Football is back: Vikings open training camp with fans at TCO Performance Center

Rick Spielman said Tuesday everyone in the Minnesota Vikings organization knows what the goal is for 2021, and that’s to compete for a Super Bowl, like it is every year.

You have to crawl before you can walk, and that process started Wednesday as the Vikings welcomed up to 4,000 fans to TCO Performance Center in Eagan for their first full practice of training camp. Optimism is as high as it’s ever been for a team coming off a 7-9 season. Their defensive stars are healthy, they’ve added new pieces and most of the offense that put up points last year is back.

The fans that did attend Wednesday’s practice gave various ovations for players, and even had a few "Skol" chants during the two-hour session. It’s been nearly two years since fans saw live football, and a little summer heat and humidity didn’t slow them down.

"Great to see fans in the stands, they’ll bring a lot of energy to practice," said quarterback Kirk Cousins, entering his third season with the Vikings. "We talked about how people are giving up vacation time to watch us practice, that sums it up right there. It makes coming out to practice on a 95 degree day feel like a privilege."

It’s just the start, with 10 practices at TCO Performance Center open to up to 4,000 fans, and four other priority practices also open to spectators. One of them is a session this Saturday night in TCO Stadium. Then on Aug. 7, Vikings fans will get into U.S. Bank Stadium for the first time since before COVID-19 for a scrimmage.

"I expect the fans to be super loud this year. Like, obnoxiously loud and help the defense especially," linebacker Eric Kendricks said.

 Dalvin Cook, back after finishing second in the NFL in rushing last season, got a few of the early ovations from fans at practice.

"They anxious to watch some football, face to face, in-person. It’s been a year off, and last year was a rollercoaster year so to have them back and for them to be back, I know it’s going to be fun for them," Cook said.

Before they hit the practice field Wednesday, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer addressed the team in their first in-person meeting Tuesday night. His message was simple: "We have a good football team, but we have to go out and prove it."

"We’ve got to go out and earn it every single day we step out here on the grass. There’s going to be a lot of competition, and I expect these guys to act professional and work really hard and work together. Let’s not fall short of what we can do," Zimmer said.

Here are some notes from Wednesday’s practice:

  • First round pick Christian Darrisaw, coming off groin surgery, was the biggest name to not practice. He stood and watched most of the afternoon session with a cap on.
  • The only player not at the facility was defensive back Jeff Gladney, who has an ongoing legal situation in an assault case earlier this summer involving his girlfriend. He could be indicted this week. The Vikings are not commenting on his status until the case is resolved.
  • Danielle Hunter practiced and did several defensive line drills, not looking at all limited.
  • Michael Pierce, nursing a calf injury, did some individual drills in the first hour before working out with trainers the rest of practice.
  • Bashaud Breeland showed a couple flashes, getting an interception on Jake Browning and then a pass break-up in a seven-man defensive situation.
  • The offensive highlight of the day came towards the end. Kellen Mond hit Ihmir Smith-Marsette in stride for a 43-yard touchdown in team drills.
  • In at least one team session, Oli Udoh played on the first-team offensive line along with Brian O’Neill, Garrett Bradbury, Ezra Cleveland and Rashod Hill.

It’s just one practice, but it already feels different than 2020, which is a welcomed idea for the Vikings and their fans. They’ve had organized team activities and minicamp, five weeks off and now training camp. A scrimmage in their home stadium is less than two weeks away, and the first preseason game is less than three weeks away.

"You felt the energy in the building this morning, going through walk-through, then into the meetings. Just seeing a team together again, it has a different feel than last year," Cousins said.