The Vikings were back on the practice field for the fourth and final time this week and a few progressions have been seen throughout the week with a few changes on Friday.
While a few veterans were excused for personal reason, most hands were on deck Friday for the final practice – aka organized team activity – of the week.
Kicker Ryan Longwell
was attending a school graduation, safety Darren Sharper
was preparing for an NFL Europa telecast as a commentator, running back Chester Taylor
was in Detroit with his mother, defensive end Erasmus James
continues to recover from offseason knee surgery, and defensive end Darrion Scott
and linebacker Jason Glenn
were excused for other personal reasons. Rookie tight end Braden Jones
was absent again after injuring a finger in practice earlier in the week. And cornerback Antoine Winfield
continued to be a no-show for the voluntary work.
But those absences didn't stop the rest of the players from getting more familiar with the schemes.
"We got a lot done here in these four days and just kind of set the tempo. I thought the guys did a great job out here," head coach Brad Childress said after Friday's session. "There were a couple of competitive periods today and I thought they did a great job competing. We ran three groups there through the two-minute and thought they gave each other a good look. It's a fine line when guys are competing, people staying off the ground, playing the situations, thinking, as well as getting great tempo. I was very pleased with what they got done in these four days."
For the majority that were there, the progression of installing more offense and defense continued, and players on both sides of the ball continued to rotate as coaches looked to create film on potential players to emerge from the depths of the backup corps.
So what did we spy in a not-so-undercover session?
With Taylor gone, Adrian Peterson was running almost full-time with the first-team offense during seven-on-seven drills. He continued to look quick and displayed no signs of questionable hands. Before the draft, that was one of the question marks on Peterson because he wasn't thrown the ball often at Oklahoma, but he has shown throughout the week that his hands shouldn't be an issue. Neither should his speed or footwork.
Another player in the backfield with very quick feet is fullback Naufahu Tahi. He joined the Vikings with six games remaining in the 2006 season, but this is the most extensive look the media has had of him. He doesn't look like the listed 6-foot-nothing the team has him at, but if he can contribute on special teams, he could find a roster spot again in 2007.
The Vikings instituted a few new drills and exercises for a couple of different positions. The quarterback can be seen jumping rope on a daily basis and there is a new contraption set up to work on their accuracy. Hanging from what is essentially an oversized clothesline pole are three large nets measuring a couple feet wide, each with a colored cloth target sewn into the netting. If a pass hits the target, it should drop into the netted bag below the target. On one occasion, Tarvaris Jackson appeared to drop five of six passes into the bag from about 15 yards away. He was on the mark with a high percentage of his throws later in practice as well.
For wide receivers, position coach George Stewart implemented a drill in which a receiver runs laterally across the field 10 to 15 yards away from the passer. In between the passer and receiver are three players waving their hands at the ball as it passes by to simulate the arms of defenders trying to knock down a pass. The defenders' hands are just used to make sure the receiver is concentrating on the ball as it passes through traffic. The only receiver that seemed to have trouble more than once was Martin Nance.
The biggest position surprise of the day came when Ryan Cook alternated snapping the ball to the quarterback on seven-on-seven drills. Cook was originally drafted as a center and played there until midway through training camp last year, when he was switched to mainly tackle. He ended up starting three games at right tackle, and he is still playing tackle with the first-team offense. However, seeing him snapping the ball indicates he could be Matt Birk's primary backup at center. Last year's backup at center was Jason Whittle, who signed as a free agent with Buffalo. Marcus Johnson is the backup at right tackle should Cook's services ever be needed at center.
With Winfield still MIA, third-round draft pick Marcus McCauley did get some time with the first-team nickel defense during seven-on-seven work.
Many of the Vikings' regulars over the last two days got their vision tested by staff from the Nike Institute that tested receiver Troy Williamson earlier in the offseason.
"Just check things that you can't check athletically…Those folks out there would rather, as opposed to thump their chest, watch the results instead of advertising the results," Childress said.
"They're doing things like, first of all, check the hardware, but then so many other things in terms of balance, stability, the vestibular system. It's good stuff for all of our guys"
The Vikings hosted a couple of assistant coaches from the Minnesota Gophers and several high school coaches at Friday's practice. Among the high schools represented were Wayzata, Hopkins, Kennedy, St. Paul Central, Minnetonka, St. Paul Johnson, Eastview, Minneapolis North and Edina.