Day 1 of joint practices between the Vikings and 49ers brought out some big names.
Former Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan was on hand to watch his son Kyle’s 49ers. Mike spent one season as the University of Minnesota’s offensive coordinator in 1979, which happened to be when Kyle was born. Vikings owner and chairman Zygi Wilf was also in attendance, as was former Vikings head coach Brad Childress, for some reason.
Fans of both teams packed the stands at TCO Performance Center for a fun morning of football, with two teams that see themselves as NFC contenders going at it for a couple hours and learning a lot in the process.
The nature of joint practices often leads to a fair amount of fighting between players in the heat of competition. There have been reports of plenty of that across the league this year, especially between the Patriots and Panthers. But Shanahan and Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell didn’t want any of that, making it clear to their players that anyone who threw a punch would be immediately kicked out of practice. That message was effective, as there were only a few instances of heated conversations and nothing that escalated anywhere near a skirmish.
In Vikings injury news, offensive lineman Chris Reed and defensive lineman Julian Taylor did not practice. Nor did receiver Dan Chisena or tight end Irv Smith Jr., who is still a ways away from returning after having surgery on his thumb. WR Trishton Jackson left practice early with an apparent injury.
The 49ers were without several key players due to injury, including RB Elijah Mitchell, RT Mike McGlinchey, and three starting defensive backs: Emmanuel Moseley, Charvarius Ward, and Jimmie Ward.
Let’s get to my observations.
Justin Jefferson cooks the 49ers’ backups
Down both of their starting cornerbacks, the 49ers had no chance to cover Justin Jefferson on Wednesday. Having Moseley or Ward available probably wouldn’t have changed that much, but it might’ve at least made things a bit more competitive.
As it was, Jefferson did whatever he wanted all day. He won in 1-on-1s, he won in 7-on-7s, and he won in full-team drills.
There were tons of highlights. Jefferson used a nasty release to beat Ka’dar Hollman on an in-breaking route in 1-on-1s. He beat Deommodore Lenoir on a wild comeback route in 11s, then took off up the sideline for a chunk gain after the catch. He roasted Tarvarius Moore on a crossing route in 11s, then took it to the house. He made a leaping catch near the sideline for 20 yards or so. Jefferson also caught a short touchdown pass in a red zone period and made a big catch during a 2-minute drill, despite drawing a pass interference flag.
Folks, the man is good at football.
Za’Darius Smith and the Vikings’ defensive line get home
One of the matchups I was most excited to watch in these joint practices was Vikings OLB Za’Darius Smith against Trent Williams, who is maybe the best left tackle of this generation.
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Both players won some reps and lost some, but Smith had a strong overall day. In 11-on-11 work, he sacked 49ers QB Trey Lance at least twice, maybe three times. Not all of those came against Williams, but one of them did. Smith got around Williams, got to Lance, and flexed to his sideline after the play. He was in Lance’s face all morning.
The Vikings’ defensive front as a whole played well, especially when it comes to their pass rush against a 49ers offensive line boasting Williams and not much else. Patrick Jones II also got to Lance for a sack that Smith helped create. DJ Wonnum and Janarius Robinson got to Nate Sudfeld for a sack, and there was some interior pressure as well. Danielle Hunter did not appear to have a dominant day, but he was in the backfield a few times.
Trey Lance impresses
When Lance had time to throw, he showed a ton of ability and upside. After watching him practice for just one day, I think he’s going to have a really strong season for the 49ers this year.
Lance’s best throw of the day was a 50-yard bomb down the right sideline to rookie receiver Danny Gray in 7-on-7s. Covering Gray was Vikings veteran Patrick Peterson, who remains a solid player at 32 years old but is definitely susceptible to being beaten by speed.
Lance also made an incredible play to find Deebo Samuel on fourth and long in the 2-minute drill. He rolled right to escape pressure against a three-man rush, spun back to the inside, and hit Samuel with an off-platform throw for a conversion and a big gain. That was the play that showed off the type of threat Lance can become with his athleticism and cannon of an arm.
There were also a couple of misses to open receivers, including one to George Kittle up the seam for what would have been a touchdown. But for the most part, Lance looked really decisive and accurate. The big question might be whether or not his offensive line can give him time in the pocket.
This was a homecoming for Lance, a native of Marshall, MN, about three hours away. On Wednesday, the Vikings are providing transportation to bring a large contingent of coaches and players from Lance’s alma mater, Marshall High School, to practice. That’s a classy gesture.
Ed Ingram solidifies himself as RG1
Coming off of a very strong performance in the preseason opener, Vikings rookie Ed Ingram appears to now be the heavy favorite to start at right guard in Week 1. Ingram took all of the reps with the first-team offense on Wednesday, despite Jesse Davis being a full participant. Davis was with the 2s, mostly at left guard, which might suggest the Vikings are preparing him for a swing interior role, similar to the one Reed is expected to have. At one point, Davis got pancaked by Javon Kinlaw.
Ingram had a solid day of practice on Wednesday, going against players like Arik Armstead and Kinlaw. Unless something changes, I expect him to be a starter against the Packers in the opener.
- I wasn’t in a position to hear it, but those who were reported that Kirk Cousins let out an uncharacteristic f-bomb after a completion to Adam Thielen in 11s. “You f***ing like that?!” he yelled. That should tell you something about the intensity of joint practices. Thielen also started jawing with the 49ers defensive backs after the play.
- Cousins did have a bad interception today, throwing one right to George Odum on a pass intended for Dalvin Cook. Overall, though, he was good in his return to practice following last week’s positive COVID test.
- I thought Cameron Dantzler had a nice day. He made a sweet pass breakup against Brandon Aiyuk in 1-on-1s, which is notable because Aiyuk had a strong day overall. Dantzler was also draped all over Malik Turner to force an incompletion in 11s.
- Christian Darrisaw seemed to mostly hold his own against Nick Bosa, which is a great sign. Darrisaw got dusted on one 1-on-1 rep, but that was the only time I saw him get beaten with ease. He looked pretty good against one of the truly elite edge rushers in the league.
- The Vikings’ backup quarterbacks both had their moments. Kellen Mond started somewhat slow, but like he did in the preseason opener, he warmed up late. Mond made two beautiful throws in the 2-minute drill, hitting Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Bisi Johnson on sideline shots for big gains on consecutive plays. Sean Mannion also made a couple of great throws, hitting Smith-Marsette on a deep ball and Albert Wilson in the back corner of the end zone. That still seems like Mond’s job to lose after what we saw in the Raiders game.
- Rookies Andrew Booth Jr. and Jalen Nailor each had a good rep as a punt gunner going against two 49ers players. The closest we got to a fight was when Nate Hairston was hit late in that setting and things almost escalated between him and the 49ers’ Tyler Hawkins.
- Greg Joseph went just 6 for 8 on field goal attempts to end practice, missing a couple times from 45 or so. Worth noting is that rookie punter Ryan Wright was the holder for both misses. Whether that was his fault or not, it won’t help him beat out Jordan Berry.
That’s it for today’s practice. There will be another joint session on Thursday morning, then a day off Friday before the two teams play a preseason game at US Bank Stadium on Saturday night.
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