After about three months away from the Vikings' Winter Park training facility for some of the players, the majority of the team returned this week to begin their offseason conditioning program.
Players are divided into three groups, one in the early morning, one late morning and one early afternoon to lift weights and do cardiovascular training under the watchful eye of the Vikings' trainers and strength and conditioning coaches.
This year, head coach Brad Childress started the offseason program a few weeks later than he did in his first three years at the helm.
"We got those extra couple of weeks and we really could use them," defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. "Just feel great getting started. It gives us a bit more time to sit back and relax and get your mind ready to come back and get this thing started."
The delayed start could have to do with the players becoming more familiar with Childress' expectations and Childress not wanting to wear the players out before the start of a grinding NFL season.
"It is a veteran team and for the most part for the past couple of days a lot of guys coming in shape," safety Madieu Williams said. "He put ownership on a lot of the guys to make sure that over the course of the break, even though it is a break, you've got to continue to work and stay in shape. For the most part, guys came in in shape, guys are looking like they are ready to play and there is not a lot of guys bending over after sprints and stuff like that. It goes to show that he knows his team. There is a lot of ownership on the guys to show that they'll do the little things over the course of the break."
Some players, like center John Sullivan, barely left. Sullivan is the favorite to take over as the starting center spot for Matt Birk, who left for Baltimore via free agency. Sullivan has spent time since January studying film and getting ready for the possibilities of starting in his second year in the league.
Others – usually the more veteran players – took time to relax with their families, an activity that isn't in big supply from August through the end of the season.
Madieu Williams was one of the veterans taking advantage of what little offseason remains in the modern NFL.
"Relaxing, man," he said when asked how he's spent his offseason. "Spending a lot of time with my family … because for the most part we spend a lot of time away from them over the course of the season. We have a couple of months off and I spend a lot of time with them."
Even Tyrell Johnson, a 2008 second-round draft pick who is expected to take over for Darren Sharper, has learned to take time off when giving the opportunity.
"When Coach Childress gives you a break, you need to take a break and just let your mind rest from football, so when you're coming in you want to stay in shape enough to where you don't get hurt when you come into intense training like this," he said. "You're a little bit in shape, but you don't want to burn yourself out by the time you come here because it is a long season."
For now, the emphasis is on strength and conditioning. After the draft, the rookies will have an opportunity to get up to speed, and the team's organized team activities (OTAs) – which allow for implementation of the schemes in non-padded practice settings – start on May 19. Like the team's conditioning program, the OTAs (essentially four weeks consisting of three or four days each week) are voluntary, but some of the players have workout incentives built into their contracts. The three-day minicamp on May 29-31 is mandatory.