Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Seen and heard at Vikings' OTA No. 3
By Ben Goessling
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- A quick look at the highlights of the Minnesota Vikings' third open OTA of the offseason on Wednesday afternoon:
1. Yankey returns: Fifth-round pick David Yankey, who finished his last final exam at Stanford and caught a red-eye flight to join the Vikings on Wednesday, became the first of the team's three draft picks on the quarters system to rejoin the Vikings. UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr and Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton will both be with the team for its mandatory minicamp next week, but Yankey was able to return in time to get some extra work with offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, who stayed on the field well after the end of practice to run his rookie linemen through additional drills.
2. Sherels in the nickel: Cornerback Marcus Sherels saw some work in the Vikings' first-team nickel package, playing left cornerback while Captain Munnerlyn moved inside. Kendall James and Shaun Prater also saw some time at slot cornerback on second- and third-team defense, where Munnerlyn would normally play. Josh Robinson was still out nursing an injury on Wednesday, and Derek Cox, who had an interception during last week's open OTA, didn't see much time on Wednesday.
3. Rhodes steps up:Xavier Rhodes had an impressive interception during an 11-on-11 drill, stepping in front of a Matt Cassel throw on a quick hitch route. Defensive backs coach Jerry Gray yelled, "It's about time!" when Rhodes showed the instincts to jump the route, and for as solid as Rhodes was in press coverage toward the end of last season, he's still learning when he can take some chances and bite on a route. It's part of the development process for any young cornerback, but Rhodes had eight interceptions in three years at Florida State, so there is reason to think he can create some turnovers as he figures things out in the NFL. "I'm impressed," coach Mike Zimmer said. "He wants to be very good. He's got great acceleration, learning the techniques and staying on point better."
4. Struggle for QBs: After both Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater looked sharp in last week's open OTA, each of them had a rougher day on Wednesday. Cassel had his final throw batted down in 11-on-11 work, and Bridgewater was intercepted by Dom DeCicco on a pass over the middle. The rookie also was sacked a couple times during a blitz drill, and missed three of his four throws. The Vikings' defense was using a number of different looks on Wednesday, though, and it seemed clear that the offense was trying to digest a number of new concepts while facing a more nuanced defense. Days like Wednesday are part of the growing pains in a new system. Christian Ponder didn't get as much work as Cassel or Bridgewater, but he actually made some nice throws, hitting Jarius Wright on a throw over the middle in a receiver-vs.-cornerback drill and connecting with Kain Colter on a long pass off a broken play during a two-minute drill.
6. Hodges in nickel: Linebacker Gerald Hodges joined Chad Greenway in the Vikings' top nickel package for a handful of snaps, as the team waits to work in Barr once he returns from school next week. The Vikings are trying a number of different players in various spots (rookie Brandon Watts also got some nickel snaps), but the nickel package could represent an opportunity for Hodges, who has the quickness to play in passing situations.
7. A healthier team: One of Zimmer's first initiatives was to get high-fat items out of the team's cafeteria and to change the Vikings' weight program, and he said on Wednesday it's been working. The Vikings, Zimmer said, have lost 170 pounds of fat and gained 70 pounds of muscle during their offseason program.
8. Sullivan away for wedding -- and Birk returns: Center John Sullivan, who is getting married this weekend, was gone on Wednesday, but will return for mini-camp next week. His predecessor, former Vikings center Matt Birk, returned to take in practice on Wednesday. Birk, who lost 75 pounds after he retired from the Baltimore Ravens, has been touting his steps to better health since his career ended after Super Bowl XLVII.