The Vikings are gaining confidence in their defense, and coordinator Ted Cottrell isn't hesitating to show faith in his players by sending them on all-out blitzes. Head coach Mike Tice agrees that he finally has the defenders to do that.
Early Wednesday morning, it was raining cats and dogs in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area.
Late Thursday morning, the Vikings defense was raining cats (cornerback blitzes) and dogs (linebacker blitzes) outdoors in Eden Prairie.
Whether it is the improved defensive talent or the second year for some of the defenders under coordinator Ted Cottrell, the Vikings appears ready to test their defensive stable.
During several full-team plays in Thursday's developmental camp practice, the defense brought more than just a one-man blitz. At times, the defense was willing to part with some combination of multiple linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks.
"First of all, our system is in. Last year we were putting things in, really looking at things to see if we had the personnel to do some things that Ted wanted to do. As it progressed, we realized that we weren't going to be able to be as aggressive or as blitzy as you saw (Thursday)," head coach Mike Tice said. "Now we have the guys on the edge, the guys in the backend that allow us to be blitzy with a powerful and athletic defensive front. There's a difference. The scheme is in and we're not trying to find our way scheme-wise. And they're starting to play defensively with some rhythm and that's a good sign."
On two occasions, linebacker Napoleon Harris
came away with the two-hand touch sack of Daunte Culpepper
. Another time, safety Darren Sharper
came around the outside for a sack. Better news still is that even when the defense didn't get to the quarterback before he released the ball, the defenders left in coverage weren't automatically prone to giving up the big downfield play.
It may be common for the defense to be ahead of the offense at this stage of the year, but with the Vikings bringing in a handful of new starters on that side of the ball, jelling together as a team might be an issue early on. Some defenders admit that will be the biggest challenge; others don't expect it to be an issue at all.
Either way, the upgraded talent is there, and the confidence Cottrell has in his new starters seems to be gaining momentum.
"I know the defense has won some competitions before in the past. I don't know if they've swept the week before. They swept this week and I think that's good," Tice said. "We have some playmakers that are willing to go make plays on the ball."
After taking care of some business matters, running back Moe Williams returned to practice, as did first-round wide receiver Troy Williamson. Kicker Paul Edinger remained away from practice, waiting on the birth of his child.
Former defensive terror John Randle was in attendance, visiting with staff during practice and taking a minute to give out hugs to former teammates Moe Williams, Brad Johnson and Tice. Randle has moved back to the Twin Cities and is doing a lot of golfing.
T.J. Cottrell, the son of Ted and a tight end allocated by the Vikings to NFL Europe this spring, has been at practice every day this week but still isn't practicing. He is recovering from an assault outside a nightclub in Europe that left him in a hospital a few weeks ago.
Brandon Newton, back from NFL Europe, is working at left guard.
Running back Mewelde Moore saw one set where he was split out wide on the line of scrimmage.
Marcus Robinson had the long gain of the day, a 60-yard reception from Daunte Culpepper.
Travis Taylor had the catch of the day and added another very nice reception a couple plays earlier. The best catch came in the middle of the field, where he was sandwiched between and slightly behind cornerback Adrian Ward and linebacker E.J. Henderson. It appeared all three players had a hand on the ball simultaneously, but Taylor was the man who came away the reception. Earlier, Taylor made a nice catch over safety Rushen Jones and won the fight for the ball over him as well.
Speaking of wrestling the ball away, receiver Ben Nelson did just that to cornerback Ralph Brown.
Sharper had a 20-yard interception return for a touchdown off a pass thrown by Culpepper.
Aaron Elling capped a 77-yard drive from the first-team offense with a 28-yard field goal seconds after Tice tried to distract him by walking between Elling and holder Darren Bennett and peering at Elling. During that drive, Culpepper had a 25-yard scramble.
Williamson is seeing some action with the first-team offense, but the inconsistency remains. While he is a catching most passes, he did have one over-shoulder attempt that he appeared to have, then juggled while his momentum took him out of bounds.
The Vikings will wrap up their developmental camps next week with practices Monday through Wednesday. Viking Update will be there with more practice reports and continue throughout the rest of the summer with interviews from the players.