MINNEAPOLIS - Mike Zimmer and the Minnesota Vikings coaching staff had to have liked what they saw out of minicamp this week at TCO Performance Center.
Zimmer ended practice Monday nearly 40 minutes early, after Kirk Cousins, Jake Browning and Kellen Mond all threw touchdown passes in team drills. Tuesday, practice ended about a half hour early and Zimmer had former defensive tackle Kevin Williams break down the huddle. Williams was in town and got the surprise of being named to the Vikings Ring of Honor this season.
Zimmer was clearly in a good mood Wednesday, as he canceled practice altogether and sent players home early. After two days of practice and near perfect attendance over three weeks of OTAs, the Vikings now get about five weeks off before training camp starts July 28.
So what did we learn from minicamp? Here are a few takeaways:
GET EXCITED ABOUT THE VIKINGS REVAMPED DEFENSE
Mike Zimmer said this week the Vikings could have as many as eight new starters Week 1 at Cincinnati, and that’s a good thing. His struggled, between youth and key players being out injured. They cashed in on talent via free agency, adding Patrick Peterson, Mackensie Alexander, Bashaud Breeland, Dalvin Tomlinson and Stephen Weatherly. Michael Pierce is back, and Danielle Hunter returns healthy and on a restructured contract. The defense, if it stays healthy, should be a force to be reckoned with.
WHERE IS THE OFFENSIVE LINE AT?
The Vikings used the NFL Draft to add talent and depth to the offensive line, investing a first round pick in Christian Darrisaw and a third round pick in Wyatt Davis. But neither saw time with the first team offensive line at minicamp. The top offensive line in most situations featured Rashod Hill, Ezra Cleveland, Garrett Bradbury, Dakota Dozier and Brian O’Neill. The Vikings are taking it slow with Darrisaw, who practice both days this week after missing part of OTAs with a groin/core injury.
The hope is Darrisaw and Davis come into training camp ready to compete for starting roles.
WHO WILL BE THE NO. 2 QUARTERBACK?
Every fan’s favorite player on a football roster is the back-up quarterback. The Vikings will have quite the competition at training camp to see who will back up Kirk Cousins. Sean Mannion was the back-up last season, and he’s currently a free agent.
The names to follow are rookie and third round pick Kellen Mond, Jake Browning and Nate Stanley. All had their moments in minicamp, but Browning and Stanley got the main reps with the second team.
ERIC KENDRICKS BACK HEALTHY, MAKING PLAYS
Eric Kendricks missed the last five games of last season due to injury, and said Wednesday he felt like he was playing the best football of his career before injuring his calf. He’s one of the unquestioned leaders and top playmakers on the defense, and he flashed this week. Kendricks made at least two interceptions on Kirk Cousins, and defended an overthrown pass headed for Tyler Conklin in a red zone 11-on-11 drill. Kendricks back healthy will do wonders for Zimmer’s defense.
VIKINGS LOVE THEIR DEFENSIVE BACKS
If you’re Zimmer, you can never have enough defensive backs. That’s especially true this off-season, with Jeff Gladney not at minicamp as he has an ongoing legal situation involving an assault in Texas. Cameron Dantzler also was largely a spectator this week, after missing five games last season between injuries and COVID-19 issues.
Zimmer and the Vikings fortified their secondary, adding All-Pro Patrick Peterson, safety Xavier Woods, defensive back Bashaud Breeland and bringing back Mackensie Alexander to join Kris Boyd and Harrison Hand.
Enjoy the time off, Vikings fans. Football season starts July 28 with the first of 14 training camp practices open to fans at TCO Performance Center.