CINCINNATI, OH. —The Vikings had not won a regular season game in Cincinnati since 1992, and had not held training camp practices on any enemy turf since 2008, but they seemed right at home this week.
Teddy Bridgewater started the first 11-on-11 drills of the week with two impressive completions over Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick, and finished the trip during Friday night’s game in similar fashion. On his first play of 2016, he stiff armed all 300 lbs. of Geno Atkins on a roll-out before hitting MyCole Pruitt for a short gain. Hist most impressive play of the night, though, was his last, a 49-yard (all through the air) touchdown pass to Charles Johnson that ended a 10-play, 96-yard drive in fashion.
“We had some big third downs, that’s what kind of get those drives going,” Bridgewater said of that march after the game. “You hit a third down in a backed-up situation and you kind of get the momentum, get your rhythm, and the guys did a great job just executing.” In total, Bridgewater completed six of his seven passes for 92 yards and a touchdown, for a perfect 158.3 rating.
The defense, meanwhile, picked up where they left off last year, most notably on a fourth-and-1 play within their own five-yard line early in the second quarter. Rookie Kentrell Brothers stuffed Cedric Peerman in the hole to force a turnover on downs. Cincinnati’s first points would not come until the final minute of the first half, long after the Vikings’ stars had left the field.
Minnesota fans helped welcome their team to Southwest Ohio earlier in the week, ringing the joint practice field Wednesday and Thursday and forcing security guards to clear a path to the gate for players at the end of each day. Mike Zimmer would have felt comfortable even without the fanfare, having coached the Bengals for six years and signing or drafting 10 of the team’s current defensive starters. He also owns a house in nearby Walton, K.Y. that is still home during the offseason. He invited members of the Bengals and Vikings staffs over for a barbecue earlier this week.
“It brings back a lot of good memories,” Zimmer said of his return to the Queen City. “We had a good run when I was here. There were a lot of great people in the administration. (Owner) Mike Brown was always really good to me, as was Marvin.”
Tight end Kyle Rudolph also had a homecoming of sorts this week, returning to his hometown and walking into Paul Brown Stadium for the first time since high school. “To be back, it brings back a ton of memories of growing up here, playing here,” Rudolph told Cincinnati.com. Bridgewater met with some old pals as well, having gone to college at Louisville, two hours southwest of Paul Brown Stadium. “I got to see some close friends,” he said. “It kind of feels like I’m back home.”
More News and Notes from Vikings camp
• The only scuffle of the joint practices came after Vikings wideout Adam Thielen caught a short pass and quickly bumped into Bengals corner Adam Jones. Some shoving followed as Thielen's helmet flew off, but the hubbub ended soon thereafter.
Afterwards, Thielen said not to make too much of it. "It's just football," he said. "We talked after the play. It wasn't a big deal." I point it out not so much to draw attention to the incident, but rather to point out how much attention it got. It's clear that the Bengals defense is going to be under an immense spotlight after how the team's season ended last year.
• With Terence Newman sidelined by an undisclosed injury, second-year corner Trae Waynes got the start Friday, and the opportunity to show how he's developing. For the most part, the returns were positive. He perfectly defended A.J. Green to force an incompletion on a quick slant and nearly pulled down an interception after following Tyler Boyd step for step along the right sideline. But at other times, he struggled to make a clean tackle and lined up too far off the line of scrimmage. "I thought he did some good things," Zimmer said before adding "I was a little disappointed." So it goes for the young corner.
• The other young player given a chance to shine, running back Jerick McKinnon, finished with just 14 yards on five carries, but he did come away with one highlight. After appearing to be bottled up six yards deep in his end zone, McKinnon changed direction and found room out to the 12-yard line, igniting the aforementioned 96-yard scoring drive.
Five Questions with Vikings safety Harrison Smith
Q1:How did you prepare to play under Mike Zimmer after he was hired a couple years ago?
HS: I knew about all the great safeties and corners that he had coached. I really watched the Bengals’ tape, ironically. George Iloka was a guy I came out in the same draft with. He said, ‘I love playing for Zim,’ and he was dead on. He puts guys in a position to win. He’s tough on you, but honest, and that’s what get’s you better.
Q2:Does Zimmer mention any of those former players to you?
HS: Zim talks about (Darren) Woodson a lot. He could play nickel too, one of those guys that could do everything. He usually tells me how good he was as something to shoot for.
Q3:How did you get into flying?
HS: It’s something I got into two offseason ago. I had always had a little fear of it. I wanted to learn a little more about it and it kind of snowballed into actually flying and I got my license about a month or two ago. It’s a lot of fun. You meet a lot of interesting people. I’ve gone up with a guy who is also a mechanic, another guy who had flown for 40 years, the whole spectrum. You learn something new from all of them. Every now and then we’ll talk about football but most of the conversation is about flying. You’ve got to be safe up there, so if I’m not doing something right, they’ll get on me.
Q4:I’ve read that you might go a day without talking after a tough loss. Is that still true?
HS: I don’t know. I’m trying to get faster and faster with it. I come in and watch film and talk during that, but yeah, at home I’ll brood about it for a day, rewatch it a few times and try to move on. I definitely hold onto it as far as that feeling for motivation. If you don’t take losing personally, then you are not going to be a good player, I don’t care what you say.
Q5:You were the highest paid safety for about two months. Did anyone give you crap when Tyrann Mathieu passed you for that honor earlier this month?
HS: I feel like I heard it from a few people. But honestly man, I’m happy for him. That’s good for safeties everywhere. You always want to go higher than the previous guy and that’s why you see that value keep going up because the safeties keep making more and more.
According to Pro Football Reference, the Vikings gave up a league-high percentage of pressures per drop back in 2015 and allowed Bridgewater to be sacked 44 times (which was sixth among QBs). So out went offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, and in came guard Alex Boone, tackle Andre Smith, and Tony Sparano to coach them all. The group is still gelling, and Zimmer has not actually committed to a firm starting five just yet, but even a slight improvement could make a big difference in a potential breakout year for Bridgewater.
Danielle Hunter won’t turn 22 until Oct. 29, when he might already be on his way to becoming a known commodity in the NFC North. The second-year defensive end added seven pounds of muscle this offseason and could push starter Brian Robison for playing time after finishing with six sacks during his rookie campaign. But that hasn’t stopped the vet from complimenting Hunter.
"Mentally he's starting to understand the game more and more. I just think he's going to be a bright young talent in this game for a long time," Robison told FoxSports.com. “As long as he can stay healthy, I think he's going to be a force to be reckoned with."