No one will appreciate the Vikings' day off on Sunday more than Jake Browning. He's going to need it to rest his arm after throwing a remarkable number of passes on Saturday night at TCO Stadium.
With Kellen Mond testing positive for COVID-19 and Kirk Cousins and Nate Stanley being deemed close contacts (likely due to them not being vaccinated), Browning was the only quarterback available on Saturday night. Quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko (a former college QB) helped out during warmups and the Vikings had Dalvin Cook take some snaps in the Wildcat, but Browning took every single live rep during the two-hour practice.
This was a sudden, unexpected opportunity for Browning to impress the coaching staff and widen his lead on Mond for the Vikings' backup QB job, and he did exactly that. After a shaky start, Browning was excellent all night long, making good decisions and delivering accurate throws to every part of the field.
There are other takeaways from the practice that I'll get into, but Browning is clearly the story of the night. It was a weird situation for him to be thrust into, but he took full advantage and may have wrapped up the QB2 gig in the process.
It was a beautiful night for football in Eagan, with several thousand fans packing the stands and providing energy. Although they may have been disappointed not to see Cousins or Mond, the QB who was able to play put on a show.
Let's get to my takeaways, starting with the big one.
Browning shines in odd circumstances
Browning got off to a bit of a shaky start to practice, missing some open receivers. Given his struggles with deep accuracy earlier in camp, I was worried that he might be in for a rough time, which would've hurt the overall productivity of the practice for everyone involved.
Then he turned it on and didn't look back. Browning put some nice touch on a pass to Adam Thielen, which may have been the throw that got him going.
He followed that up with a good throw to Justin Jefferson while rolling to his left, and then connected with Tyler Conklin over the middle of the field a couple times. But the best was yet to come.
As I mentioned, Browning's deep balls have been an issue for him in camp. Too many have been underthrown, creating concerns about his arm strength. His first deep ball of the night was an underthrow to Ihmir Smith-Marsette, so I figured it would be more of the same. That made it a big deal when Browning uncorked a beautiful deep pass to breakout camp star K.J. Osborn for a 50-yard gain (Yes, Osborn may have pushed off a bit).
A few minutes later, he did it again. Browning threw a dime up the same sideline to Thielen, who laid out for a fantastic catch.
Browning's accuracy in the short and intermediate game have typically been solid, and that was again the case on Saturday night. But those two deep throws were huge for him, because he needs to prove he can make those plays.
The Vikings ended practice with a two-minute drill. Down 17-16, Browning took the first-team offense down the field, getting into the red zone with a dime to Jefferson on a slot fade.
After a rushing touchdown, Browning found Irv Smith in the corner of the end zone for a two-point conversion. It was another pinpoint throw in a long run of them. Then he went back out and tried to lead the second-team offense to a game-tying score. Browning fired a pretty back-shoulder throw to Myron Mitchell for a big gain, but the offense stalled after that and the drive ended with a Hail Mary falling harmlessly to the turf.
Still, it was a very impressive overall performance for Browning. Vikings team reporter Eric Smith was tracking his throws and counted 26 completions on 37 attempts in live 11-on-11 action, a solid 70 percent completion rate. Of those 11 incompletions, one was a spike to stop the clock and a couple were dropped. He didn't throw any interceptions, which is big.
After the practice, Browning was doused with water by his appreciative teammates and got a huge roar from the crowd. The Vikings may have found their backup quarterback.
Wyatt Davis absent from practice
In addition to the three quarterbacks, Davis was noticeably absent from practice on Saturday night. We haven't heard anything about an injury, so it's possible the rookie guard was deemed a close contact with Mond as well. He did spend time over the previous couple days working on snaps with Mond to fill in for Cohl Cabral as the third-team center.
Davis needs all the opportunities he can get to earn his way into the starting lineup, so missing this practice wasn't ideal. Dakota Dozier and Oli Udoh continued to split reps at right guard with the 1s.
Fellow rookie lineman Christian Darrisaw also missed practice as he continues to recover from a groin injury.
“I always hate giving timelines, but I don’t think he’s going to be (out) much longer," Mike Zimmer said about the first-rounder.
Riley Patterson, Bisi Johnson (who is out for the year with a torn ACL), and Cabral are also hurt. Dede Westbrook still isn't taking any live reps yet, but he seems to be getting close.
Greg Joseph misses a couple long field goal attempts
Joseph has had a good offseason, including five straight makes to end practice on Thursday, but he couldn't get a couple long field goals to go through the uprights on Saturday. After connecting from 40-plus yards, Joseph lined up a pair of attempts from 50 or so. The first one smacked the right upright and the second went wide left.
It's not too concerning, but it's worth noting. Only two of Joseph's 21 NFL field goal attempts have been from 50-plus, and he's one for two. If Joseph does remain the Vikings' kicker, it'll be interesting to see how confident they are in sending him out from that range.
This might be another interesting season at the kicker position for the Vikings.
- Another day, another good practice from K.J. Osborn. With Johnson out for the season and Westbrook still not back yet, Osborn will continue to get a bunch of reps as the WR3 with the starters. He's the frontrunner for Mr. Mankato right now and has been much better than Chad Beebe.
- Deeper down the WR depth chart, UDFAs Myron Mitchell and Whop Philyor made some nice plays on Saturday. Their chances of securing a practice squad spot or even finding their way onto the roster increased with the news of Johnson's ACL tear.
- Cameron Dantzler had an up-and-down day. He was in great coverage at times, but was also beat on multiple occasions by Thielen and Jefferson, which will happen.
- The Vikings once again used D.J. Wonnum as an off-ball linebacker for a few plays, which is an interesting wrinkle.
- Mike Zimmer took the microphone after practice and address the fans in attendance. “We’re going to have a heck of a football team," he said.
- It seemed like the Vikings were using a lot more pre-snap motion on offense than we've seen from them in recent years. Maybe we'll see Klint Kubiak do a lot of that this year.
- Adam Thielen is incredible.
No practice on Sunday, but then there are six straight days with a practice, ending with a scrimmage at U.S. Bank Stadium next Saturday.
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