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Vikings jottings: Irv Smith Jr. a key in pass game, Danielle Hunter on the move and more

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Minnesota Vikings linemen Christian Darrisaw (71) and Oli Udoh (74) smile as they watch drills during NFL football training camp Wednesday, July 28, 2021, in Eagan, Minn. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

Some observations after watching the opening three days of Vikings’ training camp at TCO Performance Center in Eagan.

  • It’s Irv’s time: One thing that stood out the past two days is how much Irv Smith Jr., is getting the ball. It’s become clear that Kirk Cousins is very comfortable throwing to Smith — more than he was throwing to Kyle Rudolph — and that could result in a big season for the tight end entering his third season. Smith had 36 receptions for 311 yards and two touchdowns in 16 games as a rookie and 30 catches for 365 yards and five touchdowns in 13 games last season. There has been talk about how much of a factor the recently signed Dede Westbrook might be as the third wide receiver. But it’s much more likely that if someone other than Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen put up significant numbers, it will be Smith.
  • Danielle on the move: Danielle Hunter spent his first five seasons playing left end and having another standout end, Everson Griffen, on the right side. Before missing last season following neck surgery, Hunter had 54.5 career sacks. But Griffen’s departure after 2019 has the Vikings giving thought to making Hunter a more versatile player, and coach Mike Zimmer has been experimenting with using Hunter at both right and left end. It’s a no-lose situation, considering a healthy Hunter is an elite pass rusher and moving Hunter around will cause issues for opponents. Hunter appears to be full go in drills — the Vikings aren’t in pads yet — which is a very good sign.
  • Cause for concern:  The assumption was that Christian Darrisaw would take over for Riley Reiff at left tackle when the Vikings drafted him in the first round (23rd overall) in April. But that might not be the case. Darrisaw did not take part in the Vikings’ offseason workouts after having surgery to repair a core muscle injury last January. He also has sat out the first three days of camp and there is no word on when he might return. Veteran Rashod Hill has been getting first-team reps at left tackle and it’s not going to be surprising if Hill opens the regular season in that role. The Vikings are not going to throw Darrisaw on the field for a regular-season game without being absolutely sure he’s ready. As for Hill, he’s a valuable backup but a definite step down from Reiff.
  • On guard: Dakota Dozier and tackle-turned-guard Oli Udoh both have been getting reps at right guard. Considering how much Dozier struggled at left guard last season, one has to think that Udoh either is going to win the job or third-round pick Wyatt Davis is going to quickly move up the depth chart. But it was surprising when Dozier was brought back after last season, so maybe the Vikings still see something they like and think he will be better on the right side. Or maybe Davis is just being forced to prove himself.
  • No rushing Dalvin: When Dalvin Cook watched most of the drills early in camp last year the assumption was the Vikings were being careful with the star running back because he had yet to sign the rich contract extension he got just before the season. Well, Cook is now a rich man and he’s still only getting occasional reps in practice. That’s a smart move considering how much Cook will touch the ball this season and there are plenty other running backs who welcome the work. This includes No. 2 back Alexander Mattison. Cook had 356 touches in 14 games last season, second in the NFL to the 397 for Tennessee’s Derrick Henry.