"It's a grind for everybody. I don't know if you ever get used to it," Pro Bowl center Matt Birk said about this time of year in the NFL schedule. "You have to push, you have to grind. Mentally and physically you do get worn down. That's what you have to do. Mentally, you have to make sure you're as fresh as you can be. Physically, you have to take care of your body. It's always a push to Sunday. It's always a push to get your body and mind ready for Sunday."
In years past, Childress has given players what they call "Victory Monday," a day off following a regular-season win. Early this season, that wasn't the case. This week, however, Childress gave his players Monday and Tuesday off despite losing to Tampa Bay on Sunday.
Why the change? For one, Childress said the Bucs game was especially physical. Secondly, it's a product of the temperatures outside in Minnesota at this time of year, which forces the Vikings to their indoor practice facility. Despite the indoor facility sporting FieldTurf, it's still a harder surface to practice on than natural grass, and Childress doesn't want his players' bodies physically beat down before they enter games.
"When you get forced inside to practice on this … this it takes a toll. This is a good facility, but guys are never fond of going on Astroturf day in and day out," Childress said. "So when you get driven inside with the weather the way it is, you have to count reps, and I know how my back feels out here."
"That's been his theory the last couple of years," said kicker Ryan Longwell. "Guys just get banged up this time of year. There is no way around it when you're practicing this intense every day.
"You show up Sunday just hoping that your body is fresh for the guys that are running and hitting every play. The more rest you can give guys this time of year is a benefit, and I think that's the approach he's taking."
As an 11-year veteran who has spent his entire NFL career in Minnesota, Birk is thankful that Childress is able to loosen the practice reins come November and December.
"You certainly appreciate that as a veteran player. … You have to make sure that you take advantage of that and you do everything you can do to use that time wisely and make sure what you do in your time away from work is constructive," Birk said.
The NFL Players Association has rules about how many days off its players get during the season, but Childress said "there (are) no articles in terms of how you do that." The rules, he said, only specify a certain number of days off per month, so he could give two days off one week and none the next week. While he said he considers everything in that regard, it seems that he is being more cautious to not wear out his players so they aren't too worn down to attempt a late-season run to the playoffs.
Longwell said that as the season goes on, coaches are able to also limit the practice times since they aren't installing as many new concepts or plays as they were back in training camp, when two-a-day practices in August could be performed on the natural grass at Minnesota State, Mankato.
"You don't need the two-and-a-half hour practices like you do in Mankato to install the base package stuff. I think after four months of it, there is a knowledge level that you don't need to be out there."
THE WALL RETURNS
The Williams Wall, made up of Pro Bowl defensive tackles Pat Williams and Kevin Williams, returned to practice on Friday after spending Thursday in New York appealing their four-game suspensions for violating the league's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances. They each practiced fully on Friday.
If a suspension is handed down, it likely wouldn't be announced until at least early next week, as the NFL usually announces those suspensions early in the process of teams preparing for their next games.
"Whether you're disciplining your children or you're disciplining players or anybody involved in our society, you have to make sure that you keep a balance of educating them, making sure they understand their consequences, but most importantly they're held accountable and that they're responsible for their actions," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said earlier this week on NFL Network.
While Darren Sharper said Thursday that the meeting rooms were quieter without the Williamses there, he didn't want to think about the potential of losing them for any amount of time.
"I try not to think about that. That's a nightmare. You don't like to have nightmares and I don't like to have them either. I'll let that thought not cross my mind," Sharper said.
Childress said Thursday that he has no expectations on a timeline for the league resolving the Williamses' appeals.
Asked about playing for Tice for two years, Winfield said, "He would say anything. Held you accountable, pointed you out, but that's a good thing. We all need that."
"There are a few things that they can hook him up to and make him feel a little bit better, reduce swelling," Childress said. "(It's) good to see a smiling face. (It's) a left-foot injury so he can still drive a car."