MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Vikings open training camp on Wednesday in front of up to 4,000 fans at TCO Performance Center, and at least one coach will not be on the field with players.
Contrary to reports late last week that we was being fired after refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine, Rick Dennison is staying with the Vikings. The team announced Tuesday he’s agreed to take on a role as senior offensive advisor. NFL protocols state that Tier 1 and 2 coaches and staff must be fully-vaccinated to be around players.
Dennison, 63, has nearly three decades coaching offensive line in the NFL and is highly respected among his coaching colleagues and players. He’s entering his third season with the Vikings.
"I’m not going to talk about Rick Dennison’s medical situation. Rick has been an important part of our coaching staff since he’s been here. For us to work with his agent and to work through everything we had to work through, we were able to come up with a great solution," Vikings GM Rick Spielman said Tuesday. "Look forward to everyone working together."
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said discussions about Dennison getting the vaccine started three months ago. He was on the field with offensive line players during organized team activities and minicamp, but now his duties include watching film, attending meetings virtually and helping game plan away from the football field.
"Rick is a football coach and he’s got 40 years of experience doing what he’s doing. I felt like it was important that we use him as a resource, but we also give him the opportunity to continue to work," Zimmer said. He has so much knowledge and so much experience that I felt like he could be a big help with Klint and myself. I told Rick (Spielman) ‘I’m glad that you’re patient because I’m probably not as patient as you are.’ We were able to come to an agreement and cooler heads prevailed."
Phil Rauscher, in his second season with the Vikings, has been named the offensive line coach to replace Dennison. The Vikings also hired Ben Steele as an assistant offensive line coach.
WILL COVID-19 VACCINE DIVIDE LOCKER ROOMS?
The NFL has not made it mandatory for players to get a COVID-19 vaccine, but recently released protocols for the 2021 season certainly make it feel that way. Players who are vaccinated can essentially go through the season like things were before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Players not vaccinated must wear face coverings at team facilities, can’t travel or eat with vaccinated players and must go through daily COVID-19 testing, including during the bye week. They also must attend team meetings virtually.
Spielman said Tuesday the Vikings have systems in place to identify players who are and are not vaccinated. He would not say what percentage of players are vaccinated, but did say all Tier 1 and 2 coaches and staff at TCO Performance Center for training came are vaccinated.
"I know how our organization feels about people getting vaccinated. Me personally, I’ve been vaccinated. I think it’s very important not only to protect yourself, but to protect a lot of other people," Spielman said.
Zimmer said with COVID-19 cases increasing due to the Delta variant, he’s pushing for as many as possible to get a vaccine.
"Everyone has to make their own decisions, but I will continue to push that they understand everything. I just want our players to be safe, I want them to be healthy, I want their families to be healthy and safe. If they don’t get vaccinated, they’ve got to follow the protocols," Zimmer said.
But could it create a divide in the locker room between players who are vaccinated and those who aren’t? During OTAs and minicamp, Harrison Smith, Adam Thielen and Sheldon Richardson all said they had not gotten a vaccine. Kirk Cousins declined to make his medical history public.
Of players made available to the media, only Eric Kendricks said he’s fully vaccinated. Zimmer and Spielman don’t anticipate it being an issue in the locker room.
"I’m going to talk to them about it, but I don’t feel it’s going to be that way. Most of these guys feel like they’re bullet-proof anyway with their age and their athleticism. We’re going to make sure that we treat each other with respect and understand that guys make decisions because of whatever reasons that they have," Zimmer said. "As long as they’re following protocols like the NFL asked them to do, I have no problem with it."
"I just know how close-knit this group is in that locker room and how everybody respects each other. Vaccinated or unvaccinated we have one goal, and that’s to come out here and win football games," Spielman said.
NO UPDATE ON JEFF GLADNEY ASSAULT CASE
Vikings’ defensive back Jeff Gladney will have assault accusations from an incident in Texas involving his girlfriend earlier this offseason heard before a grand jury on Thursday. It’s possible he could be indicted, and Spielman didn’t offer an update on the situation on Tuesday.
"This is an ongoing legal matter and at this time we just cannot have any comment on it," Spielman said.
Vikings’ veterans reported for camp on Tuesday, and Spielman wouldn’t say if Gladney was among them. He made 15 starts as a rookie last year, finishing with 81 tackles and three passes defended.