It was an eventful day off of the field for the Minnesota Vikings, one filled with unpleasant news. On the heels of several days of COVID vaccine controversy and frustrated Mike Zimmer press conferences, reports came out that the team has the lowest vaccination rate in the entire NFL. Also, 2020 first-round pick Jeff Gladney was indicted on domestic violence assault charges and subsequently released by the team.
But after all of that, there was still a practice to be held. Tuesday was the team's sixth practice and its first with pads, which added a little intensity and physicality to the mix.
Before I get to my takeaways, let's run through the injury notes. Rookie offensive linemen Christian Darrisaw (groin) and Wyatt Davis (ankle) continued to miss practice, which doesn't bode well for them earning starting jobs in Week 1. Afterwards, Mike Zimmer said on KFAN Radio that he's hoping for Davis to be back tomorrow (Wednesday) and Darrisaw next Monday.
Veteran left tackle Rashod Hill was back out there, pushing Oli Udoh back to right guard (more on him coming up). Tyler Conklin, Riley Patterson, and Cohl Cabral also missed practice, and Michael Pierce and Dede Westbrook were limited, not taking any live reps.
Kirk Cousins, Kellen Mond, Nate Stanley, and Myron Mitchell remain on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Cousins and Stanley are eligible to return on Thursday, but it'll be longer than that for Mond, who has COVID. "He’s sick, so we’re trying to get him healthy first, but when he gets back, we’ll get him back physically," offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak said about his rookie QB. "In the meantime, we can stress him mentally and make it hard for him so that it’s all physical when he comes back."
New quarterback Danny Etling made his practice debut, giving the Vikings three quarterbacks again. However, neither Etling nor Case Cookus took any live reps, so it was still all Jake Browning. Etling threw a pick in 7-on-7 action and looked understandably shaky on his first day.
Here are my takeaways and observations.
Oli Udoh has another good day
The standout on the offensive line through a week of training camp has been Udoh, the third-year player out of Elon. The former right tackle has been splitting reps with Dakota Dozier as the first-team right guard, until moving over to left tackle on Monday out of necessity. He was back at guard on Tuesday and showed why he should have the upper hand on Dozier in the competition for that starting spot.
The Vikings did a lot of goal line work early on during practice, and Udoh held up well. He's been stout in pass protection and has generated some push in the run game. The offensive line vs. defensive line 1-on-1s were fun to watch now that pads are on, and Udoh held his own there too. He was beaten by D.J. Wonnum on one rep I saw, but seemed to win all of the others. Notably, they spent a good amount of time working on stunts, which was a major struggle for the Vikings' OL last year. Udoh handled this stunt quite well:
Udoh spoke on Tuesday about the transition from tackle to guard and why the Vikings think he can be successful on the interior.
“Honestly just because of the physical abilities God gave me," he said. "I’m 6'6", long arms, kind of quick. If you can put that in a compact area, you got a pretty good guard and I guess that’s what they saw in me looking forward."
“The space, everything is a lot tighter (compared to tackle). You’re probably going to want to punch a lot sooner than you think. You’re moving some big guys like Dalvin (Tomlinson) out there, he’s as much as I weigh except he’s compact. So a lot of torquing and physicality that goes into that position."
Udoh mentioned that he's been learning from Ezra Cleveland, the Vikings' starting left guard who moved from left tackle in college to playing right guard last year as a rookie.
Playing on the Vikings' offensive line requires athleticism, and Udoh has that. He ran a 5.05-second 40 at the 2019 combine, which is in the 90th percentile among offensive linemen. Here's a clip of him getting out and driving linebacker Chazz Surratt upfield on Tuesday.
If he keeps playing like this, Udoh might end up as the starting right guard in Week 1.
Adam Thielen does Adam Thielen things
Thielen has been overshadowed a bit by Justin Jefferson, and now is embroiled in controversy due to the assumption that he's one of the Vikings' stars who are unvaccinated. But he continues to go out and display his ability every practice. Thielen's route-running and contested catch skills are simply incredible.
Browning connected with Thielen for big gains at least three times in 11-on-11 action, including a couple of important plays late. On one play, Browning stepped up to avoid pressure, fired one into traffic over the middle, and watched Thielen elevate to make the catch. Shortly after, in a situational two-minute drill, he chucked a 50/50 ball towards Thielen down the right sideline. In a veteran-on-veteran battle, Thielen went up over Patrick Peterson to make a great catch that got the offense into field goal range.
Thielen could be in line for his first 1,000-yard season since 2018 this year, particularly if defenses key in more on stopping Jefferson.
Greg Joseph nails pressure field goal
That Thielen catch brought the Vikings into field goal range, but they couldn't get any closer because Peterson nearly intercepted Browning on another deep ball. So up stepped Joseph, the Vikings' new kicker who has all of 21 NFL field goal attempts in three years. Despite a little bit of wind complicating things, he drilled the 52-yarder from the right hash for the win.
Is that the same as making a game-winning kick in a game? Of course not. But it was still encouraging to see Joseph come through in a pressure situation. He attempted six more field goals after that, making five of them, including another from over 50 yards. His lone miss went wide right from around 47 yards out.
All in all, that's a pretty good day for Joseph. With undrafted rookie Riley Patterson still injured, the kicker job is Joseph's to lose. If he starts struggling, the Vikings could look to bring in a free agent, but that hasn't been the case for most of camp. He's been solid.
- I've talked about him a lot in these recaps, so I'll keep it short this time: Irv Smith Jr. had another impressive afternoon. He scored two touchdowns in goal line action, including a one-handed grab that was up there with Thielen's catch for the play of the day.
- Brian O'Neill was stout in 1-on-1 drills with the pads on. Stephen Weatherly beat him to the outside on one rep, but O'Neill recovered nicely and flattened Weatherly before he could turn the corner. He also put together some nice reps against D.J. Wonnum. He had trouble with Danielle Hunter during live reps, but so does everyone. Hunter is a monster.
- Cam Smith took the first reps as the No. 3 linebacker in goal line sets. Smith isn't just a good story (he missed all of last year after having open-heart surgery), he's a candidate to win that job. Nick Vigil is also a factor in that competition, while rookie Chazz Surratt has a lot of work to do to climb the depth chart.
- Chad Beebe hasn't done a whole lot in camp and may have lost ground on the WR3 job to K.J. Osborn and Ihmir Smith-Marsette — not to mention Dede Westbrook, who isn't fully practicing yet — but he made a nice grab in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.
- The Vikings seemed to work on running the ball a lot today. Part of that could be due to having pads on and wanting to give the linemen those reps, and part of it could be keeping things simple for QBs Etling and Cookus. Alexander Mattison had a solid day.
- Backup offensive linemen Blake Brandel and Mason Cole deserve some recognition for their play, particularly in 1-on-1 drills and against stunts.
Back at it tomorrow for Day No. 7.
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