendricks trailing in coverage.
- Jeremiah Sirles, a fill-in at right tackle last year, got some work at left guard (Boone’s spot) with the first-team offense.
- Kicker Kai Forbath was 8-for-8 in field goals ranging from 30 to 43 yards.