Minnesota Vikings: 6 Players Turning Heads at Training Camp
Things are certainly looking up for the Minnesota Vikings as the Mike Zimmer regime begins at training camp in Mankato, Minnesota.
Bogged down by four disappointing seasons in a row since making the 2009 NFC Championship Game, the Vikings have a renewed spirit and confidence, and it's showing in a lively training camp.
The Vikings got the day off on Tuesday after a spirited Monday night practice under the lights that saw the team work on goal-line drills and one-on-one matchups.
As the calendar turns from July to August, the magnifying glass will turn up on players who are trying to make the final roster. Big plays as well as consistent performance are being duly noted by all position coaches as well as the coordinators and head coach as they begin to decide who will get more practice and game reps as training camp wears on.
There are plenty of new faces in purple with a slew of rookies and free agents joining the returning players.
So who's making an early impression? Who's as good as advertised or even better?
We're still just a handful of practices into training camp, but it's never too early to report on who's making waves. Here are six guys who are turning heads so far at Vikings training camp.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman might see a little bit of himself in rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, whom he traded two draft picks to get back into the first round and select.
In a feature story in the Star Tribune by Matt Vensel, Bridgewater talks about a list he keeps in one of his notebooks that contains his goals written down before training camp. He's quoted as saying, "I can give you the biggest goal: to not make the same mistake twice."
Spielman, who drafted Christian Ponder with the 12th overall pick in the 2011 draft, probably nodded in agreement as he read that quote.
Yes, we're only four days into training camp, but things are already looking much brighter for the Vikings at the quarterback position. With Ponder relegated to third-string duties, the battle is on between veteran Matt Cassel and Bridgewater for the starting quarterback job.
It doesn't take long to notice that Bridgewater has a presence about him on the football field. He has a poise and professionalism about him that makes you think that he knows what he's doing. He looks like he's completely under control, and that's not at all something you could say about Minnesota's quarterback situation in 2013.
So far in training camp, there's been nothing to dislike about Bridgewater. He throws a nice, tight spiral and has been pretty accurate on all three levels of routes. He's patient in the pocket, and once he makes his reads, he has a very quick release and puts the ball where he wants it to go.
The general consensus in Minnesota is that Bridgewater will need to have an extraordinary camp to unseat Cassel as the starter, but nobody is saying that's impossible at this point.
Head coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner have both said that Bridgewater will get plenty of reps with the first team throughout camp, so that they can fairly evaluate him against Cassel. NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reported on Monday (h/t NFL.com's Mike Coppinger) that Minnesota will split the quarterback reps just two ways beginning on Wednesday.
Bridgewater is clearly the Vikings quarterback of the future. When that future begins is up to him.
Linebacker Anthony Barr
There's simply no denying that Vikings first-round pick Anthony Barr looks the part.
At 6'5", 255 pounds, Barr is a huge specimen who moves with the quickness and athletic glide of a former running back. The ninth overall selection in the 2014 draft has potential dripping off him, and new Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is excited about Barr's future.
Barr is still pretty new to playing linebacker, having only spent two years at the position while at UCLA. But he stands out on the football field and has the look of a guy who could be a game-breaker at the position.
While Chad Greenway has been a steady performer for years for the Vikings, they've lacked an intimidating presence in their linebacking corps. Barr certainly looks like he could change that.
The Vikings have promised to use him in a variety of ways, and he's already lined up as a defensive end on several occasions at practice. Barr is versatile enough that he could be an impact player both on the pass rush and when dropping into coverage.
The sky seems to be the limit for the Vikings' top pick.
Tight End Kyle Rudolph
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph might be buying a few dinners once the team breaks camp in Mankato in a couple of weeks.
Rudolph signed a five-year, $36.5 million contract extension Sunday that makes him among the five highest-paid tight ends in the NFL. Rudolph received a $6.5 million signing bonus, and $19.4 million is guaranteed, as reported by Matt Vensel of the Star Tribune.
