Minnesota Vikings hold first padded practice of 2020 Training Camp

It’s all starting to get a little more real that the Minnesota Vikings will host the Green Bay Packers in less than a month at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Sept. 13, to be exact. For the first time since the team convened for Training Camp, players put on the pads Monday for a 90-minute practice that you could watch on Fox 9. With the NFL preseason canceled due to COVID-19 concerns, it was the only time fans could actually see the Vikings in jerseys and pads before the Packers come to Minneapolis in mid-September.

Head coach Mike Zimmer says this Training Camp is a new normal for everyone in the organization, but they forget about the global health pandemic when they’re on the field.

“Other than the masks, but for the most part it does feel normal. It’s almost like a safe haven, you get out there and guys are having fun again doing what they normally do,” Zimmer said.

There’s nothing more exciting for players than putting the pads on for the first time. They can hit, but there’s not full tackling and there’s definitely no touching the quarterbacks. Zimmer said they'll get in tackling during live special teams periods, and likely have "thud periods" where defenders can make intiial hits and wrap up, but not actually take the offensive player to the ground.

Players talked Monday about the excitement of putting the pads on for the first time before they actually took the field.

“Oh my goodness, super excited. I know everybody is and as it pertains to me, I haven’t padded up since September so it’s been a while for me. I’m stoked to get out there and run around in pads again and get back to football,” said wide receiver Chad Beebe, who missed most of last season injured.

“It’s definitely nice to get back out on the field, get in pads, even going through walk-throughs and now we can finally put the pads on and actually have some contact, get 1-on-1s going so it’s going to feel good,” wide receiver Bisi Johnson said.

It’s been an off-season full of adjustments and abiding by strict COVID-19 guidelines, and the Vikings are doing everything they can to stay healthy while getting prepared for real football in less than a month. The next challenge for Zimmer is to incorporate more live scrimmaging in practices.

Monday featured the usual individual drills, some 7-on-7 work and what every fan wants to watch, 11-on-11 team situations. Zimmer said they will likely play a quarter of live football by the end of the week, and will ramp up to a full half by the end of the month.

“We’re going to have to try to simulate some preseason games,” Zimmer said.

As for the highlights Monday, Harrison Smith intercepted Kirk Cousins twice in separate drills. Rookie Cameron Dantzler might have had the best individual play of the day, going stride for stride with Adam Thielen down the sideline on a deep ball. Dantzler put his arm up and knocked it away before it could fall in Thielen’s hands, and the Vikings defense erupted.

Dantzler is one of several young defensive backs competing for a starting spot in the secondary.

“Adam Thielen came up to me at practice today and said No. 27 is going to be really good,” Zimmer said.

It’s all about live reps and competition, and Monday was the first real step with a padded practice. Johnson, a receiver now in his second year, knows how important every play is with no preseason games in the mix for coaches to make roster decisions with.

Johnson had 31 catches for 294 yards and three touchdowns in his rookie season.

“They’re incredibly important. I don’t know if I would’ve been here without the preseason, so I’ve been preaching to these rookies you’ve got to take advantage of every rep,” Johnson said. “I’ve definitely seen the competition in these guys, it really comes out in live reps or 1-on-1s because they need it.”

As Vikings camp continues, it signifies the march forward to an NFL season.