Fans should enjoy one of the few changes to Vikings training camp in Year 2 under coach Mike Zimmer.
Meeting with the media not long ago, Zimmer said this year’s format in Mankato will be basically the same as last year, expect he plans more periods that include inside running plays.
That means more contact, more hooting and hollering back and forth between players, and some added excitement for the fans who will sit and bake in the late afternoon sun beginning Sunday.
“We’re going to do some more inside run deals that I think are important for us to continue to preach the toughness and mentality that I want for this football team,” Zimmer said.
And that does mean more contact, “just with the basic drill that we do,” Zimmer said.
But, no, that doesn’t mean the team will be putting a certain 30-year-old superstar running back in unnecessary danger of injury after about 11 months without contact.
“Yeah, we’re not tackling Adrian [Peterson],” Zimmer said with a laugh. “All the guys know that.”
Zimmer said Peterson will, however, “get a large majority of the reps.
“He’s like everybody else as far as that’s concerned,” Zimmer added. “He’s in great shape. Through OTAs and minicamp, he looked fantastic. He wants to get back, too. I’ll probably have to hold him back moreso than push him.”
In other news:
Zimmer said he expects defensive end Brian Robison to be ready for the start of practices on Sunday. Robison is coming off a pectoral muscle injury suffered earlier this offseason.
Zimmer said he won’t know if any players will begin training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Physicals are later today.
Zimmer said cornerback Jabari Price’s recent NFL suspension won’t change how the team evaluates him in training camp and the preseason. Price is eligible to participate until the regular season starts. Said Zimmer: “We’re disappointed with what happened there. We’re trying to clean up all those kinds of things with the Vikings. We’re trying to make this a team that the fans respect, a team that our fans are proud of. Things like that happen are not good and extremely disappointing. But it won’t change that part [the evaluation] that much.”
After the outcry over a University of North Dakota committee voting to eliminate continuing to play without a nickname, the school's president said he'll reconsider adding that option when a vote is taken.
On the same day they found out that second-year cornerback Jabari Price would be suspended, the Vikings signed free-agent corner Josh Thomas.
Thomas was a fifth-round draft pick of the Cowboys in 2011. He spent his first three NFL seasons with the Panthers before bouncing around the league in 2014, spending time with the Panthers, Seahawks, Jets and Lions.
The 26-year-old has started 10 games in the NFL, all of them with the Panthers. He has one career interception, 11 pass break-ups and 66 tackles.
Thomas, listed at 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, will be the 12th cornerback on the roster as the Vikings report to Mankato for training camp tomorrow.
The NFL announced today that Vikings cornerback Jabari Price has been suspended for the first two games of the 2015 regular season without pay for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Price, who is allowed to participate in training camp and preseason games, is eligible to return to the team’s active roster on Monday, Sept. 21.
“I sincerely apologize to my family, my teammates, the Vikings organization and Vikings fans for the mistake I made last winter,” Price said in a statement. “I can assure you that it will never happen again. I look forward to returning to helping my team on the field in Week 3.”
Price was arrested for suspicion of driving while impaired in the hours after the team’s 2014 regular-season finale in December and had his charge reduced to careless driving in April as part of a plea agreement.
The Florida native was a seventh-round pick in 2014. He played 14 games as a rookie. He was mostly used on special teams but also played 46 defensive snaps as a reserve. He recorded 10 tackles in his first season.
The Vikings improved their depth in the secondary this offseason with the additions of veteran Terence Newman and top pick Trae Waynes. But that depth is already thinning out with Price’s two-game suspension and Josh Robinson being sidelined with a pectoral injury he suffered this spring.
Punters, kicks and long snappers are people too.
For the most part, it’s the same faces from last year on special teams for the Vikings. There’s plenty of room for improvement, however, as special teams coordinator Mike Priefer has made that clear so far during the offseason. He’s trying to convert the same tough mentality on special teams that head coach Mike Zimmer has established on the entire team.
We wrap up our Vikings training camp preview by analyzing the special teams unit.
SAFE BET STARTER: Blair Walsh, Jeff Locke
The Vikings opted not to bring in competition for Locke despite an inconsistent season. He was a below average punter compared to the rest of the league, finishing 21st in net average (38.7 yards) on 75 punts. Locke’s touchbacks doubled from three to six last year. He clearly has the leg but lacks the control and consistency needed at the position. This is a big year for Locke to put it all together in his third season and help the Vikings flip the field on a weekly basis.
Walsh is in the final year of his rookie deal, and he’s coming off the worst season in his three-year career. He connected on 74.3 percent of his field goals. Walsh missed three field goals inside 40 yards last year after missing just one within that range in his first two seasons.
Granted Walsh and Locke had to adapt to playing outdoors but so did the visiting teams. They both came across some protection issues as well, but the Vikings need Walsh to return to form again this year.
CAMP BATTLE TO WATCH: It’s unknown at this point who will be the starting punt returner. Marcus Sherels has been returning punts for the last four years, but rookie wide receiver Stefon Diggs is an intriguing option. Sherels, who will be fighting for a roster spot (though history shows to never count Sherels out before training camp), finished sixth in the NFL last year averaging 11 yards per punt return. He was second in 2013 in that stat averaging 15.2 yards per return. Diggs is a dynamic athlete that returned kicks and punts at some point during his career at Maryland. He is dangerous in space as a receiver and can bring that same threat returning punts this season.
THE BURNING QUESTION: Will long snapper Cullen Loeffler, who has spent his entire 11-year career with the Vikings, make the team this year? Loeffler was the least accurate long snapper last year, according to Pro Football Focus, and the Vikings signed Kevin McDermott during the offseason to compete for the starting job. McDermott, in his third season, was teammates with Locke at UCLA and has played for the Ravens and 49ers over the last two years.
There is still a week until Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trading deadline, so speaking in absolutes about a team’s strengths and weaknesses at this point might be a little foolish and subject to change. That said, we are well past the halfway point in this Twins season, churning toward the 100-game mark next week, so we should at least have an idea of a team’s identity.
Surprisingly — perhaps even shockingly — the identity of a Twins team that is 7 games over .500 and in line (for now) to make the postseason is clear: it’s the starting pitching, and it’s not even really close. While the offense has produced in spurts (often aided by clutch hitting, which usually comes in spurts) and the bullpen has pieced things together at least adequately (thanks primarily to a stellar year from closer Glen Perkins), the starting pitching has been the most consistent thread through this strong 95 games and the thing that has prevented lulls (so far) from becoming tailspins.
Ervin Santana’s masterpiece Thursday was the latest piece of evidence toward this simple truth: if the Twins are going to make the playoffs, it will be on the strength of their greatest recent weakness. They have three guys going right now — Santana, Kyle Gibson and Phil Hughes, the last of which is starting tonight as the Twins come home for a big series against the Yankees — who are more likely than not to pitch well. They have two others — Tommy Milone and Mike Pelfrey — who have pitched above expectations this season. If anyone falters, Trevor May is a capable fallback. And none of this mentions Ricky Nolasco, last year’s spendy free agent.
This is the unit with the most depth and the most ability right now. The offense is 10th in the AL in runs and 12th in OPS. The bullpen is 11th in the league in ERA. The starting pitching? Fourth in the AL in ERA and 10th in MLB in ERA.
The Twins don’t have the bullpen to catch Kansas City or the offense to outslug most teams. But they might have enough starting pitching to not only have their first winning season since 2010 but also squeeze into the postseason. In a season of surprises, the fact that the starting pitching is leading the charge is the biggest one.