Donovan McNabb (Kevin Brown/Viking Update)
Vikings quarterbacks had a tough go of things during the full-team session Saturday night, taking sacks and throwing a couple of late interceptions. With so many changes and so early in camp, some of that was expected, according to coaches and players.
The NFL axiom is that the defense is usually ahead of the offense early in training camp, and the Vikings lived up to the saying Saturday night.
“You almost expect that early in camp. As our offense puts more things in, they’ll catch up in that regard,” head coach Leslie Frazier said. “In most cases, that’s the way it is. Early, the defense is a little ahead.”
That rang true at the beginning of the Vikings’ practice in front of a record crowd.
On the very first snap in the first full-team session, starting quarterback Donovan McNabb took a touch sack. Even after he was downed, he hurried a pass that running back Adrian Peterson tipped and linebacker E.J. Henderson intercepted. After two incompletions, second-string linebacker Ross Homan came on a blitz and got to McNabb.
Joe Webb didn’t fare much better with the second team, either. He took a touch sack from Jasper Brinkley on his first snap – and Brinkley repeated the feat on the next snap as well, although Webb followed through with the play and connected with Kyle Rudolph.
Rookie Christian Ponder threw an incompletion on his first pass, but Jamarca Sanford came on a blitz and got to him on the second play. Ponder continued through with the play and ended up getting intercepted by Asher Allen.
“The offense is more complicated. Everyone has to be in sync, but I feel everyone is doing well, from our offensive line, receivers, tight ends, running backs. Guys are really putting in their work to get this thing rolling,” Peterson said.
In all, the Vikings’ top three quarterbacks took five touch sacks on the 10 full-team snaps to start the night. The offensive line is still coming together with two new starters and a new position coach.
“That’s a part of it as we’re trying to mold our offensive line and offense in general, being able to get some of the sets down that we want. It’s going to take a little time,” Frazier said.
Things got better for the offense as the night went along, but it still struggled to move the ball at times. Ponder was the only quarterback to find the end zone during a red zone drill, hitting receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux at the goal line near the right sideline.
Of course, there are numerous reasons for the offense to struggle early in camp this year: They are putting in a new system with a new coordinator; they have a new starting quarterback that arrived just days before camp began; they have a new blocking scheme with a new offensive line coach; and they were locked out from putting it all together during the offseason.
“I’ve actually been fairly impressed at the rate they’ve picked their stuff up. You’ve seen in seven-on-sevens and even in team situations, they’re doing a really good job,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “I think some of the run-game stuff we’re a little bit ahead because it’s a new scheme for them. All in all, the biggest thing is we’re working as hard as I’ve seen in my five years. It’s been good.”
Whether it was fans excited to see football again after a dormant, lockout-tarnished offseason or having a Pro Bowl quarterback that comes to training camp, Minnesota State University’s Blakeslee Stadium was packed. Unofficial attendance was listed at 9,145, with fans filling the two sides of bleachers, a berm behind one end zone and lining the fences.
“It was packed when I walked in. I thought it was a college game or something that was about to take place,” Peterson said. “That’s the type of support we have here at the Vikings.”
Frazier said it was the biggest crowd on hand for the traditional Saturday night practice in the 46-year history that the Vikings have been conducting them.
Despite no tackling on Saturday night, there was one tense moment when LB David Akinniyi, TE Ed Barham, OL Seth Olson and LB Jasper Brinkley got in dustup. “You’ve got to be smart. We don’t want personal fouls. We talked about that. We want to be a smart football team,” Frazier said.
Webb and Ponder rotated taking second-team reps behind McNabb.
Ponder connected with Emmanuel Arceneaux for a touchdown during his red zone session, the only quarterback to find the end zone in that portion. Webb fired a bullet for rookie WR Stephen Burton in the end zone, but it went through his hands.
McNabb and Webb both drew the defense offsides with hard counts.
Peterson gave safety Simeon Castille a “welcome to the NFL” moment when he executed a quick cutback move that left Castille grasping for air during a run-drill session.
Jamarca Sanford got the first-team reps at safety alongside Husain Abdullah.
Charlie Johnson continued to be the first-team left tackle and Chris DeGeare the first-team right guard.
Kicker Ryan Longwell continues to have a strong camp, hitting all six of his field goal attempts Saturday night.
After an off day Sunday, the team returns to practice Monday, but there won’t be intense game-planning for the preseason opener next Saturday. “I’m sure we won’t do any game planning,” Frazier said.
Frazier said he’s been impressed with the defensive line. “Jared Allen and Kevin [Williams], they really set the tempo and the young guys are buying in,” he said.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.