Vikings go back to ‘training camp mode’

The Vikings are going back to basics as they resumed practices this week after a five-game start to the season that featured numerous extremes and important injuries.

The Minnesota Vikings’ fortunes have shifted wildly in the first five games. The only constant? They have been underdogs.

In the season opener, they upset the St. Louis Rams in big fashion, 34-6, in St. Louis. That gave them renewed confidence about winning on the road.

But that big win in St. Louis, which might have been Adrian Peterson’s only game for the season, was followed by a blowout loss to the New England Patriots, 30-7. The ensuing loss to the New Orleans Saints, 20-9, was Matt Cassel’s final game of the year, as well as Brandon Fusco’s. Cassel suffered season-ending broken bones in his foot and Fusco a torn pectoral muscle.

But Teddy Bridgewater’s first start at quarterback prompted a 41-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons and their top-ranked offense at the time. Bridgewater was sharp and gave the Vikings renewed hope that they might be contenders, even without their Pro Bowl running back and veteran quarterback. But Bridgewater was also hurt in that game and missed a follow-up rout at the hands of the Green Bay Packers, 42-10.

In summation, the Vikings have lost their starting quarterback, running back and right guard for the season, and their most veteran defensive starter (Chad Greenway) and pass-catching tight end (Kyle Rudolph) for multiple games.

They haven’t played a game decided by less than 11 points.

Perhaps all the changes in personnel are why they are returning to basics this week.

“The key is we’ve got to focus on ourselves, to the mode we were in in training camp – focus on ourselves making plays and going out there and executing,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “That’s where we’re at right now, focusing in on ourselves and taking it one game at a time and see what happens.”

With a 2-3 record, the Vikings are far from out of the NFC North competition. Despite the disheartening loss to division-rival Green Bay, the Vikings have a chance to beat the division-leading Detroit Lions. But with an extended weekend after that Thursday night game, the players got three days off and the coaches used the time to focus on their own players, schemes and play-calling rather than devising an immediate game plan against the Lions.

“Honestly, the most helpful was being able to go back and not be grinding on someone else, but looking at us and who we are and what we are doing and where we need to go,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “Without getting into specifics on different things, it’s just good self-evaluation.”

Left tackle Matt Kalil said the self-scout was designed to emphasize what the Vikings do well and correct the wrongs. The schemes may be scaled back, the play-calling could change and even the personnel were evaluated.

“We are evaluating all that today,” Zimmer said on Tuesday as the Vikings resumed practices. “That was a lot about today and some of the things that we did. We will keep going forward.

“I’m an emotional person and sometimes it’s good for me to reflect back on not just the bad plays that I see, but go back and re-evaluate all of the things and the good plays that we’ve had, too. It’s still a combination of things and we will continue to look at the best ways that we can make this team better – whether it’s personnel, scheme or coaching.”

Offensively, the personnel possibilities are a bit limited because of injuries, but one area of emphasis could be getting playmaking receiver Cordarrelle Patterson more involved. Since rushing for 102 yards on three rushes in the season-opening win, he has had just one carry – for a 7-yard loss. In the last two games, he has been targeted only eight times in the passing game for a combined four catches and 46 yards.

Defensively, the Vikings have maintained a healthy rotation on the defensive line, but the loss of Greenway has limited the personnel substitutions at the linebacker level of the defense. With his three broken ribs still lingering, he began conditioning on the side on Tuesday and said he is taking things “day by day.”

The potential changes in the secondary might also be limited by an ankle injury to Harrison Smith. He was in a walking boot and using crutches on Friday and didn’t practice on Tuesday. His status for the Detroit game on Sunday is unknown. But the other starting safety, Robert Blanton, “can play better,” Zimmer said Friday after Blanton missed several tackles with bad angles and trying to tackle too high over the last few games.

Mostly, though, the focus of the first practices back at Winter Park this week were and will be on the fundamentals, especially on defense.

“Just to go back to the basics, how to fit in runs, how to fit in passes, how to go out there and execute, that’s what we’re trying to do,” Munnerlyn said. “I think this is a great week for us, just go out there and play football. Go out there and play faster and go out there and make plays.”

And possibly get their season on a more consistent winning path.

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