Rookie camps isn’t just for rookies anymore. Or at least that holds true when it comes to observing the camp.
While the Vikings had 71 players participating on the field – a number that included their 10 draft picks, 15 undrafted rookies who are now signed to contracts, seven younger players under contract and 39 players on a tryout basis – there were several veterans that also attended to watch and learn.
That move was particularly noteworthy considering 2011 draft picks like Christian Ponder, Kyle Rudolph and Brandon Fusco, all of whom were in attendance, weren’t able to have a rookie minicamp because of the NFL lockout last year.
Ponder and Joe Webb were watching receivers and taking in the offense in general.
“That’s a big deal because we’re counting on (Ponder) from a leadership standpoint,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “You like the fact that your starting quarterback is a football junkie. He took the time to just kind of watch and observe. That’s encouraging.”
Many of the offensive linemen already under contract, including what could be the entire starting unit with Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt, were also watching first-round draft pick Matt Kalil go through his first on-field drills as a Viking.
“Some of them asked about it. They wanted to be able to come out and watch and we said, ‘Come on, come on. But just as fans. Make sure you don’t jump in a drill or pick up a dummy,’” Frazier said, being careful to follow protocol of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. “But it’s good that they want to come out and watch. They’re hungry to get after it as well. The participation we’ve had in the offseason program has been superb. The fact that they want to come out here when they could leave and do other things on a Friday, that’s a good sign. They want to be around football.”
Some of them came away impressed with the foot quickness of Kalil. Likewise, Frazier was excited to see his first-round tackle working out.
“Very impressed. The first thing that sticks out is his size. He’s a big man,” Frazier said. “It’s one thing to watch him on tape. But to actually stand beside him and be able to watch him against our other players here, you can see why we have high hopes for him. He was excellent today in his first day. His ability to be able to pick up information, that was encouraging as well. In our game, game plans change from week to week. I’m very impressed with his first practice.”
Veteran players aren’t allowed to take part in the practices at this weekend’s rookie minicamp, which includes two practices Friday, two on Saturday and one Sunday. But there is a benefit to them watching practice. They can learn about their new teammates, like Kalil, and maybe learn something by watching the instruction the rookies are being given.
“I hope it’s both – be able to look at their teammate, their future teammate, and also maybe pick up something while they’re watching,” Frazier said. “I’m sure some of it is just to watch Matt and see him move around.”
For Frazier, this also marks a rookie experience of sorts. It’s his first rookie minicamp as head coach of the Vikings since the lockout wiped up his ability to work with the players in May and June last year.
“The coaches and I talked about that repeatedly. We were in meetings yesterday, just going through some of the final touches for this camp that we’re having. We just looked at one another,” he said. “To be able to have this discussion and know it’s going to happen, it’s a big deal for us to be able to come on the football field with so many players we think are going to be able to help us and spend time with them and introduce them to how we do things. It’s just so different and so good at the same time.”
The players arrived in town mostly yesterday, went through some meetings, and undrafted free agents that agreed to terms after the draft also signed their contracts.
But the real business began Friday.
“We were able to install our offense, defense and what we wanted to get worked on on special teams,” Frazier said. “And then you’re trying to find out as part of the evaluation process how well they take notes and can they come out on the football field in that short span and execute some of the things you put in in the meetings. That’s a part of the evaluation process. We didn’t have as many mental errors as we thought we might have.”
Fourth-round receiver Jarius Wright left the morning practice early after throwing up, according to Frazier. He was being evaluated after the morning practice. "He jumped up for a pass and bumped his head," Frazier said.
Wright was on the sidelines watching the afternoon practice.
Frazier said he wanted to get as many players as possible at the rookie minicamp. Offseason rosters are limited to 90 players and the Vikings have filled that up as best they can. Counting the unsigned draft picks, they are maxed out.
The jersey numbers for the rookies have been assigned: WR Jarius Wright is 1, K Blair Walsh is 3, S Harrison Smith is 22, CB Josh Robinson is 31, S Robert Blanton is 36, TE Rhett Ellison is 40, LB Audie Cole is 57, T Matt Kalil is 75, WR Greg Childs is 85 and DL Trevor Guyton is 92.
The rookie free agents that have signed were given the following numbers: 2 WR Kamar Jorden, 43 CB Bobby Felder, 45 LB Tyler Nielson, 47 CB C.C. Whitlock, 49 RB Derrick Coleman, 49 LB Corey Paredes, 60 DT Tydreke Powell, 60 C Quentin Saulsberry, 62 DT Chase Baker, 62 G Austin Pasztor, 64 DE Eric Latimore, 64 T Darrion Weems, 66 DE Kevin Cyrille, 94 DT Terrell Resonno and 95 DE Ernest Owusu.
The players taking part who aren’t rookies are QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, WR Kerry Taylor, WR Kris Adams, CB Nick Taylor, FB Matt Asiata, LB Solomon Elimimiam and T Jose Valdez.
Among the more interesting names trying out but not under contract – there are 39 of those players – are LS Ryan Senser, the nephew of former Viking Joe Senser, and WR Marcus Fitzgerald, the younger brother of Pro Bowl receiver Larry Fitzgerald Jr.
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.