The Minnesota Vikings practiced under the lights in Blakeslee Stadium on the Minnesota State, Mankato campus for the first time this training camp. The coaching staff said that they like to use this opportunity as a preparation for the preseason games because the amount of fans present almost give the practice a game-like atmosphere.
That was definitely the case on Saturday night when an estimated 10,300 fans packed not only both sides of the stadium but the hillside at the end of the field as well. Some even had to be turned away because there was no more room anywhere in the stadium.
The excitement for the 2015 season could be felt as the fans were cheering for any glimmer of a breakout play, in part because the offensive plays always looked more explosive since there was no tackling. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater could feel the energy from the fans and was amazed by it all.
“What an exciting atmosphere tonight,” he said. “The fans, they’re amazing, and to be able to come out today and give them a show. Some guys showed up big-time tonight, talking about No. 14 Stefon Diggs. Still a young guy, he’s showing what it takes to play in this league and we’re glad to have him. We have a long way to go still, but tonight just showed us where we are. The thing about this, a week from now we’ll be in Canton, Ohio getting ready to play in our first preseason game, so really excited to get back to work.”
If there were an MVP award given out to a player for this practice, it would have gone to Diggs. He has been showing off his speed and elusiveness throughout training camp but it seemed as though when the lights overhead turned on he took it to a whole new level.
He caught two touchdowns from second-string quarterback Shaun Hill. The first one was a vertical route where he beat Marcus Sherels on the left sideline and pulled away down to the end zone, also passing the safety help that Sherels had. Hill was then able to connect with him for the touchdown of about 40 yards.
The second touchdown came in a red zone scenario where the offense had to punch it in. Diggs was once again lined up out wide to Hill’s left. He ran into the end zone and Hill threw him the ball instantly. Diggs was then able to outjump Sherels and come down in bounds for his second touchdown of the night.
“ It was great,” Bridgewater said of Diggs’ performance. “You talk about a guy like Stefon, he comes in, works hard – that entire group of wide receivers come in and work hard every day. And Diggs, he has a good group of guys in front of him to set a great example. Mike Wallace, Cordarrelle Patterson, Adam Thielen, Jarius Wright and those guys, Charles Johnson, do a great job setting a good example of what it takes to play in this league. And they show him what hard work is and he comes out everyday and just competes.”
Another young player that also stood out, this time on defense, was first-round pick Trae Waynes. He got some work in with the first-team defense as the nickel corner during the night practice. There was one play where he was lined up on Mike Wallace and Wallace ran a post route up the middle of the field. Waynes looked as though he may have been beat right away but he was able to recover and break up the pass, causing the incompletion.
Later, when he was with the second-team defense working in the two-minute drill, he made another nice play. The defense looked as though they were dropped back into zone coverage and Hill tried to throw the ball to his right. Waynes, however, was able to jump up into the air and get a hand on the ball and once again cause an incomplete pass.
The Vikings coaching staff wanted to see how their young players would play in a game-like scenario in front of cheering fans, and these two appeared to have passed the test. Now they just need to carry this momentum into their practices and get ready for the Hall of Fame Game next Sunday.