Vikings grind through camp as first preseason game looms

The Minnesota Vikings are in the thick of Training Camp at TCO Performance Center, but practices this week will likely have a little different intensity. After all, it’s game week.

The Vikings had their ninth team practice on Monday as they get ready for their first preseason game at New Orleans Friday night. They’re getting a lot done in a pivotal season for Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman. Maybe most importantly, they’re doing it together.

“It’s a bunch of guys coming out here to work every day. Every day guys are motivated, happy to be here and really working hard so I love being a part of that,” said offensive lineman Pat Elflein, who is switching from center to guard after the Vikings drafted center Garrett Bradbury.

The Vikings switched things up on Saturday with a night practice in front of a packed crowd at TCO Stadium that felt like a game atmosphere. Coach Mike Zimmer gave his defense a good tongue lashing last week after getting beaten by the offense on several occasions, and they responded. The first pass from Kirk Cousins went for an interception to linebacker Eric Wilson.

Zimmer’s defense last year finished ninth in the NFL, allowing 21.3 points per game. They were fourth in total yards (309.7) and third in sacks.

The defense made at least one big play in Monday’s practice as Devante Downs tipped and intercepted a Sean Mannion pass, and returned it for a touchdown.

“I have a vision of what this defense is supposed to look like and I have very high standards for the defense,” Zimmer said. “I expect them to live up to my expectations, so I’m going to keep pushing until we get there.”

The Vikings added depth to that defense on Saturday, signing veteran defensive back Bene Benwikere. He’s entering his sixth NFL season after being drafted by the Carolina Panthers in 2014. He split last season between the Arizona Cardinals and Oakland Raiders.

Benwikere should give the Vikings depth in the secondary with Mike Hughes still working back from offseason knee surgery, and Holton Hill suspended eight games to start the season after failing two drug tests. Benwikere says the Vikings welcomed him with open arms.

Being on a team that could get back to the playoffs was one of his top priorities. He was with the Panthers for their run to the NFC Divisional Playoffs in 2014 and the 2015 run to the Super Bowl, a loss to the Denver Broncos. He played in 13 games with four starts that season.

“He doesn’t even have his name on the back of his jersey yet, so that tells you how long I’ve seen him. He’s a guy that’s had a bunch of starts, played with a lot of different teams and we need depth at corner,” Zimmer said.

He now joins a Vikings defense filled with playmakers.

“A lot of talent so that’s definitely something that I think when I evaluated the teams and thought about playoffs and that’s definitely somewhere I wanted to be” Benwikere said. “My first two years in the league I made it to the playoffs, so I definitely want to be back. That’s my main focus, my main goal.”

The Vikings pushed back Monday’s practice to allow storms to pass through the Twin Cities and keep it open to fans.

Kirk Cousins found Adam Thielen wide open for two long touchdown passes during team drills. Rookie tight end Brandon Dillon had the highlight of the day with a leaping, one-handed catch from Jake Browning that had him looking more like Odell Beckham Jr. Cousins looked back at media after the play and said he should be called the “Marian Flash,” referencing his college in Indiana.

The team also nearly had their first scuffle after the play. Offensive lineman Dru Samia and defensive lineman Karter Schult got tangled up on the play and exchanged words, but teammates quickly stepped into diffuse the scuffle.

Dan Bailey appears to have found his rhythm after a few misses early in Training Camp. He finished his first live session 2-of-3, hitting the left upright from 38 yards before making tries from 41 and 45 yards. All kicks were from the right hash. In his second live session, he was good from 42 and 44 yards, before missing wide right from 48 yards.

His final kick of the day came in a simulated three-minute situation with the game tied 20-20. His try from 53 yards out was perfect, with a few yards to spare.

The Vikings practice Tuesday and Wednesday before traveling to New Orleans for their first preseason game Friday night.