Postcard from camp: Vikings
SI.com has dispatched 10 writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. For the complete schedule of postcards, click here.
Setting the Scene
The Vikings train at Minnesota State University in Mankato, where on Tuesday morning fans filled two bleacher sections and lined up three-deep along a fence to watch the players work out in shoulder pads and helmets. The temperature was mild because of clouds and a nice breeze.
Considering the alternative in these parts, where heat and humidity can make practices tough, the Vikings may as well have been in La Jolla. The setup is great for the fans because most of the players use bicycles to get around. Each player is issued a bike at the start of camp, and fans can see them wheeling from the locker room to the dorms to the cafeteria. Autograph seekers hang out behind barriers outside the locker room before and after practice, but a better way to get signatures is to hang out down the block at Chipotle Mexican Grill. A lineman or two is almost guaranteed to visit on most days.
1. All eyes are on second-year starting quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. The team will go only as far as he takes it. Jackson is the only major question mark on a club that didn't need a lot of upgrades even before trading for defensive end Jared Allen, who led the league in sacks last season, and signing free-agent wide receiver Bernard Berrian and free-agent safety Madieu Williams. Teammates and coaches contend Jackson is improving each day, even as speculation swirls around Minnesota making a play for Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre.
"The guy has kind of a Tiger Woods mentality: He worries about things he can control, not things he can't," says quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers. "He's really good with that kind of thing. He really competes against himself every day. He's very professional. You'll never see any kind of outward emotion from him. He knows the world of pro football and the hard, cold facts of what goes on. But he's concerned about what Tarvaris Jackson does."
Says Jackson, who completed 58 percent of his passes last year for 1,911 yards, nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions: "I just come out here and work every day, and whatever happens, happens. I just try to do my part and work hard each day and come out here and get better. I feel like I'm getting a lot better. I'm still making some mistakes [and] want to kill myself sometimes. Really, I'm just mad at myself because there are decisions and plays I know I should make that I didn't. The plays that are there, I make them more than I did last year. I've just got to continue to get better."
Rogers says Jackson has improved "in every facet -- fundamentals, footwork, releasing the ball, body position, a greater technical understanding of football." But he adds that "all of that doesn't mean anything until you win some games."
2. The defense could be REALLY scary. The big problem area last year was pass coverage and getting off the field on third down. Allen, an All-Pro who is in the prime of his career entering his fifth season, paced all players with 15.5 sacks last season and is second in the league with 43 sacks since 2004, trailing only Jason Taylor. Allen says he has never played with interior linemen as talented as Pat Williams and Kevin Williams, adding that the sky is the limit for what the defense can accomplish.
Williams will team with Darren Sharper to form a safety duo that should allow defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier to rest a little easier. The pass defense allowed 47 completions of 20 or more yards last year, tying for eighth most in the league. The Vikings also allowed a league-high 222 completions for first downs, although that stat is somewhat deceiving considering teams often abandoned the run because the Vikings were so stout on the ground.
3. It's easy to understand why running back Adrian Peterson was so successful last season -- beyond his God-given abilities -- when you watch him practice. The second-year RB goes hard every play, often carrying the ball to the end zone if it's 50 yards away. Peterson set a number of team and league records last season, including most yards rushing (296) in a game, and he says his personal goals are loftier this season. If you're wondering, yes, he is thinking about 2,000 yards. He says he has reminders about his goals all around his house and that he studies them to remind him of where he wants to go.