Vikings Training Camp Notes, Day 13: Who Stepped Up With Veterans Resting?

The Vikings gave several veterans the day off on Sunday, which made things interesting.
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The topic of the day when it comes to the Vikings is obviously their acquisition of Yannick Ngakoue, the former Pro Bowl defensive end who had 37.5 sacks and 14 forced fumbles over the past four seasons in Jacksonville. I've already written about what that move means for the Vikings, and there will be much more coming on that subject going forward.

But the Vikings also had a practice to get to on Sunday afternoon. It was the final practice of training camp, in a sense. Roster cutdown day isn't until this upcoming Saturday, but the Vikings will begin to shift into regular season mode on Monday, and they'll begin preparations for the Packers pretty soon. September 13th is right around the corner, folks.

The Vikings were without six players at today's practice. Danielle Hunter missed his 12th straight session with what is still an undisclosed injury. Rashod Hill, who missed Friday's scrimmage at U.S. Bank Stadium, was also out. Rookie DE Kenny Willekes was seen on crutches after that scrimmage, and he wasn't anywhere to be seen on Sunday. Adam Thielen, Kyle Rudolph, and Riley Reiff got veteran's days off.

This was the last practice that was fully open to the media until next year's training camp, so this will be my final recap. Let's get to the takeaways.

Brian O'Neill slides over to left tackle

The most interesting thing about Sunday's practice was seeing the effects and changes caused by the players who didn't participate. For example, Reiff and Hill being out led to an interesting shake-up on the offensive line.

With their top two left tackles on the sideline, the Vikings moved Brian O'Neill over to that side. That meant Oli Udoh stepped up and played right tackle with the first team. O'Neill, who played left tackle at Pitt but has shined on the right side in his first two NFL seasons, looked comfortable and fluid at his college position. Udoh continued his strong camp by holding his own with the starters.

O'Neill playing left tackle leads to some easy speculation over whether or not he'll move there permanently at some point. The Vikings will almost certainly have to move on from Reiff next offseason to create cap space, and Hill will be a free agent. When they drafted Ezra Cleveland in the second round, it seemed like he was the heir apparent at left tackle. That's probably still the case, but Cleveland playing guard as a rookie has made that less of a certainty than it previously seemed. Could the future of the offensive line be O'Neill at left tackle, Cleveland at left guard, and Udoh at right tackle?

We'll have to wait and see to get the answers to those questions.

O'Neill moving to left tackle also caused shakeups lower down the O-line depth chart. Aviante Collins moved from left guard to left tackle with the second team, with Blake Brandel moving to right tackle. Cleveland took Collins' place as the second-team LG. Dru Samia, who has been at right guard all camp, got some snaps at left guard with the third team.

Irv Smith Jr. has huge day with Rudolph resting

Rudolph missing practice opened the door for Irv Smith Jr. to get a ton of reps, and he turned them into a very productive day. The second-year tight end from Alabama was a major part of the passing game during both 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills.

Smith showed off his versatility as a receiver by making plays on several different routes. He caught a couple balls over the middle, which is where tight ends typically see most of their work. His combination of size and athleticism make him a dangerous weapon against linebackers in the middle of the field. But Smith also made a great play on the sideline with Kirk Cousins rolling out to his right, and was used on short passes that get him in space to run after the catch.

Smith's highlight of the day was a deep seam route where he was being covered by defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo, of all people. That was clearly a mismatch, and Smith turned it into a touchdown.

Several receivers benefit from Thielen's absence

The theme continues. Like with Reiff/Hill and Rudolph, Thielen missing practice created opportunities for other receivers to take reps with the first team. Instead of simply sliding one guy into that spot, the Vikings gave a bunch of different wideouts a chance to work with the starting offense. Bisi Johnson became the top guy, but he had a fairly quiet day.

Justin Jefferson, Tajae Sharpe, Chad Beebe, and Alexander Hollins all took snaps with the ones at some point or another on Sunday. Each of them had some strong moments as they continue to make their case to make the 53-man roster (or in Jefferson's case, to push Johnson for the No. 2 job). Sharpe stood out the most to me, making several nice catches from Cousins, including a contested grab with Eric Kendricks in coverage.

With K.J. Osborn having locked up a job as a returner, there's probably only room for two of Sharpe, Beebe, and Hollins to make the team. All three seem deserving, but the Vikings aren't going to keep seven receivers on a run-heavy offense.

Other observations

  • One of the songs that played while the Vikings stretched was called "Despiadada" by an artist named "Deuce," who is actually none other than running back Alexander Mattison. While Mattison's older music was all rap, this song is a slower R&B-type track sung entirely in Spanish. How's that for a fun fact?
  • UDFA receiver Dan Chisena, the track star from Penn State who runs a 4.3 40, has moved from WR to safety and switched from No. 85 to No. 39. He's a special teams ace who has a shot to stick around on the practice squad, and I guess the Vikings want to try to develop him on defense after seeing him struggle at receiver for a few weeks. He got a few defensive snaps on Sunday, but I'm not sure if he was ever targeted in coverage.
  • Kirk Cousins showed some visible frustration towards the end of practice, slamming his helmet down after overthrowing Jefferson during a situational drill. It was a rare outburst of emotion from the veteran quarterback.
  • Cousins may have also been frustrated about an interception a couple plays earlier. He threw deep for Sharpe into double coverage and it was picked off by Anthony Harris, who led the NFL in interceptions last year.
  • The loudest cheers of the day came from the defense after DE Stacy Keely recorded a pick-six on a tipped pass.
  • Jake Bargas caught a touchdown pass from Sean Mannion and continues to have a solid camp as the team's backup fullback.
  • Osborn's role in 2020 will be as a returner, but he made a couple nice grabs during 1-on-1 WR vs. DB drills. Based on what we've seen in camp, he could eventually become a factor at receiver for the Vikings (though probably not this year).

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