The Vikings had both of their prized rookie offensive linemen out there on the practice field and wearing pads on Wednesday, which was a welcome sight for the coaching staff. This was the first time we've seen first-round pick Christian Darrisaw wearing a helmet during training camp, but he didn't end up doing much. Wyatt Davis, after missing the last three days, was back in action and displayed his immense upside at times.
Getting those two talented rookies going will be big for Minnesota's offensive line. Maybe they'll impress enough to win starting jobs in Week 1, or maybe they'll just add competition and push a veteran at their position to be even better.
More on those two in a second, but let's run through some other injury notes from practice No. 7 first.
Rashod Hill missed his second practice in the last three days, meaning Blake Brandel had to step up to play left tackle with the first team. Oli Udoh also got a handful of reps there, but not nearly as many as on Monday. The Vikings clearly view Udoh as a key contender in the right guard competition — he should be viewed as the favorite right now, in my opinion — and want him to keep getting reps at that spot.
Tyler Conklin missed his third straight day. He called his absence from practice on Monday "precautionary," but missing two more days suggests some level of severity to his injury. Anthony Barr also didn't practice, but it's unclear if that was due to injury or if he was just given a veteran day of rest. As has been the case every day, Riley Patterson and Cohl Cabral were out and Michael Pierce and Dede Westbrook didn't take any live reps.
Mike Zimmer said on Wednesday that Westbrook is still "a ways away," which could explain why the team worked out ex-Packers return man Trevor Davis this week.
Alright, observations time.
Darrisaw getting closer, Davis shows potential
The Vikings have brought Christian Darrisaw along slowly as he recovers from offseason core surgery to address a groin injury. Just being out there on Wednesday was a big step towards getting him back to full participation. The big left tackle did some individual drills and bag work, but didn't take any live reps.
Darrisaw said after practice that he's hoping to participate fully for Saturday's scrimmage at U.S. Bank Stadium. If he can return on Saturday or early next week so he can get a few practices in before camp ends, that could go a long way towards giving him a chance to beat out Rashod Hill for the Week 1 start at LT. As of now, I still think Hill has better odds of getting that nod in Cincinnati in 5.5 weeks, but preseason games will be important as well.
Davis, one of the Vikings' third-round picks, returned to practice and was a full go. He had two nice reps against Janarius Robinson (I think that's who it was) in OL/DL 1-on-1s and mostly looked good in team periods, despite making a couple mistakes. You can see all of the tools on display with Davis. He has the size and strength to anchor effectively against pass rushers, and he has the movement ability to pave lanes in the ground game. Here's a good clip of his run-blocking:
Davis and Borland, who played together at Ohio State, later got into a fight that was quickly broken up.
Davis just needs to become a little more consistent. He messed up an assignment on a blitz at one point, drawing an earful from O-line coach Phil Rauscher. It makes sense that he was a little rusty after missing the last three practices with an ankle injury. If Davis keeps putting good days together and growing his understanding of the playbook, he'll be right back in the mix at right guard. Davis notably didn't take any reps at center after doing some work there earlier in camp.
However, he'll have to really impress to surpass Oli Udoh for a starting spot to begin the regular season. Udoh, who I wrote about yesterday, has been one of the breakout stars of camp, and he had yet another strong day on Wednesday. His anchoring ability and awareness against stunts are both very impressive. It would be malpractice if the Vikings put Dakota Dozier at RG over Udoh and Davis, but you probably already knew that.
Kene Nwangwu takes one to the house
Let's keep the focus on the offensive rookies for a second. Running back and potential kick returner Kene Nwangwu has flashed at times during camp, and his speed could be an impactful weapon for the Vikings in multiple phases of the game. On Wednesday, he showed why he could push to see some snaps on offense.
Nwangwu took a handoff from Jake Browning, found the hole, made one cut, and was gone. The single-high safety (Myles Dorn, I believe) had no chance at beating him to the sideline. Nwangwu has the type of speed that makes him a threat to take one a long way whenever he gets the ball. He's still firmly behind Alexander Mattison for the No. 2 RB job, but Klint Kubiak might have to find a way to get him some touches this year.
Offense has a tough day overall
Despite there being some highlights as always, the Vikings' offense didn't have the best day. Jake Browning was solid, not great. He had some passes broken up or miss long. The offensive line struggled to keep the pocket clean for much of the 11-on-11 reps, which didn't help. Danny Etling, operating as the clear No. 2 behind Browning and in front of Case Cookus, had another understandably sloppy day as well.
Even Dalvin Cook, perhaps the team's best offensive player, had his first turnover of camp with a fumble that Cameron Dantzler returned for a touchdown. Cook punished himself by dropping and doing a bunch of push-ups afterwards. Browning also fumbled at one point and had several other plays blown up by penetration from the likes of Danielle Hunter, Armon Watts, and D.J. Wonnum.
Things should get smoother when Kirk Cousins returns on Thursday, which Mike Zimmer confirmed will be the case. Nate Stanley should also be back, but Kellen Mond is going to be out for a while longer. It'll be interesting to see who out of Etling, Cookus, and Stanley sticks around.
- Greg Joseph didn't have a very good day. He missed short and wide left on a 48-yard attempt into the wind, leading to this excellent typo from Chris Tomasson:
Joseph also missed wide left on a 56-yarder to end an unsuccessful two-minute drill by the first-team offense.
- K.J. Osborn is quite clearly the Vikings' No. 3 wide receiver right now. There hasn't been a day in which he hasn't stood out with at least a nice catch or two. Mike Zimmer noted that Osborn is a lot more confident this year than he was as a rookie. "Now he thinks he’s pretty good," Zimmer said. "A year ago, he was kind of feeling his way. Didn’t catch the ball that great. Now he’s catching the ball really well. He looks a little faster to me. I think all that is because of his confidence." With Westbrook still needing time to recover, Osborn has taken advantage of his opportunity. Chad Beebe remains in the mix and caught a touchdown for the second straight day (this time in 7-on-7 action), but Osborn just offers a lot more than Beebe does.
- Irv Smith Jr. has been a touchdown machine all camp long. He just seems to find ways to get open in the red zone and should have no trouble surpassing his career high of five TD grabs now that Kyle Rudolph is gone. "He looks a little bit quicker and faster to me," Zimmer said.
- Danielle Hunter is a game-wrecker. He looks like his old self.
- Kenny Willekes stood out a little bit in both 1-on-1s and live team reps. He's at least an intriguing practice squad candidate after spending his whole rookie year on IR.
- Zach Davidson has made some plays in the passing game throughout camp, but his blocking needs plenty of work. That's the main reason I expect Brandon Dillon to be the No. 3 tight end this year.
- Xavier Woods had a nice pass breakup in the end zone and continues to be an underrated key part of this defense.
- Dalvin Tomlinson is a lot to handle on the interior of the defensive line. He's going to be very important this season.
- With no Michael Pierce at nose tackle, Armon Watts has stepped up and had a strong camp. "He’s in the best shape of his life," Andre Patterson said. "I have a lot of respect for how hard Armon worked this offseason. This is the best shape I’ve ever seen him in, and he’s having a great camp so far. He’s making a lot of plays in the backfield, in the run game."
- Nick Vigil had a nice day that included a PBU while covering Irv Smith in the two-minute drill. He's battling with Cam Smith for the No. 3 LB job.
- Here's your daily Justin Jefferson highlight. Patrick Peterson is learning the hard way how tough it is to cover JJ.
Two more regular days of practice this week before the scrimmage at the stadium on Saturday. Next week, the Broncos come to town.
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