EAGAN (FOX 9) - Mike Zimmer made one thing very clear to Minnesota Vikings players Thursday before they departed minicamp: Don’t show up to training camp out of shape.
The Vikings held their final offseason workout Thursday, the last of 13 workouts between organized team activities and this week’s three mandatory minicamp practices. Players now have a month to themselves before reporting to training camp in late July at TCO Performance Center in Eagan.
Many players spoke during offseason workouts of the bitter taste left in their mouths after the way last season ended, going 8-7-1 and missing the NFC Playoffs for the third time in five seasons under Zimmer. It’s motivation enough that there won’t be much slacking during the next four-plus weeks. Or at least there shouldn’t be.
“This next month, this isn’t our offseason. This is leading into training camp, leading into a season that nobody wants to go 8-8. Nobody wants to miss the playoffs, so what are going to do this next month to help the team get better and help the team make the playoffs?” wide receiver Adam Thielen said. “It stars with tomorrow, it starts with what are you going to do when you wake up tomorrow? Are you going to sit on the beach or are you going to get a workout in? I think that’s a great message, and excited to get back to work.”
Zimmer offered a much shorter response.
“They know what I expect,” he said.
One of the main focuses of offseason workouts, leading into training camp and into the regular season is the working marriage between offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, advisor Gary Kubiak and how they can work together to make the Vikings’ offense consistently more dynamic. In his first season in Minnesota, quarterback Kirk Cousins had one of his better seasons statistically. It didn’t translate to wins on the field, and he said it himself on Wednesday: He’s essentially a .500 quarterback, and he would prefer winning games over gaudy stats.
“That’s what you’re searching for with your football team and when you’ve got people thinking that way, you’ve got a chance to get there. I’ve been very impressed with that, he pushes himself every day, works hard at it, first one here in the morning, those type of things,” Kubiak said of Cousins. “He gives you everything he has, that’s all you can ask for.”
Kubiak has won Super Bowls, and multiple players talked throughout minicamp that the organization is all-in on 2019. It’s why they worked to bring back players like Anthony Barr, Everson Griffen and restructured the contract of Eric Kendricks. It’s also why they extended Kyle Rudolph, and added talent to the offensive line in both free agency and the draft. The belief is bringing back veterans who have played at a high level, combined with a slew of talented young athletes, can take the Vikings to the next level if everyone stays healthy.
The goal is the Super Bowl, and the Vikings are hopeful Kubiak's mentorship of Stefanski will be one piece of the puzzle in getting there.
Zimmer compared the relationship Kubiak and Stefanski are forming to the one he had under Bill Parcells, who Zimmer spent three seasons with as an assistant coach in Dallas.
“I think they work together really good. Just sitting in the rooms with them, the way they communicate. Kevin will have his own take on things, but Gary will be able to help him with certain things. No different than when I was a coordinator,” Zimmer said.
While the players are off for the next month and what they do is up to them, Zimmer already had bags packed for his Kentucky ranch and preparations made. He won’t get completely away from football, it’s not in his DNA. He had team staff put video on an iPad so he can go over tape when he chooses.
It might be Stefanski’s job to run the Vikings’ revamped offense, which remains a work in progress. But Kubiak will never be far away. He’s in every meeting and literally watching every move Stefanski makes, offering input when needed.
Kubiak and Zimmer have had their share of battles on the football field as opponents. Now, they’re allies.
“I try to keep my mouth shut and do my job. He comes down and likes to sit and talk football a lot, and I really appreciate that,” Kubiak said. “He and I have been through quite a few battles in this league. I’m just really proud of the fact that he’s given me a chance to be a part of it. Hopefully I can help out.”
Thursday’s minicamp highlights
- Wide receiver Davion Davis might have had the biggest individual day on Thursday. He caught a pass from Kyle Sloter over the middle with multiple defenders around that wowed his offensive teammates. He also made a highlight reel catch down the sideline on a long pass, and caught a tipped pass in a team drill just before it hit the turf.
- Ben Gedeon intercepted a Jake Browning pass and took it 50-plus yards for a touchdown in a team drill. Several teammates, including Anthony Barr, Xavier Rhodes and Everson Griffen, sprinted from the sideline to the end zone to celebrate with Gedeon.
- The first-team offense was up and down Thursday, much like it has been for most of offseason workouts. But one of the last plays of the session was a perfect Kirk Cousins throw on a deep corner route to Stefon Diggs for a touchdown.
- Dan Bailey made all four field goals he tried Thursday, ranging from 32 to 49 yards. In sessions open to the media, Bailey missed just three kicks between OTAs and mini camp.
- Several Vikings alumni were on hand for Thursday’s final workout, including Stu Voight, Greg Coleman, Steve Jordan and Bob Lurtsema. Zimmer and the Vikings hosted a barbecue lunch after practice to thank them for their dedication to the organization and for paving the path for current NFL players.