“Adios. Number five in the books.”
That was the send-off from Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph Thursday afternoon as he walked off the field of Minnesota State, Mankato following his fifth training camp in the NFL.
Players took time between the morning practice and afternoon walk-through to finish cleaning out their dorm rooms. Many of the players’ cars were at the ready behind the locker room before the final walk-through even took place, with one engine even running during the practice.
“Neck’s sore,” receiver Cordarrelle Patterson said as he did the swift walk off the practice field. “Two weeks in these beds.”
The Vikings were celebrating their 50th anniversary of holding training camp in Mankato. For decades, they had been with the majority of NFL teams that held practice away from their team facility. Now only 12 of the 32 NFL teams don’t practice at their regular-season headquarters.
For Vikings players, that means moving into a dorm room for three weeks. Although 13-year NFL veteran Terence Newman has 10 training camps away from his team facility – one with the Vikings and nine with the Dallas Cowboys – this was his first time staying in a dorm room since his days at Kansas State.
Even at 36 years old, Newman didn’t mind the experience.
“It was pretty fun, though. I enjoyed it,” Newman said.
“It was actually nice. You don’t need a car. You save gas money. Ride a bike a couple minutes away. It’s amazingly convenient.”
Newman was half-joking about the savings on gas money, but he appreciated the bikes that are donated to players by a local sporting goods store and auctioned off after camp.
“Here you can just get on a bike and ride two minutes to meetings. That’s super convenient. So I wouldn’t mind it,” Newman said.
Without any arrests during camp, even the team’s security personnel were smiling and relaxed at the end of camp.
“We have a great tradition of coming down here,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “The facilities are good, the practice fields are fantastic, the training room is great, we’ve got a great weight room – everything about it is great.”
That’s why the Vikings signed a three-year extension to continue coming to Mankato, despite the NFL trend of more teams holding camp at their team facilities.
Players get a chance to know each other better by spending more time in the dorm. Meetings are close by, and food and drinks are a short bike ride, or 10-minute walk, away.
“I think it went pretty good. We definitely got some things accomplished that we wanted to get done down here,” quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. “We started to build an identity down here – a team that’s going to start fast and we want to keep that mindset, keep that identity throughout the course of the season.”
It was Zimmer’s second training camp with the Vikings. That meant the schemes employed by him on defense and Norv Turner on offense are ahead of pace from last year.
“I think this year we are a little further along as a defense,” linebacker Michael Mauti said. “Just because a lot of guys, this is our second year with Coach Zimmer and we know what the expectations are and so we’ve been trying to meet those and just get better every day.”
It wasn’t as easy on rookies, and it never is.
“Coming into it, I tried not to put too many expectations on myself,” said undrafted rookie safety Anthony Harris. “I just tried to come out here, get better each day, learn what I could from the players around me and the coaches, and I felt like if I got better each day that was good progress. So I think I did pretty well coming out of camp.”
For Bridgewater, the location of camp remained the same as his rookie season, but the comfort level was dramatically increased.
“Whether it’s the campus here at Minnesota State University or just knowing what to expect when I go out to practice, knowing what to expect in the meetings when we’re installing plays and things like that,” Bridgewater said. “A year ago I was sitting in the meetings and my head would just be spinning like, ‘Man, we’re doing this many plays tomorrow’ and to have a year under my belt, it just raises the comfort level. But like I said, I’m still learning the game, still mastering this offense and you know I’m not where I want to be.”
He’ll have another chance to get closer to his on-field goals with the Vikings’ second preseason game Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And then the Vikings return to their Winter Park confines in Eden Prairie for the next five months or so.
Until next summer, it’s adios, Mankato.
Vikings break camp with mixed feelings
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