Vikings leave camp upbeat
By Brian Murphy
St. Paul Pioneer Press
Before 90 players pack their bags and scatter from Minnesota State Mankato, Zimmer scheduled another walk-through this morning in preparation for Saturday night’s second preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals at TCF Bank Stadium.
Three weeks of communal living and collective drilling concludes with the offense mostly intact, save for Zimmer’s impending choice between veteran Matt Cassel and rookie Teddy Bridgewater to quarterback the first team.
However, fierce position battles are being waged at strong safety, left cornerback and middle linebacker on a revamped defense tasked with redeeming itself from 2013, when it posted the second-worst performance in franchise history.
Injuries have wreaked havoc on the defensive backfield, with as many as six players sidelined for various stretches since practice started July 25.
Still, an identity is taking shape, according to safety Harrison Smith.
“Fast and physical, two words that come to mind,” he said. “But there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Unfinished business was the camp mantra as Minnesota heads home with preseason trips to Kansas City and Tennessee looming before the Sept. 7 regular-season opener at St. Louis.
“I think there was a lot of good work done, but we’ve got a long ways to go,” said linebacker Chad Greenway.
“It was a tough, hard training camp,” added Cassel. “I think we accomplished a lot and got better as a football team. That’s got to carry over when we get back.”
Countered defensive end Brian Robison: “We’re nowhere near where we want to be.”
Robison described Zimmer’s initial camp as “fast-paced, rapid-tempo, upbeat.”
Complaints were minimal as players were rewarded with a couple of unpadded practices that originally were scheduled for contact. Moreover, the balanced workload took place in ideal weather that was neither oppressively hot nor disruptive.
“I think guys’ morale is definitely higher this year than last year coming out of camp,” Robison said. “(Zimmer) did a great job getting work and allowing us to recover the next day, as well. I think that’s going to help us in the long run this year.”
Installing new offensive and defensive schemes has been ongoing since OTAs in May, and the Vikings remain on schedule through 15 full practices.
Zimmer praised his team for being compliant and efficient.
“Hopefully I learned something every day about this team,” he said. “They haven’t disappointed me. They have been very willing to do whatever. There hasn’t been any complaining, whether that is buying in or not. In training camp, there is usually some complaining.
“I like this team, they are good guys and they work real hard. As long as we play together as a team, we play real hard, we do the things that we are trying to coach them to do, then we have a chance to be a good football team.”
The biggest challenges occurred off the field.
On reporting day, the Vikings quickly defused the scandal surrounding Mike Priefer by having the special teams coordinator and general manager Rick Spielman hold separate news conferences to address his suspension related to the Chris Kluwe investigation.
Priefer’s three-game suspension commences Sept. 1. It can be reduced to two games — Week 1 at St. Louis and Week 2 vs. New England — if he completes team-mandated sensitivity training.
Veteran special teams coach Joe Marciano was hired out of retirement this week to run the unit during Priefer’s absence.
Meanwhile, the day after Minnesota’s 10-0 preseason-opening victory over Oakland, Zimmer learned defensive tackle Linval Joseph had been wounded during an early morning shooting at a Minneapolis nightclub.
Police and the Vikings said Joseph was an innocent bystander when he was grazed in the calf by a bullet fired during a gang-related shooting spree. Joseph is expected to be ready to play when the season starts.
“We’ve worked together to get through some of those things,” Spielman said Thursday. “I know Mike feels most comfortable when he’s between the white lines. I’ve tried to handle a lot of the stuff on the other side of it for him.”
“Watching this coaching staff work with these guys, and seeing how far they’ve come from Day 1 to where we’re at, has been great,” the GM added. “But also with an understanding there’s a long way to go yet before we get where we need to be.”
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.