The Vikings had defensive speed at the top of their offseason objectives, and now it has become apparent to the staff that they have removed that item from their wish list and placed it on the practice field.
In the opening day of a three-week stretch of "full-squad" workouts, the youth infusion into the defense showed. The Vikings certainly have drafted with defense in mind the past two Aprils, but another contributing factor to the rookie speed at this time of year is that defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell is being judicious in how quickly he installs his defense.
"We've got a long ways to go yet, but the rate which they're progressing is pretty good," Cottrell said after the first of 11 practices in June. "I'm very impressed with how they're picking things up."
Cottrell said not much of the defense has been handed over to the players yet, but they got their first taste of the accelerated installment rate Tuesday. He said coaches will be putting new components in front of the players about six times faster than they did in minicamp in the first half of May.
But it's not just the mental speed of his young defense that has Cottrell smiling. He likes the physical speed and the options that offers him as a coordinator.
"We've got all the speed, everything I want here," Cottrell said. "We've got much more speed than I've had in the last few years, and quickness and play-making ability. This is a good bunch."
"I think with Mike (Tice), because the offense was so good here, (the offseason goal) was to get the defense improved."
Indications are the Vikings were fairly happy with their post-minicamp evaluations after their minicamp workouts. The youth at the position was is a concern — and to some extent still is — but Cottrell is please with what he has seen out of E.J. Henderson (who was excused from practice Tuesday) and Dontarrious Thomas, two linebackers likely to be starters come September.
"They have to grow up fast. We have to give them as many reps as we can," Cottrell said about the linebackers.
"Dontarrious (has) a lot a speed, a lot of quickness. And I think everybody is going to be very impressed with his overall football intelligence, how he sees things and how he reacts to things. He very seldom makes the same mistake twice," Cottrell said.
The Vikings were (and may still be) contemplating the free-agent market with players who could be released this week, but Cottrell will be OK if the team doesn't add any veteran linebackers.
"Hopefully we won't have to do that. We've got enough talent," he said.
* Middle linebacker E.J. Henderson was excused from practice to attend his brother's graduation from Maryland. Henderson is expected back later this week but will be limited in practice. Henderson's post-minicamp magnetic resonance imaging test revealed a meniscus tear, which he then had arthroscopic surgery on. He is expected to be fine by training camp.
* A glance at the roster shows just how young the Vikings are at linebacker. Sixth-year veteran Chris Claiborne is the elder of the group, and he was born less than three months before Raonall Smith, a third-year linebacker who has only made special teams contributions after being a second-round pick in 2002. Claiborne was born on July 26, 1978, meaning he'll turn 26 just before the start of training camp.
* Darrion Scott can't attend practices yet because Ohio State is still in session and the NFL doesn't allow rookies whose school is in session to attend any practices other than the official three-day minicamp, which the Vikings had May 7-9.
* Tight end Jermaine Wiggins was also absent because his wife was having some health problems, Tice said.
* Linebacker Gino Capone, an undrafted rookie from Penn State, retired, according to Tice.
* The Vikings worked out linebacker Merrill Robertson, who went to camp with Philadelphia last year. He had 122 career tackles at Virginia after being used at defensive end and fullback during his first two seasons in college.
* Tuesday's practice was indoors because of rain and players went without pads and helmets, but the Vikings expect to have helmets on today.
* Rookie wide receiver Aaron Hosack, a former Minnesota Gopher, made a great diving catch at the goal line on a deep post route. Hosack has a good frame and solid hands, but his lack of speed could hold him back.
Defensive Speed Improved In A Hurry
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