The Vikings spent most of Saturday morning's practice working on passing drills, and starting QB Tarvaris Jackson is playing with a lot more confidence in his arm and his receivers than he did during last year's camp.
The Vikings hit the practice field this morning with an eye toward the passing game. Much of the non-contact practice focused on 7-on-7 and full-team drills to accentuate the passing game. Tarvaris Jackson
took center stage for much of the practice, showing that he has learned a lot since the 2007 season finale against the Broncos.
Entering his second full season as the starting QB, Jackson said he is much more relaxed than the nervous player who entered last year as the starting quarterback with very limited game experience. This time around, he doesn't feel the same sort of pressure and has found a good rhythm with his returning receivers and newcomer Bernard Berrian
"We're a lot more comfortable right now," Jackson said of his relationship with his receiver corps. "We're a lot more on the same page this year."
That isn't to say everything is peaches and cream for the third-year quarterback. He struggled badly in the first 11-on-11 passing drill, throwing three straight incompletions and having one play blown dead because it would have resulted in a sack. After that rough beginning, however, Jackson had a much stronger finish to the practice – throwing almost all of his passes on the mark.
"The first drill we had a couple of problems," Jackson said. "We picked up in the second drill. We got better. That's what we want – just to be more consistent."
Last year during training camp, Jackson was pretty cautious with his passes, often checking down to the safety-valve receiver if his primary options were covered. This time around, he's throwing more into coverage – not forcing the ball, but showing more confidence that, if he throws a perfect pass to a spot, his receivers will make the catch.
"I'm just trying to get the ball to the open players," Jackson said. "They're not going to be wide open every time, so you'll have to make the perfect throw sometimes. Sometimes you have to put in a tight one, but you don't want to take those chances too often."
With the first preseason game of the year less than a week away, Jackson knows that he and the first-team offense will see limited playing time in the first couple of games. The focus will be on execution, getting off the field with a successful drive or two and bringing to games what they have been working on during practice.
"It's coming along fine being out here each day," Jackson said. "We're (practicing) different situations. We're seeing different coverages with different guys with different techniques. It's going to help us out for the season."
SATURDAY MORNING NOTES
The Vikings had one of their largest crowds of training camp for Saturday morning's practice. Both bleachers alongside the practice fields were filled to capacity with spectators lined three and four deep along the sidelines.
Both Bobby Wade and Bernard Berrian were back in practice taking part in all of the drills.
Tight end Garrett Mills was again out of action with a sprained left ankle. He came to practice equipped with a backpack that sent electrical impulses to his injured ankle.
Once again, the morning practice was a no-pads practice in which hitting wasn't allowed.
The special teams portion of practice consisted of three players – rookies Jaymar Johnson, Darius Reynaud and Daniel Davis - returning punts from a JUGS machine.
In the early portion of the passing drills, Jackson and Gus Frerotte were working with the wide receivers while Brooks Bollinger and John David Booty were working with the running backs.
At one point during the practice, when attempting to cut, Wade pulled up as if he felt a twinge in his surgically repaired knee. But, unlike Monday's practice in which he was injured and sidelined afterwards, he returned to practice after just a few plays and showed no ill-effects from the injury.
With Mills sidelined, it has given an opportunity for TE Braden Jones to get additional reps with the second-team offense. He is making the most of it – catching a couple of TD passes in 7-on-7 drills.
In 7-on-7 drills, Gus Frerotte seemed locked in on wide receiver Aundrae Allison, throwing all of his first five completions to the second-year wide receiver.
Sidney Rice spent much of his time in the passing drills locked up with Antoine Winfield, making a couple of nice catches on curl routes in front of the veteran corner.
Booty had some up-and-down moments, threading passes to Reynaud and TE Jeff Dugan in 7-on-7 drills, but locking on to Johnson on a pass that was nearly picked off – getting a vocal response from Brad Childress about not staring down his receivers.
Right tackles Ryan Cook and Marcus Johnson were splitting reps with the first-team offense.
Adrian Peterson electrified the crowd by taking a sweep in front of the fans and breaking to the end zone for a long run that received about 30 seconds of sustained applause from his appreciative fans. It was a rare glimpse of the Rookie of the Year, since he had just a handful of carries during the practice.
LB Rufus Alexander played the entire practice, but had his left knee heavily wrapped.
Booty and rookie WR Nate Jones gave the fans a highlight moment on the final play of practice with a fade pass in the end zone that Jones caught at its highest point to bring down for a touchdown reception.
Following practice, Jones, tackles Cook and Chase Johnson and safety Michael Boulware remained on the field to do some technique work with the assistant coaches.
The team cut the practice off at about 10:45 a.m. It will return for an evening practice tonight at 7 p.m. The Vikings are expected to split the practice between the three practice fields and Blakeslee Stadium. Viking Update will have a practice report up shortly after the evening practice concludes.