Let's Go Camping

Vikings head coach Brad Childress has assembled the cast of characters he's convinced can bring the Vikings back to the top of the NFC North. Next week he gets his last hands-on look before training camp.

The term "offseason" really no longer applies to the NFL. Back in the glory days of the Vikings, Bud Grant would assemble his players about a week before their first preseason game and coach them up until they were eliminated or went to the Super Bowl. From January to July, they were on their own.

Not so anymore. The Vikings concluded their latest round of OTAs (Organized Team Activities) Thursday and, following next week's minicamp, they will be to their own devices for only a month before training camp officially begins.

The NFL and the players union have come a long way in creating a system that keeps the teams and the players working together during the offseason. While the term "voluntary" is used to describe many of the offseason programs, have no doubt about it -- the players are encouraged and sometimes incentivized to come.

Take one look at Green Bay and you see that the option of skipping the OTA is viewed as a worst-case scenario. At least a dozen Packers have opted out of their OTAs and it is being viewed by their media as a quasi-mutiny.

The final minicamp will give the coaching staff a chance to stack their depth chart and get a final look at their players before it all starts for real at the end of July. The NFL has become a 12-month-a-year business and whether you call them voluntary programs or Organized Team Activities, it's time you call it what it really is -- year-round workouts.

* The signing of DE Khreem Smith Thursday gives the Vikings 91 players on their roster.
* The Vikings raised more than $100,000 Thursday for the Viking Children's Fund at their annual celebrity golf tournament at Rush Creek Golf Club in Maple Grove.

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