MINNEAPOLIS — Taking a day of regular training camp away from their team facilities, the Minnesota Vikings traveled for an afternoon practice at U.S. Bank Stadium as a way for the new coaching staff and players to become more comfortable with their gameday surroundings.
Like many things under new general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and coach Kevin O’Connell, the trip offered a fresh outlook for a team needing one after missing the playoffs three of the past four seasons.
Three days into camp, Vikings ownership is enjoying what it sees from its new leadership.
“The energy, the positivity, the communication, the collaboration, between the two of them and across the whole team and organization has been excellent,” Vikings owner and president Mark Wilf said after practice. “We couldn’t be more happy to have them on board. We’re really excited about the season and seasons because they work well together and I think the players, especially veterans who have said, ‘You know what, this is good energy and we are looking forward to playing with these guys and the leadership.’ It’s been positive from that standpoint. Can’t wait to get this thing going.”
With only one home preseason game this year, the team took the opportunity to practice at its sun-splashed downtown stadium. Former Vikings All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen spoke to the team after practice and the team surprised Allen by announcing he’ll be inducted into the team’s ring of honor this fall.
The Wilf family, who approved the trade for Allen in 2008 after three playoff-less seasons, hope their most recent acquisitions pay off in the same manner.
Allen had 85.5 sacks in six years in Minnesota and helped break the playoff drought in his first season with the Vikings. Minnesota made it to the NFC Championship in Allen’s second season.
“I remember like any trade, there’s nerves and anxiousness,” Wilf said “We gave up some picks for him and it was a lot of discussion about it, but it turned out to be one of the best things we did as ownership and in this franchise history is to get a player of his level here. Our first two seasons out of the block, we won the division. So, he made a big impact right away and we’re fortunate it worked out.”
Moving on from the disappointment of the final years of Mike Zimmer’s tenure as coach, the Vikings chose not to make dramatic, sweeping personnel changes. Instead, the Wilf’s believe a coaching change will be enough to get the team back in the postseason.
All of the main offensive pieces, including quarterback Kirk Cousins, running back Dalvin Cook and receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen return in O’Connell’s new system.
“I do believe we have a great roster and I give Kwesi and Kevin a lot of credit,” Wilf said. “They did a great job of balancing a lot of factors to get us to be really competitive and I know our fans when they seem them starting tomorrow practicing, we have a lot of great talent here and more importantly it’s starting to gel together in terms of a new system and new leadership and they’re really taking well to it.”
Like the move for Allen, ownership made the leadership change hoping for immediate returns.
“It burns all of us to get back to winning ways and competitiveness to be where we want to be, winning divisions and championships and competing,” Wilf said. “We feel we made a lot of great strides on that front and I can tell you the players are super energized and motivated as well. They don’t like losing. A lot of them have come from winning college programs or they are winners in their own right and they don’t like that taste either.
“So, like I said before, there’s a lot of good energy and good positivity working toward these goals and I believe we’ll get there.”