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Jake Browning makes most of opportunity to prove Vikings shouldn’t pass on him

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Minnesota Vikings quarterback Jake Browning (3) looks to throw during the team’s Back Together Day at NFL football training camp at TCO Stadium, Saturday, July 31, 2021, in Eagan, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

If there was an MVP of the Vikings’ practice on Saturday night at TCO Performance Center it was quarterback Jake Browning. It’s a safe bet that Browning celebrated Sunday by moving his arm as little as possible.

With Kellen Mond missing after testing positive for COVID-19 on Saturday, and starting quarterback Kirk Cousins and fourth-stringer Nate Stanley having to go into quarantine because they aren’t vaccinated and had close contact with Mond, Browning was the only quarterback available.

The Vikings spent Sunday (an off day for the team) working the phones to bring in camp-arm quarterbacks for this week — Cousins and Stanley will have to spend five days in quarantine — in order to be able to have full practices. But for one day, Browning was the only the guy the Vikings had in a red jersey.

He gained the admiration of both coaches and teammates for what he did in throwing every pass of the practice. Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Washington in 2019, Browning spent the past two years on the Vikings’ practice squad.

It was clear that he began training camp second on the depth chart behind Cousins. Any questions about Browning’s status almost certainly were removed Saturday. He completed 26-of-37 passes, according to the Vikings website, and probably threw more than 80 passes total in a practice before 4,285 fans in Eagan.

Browning got sharper as the evening progressed and had nice deep completions to Adam Thielen and K.J. Osborn and another one for a shorter touchdown to Justin Jefferson.

The only way Browning’s place on the Vikings could be in jeopardy is if general manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer decide they need to sign a veteran quarterback with regular-season experience because of concerns about how many times Cousins might be forced to sit out this season. Mond is a lock to make the 53 but almost certainly will do so as the third quarterback.

But Browning’s performance Saturday could strengthen his hold on the backup spot. If that isn’t the case, another team will give him a chance based on ability and character.

  • Wide receiver Bisi Johnson reportedly suffered a torn ACL in practice on Friday during a one-on-one drill and will be lost for the season. Johnson opened last season ahead of Jefferson on the Vikings’ depth chart but that quickly changed. Johnson ended his second season with only 14 catches for 189 yards and no touchdowns after catching 31 passes for 294 passes and three touchdowns as a rookie in 2019. The Vikings had seven receivers on their roster entering the regular in 2020. The locks right now are Jefferson, Thielen and almost certainly Dede Westbrook. Osborn, who made it last season, also has been impressive so far.
  • After making all five of his field-goal attempts in his first set of training camp kicks, Greg Joseph struggled under the lights and on the turf at the main stadium on Saturday. He hit the right upright on a 50-yard attempt and then was wide left on another attempt from 50. Joseph did make a 30-yard kick later but you still have to wonder if having a guy who hasn’t attempted a field goal in an NFL game since 2018 is a great idea?
  • Zimmer said Saturday that first-round left tackle Christian Darrisaw is close to getting on the field. Darrisaw missed the offseason program and has yet to practice after undergoing core surgery following last season. “I always hate giving timelines, but I don’t think he’s going to be much longer,” Zimmer said. “But don’t quote me on (that). I don’t think he’s gonna be too much longer, and he’s a smart guy. But we’ll just have to see when it gets to … if he’s rusty when he comes back, if he’s making mistakes, things like that. We’ll just have to see.” Rashod Hill has been playing left tackle with the first team with Darrisaw out. It won’t be surprising if Darrisaw doesn’t immediately get first-team reps upon his return.
  • Zimmer said the right guard competition is “basically open” with 2020 starting left guard Dakota Dozier and tackle-turned-guard Oli Udoh both getting reps with the first team. Zimmer also mentioned that Dru Samia is a candidate for the job, although he isn’t getting the first-team reps that Dozier and Udoh have been. Samia got four starts at right guard early last season and was one of the worst graded offensive linemen in the NFL during that time, according to Pro Football Focus. The one player Zimmer did not mention was third-round rookie Wyatt Davis, who did not practice on Saturday.