With Greg Jennings running routes elsewhere and speedy deep threat Mike Wallace having replaced him on the roster, the Vikings will be looking for someone to take over for Jennings in the slot in their three-wide sets.
The frontrunner is Jarius Wright, who made some plays out of the slot last season. He has been the slot guy with the first team since the spring.
“I do think I’ll get a chance to play in the slot more this year,” Wright said. “Greg Jennings was in the slot last year and we don’t have him anymore. Mike Wallace, I’m not going to call him ‘just an outside receiver,’ but he’s a premier receiver who can play outside very, very well.”
Last season, Jennings ran 66.8 percent of his routes out of the slot, per Pro Football Focus. That was the 14th-highest percentage in the NFL. With 38 catches for 495 yards and two scores, he did most of his damage there.
While Jennings ran 377 routes out of the slot, Wright ran just 85. He was efficient, though, with eight catches for 130 yards in that role. His 1.53 yards per route run from the slot were significantly higher than Jennings’ 1.31.
“The best things that Jarius did were when he was in the slot,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “We keep working him outside but we know he has big value for us in the slot, as well.”
Wright’s short-area quicks and after-the-catch ability should suit him well in his new role. But he said he has focused on getting stronger because he will have to deal with linebackers and safeties on the inside. He at times will also have to block those bigger defenders on running plays.
“I definitely welcome it. I definitely think I can be a slot receiver also,” said Wright, who had 588 receiving yards in 2014. “I’ve been outside a lot with the Vikings, but I can definitely transfer over and play the slot.”
Some highlights from the media sessions held a little earlier today with coach Mike Zimmer and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer …
– Linebacker Anthony Barr, limited to individual drills the first two days of camp, will do “a little more” work when today’s practice begins at 2:45 p.m. That likely means Barr will participate in some team drills on the first day the pads go on. A good sign for the guy coming back from two knee injuries since late last season.
– Rookie receiver DaVaris Daniels was be removed from the non-football injury list and participated in today’s walkthrough. He’ll also practice.
– Defensive tackle Shamar Stephen, also on the non-football injury report, will need at least another day of rest for his swollen knee.
– Players already know that the old-school Zimmer will practice in all the elements except lightning, of course. “Bring your rain coats,” the coach told the media.
– Zimmer said he “assumes” the team will keep a third quarterback, but said that hasn’t been determined.
– Asked about 14-year veteran QB Shaun Hill, Zimmer cracked that “He needed an extra can of oil for his arm” the first couple days.
– There’s either a really dumb rookie or a really funny rookie on the roster. Zimmer said, “I asked in the meeting today, ‘How many dumb rookies to we have?’ One guy raised his hand. I won’t tell you who it was.”
From Priefer …
– The long snapper battle does not have a leading candidate, even though Cullen Loeffler has handled the job since 2004. Priefer said the reps and rotation are being split “exactly” and that it’s “an open competition” between Loeffler and Kevin McDermott. Loeffler hasn’t had to fight for his job since he was a rookie. McDermott has experience in this sort of competition, having beaten out a veteran in San Francisco before. “They’re both pros,” said Priefer, referring to how they’re handling the situation.
– Meanwhile, a familiar competition is playing out at punt returner, where incumbent Marcus Sherels is once again in a battle to keep his job and his roster spot. Priefer voiced his respect for Sherels and said “it’s his job right now and he’s still the No. 1 punt returner on our team, but there will be competition for him.” The primary competition appears to be coming from rookie Stefon Diggs. “He’s catching punts better than he ever has,” Priefer said of the rookie.
– Priefer said there was no pattern to kicker Blair Walsh’s career-high 10 misses a year ago. “Two were blocked, so that’s not his fault,” Priefer said. “Maybe three [actually four] were over 50 yards. Those are tough to make. He’s one of the most reliable guys I’ve been around. So I don’t think he’ll skip a beat this year.”
– Asked if this was the year for punter Jeff Locke to “prove himself,” Priefer said, “He’s already proved himself. I think he’s got the Vikings record for net punts.” Locke’s two-year net average of 38.9 yards ranks No. 1 among team punters with at least 100 punts. No. 2 is Boby Walden (1964-67) at 38.2.
The Packers have 363,948 shareholders. The last time they sold stock, it was for $250 a share a few years back. The team’s “owners” cannot sell the stock. It is basically a willing donation to the team masked as ownership. But it’s a very clever thing that makes the team a bunch of money and makes the fans feel good, and it helped pay for the Lambeau Field renovation even if the Wall Street Journal called it “the worst stock in America.”
And it does have a few perks. In addition to allowing stock buyers to claim they are part-owners in the team, those who are shareholders get to attend an annual shareholders meeting. While it would take several Lambeau Fields to hold a meeting of 363,948 shareholders, the usual turnout is about 12,000 to 14,000.
And this year’s meeting is today.
There is nothing particularly noteworthy about the agenda. There is, however, something particularly noteworthy about a couple of fans in attendance. Per this photo tweeted out, there was a man wearing a No. 84 Vikings jersey in attendance; you can also see another purple-clad hero to the left of him in the picture.
@jasonjwilde Vikings fan troll at Shareholder meeting. pic.twitter.com/XPvw7oDKQK
— Leigh Anne Muller (@lagbfn) July 28, 2015
The photo was tweeted out by a Packers fan clearly annoyed by their presence. I will now make it my mission to find them and give them the credit they deserve.
In a few ways, this is an apples to oranges comparison.
The Lynx have been one of the WNBA’s elite teams for the past five seasons, including this one, while the Twins were dreadful for the four preceding this one.
