The Vikings aren't leaving training camp without positives on several fronts, and Wednesday's final practice in Mankato saw several encouraging moments.
Adrian Peterson looked about as quick as ever on the few cuts he made, including one of his patented jump stops and lateral moves to a hole in the offensive line. But Peterson's comeback also marked what has been a relatively healthy camp.
Rookie receiver Greg Childs tore the patellar tendons in both of his knees, ending his season, but all of the players penciled in to be starters at the beginning of camp are still on track.
Tight end John Carlson, who sprained his medial collateral ligament in his right knee, said Wednesday he should return soon, indicating that the regular-season opener on Sept. 9 was on target. Nose tackle Letroy Guion (knee) is expected back in the next week or two, and the rest of the injuries are to backups or fringe roster players. After three weeks of camp and 11 full-pads practices, that's not a bad start to the season.
"It's a big deal in training camp. All you have to do is read the wires and see teams losing guys, but it's the NFL, so we are fortunate at this point," head coach Leslie Frazier said.
Beyond the injuries, though, the performance in Wednesday afternoon's final camp practice left players on both sides of the ball feeling good.
Christian Ponder was 9-for-11 passing in full-team drills that included some work on third-and-long situations. It was the last full-pads practice before the second preseason game, and Ponder also looked solid in his preseason debut, when he was just 4-for-9 but plagued by three incomplete passes that should have been caught and two throwaways that helped demonstrate a potentially more patient Ponder instead of the rookie that might have forced the ball last year.
However, the negative for the starting offense last Friday was not scoring touchdowns and having to settle for field goals on both of Ponder's drives. That's what prompted his quick reply when asked for his No. 1 goal for the second preseason game.
"Touchdowns," Ponder said without hesitation. "Two field goals on two drives (against San Francisco). Obviously we like points, but we need touchdowns to win in the NFL. We want to obviously continue scoring every drive, but we'd rather take seven than three."
The defense also had some highlights. Rookie Josh Robinson continued to impress as he returns from a pulled hamstring, jumping a route from Kerry Taylor and intercepting a Joe Webb pass that would have resulted in an interception for a touchdown. Jared Allen also caught first-round left tackle Matt Kalil off balance and blew through him for a sack.
Even special teams were looking good, with rookie kicker Blair Walsh connecting on all eight of his field goal attempts, including some pushing 50 yards that had 20 yards to spare with a breeze behind him.
Linebacker Chad Greenway said the up-tempo practice was a conscious effort to end training camp with a positive feeling, especially for a run defense that surrendered 260 yards to the San Francisco 49ers last Friday.
"You just want to come out and just finish. You don't want to come in and have it be a labor," he said of the final Mankato practice. "You don't have to go into the team meetings (Wednesday) night and go, ‘Wow, we didn't want it to end on a practice like that.' We're going into the second game and we didn't perform that well in the first game and have this whole bad feeling leaving camp and going to Winter Park."
After dealing with the headlines created by Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb and Bryant McKinnie over the past three years of camp, the Vikings finally had a relatively quiet summer stretch in Mankato. No arrests, no extended stays from the national media and no one unexpectedly failing physicals.
"How about the least distracted camp we've been part of? Obviously for a multitude of reasons. Nobody thinks we're any good, for one," Greenway said. "The second thing is that we don't have anyone here that's causing a lot of attention other than Adrian and him coming back and that's just been positive stuff. We were here. We were working. I don't think our first game indicated the type of work we were putting in. I think that's unfortunate. I think that's going to show in the long term, we hope, obviously. It was a good camp. I think Frazier has done a good job of wrangling in all these young guys we had on the team."
JABLONSKI BLOWING GJALLARHORN
Jack Jablonski, the former Benilde-St. Margaret's hockey player who was left a quadriplegic after he was checked from behind in a junior varsity hockey game in late December, will blow the Vikings' pregame Gjallarhorn Friday night after an invitation from Greenway.
Jablonski attended the final day of Vikings training camp Wednesday, but Greenway became familiar with Jablonski's story throughout the year after also meeting him in January.
"I didn't play hockey growing up, but I do know, living here long enough, that everybody grew up playing it in some form – pond, boot, organized, whatever. I think people relate to kids like Jack who have been in hockey games and have been hit like that on the ice," Greenway said. "Obviously, it's a great story and everybody wants to ride behind him. Especially somebody that young, it's hard being a teenager anyways, but then going through something like that, it could be pretty difficult."
Jablonski was thought to be permanently paralyzed, but he has been able to start moving his arms and has even walked on a treadmill with assistance from physical therapists.
"I haven't seen him since (about) January, obviously a few months," Greenway said. "It's amazing how far he's come in that amount time. It was cool to see him out here, see him happy and moving well. He looks incredible."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings camp finishes on high notes
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