Photo - Hannah Foslien (Getty Images)
By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
Mankato, MN - Take it for what it is, a glorified practice, but Saturday night's Vikings practice under the lights and in front of the fans at Blakeslee Stadium opened my eyes a little bit. As the team's first real showcase since the installations have gotten cooking, you were able to see a little bit of what this team is going to look like this season. Sure there were some struggles, but you also saw players making plays that they simply weren't in the position to make last year.
With that said, here are the five things that stuck out to me most coming out of Saturday's Vikings Night Practice...
1. Anthony Barr is a freaking stud!
Put me in the group that was a little confused when Roger Goodell called Anthony Barr's name for the Minnesota Vikings at pick #9 of the 2014 NFL Draft. When most of what you read about the guy contains words and phrases like "really raw" and "inexperienced" concerns will likely be raised. However, when Mike Zimmer told us that night that we're going to have to wait and see what this kid can do physically, we should have known that this was coming.
After landing his way as the number three strong side linebacker early in camp, Barr exclusively spent time working with the number one defense Saturday night both in base and in the nickel. With the playbook starting to make sense to him, you can see Barr's physical abilities shine through. The deadly mix of "if you're bigger than me, then I'm faster than you," and "if you're faster than me, I'm bigger than you," helps Barr but the reality of the matter is there aren't many people on the field that are bigger or faster than him! Standing 6'5" and weighing in at 255lbs, Barr could be regularly seen plowing his way through or past veteran players like Jerome Felton and Phil Loadholt Saturday night. He did more than enough to prove he belongs with the first team and that he is going to be more than a headache for opposing defenses this year.
While Barr was easily the most impressive player on the field last night, I'd be remise if I left the complete coverage at that. Pass protection is going to remain the biggest concern for Barr as he goes on. Once or twice you could see him bite on the first move and spin the wrong way completely killing his momentum in the pass protection and allowing the tight end to get open. As camp goes on, look for that to be the primary focus for Zimmer and George Edwards with Barr, because the rest of it seems to come naturally.
2. First team reps go the direction of Matt Cassel.
It was an hour and a half into practice before Teddy Bridgewater saw any action with the first team offense. Through the "move-the-ball" segment and the third down drills, all the 11-on-11 snaps were going to the veteran Matt Cassel with Teddy stuck in line with the number twos. Much like it has been all camp long, Cassel didn't do much to impress, including throwing two interceptions (Sherels & Rhodes) on go routes.
In fairness, Teddy didn't flash too much with the second-team either.
Moments after KFAN went off the air though, Teddy lined up with the first-team offense for a round of goal-line scenarios in which he looked pretty good before having his eyes read by Chad Greenway and throwing a pick. The encouraging part here is, with he second-teamers back by his side for the very next drill, the two-minute drill, Teddy led that second bunch 60-yards down the field going 6-for-6 (not counting the spike to stop the clock) and into the endzone on a 20-yard pass to Rodney Smith.
All-in-all it was just another day in the progression of another young quarterback here in Minnesota, however this one appears to be moving in the right direction.
3. Christian Ponder's night in a nutshell
Third string quarterback Christian Ponder spent the entire team practice period on the sidelines, not even attempting a single pass in team drills. Realistically this should be no surprise, but can we please stop referring to this job as a three-way quarterback battle now?
Ponder shared some interesting thoughts with Paul Allen on Friday visibly disappointed with the way things are working out here in Minnesota. The money quote from Ponder came in the "Vikings Drive-By" segment of the show when Christian said that he's "not in a place where I would desire to be" right now. Whoa! For a guy who is primarily quiet, that's Christian dropping a bomb right there. That begs the question, is he understandably unhappy as the number three QB or is he saying that he no longer desires to be in Minnesota? And is there even a difference between those two thoughts?
Either way, Christian's time in Minnesota is clearly limited. Go out there and put some good stuff on tape this preseason Christian, there's a place for you in this league. Unfortunately, it's not with the Vikings.
4. Interceptions are falling from the sky.
It's been very easy the past few days to call the Vikings offensive efforts "sloppy", but with four straight days of interceptions from the quarterbacks how about we give some credit to this defensive unit?!?
For a team that has been averaging less than 10 interceptions a season over the past three years, we've seen players finding themselves in the right spots on a regular basis this camp. Some of them surely have been bad throws by the quarterbacks, but to see Chad Greenway read the offense and pounce or Marcus Sherels and Xavier Rhodes do their best Willie Mays impression to pick it off, it's been good to see! One of the biggest knocks against the Vikings ability to intercept passes the last few years has been their inability to properly position themselves in a play. Early on, Zimmer seems to have these guys buying into the defense and regularly finding themselves in position to make a big play.
5. "The Jeromes" are disappearing...
I grasped onto this idea early on in camp and I think we're seeing it come to fruition before our eyes on a daily basis. The offensive roles for Jerome Felton and Jerome Simpson continue to diminish. Two players that have held key roles for this team in the past couple years were seemingly invisible on the field last night. In all seriousness, the only times I noticed Jerome Felton it was because Anthony Barr just pancaked him and the only times I noticed Jerome Simpson was when the defense was making good plays on Simpson targets.
There's clearly a systematic change playing into this, but for two guys who have some negative check marks working against their status on this year's team (Felton's price tag and Simpson's potential 6-game suspension), we've seen really nothing from the two Jerome's through the first week and a half of camp.
Aj Mansour covers Minnesota Sports for KFAN.com. Feel free to leave comments and questions regarding this post in the space provided below. For Vikings updates and breaking Vikings news, follow Aj on Twitter. @AjKFAN