The Vikings had an off-day from training camp practice on Saturday and will be three weeks from playing their regular-season opener against the visiting Green Bay Packers when they return to camp on Sunday. A few trips to TCO Performance Center have been made but only limited information has been gleaned.
This isn’t because of the coronavirus protocols that have the media watching from nowhere near the practice fields. Rather, we’re facing the same problem that Vikings executives and coaches have as they try to get ready for the season. No on-the-field work during the spring and summer, combined with no preseason games and limited training camp practices, means there is limited time to allow competitions play out and get a look at young players.
The perfect example of this issue exists on the offensive line, where the Vikings are racing to decide on the starting guards, despite the fact it would be preferable to allow a competition to unfold. Here are three observations from what has been happening in Eagan.
WHAT’S GOING ON AT GUARD?
This could have been much different, if not for the pandemic.
Odds are good that the Vikings would have given second-round pick Ezra Cleveland every possible chance to win the starting left guard spot, with the intention to move him to left tackle in his second season. But that would have been with the luxury of time to convert Cleveland to guard.
Instead, the Vikings moved 2019 starting left guard Pat Elflein to right guard and are having Dakota Dozier and Aviante Collins splitting first-team reps at left guard. Ideally, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak could move the guards around, rotate Cleveland in with the ones and provide some competition for Elflein.
Cleveland is working at guard in this camp but it’s been with the second team. Maybe at some point he will a chance to jump up the depth chart but it doesn’t look like it will be anytime soon. Expect Dozier or Collins to be given the job at some point in the coming week.
This isn’t ideal but what in 2020 has been?
THE CORNER COMPETITION
This is another interesting situation as the Vikings try to replace 2019 starters Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander, who played in the nickel package.
The Vikings appear set to use 2018 first-round pick Mike Hughes and Holton Hill as the starting corners in the base defense, with Hughes moving inside and 2020 draft picks Jeff Gladney (first round) and Cameron Dantzler (third round) competing for the job opposite Hill.
The Vikings have 10 cornerbacks on their 80-man roster in camp so if there was more time, and preseason games, this competition could include more players. Hill’s experience ordinarily would be an advantage, but it turns into a huge advantage given the current circumstances.
When it looked as if running back Dalvin Cook would be signing a contract extension last week, he got little work in practices as the Vikings wisely were very cautious with one of their best offensive players. But when negotiations broke down last Tuesday, Cook’s workload increased.
The Vikings, rightfully so, know they have to get Cook prepared for the season and can’t allow the fear of injury to get in the way. The problem for the Cook camp is if he does get hurt, he might never get the multiyear contract he has been pursuing.
In a season where the clock is ticking toward opening day, and there’s limited time to prepare, the Vikings don’t have the luxury of worrying about such matters.