EAGAN (FOX 9) - The reality set in for the 37 Minnesota Vikings rookies and select veterans after they completed their final pre-Training Camp practice on Thursday.
Football is here, and it gets real on Friday as the Vikings hold their first full-team walkthrough and practice at TCO Performance Center. It’s the start of a six-week journey as the Vikings get ready for their first preseason game at New Orleans on Aug. 9.
For this year’s rookie class, this three-day stretch in front of Training Camp was about getting in as many plays and situations as possible. The opportunities become less frequent when the full squad shows up to Eagan.
“I really do think it’s a great experience for them. We’ve really honed in and specialized specifically into them. When the vets come in, the reps are a little bit more scarce for them,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “I think they got a whole lot out of it, you can just see them getting better here from day to day.”
Every rep matters for players who will eventually be fighting for a roster spot. One example is Karter Schult, a defensive lineman who joined the Vikings last year as an undrafted free agent. He went through mini camp in 2018 and eventually got a job with FedEx to make ends meet while he continued training.
Schult also spent time on the Green Bay Packers’ practice squad last year before playing for the Salt Lake Stallions in the AAF. He signed with the Vikings as a free agent back in April. He knows as well as anyone the value of getting in three workouts before Training Camp. It’s his opportunity to get plays in before the veterans arrive.
“It’s harder. It’s a steeper learning curve for the young guys when they don’t get as many reps, so this is huge. It’s huge for us,” Schult said.
It was a crucial three days for Vikings’ rookies, including safety Marcus Epps. He was one of three sixth-round draft picks, and could be an option in the secondary with Holton Hill suspended for the first eight games of the season and Mike Hughes still recovering from knee surgery.
When Epps hasn’t been on the field in practice, he’s had his head buried in a playbook. He’s studying and making sure he’s ready for the start of Training Camp practices.
“Make sure that I know what I’m doing out there so that when bullets start flying, I’m not lost. I’m able to go out there and make plays,” Epps said.
Epps made plenty of plays as a standout at Wyoming, but had to earn his way onto the playing field. He was a finalist for the 2018 Burlsworth Trophy, which goes to the most outstanding player in the country that started as a walk-on. He redshirted in 2014, and was on scholarship two years later.
He was a four-year starter and three-year captain, finishing with 325 career tackles and nine interceptions. So far, Edwards likes what he sees out of the rookie safety.
“He’s able to come out here and be consistent, and the first three practices have been good,” Edwards said.
The Vikings changed his life forever with a phone call during the sixth round of the NFL Draft. The Huntington Beach, Calif., native was the No. 191 overall selection, and he was coming to Minnesota.
“It was one of the best days of my life for sure. It was what I’ve worked my whole life for, what I’ve always wanted in my dream. Just to be able to accomplish that, it was amazing,” Epps said.
Now, Epps has 16 Training Camp practices and four preseason games to prove to the coaching staff he can end up on the final 53-man roster for the Sept. 8 opener against the Atlanta Falcons. He’s going to do everything he can to get there, but there will be healthy competition among all the rookies.
“I think the biggest thing is just seeing how everybody wants to be here. Everybody is fighting for a roster spot, so we’ve just been pushing each other. Trying to make each other better,” Epps said. “You’ve got to bring it every day, you can’t ever relax.”