A light rain fell during the first half of the Vikings' developmental camp practice Monday, but that didn't keep the defensive backs from blanketing the receivers and it certainly didn't water down the trash talking.
The drizzling rain that fell for the first half of the Vikings' developmental camp didn't dampen the spirits of fast-talking Fred Smoot
The Vikings' new cornerback was busy battling wide receivers, then reminding them of how he knocked down a pass or how the receiver cheated to make a catch against him or another defensive back. It's easy for Smoot to talk – that comes naturally to him. But it's almost as easy for observers to see that things won't be so easy for opposing offenses this fall.
The defensive backfield, highlighted by the additions of Smoot and Darren Sharper
through free agency, has been busy batting down passes in tight coverage this spring. A number of different defensive backs have looked good at different points during the spring regimen, but Smoot is adding a flavor of fun to practices with his chatter.
"Football is meant to be fun," said offensive coordinator Steve Loney, whose players are the target of Smoot's barbs. "These guys go out to practice. They practice hard. They compete hard. They have fun doing it. I think that's when you get better. If it gets to be a laboring chore, then I think you struggle with it. Certainly they're having fun."
Smoot and wide receiver Kelly Campbell
have been at the center of the trash talking. Smoot calls Campbell "his boy," noting that both are from the south and both enjoy yapping. It was never more clear than on Monday.
On one occasion, Campbell had the catch of the day, but it didn't come without the benefit of having no back judge to throw a flag for offensive pass interference. Campbell went streaking down the left sideline with Smoot following him step for step. When the ball got near the two players, Campbell looked back, jumped up and gave a good shove to Smoot to create separation.
The result was a 30-yard reception that likely would have had offensive pass interference called had it been in a game. Of course, Smoot wasn't about to let Campbell return to the offensive huddle without pointing out the push-off a handful of times and vocally enough for the anyone within range practice field to hear.
On another occasion, Smoot was involved in a battle for position with receiver Marcus Robinson
. Smoot knocked that pass to the ground and Robinson started lobbying for pass interference. Instead, the defensive players on the sidelines quickly came to Smoot's defense and repeatedly implored Robinson to "stop crying."
The defense is covering receivers and covering for each other. It's a refreshing sight to see on the Purple's practice field. It's a site that has defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell thinking about a dramatically improved defense … and Loney, the offensive coordinator, agreeing.
"As an offensive coach, when you look at the problems they create for you and some of the players they have showing up, certainly, with out a doubt, they present a challenge," Loney said.
Loney called Moe Williams the security blanket at the running back position. "The thing Moe Williams gives you is a lot of maturity," Loney said. "If defenses give you some looks that perhaps you're not ready for or it's a different look than what you're used to, he's the guy that can process it in his mind and make that adjustment."
Safety Willie Offord was among the defensive backs involved in batting away passes. Offord went high to knock a pass away from receiver Nate Burleson in the end zone. With Corey Chavous absent, Offord has been receiving all of the first-team reps at safety.
Defensive tackle Kevin Williams appears to be doing more each week as he increases his practice regimen on a knee recovering from offseason surgery.
Ken Irvin was not at practice, the result of an excused absence, according to Cottrell.
Defensive backs Chavous and Brian Williams continued their holdout from voluntary workouts. Cottrell said he fully expects both of them to be back at the start of training camp.
Defensive back Dustin Fox was back for his first practice action since the team's official minicamp in late April and early May. Fox, a third-round draft pick, wasn't able to attend any other camps per league rules because his school, Ohio State, was still in session. He saw action with the second-team defense, filling in for Irvin. Coverage coordinator Chuck Knox, Jr. was assisting him with his responsibilities often.
Raonall Smith saw most of the action with the first-team defense Monday. He and Dontarrious Thomas have been alternating repetitions as the starting weakside linebacker.
The Vikings added Matt Mitrione, a 6-foot-2, 300-pound defensive tackle, to their roster. Mitrione was a four-year starter at Purdue and has spent time with the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers. He played in nine games with the Giants in 2002.
Hurting for depth at center with Pro Bowler Matt Birk recovering from hip surgery, the Vikings also signed first-year player Shawn Lynch. Lynch is a 6-4, 300-pounder out of Duke.
Nate Burleson had a 46-yard TD reception, beating cornerback Ralph Brown to the ball and turning upfield.
First-round draft choice Troy Williamson had a 40-yard reception, making a nice over-the-shoulder grab on the right sideline.
The Vikings cut their developmental camp practice schedule short by eliminating Wednesday's practice. Their final organized practice of the spring will be Tuesday morning. Tuesday and Wednesday, many of the coaches and players will be participating in charity golf tournaments. KSTP-TV anchor Joe Schmit is hosting a tournament Tuesday, and the Viking Children's Fund tournament is Wednesday. The Vikings tournament is sold out and not open to the public.
Kickers are sometimes considered outsiders to some teammates, but none of the Vikings' kickers did themselves any favors in Monday's practice, not that it was their fault. On several occasions, Aaron Elling and Paul Edinger were called on to attempt field goals. It just so happened that they were kicking through the south uprights and the ball was sailing into the players' parking lot. The balls hit a few of the SUVs jammed into the lot, and one of Edinger's kicks set off a car alarm.
Edinger and Elling both converted on 42-yard field goal attempts, and Jonathan Nichols was good from 44 yards. Elling topped that with a 46-yarder. Edinger's final attempt of practice, a 47-yarder, hit the right upright and bounced back into the end zone. Elling was short on a 48-yarder earlier in practice.
Jermaine Wiggins continued his assault on the end zone, catching another touchdown pass from Daunte Culpepper, this one coming on fourth down in the back of the end zone after great protection of Culpepper in the pocket. Wiggins looks like he's in better shape this year and has continued to make a significant impact catching the ball in spring practices.
Kenechi Udeze had one sack of Culpepper.
Travis Taylor had a nice touchdown reception over a defender.
Head coach Mike Tice ended practice by making the assistant coaches run instead of the players, drawing the laughs and hollers of many of the players.