And suddenly, Mankato training camp is no more. The Vikings limped to the final days with a cancelled Monday morning walk thru and an uneven practice on Tuesday (that upset the head coach a bit). The Vikings purple banners were reportedly then quickly gathered up and stowed away, and the asphalt all swept clean, preparing the area for MSU Mavericks purple. One era ends, and the next season begins.
It’s on to Buffalo to take on the Bills for the first preseason game of the 2017 season. And because this is the preseason, the focus is more on one’s own team than the opponent, but we should still mention the following about the Bills. They signed wide receiver Anquan Boldin this week, but he likely won’t be ready to play against the Vikings on Thursday.
Although on his first day on the field with the Bills, Boldin was already taking quite a few first team reps. Who knows? The Bills could throw him out on the field to mess with the Vikings defense. Check out this link for more recent news about the Bills.
As to the Vikings, they released their depth chart recently, so we have a good idea who we will see start the game and perhaps play one (maybe two) series. The biggest news of the depth chart was that rookie running back Dalvn Cook was inserted to the first team slot ahead of Jerick McKinnon—and anyone who has been watching training camp practices, this became evident after McKinnon hurt his knee and missed a little action.
This, of course, could change before the regular season starts—but that would likely only be due to injury if at all. But as McKinnon said before camp started, it would be a running back by committee approach, so expect all the backs to see some action on Thursday (with possible exception being the injured McKinnon—and of course Latavius Murry, who was activated this week and has not seen much contact yet).
Meanwhile, reporters were asking the last questions of the final camp in Mankato and starting to mix in the forward gazing ones. Eric Kendricks was looking forward to playing clean on Thursday and hitting someone other than his teammates. Wide receiver Jarius Wright, who has plenty to prove this preseason, is relishing the opportunity to do so against Buffalo.
“I really am, I really am ready to go against somebody that doesn’t exactly know what we are doing or know what to expect us to do,” Wright said. “It’s going to be fun to hit somebody else, block somebody else, catch the ball and actually run with it and break tackles. So, it should be fun.”
And quarterback Sam Bradford is hoping to see his offense look good and perform well, finally taking on someone else besides the Vikings tough defense.
“You know, just get out there and look sharp,” Bradford said. “I’m not sure how much we’re going to play, we haven’t really talked about that yet. When we’re in there, I want us to be crisp, in and out of the huddle. I want us to execute and go down and score. I think that’s what we’re looking for—to set the tone for the rest of preseason going into the season.”
Head coach Mike Zimmer didn’t know how much his starters would play in this first preseason game, either, saying some starters would play more than others. But he did say that his defense is ready to go, even though his offense is still trying to figure out who they are at this point.
“The interesting thing is the defensive guys have been together [longer], so we probably could’ve played a game three or four days ago,” Zimmer said. “Offensively, we’ve been kind of working with the system and exploring some different options and things, and I think for them, it’ll be good to go against someone else, especially offensively, because we’re trying to gage where we’re at. I am looking forward it. I am looking forward to the offense playing someone else. We’re not crazy preparing for this, we’ll have some cards today, but I think it’ll be good to find out where we’re at and kind of evaluate where we need to go.”
Vikings fans will be able to see their first glimpse of what those who have been in Mankato for training camp have seen—that being, wide receiver Michael Floyd in action. Floyd has been suspended for the first four games of the regular season, but he is still allowed to practice and participate in preseason games—and he has been ripping up camp with some athletic grabs, physical play and just plain solid performances. So, Vikings fans should check him out while they can.
“He’s done well,” Zimmer said of Floyd. “I think he’s come in and learned. He’s made some really good contested catches. He’s got big strong hands, a physical receiver and runs good routes.”
The other exciting prospect will be watching rookie second rounder Cook in the backfield. He will get an opportunity to flash with the first team and begin his era in the wake of the Adrian Peterson one. The offensive line is still a work in progress (what with left tackle Reilly Reiff still nursing a back injury), but keep your eye on rookie third-rounder Pat Eflein, who has been getting first team reps at both center and left guard (behind starting guard Alex Boone). It will be interesting to see where he plays and how well he performs.
And then there is the defense, which reportedly took the offense to task in the final night scrimmage at Mankato last week. The defensive line, with its newly minted (contract extensions) stars end Everson Griffen and nose tackle Linval Joseph, should be anxious to prove they were worth it. But don’t sleep on right defensive end Danielle Hunter, who many around the league are saying is preparing for a big year. Look for him to be in the opponent’s backfield, like has been through most of the time in Mankato.
As for me, I, as the players like to do, beat a hasty retreat out of town on Tuesday. I couldn’t bring myself to watch the final tear down of camp in my home town after 52 years of really enjoying everything about having the Vikings train in Mankato. It has been a big part of my life as a fan during my youth living there and then returning most of the past decade as a reporter covering the team.
So, on Monday, I spent one last night at Mankato Brewery with a number of the Vikings beat reporters and public relations staff, and then a final trip to another local establishment near campus, where the revelry went long into Tuesday morning—in the grandest traditional fashion of many players, staff and reporters over the more than five decades of training camps in Mankato.
I rallied Tuesday morning in time to catch the last morning walk-thru (if you are going to play with fire, you have to answer the bell), got a text regarding how some of the revelry (including that of my own) had made it on to social media, and then smiled as it was kind of symbolic of coming full circle for me, because of all the stories I’ve heard about the Vikings antics over the years. Perhaps now with social media watching every move people make these days, it is time for the Mankato camps to be done. The town and its people have served the organization well for more than half a century, and now it’s somewhere else’s turn.
Good luck, Eagan, as you welcome the team next summer and for many to come. I hope you can provide your community with the great memories (and stories) that Mankato has experienced over the years. And for all those folks in that (now) just a little quieter little southern Minnesota town, I say hats off to you for a job well done. Thanks for the many Mankato memories. Memories that we won’t soon forget.