As you may know, I am a huge Vikings fan and spent 25 years at Mankato training camp using two to three weeks of vacation to watch my favorite team practice, most of the time twice a day.
Last year, a major change occurred, and that was the training camp was moved to TCO Performance Center in Eagan. It was honestly a tough transition for me as something new and I had no choice but to go with the flow. Camp is important to me because it’s where I see Adam Thielen or Marcus Sherels make the 53-man roster the hard way. Last year’s camp ended and I honestly thoroughly enjoyed the new complex and had a great time, but never as good as the times in Mankato.
This summer, training camp comes knocking on my door once again, but this time news I would really not sit well with me. I have spent literally hundreds of hours through the years and then I get an e-mail from the Vikings that fans would only be allowed two days maximum to enjoy the festivities. I was beside myself thinking why on earth would there be a two day limit? I also noticed the schedule and there I see goodbye two-a-days for fans. Yes, I know the morning practice typically is a walk-through, and very manila, but it’s a chance for me to see the guys and take pictures from the stands. I had a goal every year to take at least one picture of each player and make my own year book. This team has challenged me to see if I can get my normal pictures of players in a one practice per day and only come to Eagan twice. I am such a fan I know my hands are tied, but I will make the most of it as this is my team that I cheer for each and every Sunday. This season is my 20th year of season tickets and I am proud to say I have missed only two games — ever.
I finally went to camp on Sunday and sat through rain, but I feel like a kid in a toy store watching the team do its work. I had familiarity from last year where to go and where the best spot to watch practice. I had read about the draft picks, but I was excited to see them in person. I left camp that day really impressed with rookie Alexander Mattison the young running back out of Boise State. I really felt he looked extremely quick and with a nice glide through the hole. I was also impressed with last year rookie free agent, Chad Beebe, who is looking to lock up the No. 3 receiver spot.
I watched the offensive line to see how the potential starters would be and they were from left to right: Riley Reiff, Pat Elflein, Garrett Bradbury, Josh Kline and Brian O’Neil. It was also great to see on the defensive side of the ball, Everson Griffin, and his great personality out there smiling and keeping the energy through the roof. It was strange to see a new number No. 35 as Rochester-native, Marcus Sherels, left for New Orleans in the offseason.
The day was nothing special other than my own satisfaction sitting in the bleachers and taking in a practice that was supposed to be from 2 p.m. until 2:45 p.m., but the weather forecast was not looking good, so an announcement was made that practice would be shifted from 1 p.m. to 3:25 p.m. and that worked just great for me as I was so eagerly waiting the start.
The next time I went was Family Night last Saturday, and I believe it was my 22nd-straight time doing so. I am in heaven as the team came to the stadium field and practiced in front of a sold-out crowd. Sometimes it’s hard to watch because I witnessed the defensive line destroy the offensive front, which is great for the defense, but concerning for the o-line. I watched Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen time after time make crazy athletic catches. Good for Diggs and Thielen, but not good for cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes. I really liked the accuracy of Kirk Cousins, except when he threw right to the linebacker, Eric Wilson.
I have learned through the years to remind myself to stay calm and don’t get my blood pressure up by seeing greatness or disappointment. It is truly practice making the guys better for the team sake.
I am intrigued by tight end, Irv Smith Jr from Alabama. Seeing him on the field making catch after catch, I envision him down the seam from Cousins for a deep touchdown. He is a big kid with nice speed. I will watch how he blocks when it comes to preseason games. I have read the team may only keep two quarterbacks and retain an extra tight end, so that is something to look for moving forward.
I know the last couple years the kicking game has been awful and the team signed Dan Bailey late last year, who was supposed to be extremely accurate in his career, which wasn’t necessarily the case in 2018. It’s a new year and now a full training camp for Bailey to see how he does. The Family Night hit the upright twice, so, yeah, there’s still a long way to go before I can feel comfortable with him.
This whole training camp and preseason games have me very excited and I can’t wait to see this new offense put to work.
Camp is the best time of year, and then I found out the two-day maximum was lifted, so I have two more days to take-in the 2019 Minnesota Vikings.