Postcard from camp: Vikings
The Vikings are working first-round pick Percy Harvin hard
Whoever makes the fewest mental errors will win the QB battle
John Sullivan looks ready to be a starting center for the first time as a pro
SI.com has dispatched writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Peter King had to say about the Vikings' camp in Mankato, Minn. For an archive of all the camp postcards, click here.
Setting the Scene
The Vikings have been coming 80 miles south of the Twin Cities, to Mankato, Minn., since 1966, and the marriage shows no signs of crumbling. My Fairfield Inn in Mankato was populated Thursday morning at breakfast with 11 men, women and children with Vikings clothing, and two men in business attire. The bleachers at Minnesota State University (formerly Mankato State) were filled, and about 3,500 people attended the two-hour morning workout.
1. Percy Harvin is making an immediate impact. Drafted with the 22nd pick in the first round last April, Harvin is being run ragged by coach Brad Childress, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and receivers coach George Stewart. They're coaching him hard.
On one three-route sequence this morning, Bevell stopped him after he ran a route out of the slot and gave him five seconds of coaching points. On the next, a short out to the right sideline, Stewart bellowed, "Right to me! Right to me!'' In other words, "Finish your route every time!'' On the last of the three, a go-route out of the slot, Childress followed him back 15 yards to the line when it was over, giving him a fine point about avoiding getting knocked off his line by the defense.
"We want to overload him now and teach him as much as we can,'' Bevell told me, "because when the season starts we don't want his head swimming with everything. We just want him to play.''
It's early, but expect Bernard Berrian and Sidney Rice to start, with Harvin the third wideout, playing mostly in the slot. Also, he'll return either punts or kicks, most likely, and he'll be a Wildcat quarterback.
2. I didn't feel a Brett Favre hangover here. The unanswerable question now is: If the winner of the Quarterback Derby, Sage Rosenfels or Tarvaris Jackson, struggles early or gets hurt, will Childress place a call to Brett Favre and ask him to reconsider. My gut feeling is Childress will make the call if he has to, but he's seriously hoping not to have to do it. Steve Hutchinson, who's as honest a player as there is in the league, told me he felt nothing negative around the offense because Favre didn't come. "That whole thing was an 'if,' '' he said. "It's nothing we hung our hats on.''
3. The Vikings feel good about the prospect of having a Starcaps-free season. Kevin and Pat Williams, the defensive-line mainstays due to serve four-game suspensions at the start of the season dating to a 2008 positive test for taking a banned substance in a weight-loss pill, appear to be on track to have their cases heard in court after this season. But as Kevin Williams said, that could change tomorrow. Or the next day.
"We're in the ninth round of a 12-round fight,'' one club source told me, "and we feel good about their chances, but nothing's final yet.'' With a state court siding with the players, it seems unlikely to be overturned before 2010. That's a huge factor for the Vikings, who play in a division in which one September loss owing to their failure to stop the run could mean a division title -- or a playoff berth.
New Face, New Place
Safe Rosenfels, quarterback, acquired from Houston in trade last spring. Rosenfels, 31, has never had a team to call his own. Imagine his joy when the Texans dealt him to a team that appears to be a competent quarterback away from winning the Super Bowl.
"I have to give thanks to [coach] Gary Kubiak and the Texans, because they didn't have to trade me here,'' Rosenfels told me. "But he told me he would try to do something that was best for me and my family, and he did. Coming here was a tremendous break for me.''
Phil Simms always has maintained that Rosenfels should have a chance to be an NFL starter because he thought he had a professional arm and brain. He's in a head-to-head battle with Tarvaris Jackson, and I think Childress is going to pick the man who can do two things well and make the fewest mental errors while moving the chains, and throw the deep ball efficiently. Jackson's arm is stronger. This camp will determine if he's more accurate deep than Rosenfels. On Thursday, both completed a deep ball to Harvin, and Jackson's perfect spiral was so effortless you wondered how much deeper it could have gone.
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