MANKATO, Minn. — Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier entered training camp in Mankato hoping to get answers to several questions regarding a roster expected to be among the youngest in the NFL this season.
Nearly three weeks later, Frazier and the Vikings break training camp Wednesday and while the questions are still plentiful, Frazier believes Minnesota has worked on some very key points, including developing an identity.
“I think one of the things that has come out of this training camp is I think we are coming together as a team and we are taking on the characteristics that we like to have as a team,” Frazier said. “We want to be a tough team, we want to be a smart team and seeing some of that in the way we’re practicing and I saw some of it in the San Francisco game. Now, it’s are we talented enough to go out and do the things that we have to do on Sundays? I think the foundation is being laid to do it the right way and the rest of it has to come over time.”
Frazier eased his team into the first two days of training camp at Minnesota State University, but added pads during warm afternoon practices on the third day and had the Vikings working in pads for six straight days at the beginning of camp. Those padded practices, consistent and early in camp, helped set a tone Frazier hopes will continue as the team prepares for the second preseason game at home on Friday night against the Buffalo Bills and when Minnesota resumes practices this weekend at the team’s facilities at Winter Park in Eden Prairie, Minn.
“It was a part of it,” Frazier said of the first full week of padded practices. “You want to challenge them. You want to see who is going to moan and groan and complain; if they’re willing to make the sacrifices that we think are necessary to improve our team. And part of that is sometimes doing things you don’t want to do. You have to find out how guys are going to respond to those situations as well. There are going to be moments in games as we all know where things aren’t going to be right and you still have to be able to function and function well.”
The Vikings have tried to toe the line between developing toughness, while not coming out of camp with any major injuries. While rookie receiver Greg Childs was lost for the season with torn patellar tendons in each of his knees, Minnesota didn’t lose any starters for a significant amount of time.
Tight end John Carlson, expected to be an important piece to the offense has missed the past two weeks of practices with a knee injury, but Frazier hopes he will be able to return soon and feels he will be ready by the regular season. Only offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, who was going to compete for the starting right guard spot is the only player in jeopardy right now of missing the first regular season game after he underwent surgery for a sports hernia.
“It’s a big deal in training camp,” Frazier said of staying healthy. “All you have to do is read the wires and see teams losing guys. But it’s the NFL, so we are fortunate at this point.”
And it’s been a quiet camp for the Vikings, who’ve dealt with plenty of distractions in past seasons.
“How about the least distracted camp we’ve been a part of, obviously for a multitude of reasons,” veteran linebacker Chad Greenway said. “Nobody thinks we’re any good, for one. Second thing is we don’t have anybody here that’s causing a lot of attention other than (injured running back Adrian Peterson) coming back. And that’s just been positive stuff. We were here and we were working.
“I don’t think our first game indicated the type of work we were putting in. I think that’s unfortunate, but I think that’s going to show in the long term. We hope obviously. But it was a good camp. It was a really good camp and I think Frazier did a really good job of wrangling in all these young guys we have on the team.”
The youth is important for Minnesota after turning over the roster in the offseason.
It caused Frazier to change the camp schedule. The Vikings had meetings in the mornings, went through what they discussed in the meetings during morning walk-throughs. More meetings followed and then were applied during afternoon padded practices.
“I did take this into account when we were putting together the schedule, that we really needed to have time to teach,” Frazier said. “That was going to be so, so important. We couldn’t just say the guys have familiarity with how we do things, and they understand the system, know the system. That is not the case here this year. We really started from the bare basics as if nobody knew anything. But the plus was, we had this offseason to kind of give us a leg up on training camp, and that has been a big, big plus for so many young players on our roster.”
Frazier said leaders are developing as well, an aspect quarterback Christian Ponder saw during the past three weeks in training camp. Those leaders, including center John Sullivan and a group of defensive players, helped Minnesota recover quickly from any missteps.
“The good thing I saw was, if we had a bad day we didn’t let it affect the next day,” Ponder said. “And we had very few bad days. I think we really only had two really bad days, and even then they weren’t even that bad. I think we were able to string some good practices back-to-back, which is always good. I think that’s a good thing. I think the leadership on this team is starting to pick up, and guys are getting on each other, and we’re bonding together and getting better. I think we’re ready for the season to start.”
Peterson increases practice reps: Frazier has indicated that Peterson will increase his repetitions in practice on an incremental basis and that was the case for Peterson Wednesday, his second practice in pads.
After going about 10 plays and getting two carries on Tuesday, Peterson took part in 13 snaps in 11-on-11 drills and carried the ball four times. The defense was still in hands-off mode with the recovering running back, but Peterson showed some good burst and even made a few moves on his surgically repaired left knee. After one handoff, with pressure bearing down, Peterson executed a jump-cut and sprinted downfield.
Frazier said Peterson still likely won’t see much contact during the next few practices, but indicated he could be getting close to being more involved in contact drills.
“At some point here real soon, maybe next week, we will have to let him get a little bit of contact,” Frazier said. “It depends on how he is feeling and where he is. We are going to get him a few more reps today and increase that as we go along. As far as the contact, we will have to make a decision on that as time goes on.”
Harvin leaves practice: Near the end of Wednesday’s final practice, receiver Percy Harvin left the field and was in the trainer’s tent. He later returned to the sideline and appeared to be favoring his right left, stretching often.
Harvin did miss the end of one practice with a cramp and might have had a similar issue Wednesday. Frazier did not speak with reporters after practice.