Postcard from camp: Vikings
Donovan McNabb is happy for a fresh start in Minnesota after trade from Redskins
Leslie Frazier brings a much-needed steadiness to a team that will experience lows
With Sidney Rice and Brett Favre gone, Bernard Berrian will need to step up
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In the familiar setting of Mankato, Minn., where the Vikings have trained every summer for 46 years now. It was a somber beginning to camp at Mankato on Monday, because it happened to be the 10th anniversary of that tragic day here when Vikings Pro Bowl offensive tackle Korey Stringer fell victim to complications from heat stroke. Stringer's death was remembered by Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier, who gathered his team at midfield for a moment of silence just before the workout began, and the club also painted his No. 77 prominently on its main practice field. Only one Viking, tight end Jim Kleinsasser, remains from that 2001 team Stringer was on.
1. It's another fresh start for Donovan McNabb, and he's happy to be anywhere but Washington. McNabb can't practice until Thursday of this week, and he doesn't have a ton of time to learn the offense of new Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. But those seemed to be minor irritations on Monday, and he told me he was just pleased that his escape from the Redskins transpired so quickly after the lockout ended.
"I'm just thankful that it was (dealt with), and thankful that it didn't get to an ugly situation,'' said McNabb, making it clear he didn't relish the idea of a second training camp with Washington. "It's good to get a breath of fresh air and get away from that mess. And that's exactly what it was, it was a mess. But I've put that behind me.''
McNabb said he doesn't anticipate a tough transition to Musgrave's offense, because there are similarities in both scheme and terminology with the offense he ran in Philadelphia for 11 years. We'll see about that, but he seems unconcerned. "I can get back to just playing football again and the way I was taught,'' McNabb said.
2. Bryant McKinnie either doesn't get it or doesn't care. The Vikings' starting offensive left tackle on Monday was placed on the non-football injury list to start training camp, giving the team and its already shaky offensive line a problem it really didn't need. No specifics were given as to what McKinnie's issue is, but it certainly appeared McKinnie reported to camp well north of his listed 335 pounds and out of shape. Despite his promises in recent years to pay more attention to his conditioning, McKinnie didn't likely spend gobs of time during the 4½-month lockout working out.
The Vikings probably used the non-football injury designation because McKinnie's lack of conditioning transpired during the lockout, and that should allow Minnesota to hold back some of his roster and workout bonuses, as well as a portion of his $4.9 million salary if need be. If he's not activated from the NFI list before the team's Sept. 11 opener, he couldn't return until the team's seventh game of the regular season. (The Vikings finally ran out of patience with McKinnie on Tuesday, unceremoniously releasing the nine-year veteran.) The Vikings responded to McKinnie's situation Monday by immediately signing ex-Colt Charlie Johnson to their roster, giving them some insurance at left tackle.
3. The best thing the 2011 Vikings have going for them is that Leslie Frazier's in charge. The team's former defensive coordinator commands the respect of the entire locker room, and when he talks in his somewhat soft-spoken way, everyone hangs on his words. These Viking players wanted him to be their head coach, and they very much want to produce for him and win with him. I know this much: Frazier is going to keep a steady hand on his team, and he'll guide it through the rocky parts of the season with a deft touch. I think he's going to be very Tony Dungy-esque in that way, and his best coaching might come when things looks the bleakest.
Bernard Berrian, wide receiver. The Vikings restructured Berrian's contract on Monday, dropping his scheduled $6.3 million salary cap figure this year down to a much more palatable number. That probably ensures that he'll be in Minnesota again this season, which wasn't looking likely before the move.
Having lost receiver Sidney Rice to Seattle in free agency, the Vikings need Berrian to rebound from a desultory 2010 season, in which he caught just 28 passes for 252 yards, with zero touchdowns. Frazier said he's confident Berrian and McNabb will click, but that certainly wasn't the case with Berrian and the Vikings' last veteran quarterback. It was thought that Brett Favre didn't like throwing the ball to Berrian and didn't trust him in key situations, and the hope is that no Favre means the return of the old Berrian.
With McNabb in house, who knows how long it'll take for the Vikings to fully launch their Christian Ponder era, but the rookie quarterback from Florida State has made a favorable early impression on almost everyone around here. He certainly looks, acts and sounds like a franchise quarterback, and Frazier told me he believes having those traits is an important component of the leadership half of the job. Now if the kid can play, the Vikings will really have something special on their hands. It's too early to know that at the NFL level, but people who have watched him in Minnesota so far say Ponder "gets it,'' and will do the work necessary to give himself the best possible chance to succeed.
The Vikings appear headed for another 6-10 finish this season, which probably puts them in the cellar of the NFC North unless Chicago collapses. We should know plenty about the Vikings after a tough four-game midseason stretch that includes a Week 6 Sunday night game at Chicago, a home date against the defending Super Bowl champion Packers in Week 7, a trip to Carolina in Week 8, and a Monday night rematch in Green Bay in Week 10.