At 6'6", 258 pounds, Rudolph is bound to turn heads wherever he goes, but he came to training camp down 15 pounds from last season, according to Vikings.com writer Mike Wobschall.
The Vikings are certainly paying Rudolph for his potential, as he's still looking to have his breakout year in the NFL. He missed the second half of 2013 with a broken foot.
Rudolph has caught 109 passes for just over 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns during his three seasons in the league, but the Vikings see much bigger things from Rudolph, who's still just 24 years old.
Not only will the Vikings have better quarterback play in 2014, but with Norv Turner as the new offensive coordinator, Rudolph should be looking at the biggest numbers of his career. Turner has a long history of success with tight ends, including Jay Novacek, Antonio Gates and Jordan Cameron last year.
Fully healthy, slimmed down and yes, quite a bit richer, Rudolph is out to prove that he's worth the money the Vikings have promised him and is among the best tight ends in the NFL.
Cornerback Jabari Price
The Vikings have nine cornerbacks in training camp, so it can be hard to get noticed at times.
It certainly helped the newcomers that starter Captain Munnerlyn began camp on the sidelines with a minor injury. One player who's gotten some notice early on is seventh-round pick Jabari Price out of North Carolina.
As reported by Master Tesfatsion of the Star Tribune, Price learned quickly that he has to learn proper technique at the NFL level. Instead of relying on being a better athlete than his opponents like he did in college, Price needs to absorb every piece of technique information he can get from the Vikings coaches.
At 5'11", 200 pounds, he is a tough player who has experience playing in the slot, which could endear him to the coaches. He was also used as punt gunner at North Carolina, and he'll have to prove his worth as a special teamer to land a roster spot as a rookie.
Price is more than likely looking at a training camp battle to land a roster spot in the crowded secondary. He and fellow rookie Kendall James might be battling Shaun Prater for the last cornerback spot. Both he and James are prime candidates to end up on the practice squad if they don't make the final roster.
Price has flashed early in camp with his aggressiveness and willingness to battle for the football.
Wide Receiver Adam Thielen
Wide receiver Adam Thielen feels right at home at training camp with the Minnesota Vikings.
Of course, he should, as the Vikings conduct camp at Mankato State-Minnesota, the Division II school where Thielen starred for four seasons before signing with Minnesota after going undrafted in 2013.
Thielen is hoping to continue his "small-school player makes it big" story with the Vikings in 2014, and he seems to have taken the early lead in the battle for the fifth wide receiver spot on the roster.
The 6'2", 195-pound Thielen has impressed everybody at training camp with his ability to catch anything thrown in his direction. Brian Murphy of the Pioneer Press reports that Thielen's play has caught the eyes of Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
Thielen's ability to line up at a variety of different positions might give him an early edge on fellow second-year man Rodney Smith.
Vikings.com writer Mike Wobschall reported that Thielen making an outstanding catch is becoming commonplace at Vikings practices.
Thielen fits the mold of the extra receiver who can make plays all over the field that is becoming a staple in most NFL offenses. He's quick enough and has good enough hands to excel out of the slot, and he can also get open from either outside position.
Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner
No, he's not a player, but among all the changes at the Vikings 2014 training camp, the one that might be turning the most heads is the new offense being installed by Norv Turner.
Turner is an offensive expert who is entering his 25th season in the NFL as either a head coach or an offensive coordinator. He has a history of getting his skill position players big numbers and should do wonders with a Vikings offense that has plenty of talent at those positions.
Many Vikings players have talked about how much more there is to Turner's offense. Adrian Peterson took it a step further on Monday when he said to Ben Goessling of ESPN.com, "Let's call it what it is: In the past we've been predictable."
Peterson also said that under Turner, he's playing in a scheme he's been "looking for for the past seven years."
This is all exciting news for Vikings fans who made fun of former offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's small sideline play sheet. Under Turner, the Minnesota offense should be anything but predictable.
With talented players like Peterson, Greg Jennings, Kyle Rudolph and Cordarrelle Patterson, the Vikings could have their most explosive offense in years.