EAGAN, Minn. — After the coaching staffs for Jacksonville and Minnesota met the night before, a group of 12 trusted players from both the Jaguars and Vikings convened before the two teams took the field for their first joint practice.
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The goal of the gatherings could be boiled down to this: No fighting.
“We really don’t want to end up being on TV like some of these other things,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “We just want to get out there and get some work done and try to get each of us better.”
There’s no reason for the Jaguars and Vikings, who only play each other in the regular season every fourth year, to bring any grudges to these dual individual drills and simulated game situations.
Jaguars coach Doug Marrone spent three years as an assistant coach with the New Orleans Saints, when Zimmer’s son and current Vikings linebackers coach Adam Zimmer was also on staff. Jaguars assistant offensive line coach Tony Sparano Jr . is the son of the late Vikings offensive line coach, who died suddenly of heart disease right before training camp .
“I think they’re an excellent football team. They’re well-disciplined. They’re well-coached,” Marrone said, speaking of the Vikings. “Those are the type of teams you want to come and practice against.”
This was Marrone’s idea, proposed to Zimmer shortly after the exhibition game schedule was finalized in April with the Jaguars playing the Vikings on Saturday.
Zimmer acknowledged some hesitation, citing his preference to follow training camp routine, but he agreed to include his team in an exercise that has long been common around the league. The workouts at Minnesota’s gleaming new facility will feature two teams that reached the conference championship games in January.
“I figured, `OK, they’re a good team. Let’s go and do it,'” Zimmer said.
The purpose is to break up the monotony of two-a-days and providing extra opportunities for evaluation of bottom-of-the-roster candidates. The Vikings joined the Bengals for practices two years ago in Cincinnati where Zimmer used to be the defensive coordinator, a trip that conveniently allowed him to stay at his ranch retreat in rural Kentucky.
“After going against the same defense, the same schemes, the same players every day, at some point it gets a little old,” Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen said.
The excitement and, thus, the intensity have ramped up for these sessions on Wednesday and Thursday. That’s why the pre-practice conversations took place about keeping the competition healthy and respectful.
“I’ve done it almost every year I’ve been a head coach in this league so I’ve seen great results from that if it’s done properly,” Marrone said.
The New York Jets and Washington Redskins had a multiplayer melee on Sunday spill into the crowd of fans . The Jaguars had their own scuffle to sort out, with a scrap between defensive ends Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue that prompted Marrone to keep Fowler and star cornerback Jalen Ramsey home from this trip . Zimmer banished wide receiver Stefon Diggs and cornerback Xavier Rhodes from practice one day last week after their trash-talking antics angered him.
The Vikings had some testy joint practices with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2003 and again in 2004, when pro wrestler Brock Lesnar made his ill-fated tryout with the Vikings as a defensive lineman and stirred up his share of shouting and shoving in scrimmages.
So even the best of intentions can be cast aside in the heat of the moment when it’s, literally, as hot outside as it’ll be all season.
Diggs and Thielen, for their part, were disappointed by Ramsey’s absence and the lost opportunity to test their skills against an All-Pro. The Vikings still faced plenty of challenges against the Jacksonville defense, which ranked second behind the Vikings last season in fewest yards and points allowed.
“We came here to work. We came here to get things done,” Diggs said. “So as far as anything extra, we’re not interested.”
The first session on Wednesday came and went without any drama, as both sides intended.
“This is a good team to go against, a good team to get us right and to see where we are,” Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith said afterward. “Hopefully we push each other in the right way and we’ll be seeing each other in the right game later on.”