Leslie Frazier (Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY)
The Vikings have had an unseasonably cool training camp, which isn’t exactly what coach Leslie Frazier was looking for. Veterans like Kevin Williams, who said the best part of camp is the conclusion, don’t mind the temperatures.
No question the Vikings have had the mildest weather for their 2013 training camp as they have perhaps in franchise history. Temperatures rarely got over 80 degrees and there were only a couple of days in which the humidity was uncomfortable and that was only for about an hour at a time.
It’s been a training camp like few others, for more reasons than one. When coaches want to work their players and push there physical endurance, heat is always a motivator. Anyone can play in climate-controlled conditions. Heat brings out the inner reserve when exhaustion hits. The heat has been missing since the start of camp.
When the elements couldn’t provide the exhaustion factor, the ability to grind players through two-a-day practices day after day after day could be the great equalizer.
But, thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement, the Vikings haven’t been able to have more than one padded practice a day. Frazier referred to the 2013 training camp as a “player’s dream” with only one padded practice and unseasonably cool weather that has made this year’s camp one without a single day of scorching-hot temperatures. He said “I like a little heat” to get the linemen sweating a little bit.
Frazier has had a couple of “back in my day” lectures with his players, but much of it is falling on deaf ears because the grind of training camp isn’t as oppressive as it used to be and rules from the NFL down to high school have changed the way coaches put their players through their paces.
“A few guys, like Kevin Williams, he remembers what it was like with two-a-days and hitting every day,” Frazier said. “There’s not that many more (players) – even the guys coming from college don’t know what it is to go back-to-back (padded practices) back to back (days). It’s different.”
So what does Big Kev think about the new-look practices, especially in temperatures that would be more in keeping with a June minicamp than an August training camp.
“Hey, we’re in pads,” Williams said with a smile. “Any time you’re in pads, you pretty much have to go full speed to protect yourself and make plays or you get pushed around. You don’t want to get pushed around.”
Williams and other key veterans have been eased into the preseason, but that has been a common practice from back in the Bud Grant days. If you had earned your stripes, you don’t have to risk your body more than is deemed necessary in the preseason. But even those who have been through 11 training camps like Williams has knows that they have value.
“We use it as a measuring point for some of the veteran guys and positioning for the younger guys,” Williams said. “The guys who are fighting for spots need to see how they adapt and how they play with their own peers. Most of the guys they’re going against are first-, second- or third-year guys. You have to see how they measure up. Can they carry over to what we’re doing in a game-like situation.”
The one thing Williams learned early on in his career is that you can never be concerned about getting hurt, even though it is a primary concern of the coaching staff. The two sides are polar opposites because, as Williams has seen over his decade-plus in the NFL, if a player doesn’t maintain his focus in games deemed as being meaningless by the general public, he’ll be on the sideline when that game counts.
“The coaches can have their concerns about players getting hurt, but, as a player, you can’t go out there and think about potentially getting hurt,” Williams said. “The minute you start playing cautious, that’s when you roll an ankle or some guy catches you blindside. You never know when you can get injured in football. That’s the crazy part about it. You always have to protect yourself and play your technique and basically play to the best of your ability because you never know when you could get hurt. You have to play all-out because, if you don’t and another guy is, that’s when you get hurt.”
Although Williams can get nostalgic late in his career about the severity of training camp from the “back in my day” days, he will be as happy as the tired rookie when camp breaks after a short Thursday morning practice in Mankato. It may not be the brutal camp of years past, but Williams is still happy about seeing a backward image of the “Welcome To Mankato” sign in his rearview mirror.
“I’m definitely ready to get out of Mankato,” Williams said. “Three weeks is long enough for here. We’re still going to be doing the same type of stuff when we get (to Winter Park), but at least you’re going home with your family and sleeping in your own bed. The best part of training camp is when it’s done.”
Christian Ballard isn’t at camp “for personal reasons” although he is nursing a groin injury, Frazier said.
Injured cornerback Jacob Lacey was referred to as “the only person that isn’t out here that we’re counting on.” Lacey had an arthroscopic surgical procedure on his knee Monday that is expected to sideline him for two to four weeks.
Sharrif Floyd was back on the practice field and, aside from Lacey and potentially Ballard, everyone is expected to be ready for Friday’s game at Buffalo, which would be the first action of the season for rookie Xavier Rhodes and free agent signee Desmond Bishop.
The Vikings practiced for situational plays that could occur during games. One of the focuses was the no-huddle offense.
Several defensive players were chanting to have practice in “shells.” Frazier said he will consider allowing the team to practice with hitting in mind, but said he is doubtful that will happen with just two full days left of camp.
The team is planning on keeping offensive lineman Travis Bond at guard for the time being, but Frazier said that the potential exists for him to get opportunities to play tackle as well.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.