On Thursday morning I was finally able to make it out to TCO Performance Center for the second day of joint practices between the Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers. Here are some quick notes on players that stood out to me, good or bad. The field closest to the fans at camp was exclusively the Vikings offense vs. the 49ers defense, so that is all I will be able to comment on here.
Thursday’s practice was an…interesting one for the quarterbacks to say the least. Kirk Cousins started out really rough in the 1v1 drills for the wide receivers and cornerbacks. Completed passes were hard to come by as his accuracy was clearly off for some reason. Part of the blame may be with the receivers who often struggled to get open in a drill that should favor the offense, but ultimately Kirk did not look like himself to start practice. As the day went on, he seemed to settle in and return to form, ending the day with a fantastic two-minute drill resulting in a touchdown. Sean Mannion was Sean Mannion, often missing his spots and holding onto the ball too long. He had one deep-shot touchdown to Ihmir Smith-Marsette that will get praise from fans, but it appeared to be an underthrown ball that only resulted in a completion because of a nice adjustment from Smith-Marsette. With as uninspiring Mannion was, Kellen Mond ended up being the biggest loser of the day in my mind. He spent most of the day standing and watching Cousins and Mannion. This may be a result of the rotation they have going between the QB2s, but even when Mond did come in, he was woefully inaccurate on any passes further than ten yards downfield. It was a disappointing day for me to finally see him in person after he appeared to be making progress in the first preseason game. It was abundantly clear that Mond is nowhere close to being ready to backup Kirk Cousins at this point and the Vikings should be looking at external options for the backup quarterback spot.
Kene Nwangwu was fantastic again today in the running game, showing off his explosiveness and speed over and over again. That is old news at this point. What was more noteworthy to me was his use in the passing game. There are two things of note here, first, Nwangwu received six or seven targets in 11-on-11s with the second-string offense. It seemed clear to me that they will attempt to get the ball in Nwangwu’s hands as much as possible and just let him do his thing. The second thing of note, however, was that he dropped four or five of those targets. These were bad drops too, wide open in the flat with nobody within five yards of him. It seemed like he was just getting too excited and turning upfield before he caught the ball. That is certainly a fixable issue, but if they are going to use him in the screen game that is going to have to improve.
When I arrived at camp, Bryant Koback was not the running back I was most looking forward to watching. I knew absolutely nothing about Koback coming into practice other than his name (and even that was questionable as I had to look up if his last name was K or C upon writing this article). The fifth-string running back, however, surprised me. His level of play was not near enough to even begin talking about him stealing a roster spot from Nwangwu or Chandler, but he showed flashes. He made several guys miss on a short pass that he turned into a possible long touchdown. There were several other runs where he broke some larger gains showing off his speed. Koback is almost certainly getting cut because of the running back depth ahead of him, but today put him on my radar as a possible practice squad guy going forward.
This is the group that I was most excited to watch at practice. Garrett Bradbury has been public enemy number one amongst Vikings fans, Ed Ingram is moving toward claiming the right guard position, and Christian Darrisaw is showing shades of Trent Williams; there was no shortage of storylines to watch. They started out abysmal with the 49ers consistently winning on virtually every rep in 11-on-11s across the board. Darrisaw was good against everyone except for Nick Bosa whom he had more downs than ups against. As the practice went on, though, Bosa moved to the other side and was able to get slowed down more by Brian O’Neill. He was still able to win more often than you would like, but it was promising. The play of the line did seem to improve further into practice, but the improvement was from a line that looked like the worst in the league to maybe the 20th best line in the league, still much room for improvement. Bradbury was the same player we have seen the past few years; that is not going to change and this coaching staff seems adamant that he is going to remain the starter in week one, much to the ire of the majority of the fanbase.
Zach Davidson was awful in his rookie and looked like a candidate to be cut before his second year. Initial reports from camp have said that he has improved and that was evident at practice today. While he was far from TE1 material, he was able to get open often enough that it gave me hope, coupled with his performance up until this point in camp, that he is in a good place to make the roster and spend time as TE2. Also quick shout out to Johnny Mundt who had a great rep blocking Nick Bosa by himself.