Territory Journey “THE CAMP”
The Minnesota Vikings arrived in Eagan to start their preparations for the 2021 season by welcoming fans at the TCO Performance Center for the first time since 2019. It was the first opportunity for fans to see many players such as Justin Jefferson, Ezra Cleveland, Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Kellen Mond up close.
Offensively things didn’t change much other than a strange feeling of not seeing Kyle Rudolph around any longer. Although the scheme during training camp does not resemble the regular season game plan, the identity of the Vikings will not change. This is a run first team with plenty of zone blocking and highly dependent on Dalvin Cook. If Klint Kubiak was going to be daring and use some creative sprinkles in the passing game those hopes were dashed by the season ending injury suffered by TE Irv Smith Jr.
The Vikings also experienced first hand the new NFL Covid rules and treatment of the vaccinated and unvaccinated players. When the team was ready to welcome fans to the highlight of camp at the night practice all QBs with the exception of Jake Browning were sent home when Kellen Mond tested positive for the virus. And the NFL is not playing around this 2021 season as they want to keep their business running. This could prove to be problematic for the Vikings down the road if Kirk Cousins and Kellen Mond are sidelined again.
Defensively is where the Vikings can make some noise and go far this year. Danielle Hunter looks better than ever, Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson are brick walls. They will make life much easier for All Pro LB Eric Kendricks, future Hall of Fame players Harrison Smith and Patrick Peterson and the rest of the defensive unit. This team will go as far as this group will take them. Primarily the front four that by the way also includes Sheldon Richardson and Everson Griffen in rotation roles.
On special teams the kicking job was claimed by South African Greg Joseph over Riley Patterson who did not miss a kick during the stadium scrimmage but battled through some injuries. I don’t have a lot of confidence in Joseph with attempts over 50 yards and Patterson had the strongest leg but first year coordinator Ryan Ficken has made his choice. Dede Westbrook looks to have earned the punt returning duties while newcomer Ihmir Smith-Marsette will handle kickoffs.
A couple of injuries happened that went in different directions. Justin Jefferson suffered what could have been a serious shoulder injury but everything turned out to be just a scary moment and Jefferson is fine. UDFA WR Blake Proehl wasn’t as lucky suffering a torn ACL on his knee watching his chances of making the roster disappear after a strong camp. The NFL and professional sports in general can be a tough business sometimes.
The Vikings held joint practices with the Denver Broncos on the last week of camp. A Broncos team with a formidable defense and featuring an old friend in Teddy Bridgewater at QB. The highlight was the intensity of the two day session in preparation for the preseason.
All in all the best part about training camp was having the fans back in the stands enjoying once again the opportunity to cheer on their team and sure was a much needed economic boost for the TCO complex and surroundings.