The Vikings will open their three-day mandatory minicamp Friday amid expectations that this is a team that should be a serious contender in the NFC this season.
This comes after non-playoff finishes of 6-10 and 8-8 in Brad Childress' first two years as Vikings head coach.
Minnesota has been holding practices as part of their organized team activities the past two-plus weeks. Center Matt Birk has been absent for all of those, running back Chester Taylor has missed the majority of them and running back Adrian Peterson also hasn't been around for a few.
But the entire roster is expected to be at Winter Park this weekend, including Birk.
Birk is entering the last year of his contract and so far the Vikings have made no attempt to discuss a legitimate extension with him. Birk has decided to stay away from the team's optional workouts and has been training on his own.
Agent Joe Linta made it clear that Birk will be present for this mandatory event. "Out of respect to Coach (Brad) Childress and the team, Matt intends to be at the minicamp," Linta said.
While Birk figures to be one storyline of this camp, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson also will be a primary focus. Granted these are offseason workouts, but the second-year starter is still going to have a spotlight on him.
His development is absolutely instrumental to any success the Vikings might have in 2008. This is a team that has added big-name free-agent receiver Bernard Berrian on offense and safety Madieu Williams and Pro Bowl end Jared Allen on defense.
Jackson, however, is the key variable and any chance to see how he's progressing is going to draw plenty of attention.
"Coming in as a first-rounder there's a lot of pressure on you," said James, who was taken by the Vikings in the first round of the 2005 draft and battled knee injuries the past two seasons. "A lot of guys think because you're a first-rounder, you're going to come in and start. ... And that's the worst thing to come in as, especially as a rookie with people like that, because you can't get any help. It's kind of like you fend for yourself. It's nice to be around older guys who are not out there to say, ‘Hey, there's this new guy coming in.' It's not like that at all. You can learn from these guys. I'm real excited about that."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's been great. He listens. I can talk to him. He's got so much ability. I don't talk to him a lot because obviously right now he knows a heck of a lot more about the offense than I do because he's been in it for three years. But I just give him little tips on what he should look at doing. He's really doing well out here. I'm really impressed. He knows the offense, knows what the coaches want. I think it's going to be a good relationship." — Veteran quarterback Gus Frerotte on working in a mentor-type role with starter Tarvaris Jackson.