The big news out of Vikings OTAs (Organized Team Activities) this week was the team hired a kicking coach. Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune tweeted the news that former San Diego Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding was going to become the Vikings new part time kicking coach.
Kaeding has been driving from his home in Iowa to help Dan Bailey with his place kicking duties (which were a little less than the head coach desired last year). And it appeared that Bailey is paying attention, as he hit all six of his kicks at OTA practice on Wednesday and then followed that with another good field goal on the May Day play (which is to simulate time running out, and Special Teams racing out on the field for a kick after the offense puts them in position—adding a little more pressure).
To be sure, it is OTAs and practice (“We’re talking about practice”), so the pressure is dialed down, as there is no other kicker in camp. Bailey, one of the most accurate kickers in the history of the game, should be making all of those. But he didn’t last week, so we will mark down this as improvement. Hopefully, the hiring of Kaeding, which hasn’t been officially announced yet, will bear some fruit.
Other notable happenings at OTAs:
Kyle Rudolph was not in attendance at practice on Wednesday. After flying from New York last week to join his team, more trade rumors surfaced and Wednesday he was not at practice. One media person speculated that he was away at a function and couldn’t make the practice, but his absences only continues to fuel the fire of his extension not getting done, as last week he announced that a deal was offered by the Vikings, but it clearly isn’t finished. The beat goes on.
Speaking of missing OTAs, Stefon Diggs was on the field this week for practice and taking some targets away from his WR partner Adam Thielen, who was getting them all last week. Diggs had one decent long reception down the left sideline in which he beat Anthony Harris. But he did bobble another pass that he jumped high for and should have made. But it turned into a very athletic and acrobatic interception by safety Derron Smith. Smith dove just as the batted ball was to hit the ground and made a great scoop—much to the delight of the defense.
The defense were yelping again earlier as linebacker Eric Kendricks picked off quarterback Kirk Cousins and ran it into the end zone. Even more rejoicing.
Rookie tight end Irv Smith, Jr. made the most of his opportunities without Rudy in the house, and he was targeted often by quarterbacks. On one play he made a diving grab in the corner of the end zone during end zone drills, showing off his pass catching skills. In another play, he was closely guarded by corner Trae Waynes, who, with his back to the quarterback, reached up and knocked down the ball and then the defender (to which the rookie, taking his lumps, replied: “Nice play.”) The play was bang-bang and took place just a few feet from myself and another reporter, who disagreed on whether or not Waynes had interfered. It just goes to show how difficult that play is to legislate without instant replay (but it also shows that it should be a little bit easier with it).
Adam Thielen wasn’t without his excellent playmaking again this week. Early in the 11-on-11, he split the deep secondary defense of Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris and made a very difficult over-the-shoulder (actually over his head) catch for a touchdown. It was another exceptional play, but it was an extraordinary pass, as well. Kirk Cousins hit Thielen right in stride on a very deep throw. If there were fans in attendance, there would have been cheering.
To be sure, the defense held their own on this day. They seemed to be knocking down a number of passes (Marcus Epps, who was said by Mike Zimmer on KFAN this morning to be playing well in OTAs, had a great end zone break up). But when the offense ran some misdirection, mostly a reverse bootleg, it appeared to suck the defenders in and the quarterbacks had some open receivers in the flat. It happened several times.
One of those receivers in the flat was rookie running back Alexander Mattison, who is quick, has some decent moves and caught everything thrown to him. He does not look lost, nor confused and actually brings a lot of confidence to his performance. Great news; but we must wait (as Zimmer said of his rookie defenders, as well) until they get the pads on. He looks to be a very solid backup for Dalvin Cook, in my humble (and early) opinion. Offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski likes him also:
“I hope all of our players, there’s only eleven guys out there, and there is only five eligible and there is only one ball,” he said when asked about a two-back system. “We hope that we have a team, an offense, a unit that really is rooting for their teammates, supportive of their teammates. We talk a lot about that. We want great teammates here. That is the kind of people that Coach Zimmer and Rick Spielman brought in here. Alexander fits in perfectly here with that.”
As to the offensive line, I spent time observing them, as they will get all kinds of scrutiny this season. Right tackle Bryan O’Neill was back in a helmet and running drills (tight end David Morgan was not). I spent a lot of time watching the coaches put the linemen through some drills and watching, in particular, first-round pick Garrett Bradbury. The rookie looks a little small without his pads, but he puts his size to good use as he is very quick when pulling out and pick up a defender coming around the end. Now, it is just drills, but I did notice him leaning when running a lot of them—a slight move forward before the snapped count is shouted out. That won’t penalize him now (and the move could add to his quickness), but it will cost the offense in a real game. I am sure the coaches will clean that up sooner or later. Hopefully sooner.