NFL.com has dispatched several writers to report on the 32 training camps over the next few weeks. Chad Reuter details his visit with the Minnesota Vikings. (Click here for the complete archive of Training Camp Reports.)
WHERE IS NFL.COM?
The Minnesota Vikings are holding training camp in Mankato, Minn., for the 47th consecutive year. The Minnesota State University campus provides good facilities for the team, including three nice practice fields. Plenty of fans came from all over the state (Mankato is about 90 minutes southwest of the Twin Cities) to watch their favorite team on a warm, sun-soaked Tuesday.
1. Matt Kalil is getting up to speed in a hurry facing Jared Allen in practice. The Vikings ranked 27th in the league in sacks allowed last season with 49, so it was no surprise they selected Kalil with the fourth overall pick of April's draft. He got a pass-rush clinic by last season's NFL sack king (22 sacks) during team work, and clearly needs to bulk up as his body matures. But he stood his ground well against Allen during one-on-one drills, making the All-Pro shake his head when he couldn't use his hands to beat Kalil's punch and lateral movement. It's going to be a fun matchup throughout camp that will make both players better.
2. Adrian Peterson is here, but not really. While his teammates run drills and scrimmage, Peterson is spending his time working with dumbbells and big hoses on another part of the practice fields. The Pro Bowl running back is on the team's physically unable to perform (PUP) list as he rehabs the torn ACL suffered late last season. While the Vikings hopes he'll be ready for the season opener, it's disconcerting to see their best player not taking part in the same reindeer games as his teammates as the preseason schedule approaches.
3. Christian Ponder's still seeking consistency entering Year 2. At times, Ponder looks the part of a solid starting quarterback, using his mobility and accurate arm to successfully move his offense. But he struggled more than the Vikings wanted to see in this practice, coming up short on some throws and showing bad body language as frustration set in. The interior offensive line didn't exactly help him feel settled in the pocket, either -- new guards Charlie Johnson (taking over on the left side for Steve Hutchinson) and Brandon Fusco (replacing Anthony Herrera on the right) must be strong if the team hopes to lean on the passing game while Peterson gets back to form.
4. There shouldn't be a drop-off with Jasper Brinkley taking over for E.J. Henderson. Brinkley lost his 2011 season to injury, but looked strong (yet lean) and quick at middle linebacker during practice. He'll certainly be a factor filling gaps in the run game, but will also attack as a blitzer when given the chance. Brinkley might not play in nickel situations, but that wasn't Henderson's forte, either.
THE NEW GUYS
Jerome Simpson:Percy Harvin is a dangerous offensive weapon at wide receiver, but Simpson must step forward as the vertical threat down the sideline and up the seam to stretch defenses vertically, allowing Harvin and the tight ends to work the middle. He'll be out the first three weeks due to a suspension for off-field misconduct, but his speed, athleticism and hands make him an important piece for the final three-quarters of the season.
Greg Childs: Childs looks more comfortable than former Arkansas teammate Jarius Wright at this time, and could fill the outside role during Simpson's suspension. Leaning on rookie fourth-round wide receivers is rarely a good idea, but Childs' size/speed/hands combination might allow him to eventually become the reliable big-bodied receiver they thought Michael Jenkins could become when they signed him to a three-year deal last summer. Wright's going to contribute in the slot and on special teams during his rookie season, but might need more time to absorb his role in the offense.
John Carlson/Rhett Ellison: At the start of Tuesday's practice, it appeared the Vikings had one of the deeper tight end groups in the league. John Carlson, a free-agent acquisition from Seattle, and second-year tight end Kyle Rudolph will be sure-handed and athletic targets for Ponder this season. Ellison (a fourth-round pick and the son of former San Francisco 49er Riki Ellison) showed some excellent blocking skills in practice, stoning first-round safety Harrison Smith in the hole on one run play and sealing the edge to allow an off-tackle touchdown in goal-line drills. Unfortunately, Carlson suffered a sprained MCL Tuesday, but it doesn't sound as though surgery will be necessary. Ponder will lean on those three, as well as third-year player Mickey Shuler, to move the chains in 2012.
General manager Rick Spielman has been impressed with Ellison's play this summer. His eyes lit up talking about the team's "other" rookie from USC during a post-practice conversation, calling him "the most mature rookie I've ever been around. You look at the way he plays, and you'd think he's a 10-year vet."
- Right now, Joe Webb is taking snaps with the second team, not Sage Rosenfels. Webb is the classic "gamer," showing average accuracy and footwork in practice -- but also flashing the athleticism that makes opposing defensive coordinators nervous when he comes into the game.
- Starting right tackle Phil Loadholt isn't afraid to say what he's thinking. After one goal-line stop by the team's second-string defense against the second-string offense, Loadholt weighed in with, "You SHOULD stop it if you've got 12 guys out there," as he counted out the defenders on the field.
- Sixth-round pick Blair Walsh didn't have a great senior season making field goals for Georgia (going 21-for-35), but he connected on a 44-yarder at the end of practice while hearing it from his defensive teammates. He also kicked three balls through the uprights on kickoffs -- it looked as though they came from a machine, not a human leg.
- Watching >Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Singletary run linebacker drills is a treat, not only because of his intensity but because he can still stay low and punch tackling dummies with great power. While rookies Tyler Nielsen and Audie Cole struggled to bend and bring strength to the sled, Singletary and Pro Bowl linebacker Chad Greenway showed the young guys how it's done.
- Defensive end D'Aundre Reed wasn't a starter at the University of Arizona (stuck behind Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore) and wasn't activated for a game during his rookie campaign of 2011, but his size and quickness off the snap give him a chance to make an impact behind Brian Robison on the left side in 2012.
- Scouts from the Montreal Alouettes and Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League were seen roaming the sidelines Tuesday. NFL teams are not allowed to attend/scout each other's training camp practices, but CFL personnel can. They scout players who might miss the cut and could be interested in a jump to the Great White North.
While the team has top-notch players in Allen, Greenway and the injured Peterson, it's difficult to say that any position group is the best in a highly competitive NFC North. The team couldn't win a division game in 2011, and this season could be even tougher, with the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions seemingly improving and the Green Bay Packers staying strong. The Vikings need to win their opening games against Jacksonville and Indianapolis without Simpson -- and potentially a quasi-healthy Peterson -- to have a chance at making a run at the .500 mark.