A year ago, Bobby Wade was playing out of position - asked to play out to the sidelines when he was ideally suited to be a slot receiver. That has changed this year and Wade's excitement over Saturday night's practice in front of a packed house in Mankato has him relishing the start of the season and his new role as the team's primary slot receiver.
The nine days of training camp have been a grind for many of the Vikings players – be they young players working on their conditioning or grizzled vets that have been around many training camps in their careers. But Saturday night, the team got a chance to perform in front of a capacity crowd at Blakeslee Stadium that was full of "oohs," "ahhs" and applause.
Wide receiver Bobby Wade
was bouncing around the sidelines joking and keeping the mood light on the sidelines. For him, Saturday's practice harkened back to when he first played in front of a stadium crowd.
"To get under the lights, it had an old-school high school feeling to it," Wade said. "It was great to see all these people out here cheering us on and it added to the excitement. You could see everybody turn it up a notch."
For the Vikings players, Saturday was the first chance since late December that they had played in front of a partisan crowd since last December, and Wade said there was a ripple of excitement in the air – pointing to the preseason opener next Friday against the Seahawks at the Metrodome.
"You could tell the guys are ready to get after it," Wade said. "We're only five or six days out from our first game when we get to go up against somebody else and you can tell it's getting ramped up a little bit. The pace of everything is starting to pick up and you can see that look on the guys' faces that they're ready to go."
Wade is especially happy to see the 2008 season coming. The excitement in the organization has been building since they made a big splash in the free-agent market and pulled off the blockbuster trade to get Jared Allen
on the team. Wade is most excited about the signing of Bernard Berrian
. Wade has enjoyed his most success as a receiver playing in the slot and, with Berrian taking over as the team's wide receiving deep threat, Wade said he's excited about the prospect of getting the season started.
"I'm looking forward to it," Wade said. "Last year, I had to play a lot of outside receiver, but now I can play more in the slot. I've always been comfortable there. I'll have fresh legs and will be able to do a lot more. We have a great rotation of receivers here, so we're all looking forward to doing our part."
As the practice ended to a huge ovation from the crowd, the players dispersed to enjoy their first day off of the camp. With the preseason just days from getting underway, the crowds will get bigger and the plays will matter much more.
"It's beginning to look like football season," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said on his way back to the locker room. "You feel the energy from the crowd and the younger guys were feeling. I have a feeling that Friday it will be a little louder and these guys find out just how many fans we have here."
SATURDAY NIGHT LIGHTS NOTES
Three players didn't take part in the evening practice – Marcus McCauley (knee), Garrett Mills (ankle) and Sidney Rice (stomach virus).
With McCauley out, Charles Gordon has been getting a lot of reps as the nickel corner with the first-team defense.
The entire team wore full-pad game uniforms Saturday night with both the road (defense) and home (offense) teams wearing purple pants instead of the regular practice gear.
The practice began with five players returning punts – Wade, Berrian, Jaymar Johnson, Aundrae Allison and Daniel Davis. Wade showed his veteran savvy during the drills. Of the five returners, Wade was the only one who looked back at the flags atop the goal posts to see which direction the wind was coming from.
Davis, who had a tough evening practice (see below), let the first punt return attempt bounce in front of him and skip past him.
It appeared as though the wide receiver corps was pretty dinged up. Allison had a sleeve over his right calf, Martin Nance had his left knee wrapped and Robert Ferguson had his right ankle taped during the practice after rolling it.
The crowd love for Adrian Peterson was apparent. Even such things as standing up a blocking sled in blocking drills earned A.D. cheers from the crowd.
The offensive line spent much of the early part of practice performing pulling drills.
The wide receivers had early drills involving running crossing routes at short range with the ball being fired both high and low. Davis had a tough series, dropping three passes. Nance, who has been catching nearly everything thrown his way, had two drops in the drill.
The safeties broke off on their own and practiced tracking down passes thrown over their heads. Darren Sharper made a couple of impressive centerfield-type catches.
Practice moved to Blakeslee Stadium at about 7:45 to a huge ovation from the waiting crowd.
On the running back drills in which they were practicing blitz pickup, Peterson had to hold Ben Leber to keep him from getting past him. However, on his next turn through, A.D. did a solid job of neutralizing LB Derrick Pope.
Thomas Tapeh looked dominant in the blitz pickup drill.
In their only head-to-head contest on a bomb, Sharper broke up a pass launched by Jackson intended for Berrian.
Darius Reynaud had a chance to make a huge play on another bomb from T-Jack, but the ball went through his hands for a long incompletion.
In the running back pass-catching drills, Naufahu Tahi burned Chad Greenway badly on one his patterns.
One of the biggest ovations of the night came when Peterson took a handoff up the middle and broke to daylight without being touched.
It wasn't all great for Peterson. On one 11-on-11 series between the first-team offense and defense, A.D. fumbled and E.J. Henderson scooped it up on the run and took it for a touchdown.
Chester Taylor got a little chippy, throwing a couple of serious stiff-arms to Gordon and Heath Farwell on a run that had long since been whistled down.
Ryan Longwell put on a show, booming a 26-yard field goal over the scoreboard and one-hopping a car parked near the road and making a 51-yarder with plenty of room to spare.
Running some series from the offense's 1-yard line, Peterson didn't appear to make it out of the end zone on a run in which he was cornered by Farwell and Pope. On the next play with the first-team defense back in, Kevin Williams buried Maurice Hicks for a safety.
Kenderick Allen's moment in the spotlight wasn't a good one, as he jumped offside and sent center Tim Mattran flying.
There was a scary moment as Gus Frerotte went down hard after being tripped by center John Sullivan on a planned rollout. Frerotte got up and didn't appear to be injured.
The offense threw a little trickery at the defense in the first-team 11-on-11 drills, forcing Sharper to call a time out before the snap because the defense had the wrong personnel.
Some audible gasps came from the crowd when Peterson met head-on in a big collision with Madieu Williams. Peterson went down on the play, but absorbed the hit and gained a couple more yards after contact.
Brooks Bollinger had the bomb of the night, throwing a TD pass to Allison, who had burned safety Husain Abdullah in coverage.
On one of his final plays, the offense called a QB draw and Jackson raced about 25 yards before being touched.
The NFL conducted its Hall of Fame Induction ceremony today in Canton, OH – a prelude to tomorrow's preseason opener between the Colts and Redskins. Twelve years ago on this date, Fran Tarkenton became the first player who spent most of his career with the Vikings to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
On this date in 1969, the Vikings kicked off their preseason schedule with a 45-10 drubbing of the Dolphins in Tampa. The Vikings would go on to dominate the league that season, winning their only NFL Championship before losing to the Chiefs of the AFL in Super Bowl IV.
The team will have its first off day Sunday. Practice will resume Monday morning from 9-11 a.m. and a special teams practice from 2:30-3:30 p.m.