Extra week will benefit Vikings’ unknowns

The Vikings will start their offseason program at the same time as most teams, but this year they will have an extra week of training camp thanks to the schedule-makers.

For the second straight year, thanks to unfortunate circumstances for everyone other than the coaching staff, the Vikings are getting a competitive advantage in terms of how NFL rules and selections have impacted the Vikings.

Once again this year, the Vikings will have an extra week of time for the coaching staff to make more informed decisions on who stays and who goes on the Vikings final roster.

As part of the rules of the NFL collective bargaining agreement, teams that fire their head coach after the end of the season kicked in for the Vikings last year. When Leslie Frazier was shown the door at Winter Park, Mike Zimmer and his staff were allowed under the CBA to start their offseason activities a week before the rest of the NFL that had returning coaching staffs. While casual fans discount the OTA sessions because there’s no hitting, it is a chance for coaches to get their hands on the young players a scout saw something in – the Dirty Dozen at the back end of the 53-man roster.

The year, the Vikings’ won’t have that extra minicamp, as their practice schedule from April through June was announced Thursday.

But what the Vikings have this season is even more substantial. When the NFL announced its preseason schedule, Vikings fans were happy to see that their lads were selected to play Pittsburgh in the Hall of Fame Game. As a result, training camp opens one week earlier for the Vikings and the Steelers than it does for the other 30 teams because Minnesota and Pittsburgh will be playing five preseason games instead of the standard four.

You can bet there were probably some moans and groans from veteran players when the preseason schedule was announced. As meaningless as the preseason is in terms of the overall presentation of the NFL, having five games instead of four – and the additional week of practice leading up to the game – isn’t anything that players who have been there, done that want to deal with.

But from the coaching perspective, it’s a valuable tool. Not only do the Vikings get an extra week of practice time and an additional game film to watch to evaluate players on the roster, they do so with pads on and the potential for live hitting in practice. It’s one thing to get a week of OTAs to make talent evaluations and comparative analysis of the players vying for roster spots. It’s another to have the season “officially” get underway a week early.

Fans understand the role of the preseason. Teams don’t want to risk potential injuries to their star players, which is why Adrian Peterson hasn’t played a down of preseason football for the last three years. There’s no need to. But for Zimmer and his coaching staff, it will be an additional week to allow young players and undrafted free agents to make an impression, whether on the practice field or on game night.

It may not seem like that big of an advantage, but in a world in which teams are asked to follow the same set of rules, the Vikings and Steelers are going to have some extra time to make the decisions that will help comprise the final 53-man roster. If there is a weakness at a certain position, the Vikings will have an additional week and an extra game to figure out if they can make do with what they have or if they will need to make a trade or scour the waiver wire when cuts are made to shore up that position.

Players as a general rule don’t like the preseason. The less likely they are to make the roster, the more the beneficial they find the preseason. But as the Vikings continue to morph their roster from the Brad Childress/Leslie Frazier regime into a roster in Zimmer’s vision and image, the more opportunities they have to evaluate players is critical – much less under live conditions at training camp or in the extra game.

Fans will get accustomed to the unfamiliar names that see the most playing time in the preseason. It’s the nature of the business of preseason football. But for the coaching staff, it could be the difference between a handful of players making the roster as opposed to being longshot camp bodies fighting for a spot on the 53-man roster.

The CBA gave the Vikings an extra week last year to evaluate the roster before June. The schedule makers did it this year and you can bet that, while players who know their roster spot is secure likely aren’t thrilled at the prospect of an extra work week, the coaches and those fighting and clawing to be the 53rd man on the roster are seeing the additional work time as an opportunity, which is all that many of the unknowns are looking for – a fair chance to showcase themselves and raise the right eyebrows to make a lasting impression.

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