The Vikings will open their three-game preseason schedule a week from Thursday in Seattle and there will be plenty of camp remaining after that, including joint practices against Tennessee and Arizona.
Here are some early thoughts and observations.
What should be made of Dalton Risner's visit?
Free agent guard Dalton Risner was at TCO on Tuesday to visit with the Vikings. A second-round pick by the Broncos in 2019 out of Kansas State, Risner is one of the top offensive linemen still available and Vikings offensive line coach Chris Kuper was Risner’s position coach in Denver.
What’s interesting about Risner’s visit — he reportedly left without signing a deal — is the timing. The Vikings are set to return their starting offensive line from last season, including left guard Ezra Cleveland and right guard Ed Ingram. Both were second-round picks by Minnesota, with Cleveland entering his fourth season and Ingram his second.
If the Vikings just wanted to kick the tires on Risner, why didn’t they do it during the offseason? Risner also doesn’t seem like a guy who would be signed to be a backup, having started all 62 games he played during his four seasons with the Broncos.
Although Ingram struggled during his rookie season, he was drafted by general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and started every game last season. It would make more sense that if someone’s job is in jeopardy it’s Cleveland’s.
Cleveland is a good run blocker but struggles in pass protection; Risner is better in pass pro but not as good in run blocking. Maybe the Vikings made a late decision that keeping Kirk Cousins upright would be a good idea. We saw just how bad Cousins got beat up last season in the “Quarterback” series on Netflix.
While it’s far from certain that Risner will end up with the Vikings, his visit indicates there is concern about the interior portion of the line and addressing it is a possibility.
Andrew Booth Jr.'s injury issues continue as cornerback falls down depth chart
The knock against Andrew Booth Jr. entering the 2022 NFL draft was that the cornerback from Clemson couldn’t stay healthy. In fact, that’s why he fell to the second round before the Vikings took him with the 42nd pick.
Unfortunately, Booth’s injury issues didn’t stop in the NFL.
He played in only six games in the first 10 weeks in 2022 and his season came to an end after the Vikings’ loss to Dallas in Week 11 when he underwent surgery on his knee to repair a torn meniscus.
As training camp started, Booth found himself playing on the second team with 2023 third-round pick Mekhi Blackmon. Defensive coordinator Brian Flores used free-agent acquisition Byron Murphy Jr. and 2022 fourth-round pick Akayleb Evans as the corners in the first-team base defense and had Murphy go inside and put free-agent pickup Joejuan Williams outside in the first-team nickel.
Blackmon also has receive some first-team work, including playing inside in the nickel on Tuesday. Booth, however, appeared stuck on the second team. Things got worse when he walked off the field with one of the Vikings’ doctors during Tuesday’s practice.
There’s been no word on Booth’s injury, but the fact Flores hasn’t been trying to work him in with the first team is certainly noteworthy.
Running back competition will be an interesting one to watch
The one thing we know about the Vikings’ running back situation is Alexander Mattison will be atop the depth chart. After that there are plenty of questions.
When Dalvin Cook was still in purple, it was Cook and Mattison who were going to get the playing time. But with Cook still looking for work, what is Kevin O’Connell’s plan after Mattison? And how much will Mattison carry the ball?
The first week of training camp has included work for Ty Chandler, Kene Nwangwu and 2023 seventh-round pick DeWayne McBride. The guess here is that that is how the depth chart looks behind Mattison, but there was a case to be made that Nwangwu was second and Chandler third.
That might have changed on Tuesday as Nwangwu missed practice. There was no immediate word on what was wrong. Mattison was forced to leave team drills late on Tuesday because of what appeared to be a leg injury, but he remained on the field for the rest of practice.
If Mattison misses a few days, that could enable Chandler and McBride to make an even bigger impression as we near the release of the first depth chart of the preseason.
Chandler, who had only six carries for 20 yards in three games as a rookie last season, did put the ball on the ground once in the Tuesday practice. That type of miscue doesn’t go unnoticed by the coaching staff.
Justin Jefferson never fails to impress but should he slow down?
Anyone attending a Vikings training camp practice can see why Justin Jefferson is so good at what he does. The wide receiver has only one gear and he’s not about to slow down, whether that means facing one of his own cornerbacks or an opponent.
Jefferson already has made a few outstanding catches, leaving fans to marvel at his speed and his hands. But there are times when you wonder if O’Connell might prefer to just have Jefferson watch from the sideline until the regular season begins.
Because of the speed at which Jefferson operates, there are times when it’s hard not to think of the worst-case scenario as he goes up for a pass, contorts his body to catch it and then comes down on one leg.
Make no mistake, as Jefferson goes so goes this Vikings offense. The entire scheme is designed around his presence and having him healthy entering the regular season is the most important thing.
Trying to get Jefferson to shift down a gear or two probably would be impossible — some think that’s a way a player gets hurt — but as fans cheer Jefferson’s training camp exploits, O’Connell can’t be blamed if he’s holding his breath.
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