The Lynx play in a league with just 12 teams, where salaries are not really a factor in trades. The Twins are in a more competitive 30-team league where salaries do make a difference.
And, specifically in the case of the Lynx’s acquisition Monday of star center Sylvia Fowles, they were dealing with a player who specifically wanted to play here — which can help facilitate a deal. On the flip side, while plenty of players wouldn’t mind coming here to play for the Twins, there are other markets and teams that might be more attractive.
As such, in some ways it’s really fair to look at the events of recent weeks — when the Lynx have added Fowles and guard Renee Montgomery to a win-now mix of players while the Twins have yet to make an outside move to bolster their roster — and wonder why the Twins can’t be more like the Lynx.
The Twins have to think about more than the near-term when they consider trades, whereas the Lynx are built for this season and perhaps one or two more at the top. The Twins have to contend with other teams who have similar holes (shortstop and relief pitcher) when trying to make deals.
That said, there is also this: even though the Twins are contending for a playoff spot a year or two early, here they are. In a mediocre American League, they would be in the postseason if the playoffs started today, and anyone who gets in is just a hot streak away from winning it all.
It sounds as though they are working on making a deal, particularly for a relief pitcher. That’s good. But it also sounds like they might be stopping short of going after a major impact player. They’ve watched division-leading Kansas City nab Johnny Cueto, and now the Wild Card-contending Blue Jays have acquired shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
The Twins need reinforcements — and they need to be more than token acquisitions. That doesn’t mean sacrificing the future, but it does mean recognizing the opportunity in the present.
The Lynx have made the kinds of trades a team of their stature and expectations needs to make; and now the Twins, relative to their position, must do the same.
There must be a lot of old-school DNA bouncing around inside this observer’s skull because he finds himself nodding often when Mike Zimmer is trying to make a point about his coaching philosophy and thoughts on restrictions placed upon teams and developing players when it comes to practicing under the new collective bargaining agreement.
No, that doesn’t mean the NFL should go back to players beating each other to pulp twice a day for weeks on end. But in some instances, things seem to have gone too far the other way and could end up hurting players who need certain practice avenues that are now prohibited.
One of those, according to Zimmer, is the rule that defenders can’t play press coverage against wide receivers. In other words, they can’t jam, bump, bang or pretty much touch receivers coming off the line of scrimmage throughout OTAs, minicamp and the first two days of training camp, which can’t be done in pads.
“[Today] will be the first day that we can press, which is, in my opinion, ridiculous,” Zimmer said. “Guys go out and try to press in games, but all through OTAs and minicamp and the first two days of training camp, they can’t press.”
Per CBA rules, no heavy contact is permitted when players aren’t wearing pads. But it’s a rule that’s bent because, well, when 300-pounders are trying to simulate NFL action and they’re that close to each other, they tend to forcefully thud into each other.
“Oh, there’s way more [contact] on the line [that in press coverage]. Way more,” Zimmer said. “That’s why I say, it’s ridiculous [that there is no press coverage allowed]. If you’re a corner and you’re trying to get better pressing and you can never do that, it’s really hurting your career, possibly, because you can’t practice it.”
On a positive note, Vikings No. 1 corner Xavier Rhodes’ strength is press coverage. So having to play off the receiver has been good for him, Zimmer said.
But now, starting today at 2:45, Zimmer, the DB guru, will be able to see his big corners jam receivers.
“We’re going to look slopping [today] in pressing because we haven’t done it in six months,” Zimmer said. “But it’s something we’re going to have to work on starting [today].”
On most mornings, we walk you through what’s going on with the Vikings.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
— The Vikings, even their old-school coach Mike Zimmer, are embracing virtual reality to help make practice plays more realistic in the film room.
— Harrison Smith says that he and the Vikings won’t be negotiating a new deal until after the season, and he’s not a fan of the fifth-year option.
— The Vikings feel Mankato is still their best option for camp after a half century here, so they are in talks to extend their contract.
— For some reason, Teddy Bridgewater is getting little love in offseason quarterback rankings. But Norv Turner thinks his QB is “top-flight.”
— Monday’s camp practice was highlighted by a big catch from Cordarrelle Patterson and a heated moment between a pair of notable starters.
— Find it concerning that four players have injured pectorals in the past year? So do the Vikings, which is why they are changing things up.
— What do the team’s three new defensive ends have in common? Length.
AROUND THE NFC NORTH
— Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy, who went wing-walking on a biplane in March, is now posting pictures of himself sledding down volcanoes.
— Get ready to groan. “The Packers haven’t had to use a first-round pick on a wideout since Javon Walker in 2002 because they keep hitting home runs and never striking out,” writes Bob McGinn of the Journal Sentinel.
— The Bears turned to the Arena Football League to find a returner.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
The Vikings are sticking to their usual schedule, with the walkthrough at 10:30 a.m. and practice running from 2:45 p.m. to approximately 5 p.m. But today is the day the pads come on, so practice will have extra oomph. Well, assuming they still practice outside. It’s a wet one in Mankato this morning.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
Spinning off of what McGinn wrote for the Journal Sentinel, the Packers have drafted three 1,000-yard receivers in the past decade in Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and our old friend Greg Jennings. Another Packers pick, James Jones, scored 14 touchdowns one season. The Vikings, meanwhile, have drafted just one, and that guy, Sidney Rice, only topped 1,000 yards once. But while the Packers are arguably the NFL’s best at finding receivers, they also have Aaron Rodgers going for them, which is nice. The Vikings’ QB situation has been far less stable, but if Bridgewater turns out to be as good as Turner says he is, it will be easier for them to develop good receivers.