Vikings Training Camp Notes, Day 9: Bisi Johnson is Making the Leap
The media returned to Eagan for Vikings training camp on Monday after a day off on Saturday and an indoor practice (with access restricted to one pool reporter) on Sunday. With the temperature in the high 80s, the Vikings got in a good two-hour practice.
All eight of the players who were held out of Sunday's session due to presumptive positive COVID-19 tests returned to action on Monday. The NFL confirmed that all of the tests from the New Jersey laboratory that caused the scare this weekend were false positives.
Danielle Hunter missed his eighth straight practice, and it's starting to become unclear when he'll be back. When he was first held out of camp with what Mike Zimmer described as a "little tweak," we had no idea his absence would last this long. "He's getting a little better every day, so it's really up to [Eric Sugarman]," Zimmer said on Sunday.
Here are three major takeaways and plenty of additional notes from Monday's practice.
Bisi Johnson isn't giving up the WR2 job (for now)
When the Vikings drafted Justin Jefferson in the first round in April, most writers and analysts – myself included – basically penciled the rookie from LSU into the No. 2 receiver role alongside Adam Thielen. The thought was that he would show up to camp and earn that job without too much resistance.
Things haven't played out that way, although that's not because of any issues with Jefferson. He has been impressive since he reported to camp and has had plenty of good moments since practice officially began. No, the reason he hasn't ascended to that role as a starter in two-receiver sets is because of the brilliance of Bisi Johnson.
The 2019 seventh-round pick out of Colorado State stepped up as a rookie and earned the No. 3 job, filling in for Thielen when he missed several games due to injury. This year, Johnson has taken his game to another level. He began practices above Jefferson on the depth chart because of his year of experience, and has done nothing that suggests he'll be giving up that role soon.
"Oh my gosh, it’s way different," Johnson said of his comfort level in year two. "I would say the game has definitely slowed down for me a lot, as far as understanding the playbook, being confident in my route running and things like that. It’s just easier to go out there and just play football, really.”
Throughout the last week-plus of camp, Johnson has looked like a starting-caliber NFL receiver. His route-running, which he calls "the best part of my game," has been consistently crisp and impressive. He knows Gary Kubiak's offense, has a rapport with Kirk Cousins, and never appears to make any mental errors. Johnson also puts his incredibly large hands to good use by rarely ever dropping passes and making the occasional eye-popping catch, like this one-handed grab on Sunday.
Johnson continued to shine during Monday's practice, standing out with quick breaks in and out of his routes both in 1-on-1 drills and 11-on-11 team periods. He beat Cameron Dantzler, Mike Hughes, and Myles Dorn for catches throughout the day, and punctuated a great practice with some nice footwork on this touchdown catch.
Johnson said that last year, Stefon Diggs told him he "had what it takes to be an NFL receiver." His performance as a rookie – 31 catches, 294 yards, 3 touchdowns – made that clear. But Johnson isn't stopping there. He put in a ton of work this offseason, including workouts with the Broncos' Drew Lock and Courtland Sutton in his native Colorado. Now, it's starting to look like Johnson has what it takes to not only be an NFL receiver, but put up big numbers in a starting role.
Oli Udoh stands out in OL/DL 1-on-1s
The wide receivers and defensive backs tend to get a lot of attention during training camp because of the visible nature of their competitions, but I always enjoy watching the offensive and defensive linemen go at it. It's hard to evaluate the trench play during 11-on-11 periods, so the individual pass-rushing drills provide a good window for watching the big guys battle each other.
During Monday's 1-on-1 sessions, the lineman who stood out the most was second-year right tackle Oli Udoh. Working against players like Eddie Yarbrough, Kenny Willekes, and Stacy Keely, Udoh arguably won every single one of his reps. He demonstrated great footwork, hand placement, and strength in keeping his opponent from getting to the little orange cone that represents the quarterback.
It's been a strong camp for Udoh overall, and this was one of his best days. He's firmly entrenched as the backup right tackle behind Brian O'Neill at the moment, but if Udoh continues to play at such a high level, the Vikings may want to figure out a way to get him onto the field going forward.
Ezra Cleveland bumped down to third team
The most interesting position to monitor from a usage standpoint is still left guard. Dakota Dozier and Aviante Collins have alternated reps with the first team throughout camp, with rookie Ezra Cleveland on the second team. Whichever of Dozier and Collins didn't take the first-team rep would then slide down to the third team during that round.
On Monday, though, Dozier appeared to once again separate himself further from Collins in the competition for the starting job. He took most of the reps with the starters and had a solid day against Jaleel Johnson and others in 1-on-1s. Notably, Collins took most of the second-team reps, with Cleveland being bumped down to work with the threes.
This would seem to signal two things: that Dozier is all but cemented as the starting left guard for Week 1 against the Packers, and that Cleveland may not be in line to see the field much as a rookie.
Additional notes and observations
- No one other than Hunter missed practice, which is good to see. Anthony Barr returned after sitting out on Sunday, and Dillon Mitchell was back after missing the past few practices.
- K.J. Osborn still looks like the favorite at punt returner. He consistently gets some of the first reps there and looks very comfortable catching the ball from the JUGS machine.
- Alexander Hollins' strong camp didn't stop on Monday. He beat Kris Boyd on a deep ball and is continuing to make the argument that he should make this roster.
- Chad Beebe got some work out of the slot with the first-team offense.
- Adam Thielen, unsurprisingly, is on a different level from any other receiver on the roster. He made several plays on Monday, including a touchdown on a fade route against Holton Hill to cap off a situational red zone drill.
- Eric Kendricks has been on the wrong side of some highlights during camp, but there's nothing to worry about with his play. He had a diving pass breakup against Kyle Rudolph on Monday that stood out.
- Jake Browning didn't seem to have a great day in his pursuit of the backup quarterback job. He misfired at least once and also fumbled the ball on a handoff.
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