The Minnesota Vikings got their first practice at U.S. Bank Stadium on Friday, but there are several elements the players need more experience with before making final judgments.
Yes, the stadium is an immense upgrade from anything Minnesota football has seen – $1.1 billion will do that. But players don’t play in fancy suites or locker rooms. To them, the field-level details are what matters.
For most fans, the awe factor will likely be heavy in the first few visits. For players, well, they’ve seen a lot of fancy stadiums in other cities.
“We go to stadiums all the time, other people’s stadiums that we’ve never played in, so we’ve got to go out there and not ever get to play on them and then you’ve got to play on them, so it’s good because it’s our home turf,” receiver Charles Johnson said after his first experience in U.S. Bank Stadium Friday. “But we go to other stadiums all the time and have to go out there and be ready, so it’s a playing field – you just go out there and play.”
Head coach Mike Zimmer wanted to practice at the new stadium on Friday to get the awe factor out of the way for players, and there were several moments when it seemed the players were intrigued. Chad Greenway found the camera on him and gave a flex for the massive high-definition video board prior to stretching. Kyle Rudolph and Teddy Bridgewater chest-bumped for the first touchdown there, albeit a simple throw in individual drills without a defender present.
But while the Vikings were getting used to things more on a logistical basis, there was an important question that wasn’t answered: How will the lighting and roof affect deep passes?
“I haven’t had any deep passes. That’s where it’s the most troubling – on deep passes with lighting and we didn’t really get none today since it was a Friday so we’ll have to test it out another day,” Johnson said.
Friday practices are mostly walk-through speed when games are on Sunday and that was case this week. In addition, Zimmer said he didn’t plan on having any more practices at the stadium in advance of other home games there.
With 60 percent of the roof made of the translucent ETFE, the sun could be a factor with receivers tracking deep passes during day games.
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“The ceiling, when we first got here the sun was kind of poking down there at that end, and I’ve got a sun study on my desk, but there’s a lot of things,” Zimmer said.
“Yeah. It’s really bright in here. I don’t think (Friday was) a real bright day, and even with the doors open right now you could actually feel the wind a little bit down here.”
LED lighting hovers above the upper deck and encompasses the top of the stadium. Those lights were on for Friday’s morning practice, and the lights could be blinding in certain areas at certain angles. That will have to be experienced to fully understand the effect.
“We didn’t get to catch too many deep passes or anything to really get to focus in on those or anything,” Johnson said. “When we get out here and throw a little bit more come game time (we will) see how it’s feeling.”
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One obvious component that fans will enjoy are the massive video boards located above the first deck behind each end zone. Fans from almost 20 years ago will remember Randy Moss looking at the Metrodome’s Jumbotron to locate defenders, and sometimes even the ball in the air before turning to make the catch.
Johnson believes the new and improved boards will provide the same advantage for the current receivers, at least after the ball is in their hands.
“If you break out, striking out when you’re running with the ball, it can help you if there are people chasing behind you – see where they’re at,” Johnson said. “Other than that, we probably won’t ever look at it. We won’t use it for catching or anything … only if you’re breaking out on a run.”
The Vikings hope to do far more of that than they did last year, but they might need to work through the intricacies of the stadium first.