The Minnesota Vikings return to Mankato for training camp this month for the 49th year -- the first under new coach Mike Zimmer -- and fans who visit will have plenty to see and do.
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson signs autographs for fans during training camp at Minnesota State University.
Brace Hemmelgarn / USA TODAY Sports
By Brian HallFOX Sports North
This is the 13th in a series of 13 previews leading up to the Minnesota Vikings' July 25 start of camp.
TODAY'S PREVIEW: FAN GUIDE TO CAMP
The Minnesota Vikings return to Mankato this month for the 49th year, but the first under new coach Mike Zimmer.
Zimmer visited the facilities at Minnesota State University earlier this summer and was pleased with the Vikings' arrangement for training camp. Zimmer's already started to implement his philosophies, beliefs and schemes, but his plan will take another step in Mankato.
Minnesota has much to figure out over the next three weeks in training camp. Starting positions will be determined, roster spots secured. The biggest question, of course, is the Vikings' starting quarterback and how rookie first-round draft pick Teddy Bridgewater looks with a bit more on his plate in training camp and the eyes of the fans upon him.
While fans have become well-accustomed to the short drive down Highway 169 from the Twin Cities, below is everything fans need to know before making the trip to Mankato.
There have been some slight changes in the practice schedule this year under Zimmer. The most notable change is the addition of two more evening practices to the annual evening passing scrimmage held in Blakeslee Stadium. The Vikings also have pushed back their afternoon sessions by 15 minutes.
Players report to training camp on Thursday, July 24 with the first practices scheduled for Friday, July 25. As the team has done in recent seasons, it will return after the first preseason game on Aug. 8 and break camp following practices on Thursday, Aug. 14 in preparation for the second preseason game on Aug. 16. All regular practices in Mankato are free and open to the public. The practice schedule is currently as follows, though it's subject to change:
Parking is right near Blakeslee Stadium, just a short walk from the entrance to the Vikings Village. Parking is available in lots 20-23 and can be accessed through the entrance on Monks Ave. Minnesota State University charges $10 for parking in the fan lots.
Once in the Vikings Village, there are several fan-friendly activities and the practices are held on the fields behind Blakeslee Stadium. Fans can watch the practices from the open area to the east of the practice fields and the assembled bleachers, which fill up quickly.
In case of inclement weather, the Vikings may move practice indoors to the Myers Field House. Limited seating inside the field house may be opened to the public. In case of severe weather, the Vikings Village will close as well.
AUTOGRAPHS AND PHOTOS
Fans have two options to collect autographs. The Vikings set up their designated autograph zone at the north end of the Vikings Village and have a different position group signing each day. Many players will also sign autographs, typically following practices, as they make their way across the street back to the locker room. From the northern side of the practice fields, players will cross Stadium Road over to the field house.
The designated autograph zone is to the north of Blakeslee Stadium and south of Stadium Road. Entrance into the autograph zone is free, but the autograph sessions are scheduled for just 25 minutes and lines form early. The gates will open 25 minutes prior to the end of the designated practice. Autographs are done on a first-come, first-served basis and there is a limit of one item per person. Personal photographs are not allowed. The Vikings have a countdown clock for the 25-minute session and a horn will sound at the end of the session.
Running back Adrian Peterson's autograph time is a fan-favorite and Minnesota uses a ticket system for the running backs session due to demand. The first 2,000 fans through the gates at the opening of practice will receive a scratch-off ticket, with 150 of those bearing Peterson's name for the chance to receive his autograph. Access to the remaining running backs is conducted with the usual autograph zone procedures.
The schedule for position groups in the autograph zone is as follows, and each session begins after the morning walk-through:
Sunday, July 27 Offensive line
Wednesday, July 30 Defensive backs
Thursday, July 31 Linebackers
Friday, Aug. 1 Wide receivers
Saturday, Aug 2 No autographs scheduled, team introductions in the stadium in the evening
At the entrance to the Vikings Village, the team opens a temporary Minnesota Vikings Locker Room store to satisfy all fans' souvenir needs. The air-conditioned tent features merchandise, including jerseys, apparel, and items that can be used in the autograph zone. It is the only souvenir area located in the Vikings Village. Food and drinks are available for purchase in the Vikings Village with a variety of concessions available.
Aside from the two-a-day practices and autograph opportunities, the Vikings offer a few special events for fans. Set up every day in the Vikings Village is a kids' section with several football-themed activities. Two special events for kids include the junior football clinic and Minnesota Vikings cheerleaders cheer clinic, open to ages 17 and under.
Saturday, Aug. 2 is Family Football Day at training camp with a complete day of activities lined up. The Vikings Village is open at 10 a.m. for the morning practice, per usual. Following the morning walk-through is the kids' junior football clinic, which is scheduled from 1-2 p.m. The junior cheer clinic is from 2:30-3:30 p.m.
The junior football clinic at Blakeslee Stadium as is free for participants. Boys and girls of all ages are invited to participate. Each child must complete a registration form with a signed liability waiver. Registration forms can be found online at Vikings.com or picked up at the training camp information booth in the Vikings Village. Completed forms, with signatures by a parent or guardian can be submitted on the day of the clinic. Check-in for the clinic is 30 minutes prior to the beginning of the session at the north end of the stadium near the autograph zone.
The cheer clinic, conducted by the Vikings cheerleaders, is at Blakeslee Stadium and is free. A registration form and liability waiver is required.
The annual passing scrimmage of training camp is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 2 and will be in Blakeslee Stadium. Following the practice, at approximately 9:45 p.m., are team introductions with fireworks to follow.
There is a second junior training camp date, on Aug. 5, from 1-2 p.m.
Fan appreciation day is Thursday, Aug. 14 for the morning practice from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. The entire team will be signing autographs in the autograph zone from 11:30-11:55 a.m.
WHILE YOU ARE THERE
The main draw for fans in Mankato is the Vikings, though there are several area restaurants and bars that cater to fans. Fans make the annual trek to Mankato to see the on-field product and enjoy the football-related activities as the official start to football season.