American Football Expert & Columnist
Neil Reynolds catches up with the Minnesota Vikings ahead of the new NFL season
"There is a sense on this team that Sam Bradford is going to take a considerable leap in year two with the Vikings."
Last Updated: 17/08/17 12:01pm
I’m writing this diary entry, day three of our 8 in 8 NFL training camp adventure, 31,000 feet above the United States en route to Baltimore after another very enjoyable day, this time spent with the Minnesota Vikings.
I do have to admit though that this whole 8 in 8 thing is tough… much tougher than I thought it would be. It's only day three and our crew is exhausted and operating on a unique mixture of coffee and aviation fumes (don't try that at home, kids).
Tiredness aside, the first few days of training camps are always a fun time of year in the NFL and it is a privilege to see some of the greatest athletes on the planet perfecting their craft up close and personal.
Day three was another early start, mainly due to the fact that I was woken at 5am by the buzzing of a text message from a friend in London asking if I would like to meet up for a coffee. Note to self… SWITCH OFF YOUR PHONE WHEN YOU GO TO BED, REYNOLDS!
After that rude awakening, first stop on the day was the stunning U.S. Bank Stadium - site of Super Bowl 52 at the conclusion of the upcoming season. It was nice to have a look around what is clearly an amazing and breathtaking stadium, but I have to admit it was a bit of a mess after a Guns N' Roses concert the night before.
I'm sure it will look fantastic on Super Bowl Sunday as the winter theme is set to be celebrated to the max in February.
The stadium tour was followed by a 90-minute drive to Mankato - home of Minnesota State University and training camp site for the Vikings for the 52nd year in a row (that streak, which is the longest in the NFL, ends in 2018 as the Vikes will host camp in their newly-built facility).
There is certainly an old school feel to Vikings camp that represents a nod to a dying tradition in the NFL. In 2000, 22 teams still ventured off home campus for training camp. This year, just 10 teams are venturing away from their home facilities and I can't really blame them given the amount of equipment needed to get ready for the new season.
The Vikings have always bought into the London game experience and will be welcomed back warmly in 2017. The team certainly rolled out the big brass on Monday as we interviewed team owner Mark Wilf, general manager Rick Spielman, the man behind the stadium project in executive vice president Lester Bagley, head coach Mike Zimmer, quarterback Sam Bradford and a pair of Pro Bowlers in tight end Kyle Rudolph and defensive end Everson Griffen.
Five observations from Vikings training camp…
There is a sense on this team that Sam Bradford is going to take a considerable leap in year two with the Vikings. I think Bradford looks good and he can still sling the rock - a growing comfort in Minnesota this year should see this former first overall draft pick able to open up the playbook a little more in 2017. And he has some nice weapons around him in receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen and the aforementioned Rudolph, who is a reliable mismatch.
The Vikings are preparing for a job-share in the backfield behind Bradford with Latavius Murray, second-round pick Dalvin Cook and Jerick McKinnon splitting the load. With Murray on the physically unable to perform list for now, the explosive Cook has the leg-up. Between the three of them, the Vikings might just feel comfortable in moving on from Adrian Peterson.
The Vikings play you know who - now of the New Orleans Saints - in the opening weekend of the new season on a Monday Night Football game we will bring you exclusively live on Sky Sports. And I have to credit the Minnesota players for not trotting out the old 'it's just another game' line. They are relishing the chance to go up against their former team-mate and are going to enjoy the fact that Peterson can finally be hit when running with the ball. He was strictly off limits in practice during his time with the Vikings. Not this time around!
I can give you many examples how head coach Mike Zimmer would be considered old school. He admitted that was his style when we chatted today. But this is an example that sums him up perfectly. He is no fan of the relaxed touchdown celebration rules being unveiled by the NFL this season. When I asked if he would deliver a speech to his players warning them against over-zealous touchdown dances, Zimmer replied a firm "no." He just stressed that they would hear his voice loudly in their ear if flagged for going too far in the end zone. And he wasn't joking.
I had a fascinating conversation with Spielman today and the general manager dug deep into the subject of scouting. We focused mostly on pro scouting as opposed to the examination of players entering the NFL out of college. Spielman was open and informative on the subject, revealing that the Vikings watch film of every single player in the NFL and have a grade on every other player in the league not on their roster. It makes perfect sense, of course, when you think about the need to know who is out there if you need to swing a trade like the one that brought in Sam Bradford last year. But it remains a mind-boggling amount of work for Spielman and his scouts who, if a player has been in the league for 10 years, will have charted and graded his progress and/or decline every step of the way.
Training camp finish that sentence…
Portion sizes… In America are, more often than not, borderline ridiculous. Pre-flight dinner with the crew at Minneapolis airport saw me pretend to be healthy and opt for a chicken salad. But this was no humble chicken salad. Oh no, of course not! This salad was laid out in a massive open basket that looked as if somebody had done their weekly food shopping and then plonked a pot of ranch dressing on the side. My humble chicken salad had your basic staples… i.e. chicken (obviously), lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber. But then the additions of blue cheese, regular cheese, avocado, onions, carrots and egg proved too much and I sadly left quite a bit in the basket when heading off to catch this flight. Around half of what was served up would have been more than enough thank you, America!
Quote of the Day…
"It's going to be an awesome opportunity because we weren't allowed to hit him in practice before but now we are. He has no red jersey on this time." - Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen on being able to get physical with former team-mate Adrian Peterson when Minnesota play New Orleans in Week 1 of the 2017 season.
Quote of the Day II…
"Well, with Tottenham this year, I think they ought to pay Harry Kane and I think they're going to surpass Chelsea in the Premier League." - Vikings general manager Rick Spielman in answer to a question that was actually about his team in 2017. I guess he just wanted to talk Premier League.
Quote of the Day III…
"We were going to call Green Bay and see if they wanted to deal Aaron Rodgers. Of course, that phone call would have been relatively short, to say the least." - the Vikings GM on the process of going after Sam Bradford when Teddy Bridgewater went down on the eve of 2016. He was joking, Packer fans!
Don't come here looking for poetic parting words. As soon as this is emailed (we land in Baltimore at 12.10am), I'm going to bed. Tomorrow is already here and our day with the Baltimore Ravens will start soon enough. Tuesday's training camp visit will mark the halfway mark of our 8 in 8 adventure. Until tomorrow, have a good zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
The regular season of home and away matches run from September to December 2017, culminating in PlayOffs from January 6, 2018 and the Super Bowl on February 4, 2018 at the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minnesota to determine the world champion