Vikings coaches getting extended look at young players
Vikings rookie linebacker Anthony Barr (shown here in a file photo) spent the entirety of Wednesday's practice with the starting unit in the base defense, and paired with veteran standout Chad Greenway in the nickel defense.
MANKATO, Minn. — Tuesday’s off day of practice allowed the Minnesota Vikings’ coaches to meet and discuss how to split repetitions for players in practice, increasing snaps for some players the team needs to see more of, and cutting back on others whom coaches believe they have a firm evaluation of.
The result was first-round picks Anthony Barr and Teddy Bridgewater getting their most extended time with the first-team defense and offense, respectively, through the first five practices. Zimmer discussed some of the changes with reporters following practice and then added another tidbit.
"Even some veteran guys we cut back because we know them a little bit better," Zimmer said. "We’re not really working (Chad) Greenway at the ‘Mike’ anymore. In the nickel, he’s playing some of the middle backer. There’s a story for you. . . . We’ve been trying to figure out that position, the middle linebacker spot."
Greenway had been moved around a bit by the coaching staff from his usual spot on the strong side, and Zimmer had even thought about using Greenway as the ‘Mike,’ or middle linebacker. Greenway still plays the middle in the nickel defense when the Vikings go to just two linebackers on the field, but Zimmer and the defensive coaches want to see the other potential middle linebackers in Jasper Brinkley, Audie Cole and Michael Mauti.
"I haven’t seen enough of the other guys is really what it is," Zimmer said of keeping Greenway on the outside in the base defense. "We as coaches have to see these other guys as far as just exactly what we have at that spot. So that’s going to be a big contention for us. I told my (linebackers coach Adam Zimmer) today, I said, ‘Make sure that you grade on paper every one of these practices, write down the mistakes, write down the misalignments, write down the mental errors,’ so we’re on our Ps and Qs with that."
Brinkley has taken most of the first-team repetitions in the middle throughout the offseason and early part of training camp. Greenway had been used there on a limited basis, but Zimmer will allow Greenway to settle on the outside. Cole and Mauti have split the majority of the second-team snaps in practices.
In his first training camp with Minnesota, Zimmer decided to alter some of the practice reps to see some of the younger players on the roster. And in particular, Zimmer and the coaches want to see how certain players fare against tougher competition.
"One of the things we talked about in the meeting yesterday is we’ve got to get a look at some of these down-the-line guys, some of these younger guys against good people," Zimmer said. . . . "We need to get them in there against the first team some.
"It’s just evaluation. All we’re trying to do is evaluate, move guys around where we can evaluate. At some point in time I will have the second defense go against the first offense and vice-versa so we can keep evaluating our guys. When you start getting down to the cuts, we have to evaluate kind of what they’re going to be playing against in the season."
Barr spent the entirety of Wednesday’s practice with the starting unit in the base defense, and paired with Greenway in the nickel.
"The only time I noticed him he was late on a blitz," Zimmer said, adding: "But I talked to him about it."
Bridgewater received a few snaps with the first-team offense, but Matt Cassel still took the majority of the reps with the starters.
"He didn’t look quite as accurate as he had throughout the whole camp," Zimmer said. "Again, I’m looking at a lot on the defense, quite a bit today."
Patterson, Munnerlyn return: Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson returned after missing the majority of training camp with a foot injury. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn was activated off the physically unable to perform list and practiced for the first time, but he was limited to individual drills as he returns from a hamstring injury.
Patterson had participated on a limited basis in walk-through and Monday evening’s practice, but was a full participant on Wednesday.
"I was kind of nervous waking up and everything," Patterson said. "It just felt different coming out here for the first time, full pads and full-go. It felt good to be out there and compete with those guys and I just can’t wait to get hit tomorrow."
Munnerlyn and the Vikings are being cautious with his hamstring injury, hoping it doesn’t get worse and keep him out for an extended period of time.
Munnerlyn said he was "antsy" waiting for his first chance to practice, but that he’s feeling "good" now and wants to be careful. He missed the final two games of the 2011 season with a hamstring injury.
"Build up slowly, that’s the key," Munnerlyn said. "Hamstring’s can be tricky. Even though I really wanted to go out there and go all-out, but if I went all out, who says I’m going to practice tomorrow. How I feel tomorrow? So they’re being smart about it, and that’s why they the experts, the trainers are the experts and I’m the player. I just listen to them and try to get better."
Munnerlyn and Zimmer said the veteran cornerback could progress to team drills on Thursday.
"Oh yeah, I’m cutting loose a little bit tomorrow," Munnerlyn said. "Not all the way loose, but they also said they will let me do some team drills and get in there so I can get to put my hands on people."
With Munnerlyn activated off the PUP list, safety Andrew Sendejo and tight end Chase Ford remain on the list.
Sendejo, who’s dealt with back and ankle injuries since last season, could be nearing a return.
"Maybe Monday when we come back to practice, I think," Zimmer said. "That’s what we’re hoping for."
Ford, who had surgery on a broken foot, was out of his cast. He was off crutches and in a walking boot on Wednesday.
"It is disappointing to me that Chase isn’t here, Chase Ford, because he did a lot of good things in the spring and he is a good pass receiver and a versatile guy," offensive coordinator Norv Turner said earlier in the day. "We need to get him back so we can see where he fits in the mix."
More hamstring injuries in the secondary: Safety Robert Blanton was held out of practice after leaving Monday evening’s practice early. On Wednesday, cornerback Josh Robinson also left practice with doctors. Zimmer said both were dealing with hamstring issues.
Blanton, who’s competing for the starting safety spot next to Harrison Smith, left Monday’s practice during a blitz drill. Zimmer didn’t know how long Blanton would be held out.
"No, not too long hopefully," Blanton said.
Robinson’s hamstring tightened up on him while covering receiver Greg Jennings in a team drill. He later returned, but was held out the rest of practice. Robinson said he expects to return on Thursday as he walked off the field after practice.
"He’s got a tight hammy," Zimmer said. "I don’t think it will be very long. It just got tight. It was more preventive. I told (head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman) to get him out."
Tight end AC Leonard, an undrafted rookie, also left practice early Wednesday, walking off the field with a towel around his head. Zimmer said Leonard had a headache.