EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Vikings three-day mandatory minicamp offered another round of learning opportunities for and about this year's team, including what it looks like to the eyes of Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, who is now the color analyst for Fox's lead NFL team on Sundays.
Aikman played three years for Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner as his O.C. in Dallas and claimed back-to-back Super Bowl titles for the Cowboys. He added another after Mike Zimmer began coaching defense and has respect for both men. Aikman shared his thoughts on Zimmer and Turner and offered a positive take on the Vikings future in an interview with Vikings.com's Mike Wobschall.
Aikman knows Zimmer, Turner and playing quarterback at a high level, which makes him an ideal place to start with our recap of what we learned this week. His comments to Wobschall reveal that strong bonds between coaches and players can span the years.
"This is kind of like coming home, as far as the staff is concerned," Aikman said. "I had a chance to come out last year and met Teddy (Bridgewater) then right before the season got underway and was able to follow him and this team. I'm looking forward to seeing what they're able to do this year."
Aikman said Zimmer has "had a great career and did a heck of a job in Cincinnati. I think he's doing a nice job here, too. I'm a big fan of his and all the guys he's got here on his staff."
Much has been hypothesized about what a second year in Turner's system will do for Bridgewater, but Aikman is curious about a first full season might entail for Adrian Peterson.
"(Turner is) a firm believer in the power running game, and as much as he's done for quarterbacks including myself, he's done as much or more for running backs," Aikman said, "so to not have Adrian last year was a disappointment. I'm looking forward to seeing what Adrian is able to do with a full season under his belt in the offense."
As for Bridgewater, Aikman called him "a really bright young man" with a "ton of talent" who might have his best days ahead.
"The biggest growth for any player but particularly a quarterback is between that first and second season because he knows what the speed of the game is like and what he has to do," Aikman said. "He's comfortable within the system and calling the plays and all that goes with that. Last year was a great start to his career, and I'd expect that to continue this season."
Peterson: "good set of running backs", has an ice cream craving
Much focus has been on what the return of Adrian Peterson will mean for the Vikings in 2015, and understandably so since he's the franchise leader in rushing yards, won the 2012 NFL MVP and has six Pro Bowl nods to his credit. He told Voice of the Vikings Paul Allen it's been great to be reunited with teammates. In addition to camaraderie, Peterson also likes what guys are bringing to the position group.
"(Jerick McKinnon) is a young guy who's improving," Peterson said. "I'm able to see that in the classroom and on the field as well. He's been great at catching the ball and running the ball. To me, he seems more patient when it comes to pressing the holes and making the right reads so he's looking sharp, other guys as well, Matt Asiata is looking good, Joe (Banyard), we have a good set of running backs here for the Vikings."
Peterson was asked by media if he had missed anything off the field about Minnesota and said the weather this time of year, then mentioned Redstone restaurant and Cold Stone as well. Like many Lone Star State natives, Peterson likes Texas-based Blue Bell but said he's "been craving Cold Stone."
No ping pong, but there was return of a favor
Zimmer twice stated — once as a guest of Allen on the 9 to Noon show of the KFAN broadcast from Winter Park Thursday and during a session with reporters — that he prefers team building to occur on the practice fields instead of having everyone play ping pong. Some coaches have organized movies or interactive outings for players during OTAs. Although Zimmer didn't offer a spin serve, he did extend a favor that players returned.
Zimmer had the option of taking players through an extensive walkthrough, followed by afternoon practices during minicamp, but opted to bypass the walkthroughs in favor of morning practices.
That decision might not have directly caused additional effort or focus by players to be on point in practices, but that desired effect appeared to occur. Players looked fresh and sharp during the practices, with the offense claiming some plays, the defense claiming others, and special teamers practicing with spunk.
OL experimentation to be continued
The Vikings used minicamp to gain more looks of players on the offensive line, particularly at the right guard spot. Fourth-rounder T.J. Clemmings opened organized team activity practices at right guard with the first team, but shifted to right tackle with the second team this week. Minnesota plugged in sixth-rounder Tyrus Thompson at right guard with the first team, followed by seventh-round selection Austin Shepherd with the second team. David Yankey, a member of the 2014 draft class, repped at left guard behind Brandon Fusco, the team's starter at right guard since 2012.
The comprehensive evaluation of the offensive and defensive line won't occur until pads go on for training camp, but coaches are able to review technical elements like footwork and hand placement to better guide instruction at camp.
Depth on D-Line benefits full roster
As we just mentioned, it's a little early for a comprehensive assessment at the line of scrimmage, but Vikings coaches believe they've added depth for rotational purposes. Everson Griffen and Brian Robison each played more than 900 snaps last season, and while they don't like missing a minute, a possible rotation with second-year pro Scott Crichton and third-round prospect Danielle Hunter could keep guys fresher as the season goes on.
"They're really coming along," Robison said. "Scott has made huge leaps this year in what he's doing. Danielle has done a great job of really changing over the last few weeks, so he's coming along well. That's what we're going to need. We're going to need guys that can come in and really be able to give us some depth at that position and allow us to kind of rotate throughout the season."
Coaches also mentioned increased depth beyond those first two groupings, which is valuable competition at practice for the Vikings efforts to develop young offensive linemen.