From the first day of training camp, when snaps were fumbled and multiple offensive linemen were required to run the length of the field and back after false starts, the Vikings offense showed some positive signs Saturday evening.
Despite only playing with about half of their receivers healthy, Tarvaris Jackson started with an incompletion but followed that with two consecutive short completions. In his next series, he completed two passes of about 5 yards each and drew a pass interference call on a throw intended for tight end Stephen Spach.
"I thought we picked up the tempo here this afternoon a little bit, and I saw some improvements from our first team against different people. Once again, I thought our quarterbacks did a good job of taking care of the football," head coach Brad Childress said.
"I think we're taking steps forward every day and we're continuing to grow as an offense," said Brooks Bollinger, who continued to look fairly comfortable finding receivers from the pocket. "You get some guys banged up here and there and miss some time. We just needed to get everybody back on the field and keep moving forward."
The Vikings had several missing from action, however, as they left numerous players back in Mankato to rehabilitate injuries, including wide receiver Sidney Rice, who is dealing with a sore hamstring.
Also missing due to injury were WR Aundrae Allison, CB Ronyell Whitaker, RB Chester Taylor, RB Wendell Mathis, LB Ben Leber, OL Dan Mozes, WR Troy Williamson, WR Chandler Williams, DE Khreem Smith, and two who are still on the physically-unable-to-perform list – DE Erasmus James and WR Billy McMullen.
Several other key players – including CB Antoine Winfield, DTs Pat Williams and Kevin Williams, and OL Matt Birk and Steve Hutchinson – either did not participate in team drills or were given limited opportunities to avoid injury.
That might have been a wise decision, considering that a mild shoving match early on eventually turned into fisticuffs between DE Ray Edwards and Chiefs tackle Kyle Turley. On what was scheduled to be the final play of the evening anyway, according to Childress, Turley and Edwards started shoving before Turley got a couple glancing blows off the side of Edwards' helmet. That was followed by a series of punches from Edwards to Turley's body. For those scoring from the sidelines, Edwards clearly won the round.
"We had some pushing and shoving out there. That's football. That's the way it goes," Childress said. "That was the last play, so it had to end somewhere. It had to end somewhere."
After being separated by teammates, Turley had some choice – albeit unprintable – words for Edwards that could be heard from 50 yards away.
Those blows will probably end up television, as most of the viewing angles for photographers were fairly limited, but that fight happened in a relatively open area. For sure, the NFL Films crew that was given additional access for HBO's "Hard Knocks" series will almost certainly show it.
"The last four and a half seconds of an hour and 15 or hour and a half, that's just football. Guys get agitated," Childress said. "It's a physical game, and you've just got to make sure that everybody keeps their composure. It will be a good lesson for us."
But during the course of play, when it really mattered, the Vikings offense showed improvement.
"I think we had a better tempo tonight as an offense and we were sharper," Bollinger said. "It wasn't perfect, but, yeah, I think we took a little step."
Despite the limited number of receivers available Saturday night, Bollinger believes the quarterbacks and receivers are starting to build a positive rapport.
"From where we came in the spring, we had so many new guys and faces in the receiving corps, I think we've really gotten better and feel a lot more comfortable with each other," he said.
Childress thought both Bollinger and Jackson looked better Saturday than they did Friday in Mankato in the first practice against the Chiefs.
‘From both of those guys, I thought they picked up from last night. They were more comfortable with the rush," Childress said. "As I mentioned before, seven-on-seven is not the real world. We've got line runners out there doing things. It's really when all that decision-making happens with people in your face. That's the key component, and then doing the right thing with it when you are down there in the red area."
In his first full-team work of the night, Bollinger looked the part.
He started with about an 8-yard reception to RB Mewelde Moore and completed a short pass to WR Jason Carter before a 20-yard pass went through the hands of WR Martin Nance. Bollinger went right back to Nance for a 10-yard gain and ended his series with what would have been a medium-range pass to TE Braden Jones if not for a good pass-defensing effort from Chiefs LB Keyaron Fox.
Jackson came back in and completed two medium-range passes and drew a pass interference penalty.
In the second full-team session, Bollinger continued to look sharp, completing two of his first three passes for more than 10 yards each, but just slightly overthrowing a would-be touchdown pass to a diving Nance in the end zone.
Both Jackson and Bollinger then ran into protection problems in their final two series, with Jackson taking two touch sacks (there was no tackling) and Bollinger taking one.
Still, for a wet and chilly evening, the offense felt progress had been made.