Vikings defense ramps up situations with pads on

It’s starting to feel a little more like actual football as the Minnesota Vikings are in the middle of Week 2 of Training Camp at TCO Performance Center in Eagan.

The Vikings held their first fully-padded practice on Sunday. They’ll have a night practice on Saturday that will feel like a scrimmage, and the first preseason game at New Orleans is Aug. 9, less than two weeks away.

That will mark the first opportunity for players and coaches to see live game reps against somebody other than a teammate. It’s always a valuable opportunity.

For all the talk about a revamped offensive approach led by Kevin Stefanski and Gary Kubiak, the Vikings’ defense is also making adjustments to all the changes. The luxury on that side of the ball is that the coaching staff has stayed largely intact for at least five seasons.

With the focus shifting more to game situations and away from routine drills, defensive coordinator George Edwards says attention to detail is even more imperative.

“The biggest thing we’re trying to emphasize with those guys is being consistent day in and day out,” Edwards said Wednesday after morning walkthrough.

Just like the coaching staff, the Vikings’ veteran defensive standouts have remained mostly with the team. That said, there’s still plenty of position battles and work for reps in practice. With Linval Joseph, Jalyn Holmes and Shamar Stephen out due to injuries, it means more chances for players like Ifeadi Odenigbo, Anree Saint-Amour, Karter Schult, Curtis Cothran, Jaleel Johnson and Hercules Mata’afa among others.

“It’s a good group. We haven’t had Linval or Shamar out there yet, but it’s been critical reps for those young guys to get in there and get those reps,” Edwards said. “We know it’s going to be a competitive situation going through, that’s what we want throughout our defense at every position.”

The Vikings finished fourth in total defense last season, allowing a little more than 309 yards per game. They tied for third in the NFL in sacks with 50, and were 14th in allowing 22.5 points per game.

Minnesota was 18th in the NFL with 12 interceptions in 16 games, was 28th in forced fumbles with just eight, and they recovered all of them.

One of the second-tier defensive line players that has stood out in Training Camp so far is Jaleel Johnson. He finished last year with 13 total tackles, six solo, a half sack and one forced fumble. His best game was in Week 4, where he had four tackles and that half sack in a 37-17 win over the Jets.

“I think Jaleel is a very aggressive player for us and a big thing we try to emphasize to him right now is being consistent, do your job but then boom, let’s get off the block and go make a play,” Edwards said. I think he’s got the ability, he’s shown the ability to do that. We’re just trying to get him to do that not just in a game, but to do that every day in practice.”

Johnson says he's just trying to soak in every moment in Training Camp and take advantage of every available opportunity.

"With that, being able to talk to the guys who aren’t out there practicing and playing, being able to get tips from those guys, it’s been very, very helpful so far," Johnson said.

Mackensie Alexander is also stepping up in the secondary. He’s no longer playing behind Terrance Newman, and took advantage of his opportunity last year with 43 tackles and four sacks in 15 games, including six starts.

Now entering his fourth NFL season, he himself admitted last season he was immature as a rookie and has grown up a lot since.

“Down the stretch last year, he played pretty good for us. He’s come out here and done a good job thus far as we’ve started camp,” Edwards said. “You can tell he’s got a better feel for it, it’s not the first time he’s been through it so he can lean back on some of that experience and now line up and go play and not do so much thinking.”