Vikings adjust to COVID-19 style Training Camp at TCO Performance Center

Gary Kubiak joked Wednesday that he’s never been so clean in his life. Kyle Rudolph talked about wearing his social distance tracking device around TCO Performance Center. Brian O’Neill talked about reminders to wear his mask at the team’s practice facility. Eric Kendricks talked about the individual responsibility and collective effort it will take to have a football season amidst a global health pandemic.

It’s a new normal for the Minnesota Vikings in Eagan as they spend the next five weeks getting ready for Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium. That new normal started before any players or staff arrived, and it was on Eric Sugarman to ensure the Vikings could hold Training Camp and abide by strict Covid-19 protocols.

Then last week, Sugarman announced he and his entire family tested positive for Covid-19. So far, at least nine players have been placed on the Reserve/Covid-19 list.

Despite the most uncertain circumstances the NFL has faced in a long time the Vikings say they’ve never felt safer than at TCO Performance Center.

“Everybody on our team understands that it’s on all of us to make this thing work. It’s not just when we’re in the building with wearing a mask and following the signs and protocols, but when we go home. It’s easy right now to be locked in, almost like a bubble, because we have camp and we’re here a lot more,” O’Neill said. “Really all you can control is yourself and my responsibility to my teammates and families of my teammates.”

It’s all in an effort to stay healthy, safe and provide some sort of normalcy in uncertain times. But it requires a new routine, and the changes aren’t easy to make.

“As a coach, you have a routine that you come in in the morning, how you go about things, that routine has to change. Just getting used to the routine is the most important thing. I’m beginning to get very comfortable with it,” Kubiak said.

That new routine starts before any coach, player or team staff leaves their home to head to TCO Performance Center. They’re required to fill out a health questionnaire on an app to determine if they’re experiencing Covid-19 symptoms.

Then when they get to the facility, they get a Covid-19 test and get their temperature checked. They get their lanyard and a device for their wrist, similar to a FitBit, and it flashes colors if they’re within six feet of somebody. It’s one of my reminders, including signs and markers on the floor to practice social distancing at the facility.

“It’s definitely something that takes getting used to. The biggest thing for me is there’s so many steps along the way,’ Rudolph said. “Things that you’re not accustomed to doing, but will be the difference in our team staying healthy, our families staying healthy and being able to be out there each and every week this season.”

The Vikings are becoming experts at social distancing and sanitizing. Chairs in every team meeting are at least six feet apart, meetings are held outside when they can be and when everyone goes home for the night, they hold meetings via video conferencing. They’re also wearing masks at all times in the facility, whenever they’re not practicing.

Rudolph joked that being socially distant from his coaches and teammates during multiple weeks of training camp shouldn’t be a problem.

“I don’t want to be next to anybody in this building for longer than 15 minutes, we don’t need to be within six feet of each other. The only person that I’m ever within six feet longer than 15 minutes is usually my wife and that’s when we’re sleeping at night,” Rudolph said.

The reality for the Vikings and the other 31 NFL teams is there’s a greater purpose with following Covid-19 guidelines. It gives players and teams the greatest chance to move forward with safely getting ready for the 2020 season, and actually having a regular season.

Anything can happen in the next month, but they at least give themselves a chance if they follow the guidelines in place. At this point, that’s all they can ask for.

“If we want to make the season a special one and have everyone play, which we all want to do, we’ve got to take the right precautions,” Kendricks said. “There’s a reason behind the madness, so we’re all going to do it. It’s going to take all of us. We’re going to do our part, and get this thing rolling.”