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Updated: August 6th, 2011 10:11pm
Notebook: Defense continues to dominate; tempers flare in practice

Notebook: Defense continues to dominate; tempers flare in practice

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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MANKATO, Minn. -- An overflow crowd at Blakeslee Stadium on Saturday night saw first-hand how far the Minnesota Vikings' new offense has to go.

Coach Leslie Frazier bypassed a traditional scrimmage in the team's annual night practice to focus on blitz, red zone, backed-up and 4-minute work. And as it has throughout training camp, the defense dominated, rendering 9,145 fans remarkably silent for much of the 2-hour session.

"You almost expect that early in camp, and as our offense puts more things in, maybe they'll catch up in that regard," Frazier said, shortly after addressing the crowd before players had their names read and threw hundreds of autographed footballs into the stands.

"But in most cases, that's the way it is. Early in camp, the defense is usually a little bit ahead."

That's probably underselling the performance of a defense that owned the first six days of camp while new coordinator Bill Musgrave installed his offense around two newcomers at quarterback.

In Saturday's blitz drill, three of the first five snaps ended in sacks. In the 9-on-7 running drill, the defensive line repeatedly imposed its will. In red zone, the Nos. 1 and 2 offenses stalled, the latter thanks to an end-zone drop by rookie receiver Stephen Burton.

"Not to take anything away from those guys," halfback Adrian Peterson said, "but it's like you're down, you've got this gap to protect, fire and go.

"Offense is more complicated, and everyone has to be in sync. But I feel like everyone is doing well from offensive line to receivers, tight ends, running backs, quarterbacks. Guys are really putting in work to get this thing rolling."

Perhaps most pressing is sorting out the protection issues that have been glaring the past three days. Several blitzers on Saturday had free runs at the quarterback -- situations that could produce dangerous results if they happen once Donovan McNabb, Christian Ponder and company take off their red no-contact jerseys.

"That's a part of it, as we're trying to mold our offensive line and our offense in general, being able to get some of the (pass-protection) sets down that we want," Frazier said. "It's going to take a little time. But hopefully, by the time we get to San Diego (for the Sept. 11 opener), we'll be where we need to be."

Mixing it up

The most significant scrum of training camp broke out at the end of 9-on-7, when undrafted rookies David Akinniyi and Ed Barham stayed tangled after the play.

Offensive linemen Seth Olson and DeMarcus Love quickly got involved, too, and dozens of other players rushed to the scene before coaches broke it up.

"I don't mind seeing it, as long as we know how to get it ended as quickly as we did (Saturday) night," Frazier said. "It's not a bad thing. We've got to be smart. We don't want personal fouls -- we've talked about that. We want to be a smart football team."

Countdown to Nashville

The Vikings have their only off day of camp on Sunday, then return to practice in shoulder pads on Monday morning.

The preseason opener is set for next Saturday at Tennessee, but Frazier said the Vikings won't spend much time, if any, preparing specifically for the Titans.

"It'll be more about taking a look at some of the young guys and letting them fly around," Frazier said. "I'm sure we won't do any game planning for this first preseason game."

Health watch

The Vikings had head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman do an offseason study on NFL players who have returned from two anterior cruciate ligament injuries and performed at a high level, as cornerback Cedric Griffin hopes to this season.

According to Frazier, Sugarman only found one example, and it wasn't a cornerback.

"For him to be where he is right now, really ahead of pace in a lot of ways and be on schedule to make it back for our first game, it's just amazing in a lot of ways," Frazier said. "It's just a testament to who he is and how hard he works, his attitude and approach to getting better and not making any excuses for failure. He wants to succeed."

Former Vikings halfback Terry Allen had three 1,000-yard rushing seasons in the mid-1990s despite ACL injuries in both knees. San Francisco 49ers halfback Frank Gore tore both of his ACLs in college but has gone on to a successful six-year career.

The Vikings continue to hope Griffin and right guard Anthony Herrera (knee/triceps), who is on the camp/physically unable to perform list, will be ready to start the Sept. 11 opener at San Diego. Both will be held out of next Saturday's preseason opener at Tennessee, and Herrera is expected to miss at least one or two more exhibition games.

Backup linebacker Kenny Onatolu (stress fracture in left foot) may miss another week or so, Frazier said.

Quick hits

• WR Percy Harvin drew effusive praise from Frazier for taking on a leadership role, starting from his early arrivals at team headquarters shortly after the NFL lockout ended last week. "We all go through that maturation process, and that's what's happening with him," Frazier said. "We're the beneficiaries. He's a tremendous player, but to see him step up in this way, it will be infectious for the rest of our receivers that a star player is buying in the way that he has."

• Frazier expressed support for C John Sullivan, who has taken all the first-team reps after battling persistent calf problems beginning in camp a year ago. "He went through a lot of adversity right before camp, losing his father (to a heart attack in June 2010) and then having the injury," Frazier said. "His mind is where it really needs to be, and I think that's going to be really good for our football team. He's off to a good start."

• Undrafted rookie DB Marcel Gipson was absent for a second consecutive day while tending to a family emergency.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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