The Vikings' cornerbacks in 2007 were very young aside from Antoine Winfield. Newcomer Benny Sapp has not only brought some veteran experience to the position, but continues to make a name for himself at training camp.
One of the areas in which the Vikings struggled a year ago was in the secondary. The combination of having aging safeties and young cornerbacks was less than ideal, and at times opposing quarterbacks picked them apart at will.
If the early stages of training camp are any indication, that position is going to be much improved, especially at nickel corner in the slot. Newcomer Benny Sapp
, returnees Charles Gordon
and Marcus McCauley
, and veteran Antoine Winfield
have all getting work in the nickel defense, with Gordon, Sapp and Winfield working inside, and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said they have all stepped up their game and raised the bar on the competition at the position.
"It's been good competition," Frazier said. "Benny Sapp has really added some spice to that position. He, Chuck and Antoine have all played well when put in the nickel."
Sapp, a free agent who spent his first four seasons with the Chiefs, said he has been pushing himself hard to make an impression on his new coaches.
"Most of the guys here are players the coaches are all familiar with," Sapp said. "They're still getting to know me. I've come into training camp with the idea that I have to win a roster spot and prove that I belong here. Nobody is going to hand anything to me."
Sapp has also made an impression on his new teammates, who have been impressed with his athleticism and intensity.
"He's flying around the field on every play," linebacker Ben Leber
said. "He is a player that you notice because he's always moving and trying to make plays."
Sapp is likely going to be battling with McCauley and Gordon for playing time in the nickel defense and it is a challenge he is taking head-on and with a lot of enthusiasm.
"When you're trying to make an impression on the coaches, you can't make too many mistakes or take any plays for granted," Sapp said. "I'm giving them everything I have and, when they need me to be in there during games, I want them to have confidence that I can get the job done."
While it is still early in the training camp process, so far so good.
After returning from River Falls, Wis., the Vikings had just one practice Friday – a non-pads afternoon practice with temperatures in the high 80s.
Several Vikings were out or limited in practice. Among them was CB Marcus McCauley, who injured his knee in Thursday's practice with the Chiefs. Frazier said he is unsure when McCauley will return to practice, but doesn't expect him on the field tomorrow. McCauley said after the Chiefs practice that it was just precautionary and head coach Brad Childress said the reports that he was getting initially indicated it wasn't serious.
Rookie CB Marcus Walker was held out of practice after injuring his right hand Thursday. Frazier said it was a precautionary move and that he expects Walker back to practice Saturday.
Tight end Garrett Mills missed another day of practice, not a promising sign for a bubble player who some had very high hopes entering training camp.
Bobby Wade was on the practice field in his helmet, but was very limited in what he did on the field, taking just a couple of straight-line pass patterns the entire practice.
Jared Allen shaved off the beard he had been sporting since the start of training camp, going with a Fu Manchu/soul patch combo. Viking Update had a chance to sit down with Allen following practice and will have a report up later today on his adjustment to the Vikings and not being sent to River Falls.
The team gave several young candidates a chance to work as kick returners, including Aundrae Allison, Jaymar Johnson, Darius Reynaud and Daniel Davis.
Another great crowd was on hand Friday, filling both bleachers and lining the side of the practice field. The bleachers hold an estimated 1,450 people.
The V.I.P. tent, which was damaged Wednesday when strong winds blew through Mankato, was fixed by the start of Friday's practice.
The team did some situational special teams practice early on, including working on kick coverage following a safety.
Allison got an earful from Brad Childress after fumbling his first attempt at pulling in a Kluwe kick.
Steven Hauschka is doing everything asked of him and then some in training camp. On kick return drills, he drilled most of his kickoffs to the back of or out of the end zone and made all eight of his field goal attempts – a couple at 50 yards.
In individual safety drills, both Darren Sharper and Madieu Williams made impressive over-the-shoulder catches on passes designed to test their coverage speed.
Fullback Naufahu Tahi was running with a lot of energy during screen passing drills and looked extremely fast for a man his size.
In one of the lower moments of the practice, Tarvaris Jackson tried to fire a pass to Robert Ferguson, but instead drilled wide receivers coach George Stewart in the back of the head. To T-Jack's credit, however, the melon shot was a tight spiral
In passing drills with just the offense on the field, QB Brooks Bollinger lined up at the safety position and even came with a blitz a couple of times. That's position flexibility, as Childress is wont to say.
The first big ovation of practice came when Jackson fired a 45-yard strike to Bernard Berrian that was picture perfect.
Gus Frerotte struggled several times during practice, underthrowing a couple of receivers and having a couple of passes batted down at the line.
Martin Nance continued to catch just about everything thrown his way and practiced despite having his left knee wrapped.
Safety Michael Boulware continues to practice with the third-team defensive unit and remains behind Eric Frampton, who has been practicing with the second-team defense in drills.
Wide receiver Nate Jones made a spectacular diving catch on a poorly thrown pass from John David Booty to get a rousing ovation from his teammates.
In the bizarre play of the practice, Madieu Williams thought he had an interception of a Jackson pass, but the ball popped out of his arms and was plucked in mid-air by Berrian, who scampered down the field for what would have been a touchdown.
Some of the plays clearly needed a little better execution. On a pass play intended for Reynaud, Visanthe Shiancoe cut into the passing lane and the ball zipped through his hands. Not distracted, Reynaud still made the catch 10 yards behind Shiancoe.
Jaymar Johnson made a spectacular leaping catch on a pass from Frerotte. Johnson got kudos from Childress.
Because of Wade and Sidney Rice both being limited in practice, Nance and Ferguson got a lot of work with the first-team offense.
In the full-squad practice, Frerotte had a couple of nice completions to tight end Braden Jones.
The hit of the day went to Sapp, who went for an interception and drilled WR Nate Jones. Jones held onto the pass, but the defense applauded the effort by Sapp.
Boulware appeared to injure his right knee late in practice. He stopped in his position after the play for several seconds and, after trying to walk it off, immediately took himself out of the practice and did not return.
The crowd got pumped on a run by Peterson late in practice, where he took a carry up the middle, cut to the sideline and hit a second gear that earned some audible gasps from the fans at how quickly he hit full speed.
On one of the final plays of the practice, E.J. Henderson blew through and would have had a sack on Jackson, who threw the ball away. Jackson did quite a bit of scrambling during the 11-on-11 drills when his receivers were covered.
Following the practice, a pair of in-depth photo shoots took place – one of Jackson and the other of the defensive front four.
The Vikings will have a pair of practices Saturday – a morning practice from 9-11 a.m. and an evening practice from 7-9 p.m. dubbed as Family Fun Day at training camp.