EAGAN (FOX 9) - A new season with the same lofty expectations as in previous years for the Minnesota Vikings kicked off Friday with the first day of Training Camp at TCO Performance Center.
It’s the second year staying home for the Vikings after calling Mankato home for decades. This year, the circumstances are markedly different after a disappointing 8-7-1 season where the Vikings missed the NFC Playoffs for the third time in five seasons under Mike Zimmer.
Being one game away from playing a virtual home game in the Super Bowl seems like a distant memory for the Vikings. Yet the optimism was flowing as the players got to work on Friday.
“It’s awesome to see all the guys again. Being away from them for a few weeks, you miss them a little bit so it’s good to see everybody and excited to get back on,” linebacker Anthony Barr said.
Barr had an interesting offseason, nearly joining the New York Jets in free agency. He had a change of heart, and after a conversation with his mother, got in contact with his agent and eventually the Vikings to work out a new contract.
Barr was one of a few Vikings to work out new deals to keep the defensive corps intact. Eric Kendricks restructured his contract, and Everson Griffen took a decrease in salary after missing time last season to address mental health concerns.
Safety Harrison Smith is back for his eighth NFL season, but the veteran felt like a kid again being on the practice field for the first day.
“It always feels like the first day of school. Coming back, being with the guys, it’s a fun time of year. It’s a time to work, but it’s always good to be back,” Smith said.
Smith was one of many familiar faces back with the Vikings this season, especially on defense. He got emotional when addressing the media during offseason conditioning about Barr’s return, and other players who have opted to stay in Minnesota when they could’ve gone elsewhere.
He was happy to see so many of the same faces back on Friday, all chasing the same goal.
“That’s kind of the human aspect of it. It’s great to get back to work and we have a lot of goals that we’re chasing after,” Smith said. “It’s also great to get around the guys again, kind of get that sense of team, start building that towards the season.”
Griffen looked fresh and ready to go on Friday. He had to step away from football for a portion of last season to address off the field concerns with his mental health. He finished the season with 33 tackles and 5.5 sacks in 11 games, including 10 starts.
He’s ready to start fresh and turn the page to 2019.
“It’s great to be back with all 90 guys. A great opportunity for us to get better each and every day. We’ve just got to go out with the right mindset and try to get better and become a better team day by day,” Griffen said.
Head coach Mike Zimmer is as aware as anyone that his team didn’t meet expectations last year. That’s especially after signing Kirk Cousins to an $84 million, full-guaranteed contract. He put up numbers, but it didn’t translate to wins.
The long-term goal is to win the NFC North Division and be Super Bowl contenders. The today goal: Stay healthy, get better and have good practices.
“Right now we’re just trying to figure out how we can get better and win games. Focus on one particular game, focus on today’s practice and see if we can get better and work together as a team, do the things that’s right and helps you win football games,” Zimmer said. “Perception is what it is, and the only way you change perception is by proving it.”
The first practice featured two kicking sessions from Dan Bailey. In the first, he went 2-of-3 of kicks ranging from 33 to 41 yards. In the second session at the end of practice, Bailey missed his first try and made his last two. He missed a third kick in an end-of-game situation from 47 yards out.
Friday’s first practices were the start to changing that perception. Perhaps even paving the road to playing in Miami in February.