The Big And The Quick

In a wide-ranging training camp report, big Bryant McKinnie says he's aware he needs to prove himself in the running game and on the road, while the quick Troy Williamson made a difference earlier than expected. And even the special teams get some love in our Wednesday update, which includes a weakside linebacker update and comments on holdout Erasmus James.

The Minnesota Vikings ran the ball the best they have so far in training camp Wednesday, and big No. 74 was one of the main reasons why.

Many believe fourth-year player Bryant McKinnie (6-foot-8, 335 pounds) took a step backwards last season, but he is determined to make sure that doesn't happen again. The left tackle struggled at times on the road in 2004 and has come to Mankato to fix that problem as well as improve on his run blocking.

"Bryant needs to continue to work on his quickness and the speed that he lacks in the running game," head coach Mike Tice said after Wednesday's morning practice. "He really looks to be blocking better (when we're running the football). Especially at the backside, as it pertains to cutting off the linebacker."

Tice said McKinnie also needs to continue to play well on the road.

"He played two really good road games in the playoffs, probably the best two road games of his career."

McKinnie said he's aware of both problems and has made correcting them his priorities in this year's camp.

"Getting better at run blocking is my main focus," McKinnie said. "I think I do a pretty decent job of pass blocking. At practice you like to work on things you're not as good at so that's what I'm doing.

"I need to keep my hands tight. At times they would come out and I'd end up getting my hands on my chest. I need to have the hand advantage because that helps with leverage."

Tice said McKinnie's road problems last year stemmed from his inability to hear the snap count.

"He was getting himself in a funk with the crowd noise. He just has to learn that when you can't hear, you look at the ball. He's working real hard at moving with the ball ... and he's gotten better at it."

McKinnie agreed he improved at playing on the road toward the end of last year and expects more of the same this season.

"We had two different centers (Matt Birk and Cory Withrow) in and out and they have different styles of silent counts and stuff like that," McKinnie said. "That was hard for me to get adjust to. I'm learning to adapt to whoever's in there."

Special teams excel

The Vikings have been working a lot on special teams in the first five days of camp. As a result, the special teams are farther ahead than they've been at this time in any of the camps under Tice.

The Vikings are experiencing excellent competition between the kickers (Aaron Elling and Paul Edinger) and the return men. They're also blocking better on special teams.

"We still have to find some guys that want to run down on kickoffs," Tice said. "When we identify those people, that will be a golden opportunity for some young guys to jump ahead of guys they're competing with."

Williamson gets noticed

Rookie wide receiver Troy Williamson, in just his second day of camp since signing his contract, had the play of the day during morning passing drills.

Williamson streaked down the left side of the line to haul in a 30-yard pass from Brad Johnson. He fought off a defender to make the play and wound up in the end zone for a touchdown.

"It was nice," Tice said. "He wasn't supposed to do too much today, but we lost a couple of guys to injuries. Ben Nelson got knocked silly yesterday and still had a headache this morning. Kelly (Campbell) strained a quad and Skyler Fulton has a hip flexor thing.

"So then you're down three receivers and Troy got pressed into service," Tice said. "We were only going to give him six reps. I think he wound up taking six in one period."

Earlier in passing drills, rookie corner back Laroni Gallishaw broke up a pass from Daunte Culpepper intended for Williamson on the same side of the field. Culpepper later found Travis Taylor on a 20-yard crossing route. He also hit Nate Burleson near the right sideline for a what would have been 25-yard gain, but Burleson was just out of bounds.

In another big play, Johnson dropped back and found Mewelde Moore with a middle screen. Moore was 25 yards down field before he was touched.

The defensive highlight came when a defender knocked the ball out of Jermaine Wiggins' arms and Darren Sharper scooped it up for a 10-yard return.

A little levity

Johnson and coach Tice tried to lighten things up a little in the morning practice. On one pass play, Johnson rolled left, switched the ball to his left hand and tossed it to a tight end for an 8-yard gain. Judging by the way the ball fluttered like a dying duck, it's probably not something Johnson will try in a real game.

Later on, with the team practicing squib kicks, Tice positioned himself in the middle of the field and fielded one on a single bounce. His feeble run-back attempt amused players, coaches and fans alike.

Thomas separating himself

Second-year linebacker Dontarrious Thomas has apparently taken a big lead over Raonall Smith in the job for weakside linebacker.

Tice said Thomas is farther ahead than Smith because he doesn't make the mental mistakes and is much more consistent.

Breaking the silence

Tice broke his silence about rookie defensive lineman Erasmus James
Wednesday, saying the first-year player is beginning to fall way behind the other linemen in camp.

"Anything he earns now he's got to work his way up the ladder," Tice said. "You've got a guy that comes in after (the rest of the team) has their legs back and he's put himself in the hole.

"It's going to be tough for me to see him do anything that will be counted on early these next couple of weeks. Of course, if he comes in that first preseason game and gets five sacks, he'll be starting."

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