EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings got their first taste of game-like action in front of fans Saturday night.
The team's annual night practice at Verizon Vikings Training Camp presents a special atmosphere that seems to raise the energy even more from the afternoon sessions attended by fans.
Kirk Cousins and Stefon Diggs each received quite the warm welcome as they descended a staircase onto the field of TCO Stadium at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center. Cousins called it a "great atmosphere" to play in.
"A lot of electricity from the moment we opened the door and came down the stairs," Cousins said. "They did a really good job developing this place to have a great feel to it. I think the video board puts it over the top. I think high school kids are really going to enjoy playing here, and we're going to look forward to every chance we get to practice in here."
Diggs, who stopped to sign autographs and exchange high-fives with young fans who leaned over the railing in the end zone, got an especially loud crowd reaction four days after signing an extension with the Vikings.
"You know, it's a lot of love. I always appreciate the love I get from the fans," Diggs said. "Without them, we wouldn't be live on game days. Especially the amount of juice that I bring, I love the energy that they bring. It's exciting, and I'm thankful."
Diggs and Cousins each spoke with media members following the conclusion of practice and after being introduced – along with the entire team – to fans by "Voice of the Vikings" Paul Allen.
Staying true to character, the teammates highlighted positives of practice but also emphasized that the offense can continue to make improvements and tighten up in certain areas.
Diggs pointed out that conceptually, they've been installing the offense since OTAs and minicamp and now are at the point of fine-tuning. He used the example of studying for a class in school and finally starting to get the material but then "starting to find the small nuances of it" that you want to hone in on and adjust.
"As our coaches say, we've got to tighten all the screws, iron out all the wrinkles, get crispy," Diggs said of preparing for Minnesota's first preseason game at Denver a week from Saturday. "We've got four hard-work days [of practice] ahead of us, so just building each and every day. We got a game coming up, so trying to get to where we need to be in order to be successful."
Cousins said that timing of the offense is a work in progress and "really always will be" but highlighted one of the final periods of practice.
" 'Move the Ball,' we call it, where we're just playing unscripted football and reacting to the situation, and I thought all three groups moved the ball and did a nice job," Cousins said.
"I thought it was a sharp practice," Cousins later added. "It's going to go both ways from time to time, but I thought we made plays and got the ball up in the air, and ran the ball well and protected the football. I thought it was a lot of good stuff going on."
Here are other highlights from Cousins' and Diggs' sessions with media:
Diggs on working with his 3rd offensive coordinator in 3 seasons
Diggs was asked about working with another new offensive coordinator in John DeFilippo and being faced with learning a new offensive system. Rather than being overwhelmed by the multiple changes in three seasons, however, he embraces the challenge.
"I love meeting new coaches and learning different things or doing things different. A lot of things are the same, you'd be surprised, but the fact that, I like adding to certain parts of my game that a coach wants something done a little differently. So I like to do it his way. Having the ability to adjust, that's what makes players great – when you can adjust and you adapt to your new coach and learn how he wants things done and do them."
Cousins on rotation of offensive line
Pat Elflein is continuing to rehab from an injury and current is on the Physically Unable to Perform List, and Nick Easton – who has been filling in for Elflein throughout camp – did not participate in Saturday's practice. Mike Remmers also has missed a couple of practices after suffering an injury earlier this week. Cornelius Edison stepped in at center with the first-team, and Cousins said that while it's not ideal, it's important to be able to adapt.
"Yeah, it's tough," Cousins said. "You know, Pat will be back, but it's good practice for when, inevitably, something happens during the season and we have to shuffle people around. I guess it's getting us prepared for that."
Cousins had to roll with a number of different offensive line combinations in Washington and said he's learned how important it is to build that on-field rapport with players farther down the depth chart when possible.
"It's great – whether it's the receivers, O-line, tight ends, to work with guys who are more down the line, because you never know at what point in the season they'll be up and ready to go," Cousins said. "And even players who get released late in camp could be back Week 7 or 8 starting for you because of injuries. Everybody matters; you just have to get them involved."
Diggs on Zylstra's string of catches
Brandon Zylstra found his rhythm Saturday night, and the native of Spicer, Minnesota, made three consecutive catches from Trevor Siemian, including an impressive one-handed grab along the left sideline.
"I said the young guys are making some plays, and that's exactly who I was talking about," Diggs said of Zylstra. "Just as far as showing consistency, getting better, committed to learning new things and taking it day by day. So I like him."
Cousins on practicing against the Vikings defense
Cousins didn't take any big shots downfield Saturday night, and he explained that part of the reason was "coverage-related" and that he reacted accordingly to Minnesota's defense.
He later explained how practicing against last season's number-one defense can only make him – and the rest of the offense – better.
"It's a great challenge for us," Cousins said. "It's fun to talk football with them, as well, in the cafeteria, to go back and say, 'Hey, what are you doing there? Why are you doing that?' Even to pick [Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer's] brain is helpful, as well, to hear where he's coming from. Try to use those guys to try to gather as much as I can, and it's a great challenge for us to get better."