The Vikings kicked off their 2021 rookie minicamp on Friday at TCO Performance Center, and reporters like myself were on hand to observe an hour of the practice session. The day also included Zoom press conferences for six draft picks and recent second-year acquisition Shane Zylstra.
Although there wasn't too much to see, here are some notes from the afternoon session and the day's pressers.
Minicamp roster and tryout players
The Vikings' minicamp runs through Sunday and features 31 players: 16 on offense, 12 on defense, and three on special teams. All 11 draft picks are included, as are all 11 of the team's priority UDFAs. The other nine players are Zylstra, third-year QB Jake Browning, second-year QB Nate Stanley, second-year offensive lineman Blake Brandel, and five tryout players.
Let's get to know those tryout players first.
Buffalo T Evin Ksiezarczyk (6'6", 311)
Southern Miss S Ky'el Hemby (6'0", 206)
Three-year standout for the Golden Eagles who had six interceptions (third in the nation) in 2018 and led his team in tackles the following year. Severely lacking in athleticism (1.21 Relative Athletic Score [RAS]), but will try to use his ball skills to earn a roster spot. The Vikings have Josh Metellus, Camryn Bynum, Luther Kirk, and Myles Dorn as depth safeties, but you can never have too many DBs.
Dane Brugler's summary of Hemby (The Athletic Draft Guide):
Hemby has a good grasp on situational football and what the opponents want to do, which allows him to consistently stay in the vicinity of the football. He does a nice job returning his eyes to the backfield to find the football, but his pedal and turn shows noticeable tightness. His tackling skills run hot and cold, and he will have his misses. Overall, Hemby plays with spatial awareness, but he lacks the lower-body twitch or recovery speed desired to survive in an NFL secondary.
Wake Forest CB Amari Henderson (6'1", 180)
Another 2020 grad who was hurt by the unique circumstances of the pandemic last year, Henderson was a four-year starter at Wake and had four interceptions as a senior. He has good length and finished his career with seven picks and a whopping 48 passes defended. Cornerback is an excellent position to play for a tryout player trying to earn a spot, considering the Vikings' depth is very thin after trading Mike Hughes.
Here's Brugler on Henderson from the 2020 draft guide:
Henderson has terrific awareness from zone coverage and does a great job feeling routes around him, driving downhill or floating underneath throws. He has a natural feel for playmaking angles, but must improve the balance in his pedal and transition. Overall, Henderson is a gawky, finesse cornerback with unimpressive play strength, but his length, route recognition and ball skills will give him a fighting chance in training camp
NDSU CB Marquise Bridges (5'11", 190)
A Minneapolis native! Bridges attended DeLaSalle High School in the city and went to North Dakota State to play his college ball. He also finished his career in 2019 after winning three straight FCS championships. After converting from wide receiver, Bridges had five interceptions in his career. He didn't have a pro day and struggled to find an NFL home last year, although the 49ers apparently showed some interest in him. Like Henderson, the fact that he plays corner gives him a chance.
Tennessee C Brandon Kennedy (6'3", 300)
An older prospect, Kennedy spent six years in college — three at Alabama and three at Tennessee. He only played major snaps in the final two of those, starting 21 games over the past two years for the Vols. Kennedy's age and 2.24 RAS are factors working against him, although the Vikings could theoretically use all the interior O-line depth they can get.
Here's the full minicamp roster.
Kellen Mond struggles
Mond was the main attraction in Eagan as he made his first throws in a Vikings practice uniform. Working with Browning, Stanley, offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak, and QBs coach Andrew Janocko, Mond went through drills before getting into some 7-on-7 action.
The first thing I noticed about Mond is that he still looks a little stiff and robotic in his movement. With continued work on his footwork and technique, that should improve.
Mond otherwise looked fine in drills, although he was never asked to make any difficult throws. The drills were done at a walkthrough speed and I imagine the focus was on technique and timing.
But during the brief 7-on-7 period, Mond struggled. He went 1 for 4 by my count, with a couple errant throws and one that was nearly undercut and intercepted.
With that said, it's important for me to point out that this really does not matter at all. I'm reporting it because it's what happened, but I would caution anyone against reading into it to any degree. There may have been some nerves involved, and as Nate Tice points out, 7-on-7 throws can be tough because of how many players drop into coverage.
Mond has a long ways to go in his development; we already knew that. His first NFL practice only confirmed as much. The physical tools and overall upside are still there, so don't panic. He may very well continue to struggle in training camp and preseason games, but at least there will be more to go off of when evaluating him in those settings.
