Some Encouraging News From Minnesota’s Denver Practices

Our Vikings had their first shared practice with the Broncos yesterday. From what I can gather, Minnesota’s Denver practices produced some good news.

Now, we should preface the optimism with the usual reminder that preseason hype is just that: hype. It doesn’t matter very much if K.J. Osborn is the most dominant receiver on the field if he fails to make a difference on Sunday. Readers should also keep in mind that it’s a two-way street. Some players just don’t practice well but somehow get the best out of themselves on game day. Frankly, I don’t care if Cameron Dantzler has a couple tough reps against Denver if he can shut them down when the game is actually played. So, hold onto your grain of salt when you read these reports.

With those caveats, here are three positive news tidbits to emerge from Minnesota’s Denver practices.

1) Michael Pierce Was Dominant

In the defensive line projection piece, I noted the importance of Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson along the interior of the DL: “On paper, it’s a somewhat clunky pairing, but I can see Minnesota’s plan for their defensive line. A defense is continually trying to win the numbers game; on essentially every play, the defense wants to have a numbers advantage for wherever the ball is going. If a team sends two blockers and the ball carrier to the right side, the defense wants to have at least three players to that side so there’s a player the offense can’t block. Part of how defenses accomplish this goal is by having a monstrous NT who can occupy double teams. Having one defender occupy two blocker means there’s a DE with a good matchup or a LB who is free to pursue the RB unencumbered. What happens if a team has two NTs who demand double teams? Well, we’re about to find out.”

The Vikings can put the opposition in a no-win scenario insofar as they’re forced to choose between Insanely Powerful Man A and Insanely Powerful Man B. Therein lies the key to Pierce’s role with the Vikings: force the opposition to double team him or have their center completely overwhelmed. Meanwhile, their OT is doing their darndest to slow down Danielle Hunter, and hopefully someone finds a way to account for Eric Kendricks. I don’t envy the opposition’s OC.

If Pierce continues his strong play, Minnesota’s defense will be strong.

Here is what Darren Wolfson had to say about Pierce’s first practice against Denver: “[Pierce] was dominant again today vs. Denver. He is a beast!” Will Ragatz similarly praises Pierce’s impact: “It’s hard to overstate how impressive Pierce has been over the past week or so. He’s been giving Garrett Bradbury fits ever since he’s gotten out there for live reps. But it was even more encouraging to see Pierce go out and really thrive against a solid Broncos IOL trio of Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry, and Graham Glasgow. Whether it was 1-on-1 reps or live team periods, he was fantastic.”

Of all the news to emerge from Minnesota’s first Denver practice, I’m most encouraged by the Pierce talk.

2) K.J. Osborn Still Looks Like a WR3

So far, it’s been a tough go for purple receivers. Bisi Johnson is done for the year with a torn ACL. Blake Proehl – the UDFA who I predicted would make the final roster – now looks like he’ll also be done. It’s always brutal when young players get hurt, especially those who are on the fringe of the roster.

From the team’s perspective, it’s positive that Osborn continues to impress. Per Ragatz, “camp stars K.J. Osborn and Irv Smith Jr. each had a couple catches.”

Let’s add a little context to Ragatz’s somewhat tepid praise for Osborn. As several Vikings beat reporters noted, the Denver defense got the best of Minnesota’s offense. Our o-line struggled, and Kirk Cousins could have been better. If those six aren’t strong, it’s tough for a receiver to stand out. Nevertheless, Osborn made a few plays, which is far more than could be said for him last year. Moreover, how many plays does Minnesota really need from their WR3?

I get that Minnesota leans on 21 personnel more than most teams. I’m also a proponent of seeing more passes sent toward Dalvin Cook and Irv Smith. That being said, I recognize that the team does need someone to contribute as the WR3. At this point, it’s looking increasingly likely that it’ll be a combo of Osborn and Chad Beebe. I’m fairly comfortable with both.

3) Greg Joseph Looked Rock-Solid

Ah, the purple kicking situation. What a perpetual disaster.

The positive news is that Minnesota’s Greg Joseph had a good first Denver Practice. As Andrew Krammer explains, “Joseph made all six field goal attempts against the Broncos, including five straight during a field goal period. His current competition, undrafted rookie Riley Patterson, has attempted only a handful of field goals since returning from the foot injury that had him on the physically unable to perform list to start camp.”

Not too long ago, I wrote an against the grain training camp prediction article. My final point was that the kicking situation would turn out alright (admittedly, I was and still am uncertain on this one). My rationale was simple enough: “Last year, there was no offseason competition and the specials were a disaster. This offseason, it’s competition galore. They’ve brought in a lot of young talent and are content to let them fight for playing time.” The renewed emphasis on competition will hopefully lead to a positive kicking outcome.

Joseph, unlike Dan Bailey last year, is no lock to make the roster. He needs to earn it. It’s my hope that he’ll continue to show that he can be a strong option.

Minnesota has another practice with Denver today. They play on Saturday in both team’s first preseason game.