Notebook: Entering contract year, Brandon Fusco wants to prove worth
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MANKATO, Minn. - Brandon Fusco tried to keep his routine the same as last offseason, which served as a springboard to his best NFL season yet.
Fusco started 15 games for the Minnesota Vikings last season and ranked as the third-best right guard by ProFootballFocus.com. Entering a contract year, Fusco aims to continue on his upward trajectory and re-sign with the Vikings this offseason.
"I tried to stay with the same thing and have a great year like last year," Fusco said. "I'd love to be here for a while, stay here. I love Minnesota."
Repetition has served as Fusco's method as he went back to Pittsburgh this offseason to work with Cole Haley, his trainer since his college days in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania.
The Vikings return the entire starting offensive line for the third consecutive season after re-signing guard Charlie Johnson. Offensive line coach Jeff Davidson sits each of his linemen in their correct order in the film room to ensure the communication will flow the same way it will on game day - and the spot between Phil Loadholt and John Sullivan remains Fusco's.
"He's started camp at a higher level," Davidson said of Fusco. "He's playing more under control. He understands the offense a lot better."
Fusco was pegged with just two of the Vikings' 29 sacks allowed last season by PFF, while his run blocking grade of +14.1 ranks fifth among all guards in 2013.
Both Davidson and Fusco credited part of his offseason improvement to assistant offensive line coach Hank Fraley, who Davidson coached in 2006 while he was with the Cleveland Browns.
"With the addition of Hank, it's been even better," Fusco said. "They give me a lot of feedback, what to work on and also what I'm good at...I think the game has slowed down a lot for me, both mentally and physically."
McKinnon showing his hands
Vikings rookie Jerick McKinnon has mainly worked behind Matt Asiata for the backup running back job behind Adrian Peterson, though he's shown off his hands in practice.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater zipped a pass a little low after McKinnon leaked out of the backfield during team drills on Friday - and the 5-foot-9 scatback dipped down to snatch the ball up with his fingertips.
"He has better hands than I would think," fullback Jerome Felton said. "He was a quarterback [in college], so he was throwing the ball, but he has really, really good hands."
Making an early impression?
Austin Wentworth is one of four undrafted free agents among the group of 15 offensive linemen, but he's the only UDFA brought up by Davidson when asked who has impressed so far in camp.
Wentworth played guard and tackle on both sides of the line during his college career at Fresno State.
"We're playing him at a lot of different positions," Davidson said. "He's shown a lot of promise there."
Other swing tackle candidates include Kevin Murphy, who was on the Vikings practice squad last year, as well as UDFA Antonio Richardson.
• Rookie Brandon Watts left Friday practice early with an apparent leg injury. He said he expects to be back tomorrow: "Just a little nicked up. They told me to come [in]. We were almost done anyway."
• AC Leonard has sat out practice since Wednesday with a headache. Coach Mike Zimmer said he's undergone tests, though isn't sure if he has a concussion.
• Robert Blanton (hamstring) and Josh Robinson (hamstring) both sat out practice.
• Linebacker Chad Greenway was one of a few veterans given some rest, per Zimmer. "I'll be back out there tomorrow," Greenway said, for Saturday night's practice at Blakeslee Stadium.
• The Vikings are working Audie Cole, Tyler Scott and Michael Mauti at backup long snapper, a spot Jared Allen held down for years.
• Charting passes on Friday: Matt Cassel threw 9-for-12, including an interception by safety Kurt Coleman; Teddy Bridgewater was relatively inaccurate, completing 10-for-17 passes, including an interception to Derek Cox, who has two picks in as many days. Take it with a grain of salt, understanding it's Aug. 1, but Bridgewater has three picks in his last 34 throws in team drills. Christian Ponder completed 5-of-5 throws during team drills.
• Defensive tackle Linval Joseph batted down a Cassel pass at the line, which is at least his third pass deflection in seven training camp practices.
• Anthony Barr continued to work with the first-team defense, both in base and nickel formations. While Zimmer praised Barr's progression, the realist coach was honest about a few critiques: "His alignments are just a tiny, little bit off. If he'll fix that, he's got good power when he punches," Zimmer said.
• Sights and sounds at practice were taken to a new level Friday as Zimmer busted out an air-raid siren that he said he used before in Cincinnati. The siren rang out every five seconds while plays were run to get players to play through the figurative whistle, said Zimmer: "Each play doesn't go too much longer than five, usually. I don't want them to stop at 3 1/2. Busting your rear end until five, at least."
• A moveable camera tower also ran over and flattened part of a chain-link fence while the operator tried to better position the tower to record team drills.