Vikings carry sense of urgency into Training Camp

There’s not a greater motivator to start a season than remembering what happened the year before, especially when expectations don’t meet reality.

Coming off one of the worst playoff losses in franchise history, the Minnesota Vikings finished 8-7-1 last year to miss the NFC Playoffs for the third time in five seasons under Mike Zimmer. It was the first year with new $84 million quarterback Kirk Cousins, and the Vikings controlled their playoff fate heading into the regular season finale against the Chicago Bears.

That end result, a 24-10 loss to the Bears where they had nothing to play for, left more questions than answers heading into the offseason. Zimmer is moving forward, and started so with the team opening Training Camp for rookies and select veterans on Tuesday at TCO Performance Center in Eagan. Zimmer has never liked to dwell, and he’s turned the page to the 2019 season.

“We’ve moved on from last year. Every year is a new year, so it’s time to move on and go from there. We talked about things we need to do better this spring, but now it’s all about moving forward and where we gotta go, how we have to approach things to get there,” Zimmer said Monday.

All 37 rookies and select veterans, including quarterbacks Cousins, Sean Mannion, Kyle Sloter and Jake Browning, were present and accounted for in the team’s first walk-through on Tuesday in Eagan. The Vikings will hold morning walk-throughs and afternoon practices with rookies and select veterans Tuesday-Thursday before the team holds its first full practice on Friday.

The Vikings won’t put pads on until Sunday.

After not being involved in the postseason last year, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman knows there is a sense of urgency heading into the official start of training camp. The Vikings have too much talent on their roster to not be in the playoff picture.

“I don’t know if it’s any different than any other year. I mean if you come into a season without a sense of urgency, then you’re probably in the wrong business,” Spielman said. I think every year, if you talk to 31 other teams doing these opening day press conferences, everybody expects to go out there and win a championship or else you shouldn’t be in this business. The expectations and the pressure are no different than they are any other year. I know last year was disappointing from where we felt we were and where we ended up.”

Tuesday, it was all about teaching and learning as rookies filled the TCO practice fields. The 2019 draft class is back, as are several players who worked out for the team during rookie mini camp.

It’s a chance for players to impress coach Zimmer, and a chance for Zimmer to get a gauge for who could end up on his practice squad.

“There’s players not playing NFL football that can still play,” Zimmer said.

The other piece is getting “the nasty” back for the Vikings. It’s something Zimmer said in the offseason that his team lacked in 2018. For whatever reason, they didn’t play with a chip on their shoulder.

The tasks in Training Camp include the continued revamp of offensive philosophy with Kevin Stefanski in charge, with the help of Gary Kubiak. They’re looking for a No. 2 running back behind Dalvin Cook with the departure of Latavius Murray. The offensive line spots will be a competition after the Vikings were ranked 30th in rushing last season, and the continued development of Cousins in their new offense.

Other position battles include the No. 3 receiver spot, and at long snapper with Kevin McDermott and Austin Cutting. Spielman will have a close eye on it all as camp unfolds.

More than anything, they’re looking to get their identity back. They want to get back to playing angry, and being a physical football team.

“I know what Zim wants in his football team. He wants a smart, high-character, tough-minded physical football team. I know that’s how we’ve always won games here and I know that’s what Coach Zim wants to make sure that we establish going into Training Camp,” Spielman said.