Jared Allen (Tom Dahlin/Viking Update)
According to the veteran players, this was the easiest training camp since Brad Childress became head coach of the Vikings, and it wrapped up with the lightest practice yet on Thursday. See what the players had to say about the 2008 version of Camp Childress.
The Vikings finished their 2008 training camp with a light practice that had the players in shorts and jerseys while wearing visors and baseball hats, and wide receiver Bobby Wade even wore his sunglasses.
Safety Darren Sharper was among a throng of players who said this was the easiest training camp yet since Brad Childress took over as head coach in 2006.
“(2006) was a rough one. That was his first year here and he put it to us pretty good,” Sharper said. “I think this camp was a good camp mentally. We hit a lot of classroom work. He tried to work our minds as much as our bodies, but not our bodies as much as our minds. Either way, we’re prepared to go into this next preseason game and also prepared to start the season off fast.”
Wade said there was a reason for the easier camp.
“He kept us more fresh and we were able to compete a lot more because we weren’t so dragged down from legs being completely gone. Plus, we went a lot of time in the offseason getting in shape. We had a great attendance in those OTAs and the offseason workouts, so guys were in great shape this year,” Wade said.
Although camp opened on July 25 with about a one-hour rain delay, the Vikings avoided having to practice inside throughout the camp. That meant all 31 practices, including three special-teams sessions, were conducted on natural grass, which helps keep the players from getting too sore.
“Our guys love that,” Childress said. “They love the fact that they are able to be on the grass and save (their) legs to the extent that they can. It’s a lot easier to fall down on (the grass), and they’re going to fall down.”
But even with only four practices in full pads, including one in River Falls, Wis. against the Kansas City Chiefs, players were still looking forward to the end of camp.
“I’m excited, to be honest. Camp is over and everyone knows how camp is,” said running back Adrian Peterson. “We just came here and stayed focused. We got a lot of work done, a lot of good work, but it feels good to be done with training camp. It’s like boot camp.”
Defensive end Jared Allen might beg to differ with that last assessment.
“This camp was a breeze, to be honest,” Allen said. “We got a lot of good work, a lot of learning, especially this last week I feel that personally my game is picking up. I’m where I need to be at this time. As a team, I know defensively we’ve cleaned up a lot of stuff from that first week.”
Even a couple of rookies were impressed that it wasn’t more taxing.
“I was expecting it to be a little bit faster. That kind of shocked me,” said wide receiver Jaymar Johnson, a sixth-round pick. “I was expecting it to be like lightning all over the field, but it wasn’t. I guess the coach did a good enough job of preparing all the rookies so we’d know what to expect.”
Erin Henderson, an undrafted rookie linebacker, agreed with Sharper’s assessment that this year’s camp was more challenging for the mind than the body.
“In college, it’s a lot more physical, beating each other up day after day. Here it’s more mental. I guess when you have a veteran team like we do, you’re able to accomplish the same things without killing each other every day,” Henderson said.
Childress named the injuries – the Vikings lost LB Heath Farwell, DE Jayme Mitchell and OL Mike Jones to season-ending injuries – as the big disappointment of training camp, although at least two of those injuries occurred during Friday’s preseason opener and not in practices.
On the positive side, he said he’s seen the growth in his team over the last three weeks.
“There are a lot of things I am pleased with. Am I satisfied? No, I’m not satisfied. You’ve seen the growth and I always believe it’s good to get away to training camp even though we continue in training camp mode when we go back up to Winter Park,” Childress said. “I just think that when you’ve got that many guys living together in kind of Spartan quarters, that it’s the old ‘common problems lead to common solutions.’ They have spent a lot of time with each other and you see some good bonding.”
Following their second preseason game in Baltimore on Saturday, the Vikings will return to practice at Winter Park on Monday. The schedule will move from the two-a-days at camp to a morning walk-through practice with a full practice in the afternoons. Those practices will be out of view from the crowds that attended the Mankato practices – which numbered in excess of 50,000.
Sharper called the work done in a camp a gradual progression, and he stressed the need to bring extra comforts from home – an extra mattress, maybe even a pillow-top one, pillows and some sort of sound system – to deal with three weeks of living in a dorm. But, while Sharper won’t mind leaving the living conditions behind, he will miss the crowds and interaction that training camp brought.
“They say parting is such sweet sorrow. I would say it’s just a little bit of sweet sorrow. … I’m kind of sad to leave my dormitory room with my twin-sized bed, but that’s alright though,” he said. “I am going to be sad to leave this town of Mankato because there are a lot of nice people here, so that’s going to be a little bit sad, but I’m sure I’ll see them in the future.”