For what it's worth, Stanley didn't look great either. Browning was the most accurate QB of the trio, but sticking to short, simple passes meant his lack of arm strength was never put to the test.
Other practice notes
There wasn't a whole lot to go off of considering most of the practice was simple drills and some of the position groups were quite far away from where we were allowed to stand, but here are a couple other thoughts.
- A noticeable presence on the field was that of new Vikings wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell, who was giving vocal, hands-on instruction to Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Whop Philyor, and Blake Proehl. It'll be exciting to see what he can do with this crop of young receivers, not to mention Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen.
- Tight ends Shane Zylstra (wearing Kyle Rudolph's No. 82) and Zach Davidson (wearing Jim Kleinsasser's No. 40) were impressive, securing everything thrown their way.
- UDFA kicker Riley Patterson had a decent day, missing a couple of kicks that I saw but also demonstrating a huge leg. He attempted and made a bunch of 50-plus yarders at Memphis. The competition will actually ramp up once veteran Greg Joseph shows up this offseason.
- The defensive highlight of the day was UDFA linebacker Christian Elliss (Idaho) breaking up the Mond pass in the video I embedded above. You can also see it at the 35-second mark in the highlight reel below.
- There was nothing really notable to observe from the offensive linemen due to the lack of contact in drills. Wyatt Davis was lined up at right guard. Brandel was playing center with Kennedy at left guard and Ksiezarczyk at right tackle. I can confirm once again that Christian Darrisaw is a large human being and looks quite athletic as well.
Notable quotes from Zoom pressers
Christian Darrisaw on what he's trying to accomplish in minicamp: “Definitely technical things. You don’t have shoulder pads and everything on, so you’re really just working through everything, going at a slower pace, so it really helps you catch up to the game on the next level and how the coaches want to see you make ‘this’ type of block and everything like that. And learning the playbook, as well. Being here, everything is still virtual, so we really don’t get to see the coaches when we’re watching film and everything, but we’re still learning the playbook and everything like that, so when the vets get here, we won’t be too far behind."
Kellen Mond on watching Kirk Cousins film and his minicamp goals: “You know I think some of the biggest goals is one, learning the progressions and being able to tie my feet together with each of those progressions. I’ve watched a ton of film on just what Kirk did this past year [Mond says he's watched all of the Vikings' 2020 games multiple times] with a whole bunch of different plays and stuff like that. That’s pretty much all I’m focused on so just being able to have Nate and Jake out there with me tremendously helps me. Being able to sit behind them and watch them every rep and also take reps with them, I think that’s a huge advantage for me. Yes it is a lot thrown at my plate. I feel like I’ve done a good job with the information that is given. But there’s still a lot more room to grow.”
Mond on his performance on Friday: “I felt pretty good. I had a couple misreads and misthrows. Some of those things I say it’s easy to draw them up and tell the coaches your reads, but getting out there on the field and just being able to rep it out is definitely different. Also getting back into football mode and training your eyes to read coverages that’s something you have to get back acclimated to, so, I thought it was a pretty good session.
Mond on watching Cousins: "Being able to watch Kirk on certain cutups are certain things I really enjoy. Just really enjoy watching his execution, his footwork, just watch how he’s able to go through reads and pretty much master the offense. The more I watch him, the more I’m able to mimic his footwork, his cadence, which is huge in the NFL. There’s so many things I need to learn, but I feel like I’m in a phenomenal organization with phenomenal talent and obviously can’t wait to get to work with Kirk also."
Patrick Jones II on the pass rushers he watches film on: "I watched a lot of film. Of course I watched Aaron Donald, because he was at Pitt, even though he plays D-tackle, but he lines up at the edge sometimes. I watched Khalil Mack, I watched T.J. Watt, I watched Yannick. I watched Danielle Hunter when he started making noise. He really caught my attention of how he was doing it. And then, shoot, I watched so many people. I watched Preston Smith. I watched J.J. Watt. I watched so many people. I probably watched two hours in the morning, two hours in the afternoon, an hour after practice -- probably about five hours a day I’m watching film. So probably like 20-25 hours a week of just film I was studying."
Shane Zylstra on moving from WR to TE: “I think it’s just learning the language and the verbage of the blocking schemes and everything like that. Obvoiusly, at Mankato, we were a run-first program so I got a lot of the techniques of the blocking on the outside, so now it’s just going to be moving to the inside and really homing in on those schemes."
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