Summer camp: Writer’s journey to Vikings camp [UPDATED]Published 7:15am Saturday, August 4, 2012 Updated 9:19am Saturday, August 4, 2012
When I told several people that I was going to Vikings training camp at Mankato State University to get the first look at how the home team will look this season, they all said ‘you are going to watch them practice’?
As crazy as it sounds — yes. I was going to see the team I grew up loving and see what many fans hope will be an improvement form last season’s dismal 3-13 record.
Will quarterback Christian Ponder show improvement? Was tackle Matt Kalil worth a first round pick? Will running back Adrian Peterson be ready from the first game of the season?
These were just a few of the questions that many fans, including myself, want answered.
Once again, I was accompanied by Joe Barfknecht on my journey as we took his car down to Mankato Wednesday afternoon.
Prepping ourselves for two days of football, we cruised down the road listening to ESPN radio, talking local football and preparing our fantasy football picks for our upcoming draft.
On the way down to camp, we made stops at the Albertville Outlet Mall and in Eden Prairie for something to eat.
We pulled into our home while attending camp in St. Peter around 8 p.m. The wait was tearing at me as I was intrigued to catch a glimpse of the 2012 Vikings.
Finally, Thursday was here and we went to the early morning walk through session and autograph signing.
There was not much to report about during the walk through as it was a mental session for most of the players as they went through schemes and calls. The quick one hour practice came and went as Joe and I lined up for the autograph signing.
The wide receivers were the selected group to sign autographs that day with Percy Harvin being the top signature that fans were looking for.
Talking to several people around the camp, Harvin may be the most liked player at camp. A adoring female fan even jumped a restricted fence to run up and give the star wideout a hug. Security quickly removed her from the situation without malice after she became completely petrified after the hug.
I was unable to obtain Harvin’s autograph, but was successful in getting recently drafted Greg Childs and Jarius Wright’s John Hancock.
While the players were getting lunch and preparing for the full-padded afternoon practice, children and adults have several different things to enjoy at the camp, including inflated games, a skill circuit, a Vikings’ shop and numerous food and beverage stands at the camp.
The afternoon session was much more fan friendly as you sat in the stands watching the NFC North contenders run, throw and tackle.
A flash of a human being ran past the far field as Adrian Peterson tested his speed, not allowed to participate in team activities.
After several individual sessions, the team came together in the evening for one final offensive versus defensive scrimmage.
Both starting teams look solid in their practice. Left Tackle Kalil worked against All-Pro Jared Allen for the duration of their series, with Allen showing why he had 22 sacks last season. Ponder was able to fit in passes and run a solid no-huddle offense.
The practice was highlighted by an amazing over the defender tumble touchdown by Childs.
Several players stuck around after organized practice to work on routes, steps and different technique work. Cornerback Chris Cook worked on his coverage skills against Harvin, while the new offensive linemen continued to work steps.
Joe and I left practice feeling optimistic about the season, but clearly seeing several players that might not make their way on the roster.
On Friday, it was one of the bigger autograph days of the camp as the defensive ends would sign after that mornings walk through.
After missing out on Harvin’s autograph, we made a plan to get to camp three and a half hours before the signing. When we arrived, we were 160th person in line and later would find out that we were both lucky enough to be in the 200 people that would get last season’s sack leader Allen’s autograph.
Standing in line again, I met several crazed Vikings fans. The man I stood next to had brought both his two kids from Indiana and had been at camp since they opened last Friday.
The wait was worth it as a jovial Allen sped through the autograph session, thanking fans for coming along the way.
Leaving Vikings camp with a few autographs and a sense that my team will be better than advertised was well worth the idea of watching ‘practice’.
Let’s hope I am right.