Severe weather hit Mankato on Thursday night leaving the practice fields soggy and clouds overhead on Friday morning when the Minnesota Vikings took the field for practice. In a schedule change, the team decided to have practice with pads in the morning and the walk-thru in the afternoon. Probably in the interest of getting the guys rested up for Sunday's game.
Despite the change in practice, there were plenty of fans in the stands to watch the practice. Seems to be the usual this year at camp because one of the team PR people told me that there have been more fans than usual at camp, maybe because training camp started a week earlier than usual. Or, you know, maybe because fans feel optimistic about the team's long-term future.
The chilly morning practice was a nice change from the usual Mankato summer heat and humidity where your butt sweats even when you're standing in the shade. Maybe it was the weather or the thrill of getting to play their first preseason game on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the Vikings seemed to be playing faster. Lots of connections from Teddy Bridgewater to wide receiver Charles Johnson. Stefon Diggs getting lots of looks for return duty. Offensive linemen practicing lots of dull drills--they don't get the glory, but if they screw up the offense just doesn't work.
Took the opportunity today to chat with some of the fans. It was interesting to hear how many people were at camp just for the day, like the kid and his father from South Dakota who got up at 4:30am so they could make it to practice this morning. Kid really wanted some autographs and hadn't snagged any right after practice so I'm hoping that he gets a few before the end of the day.
His chances are pretty good because players like to sign things for kids, maybe it takes them back to when they were kids and dreamed about playing in the NFL. When players leave the practice field they go through this courtyard area to get to the sidewalk and cross the street to the practice facilities. Journalists line up on one side of the courtyard trying to snag interviews with players as they walk off the field. On the other side are kids in wheelchairs or who have developmental challenges, hoping for autographs. Guess which side of the courtyard is more popular with players.
I like to watch how the players interact with the kids because if you want to know what kind of a person someone is you should look at how they treat children and old people. Adrian Peterson is a big star and is perfectly nice to kids, but yesterday and today the guys who seem like absolute softies for kids looking for autographs were Chad Greenway, Harrison Smith, Audie Cole, Blair Walsh, and Jarius Wright.
Coach Mike Zimmer addressed the media after practice. He spoke positively about the prep work that the team had finished for Sunday's game when the Vikings will face the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Hall of Fame Game. From an evaluation standpoint, Zimmer says he wants to see the players implement the technique they have learned at camp in a game situation--get a feel for whether or not they understand it well enough to simply play and react. Zimmer said it is his, "mood" that will dictate how much playing time different players will get. I took "mood" to be code for "I'm not telling you a damn thing" but that's just me.
Zimmer praised quarterback Shaun Hill saying he had done a good job, that Hill's experience with the system helped. Taylor Heinicke took more snaps today at quarterback than Mike Kafka, still a bit early to tell what that means in the battle for the third-string quarterback position. When leaving the field this morning, Heinicke was carrying three sets of pads, so it seems safe to say he's not too cocky about his chances yet.
As for the defense, Zimmer said he thinks they are seeing things quicker (insert your own "the game is slowing down for them" quote), but he wants to see how they do against an offense they haven't been practicing against for a few weeks. Zimmer sees the Steelers' talented offense as a good test for the Vikings defense, according to Zimmer it should "juice things up" to avoid a lull in the middle of camp.
The media got another coach-speak version of "I'm not going to tell you a damn thing" when Zimmer was asked about the status of linebacker Anthony Barr and defensive end Scott Crichton. Zimmer's response was that he wasn't sure if Barr and Crichton would sit out of Sunday's game or not.
And that's all the news from Mankato this morning where the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average. Somewhere Garrison Keillor is phoning his lawyer.
*Forgot to add Danielle Hunter to the list of players who seem to be pushovers for kids who want player autographs.