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Training Camp Talkers: Joint Practices with Broncos Provide Opportunity for Conditioning & Player Evaluation

EAGAN, Minn. — Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer isn't one to sugarcoat things, especially when it comes to necessary improvements on the football field.

Zimmer spoke with Twin Cities media members Monday, which will kick off the final week of U.S. Bank Vikings Training Camp before the team's first preseason game this weekend.

Just because the final score may not count doesn't mean Zimmer is looking at the exhibition contest lightly. He and the Vikings are hosting the Broncos for joint practices Wednesday and Thursday before the teams kick off at U.S. Bank Stadium at 3 p.m. (CT) Saturday.

"I think it'll be really fun. It'll be good to get back to as close to normal football as we can," Zimmer said.

He later added, though, that he's not entirely satisfied with the team's conditioning level at this point in the process.

"It'll be nice, hot and humid out here today, which we need," Zimmer noted. "I feel like we have to get in better shape than what we are right now. I told the team that the other day. I'm not worried about in the beginning of the game; I'm worried about the fourth quarter. So we've got to get in a lot better shape, and we're going to add a few more things to practice to do that."

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Oct. 12, 2021.

Zimmer is looking forward to the sessions with Denver that will give players an opportunity to practice against someone in a different-colored jersey.

"I think it does two things. You can kind of treat it a little bit, like a preseason game. But it also lets you get some of the older veteran guys in a more controlled situation where you're not tackling and taking guys to the ground and things like that," he explained. "So you have an opportunity to evaluate those guys without really putting in a lot of injury risk."

And while it's going to a reunion of sorts between the Broncos and Vikings, with familiar faces including Denver's General Manager George Paton, Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Zimmer said both teams are focused simply on using the time to get better.

"We're just trying to get work done, really. Obviously they want to do good, we want to do good," Zimmer said. "When I talked to [Broncos Head Coach] Vic Fangio and Pat Shurmur, I said, 'What kind of stuff do you want to get done? Do you want to change anything?' And they said, 'What if we did this?' And I said, 'Fine.'

"We don't care. We just want to get good work," he added. "So they're doing a few things that we like to do, and we're going to do a few things that they like to do."

Interested in attending one of the Vikings joint practices with the Broncos this week, or Minnesota's first preseason game Saturday afternoon against Denver? Click here for more information and to purchase tickets.

Quote of the Day

"We all know he's lightning fast. What has he got, like the third-highest rating of running backs for speed on 'Madden' or something like that? That's what I keep hearing. I don't know. But he shows it every single day. He's eager. He's willing to learn. He's willing to take coaching. Those are all the characteristics that make for a successful player. He definitely has all those characteristics."

— Vikings FB C.J. Ham on rookie RB Kene Nwangwu

2 More Points

Here are two other takeaways from Monday's media session.

1. Time to step it up

Zimmer didn't mince words in talking about players being in shape, and he similarly took the honest approach when asked about a couple of positions.

After praising receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette and other young receivers for strides taken on offense, Zimmer added that the rookie "has to get better on special teams."

"He's got a lot of work to do," Zimmer said of Smith-Marsette. "These guys, it's important, the backup receivers … they have to play special teams. If he wants to make the team, that's part of his job description."

He expressed some level of frustration with the linebackers group, too, as the team continues to look for the best third option behind Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr.

"Nick [Vigil has] done a nice job. The others have to pick it up," Zimmer said. "All the other linebackers have to pick it up on special teams and, really, on defense too. There's a bunch of guys in there that need to get going."

2. Vigil relying on defensive familiarity

Speaking of Vigil, the free-agent addition spoke with media following Zimmer and said "every day it's a competition" for the LB3 spot.

"If you play bad, somebody's going to step up and take your spot. That's what training camp is for," Vigil said. "You've just got to compete at a high level and continue to just have consistency. That's what they've been preaching. Just consistency over and over again doing the right thing and doing your job."

Prior to joining the Vikings, Vigil spent the 2020 season with the Chargers. He started his NFL career, however, with four seasons in Cincinnati, where he overlapped with Vikings Senior Defensive Assistant Paul Guenther in his first two. That connection has helped Vigil jump to a new team.

"It took me a little bit to get back and familiar to playing these types of coverages. And just communication – how much communication takes place within this defense, I think, is the biggest thing," Vigil said. "I played in [this system] for a couple years with Guenther over in Cincinnati. So it's been a good transition."

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