EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings and Broncos today will hold the first of two consecutive days of joint practices, with Minnesota hosting Denver at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
This is the third time during Head Coach Mike Zimmer's tenure with the Vikings in which he has conducted joint practices ahead of a preseason game. The first was at Cincinnati in 2016, and the second was hosting Jacksonville in 2018.
The goals are simple: 1) get good work against another NFL team; 2) break any habits/reliance on learned behaviors that have occurred by going against the same teammates for two-plus weeks of camp and the entire offseason program; 3) accomplish the above with an approach that protects both teams from injuries.
"We're just trying to get work done, really," Zimmer said. "Obviously they want to do good, we want to do good."
Zimmer said he spoke with Denver Head Coach Vic Fangio and Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur to ask, "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," Zimmer 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."
This will be the fourth time for quarterback Kirk Cousins to participate in joint practices. He did so against Jacksonville here during his first preseason with Minnesota and also faced New England and Houston while he was with Washington.
"It'll be a great opportunity for both teams to get some work against a new look," Cousins said. "I do think that in training camp, it can be difficult to go against the same players everyday giving you similar looks and I think to get a different defense, different techniques, just a different visual is really helpful for us as we are trying to find the inches to be a better football team."
Shurmur held the same role for Minnesota in 2017. He began 2016 as the Vikings tight ends coach and was promoted to interim offensive coordinator nine games into that season. He was quickly swooped after the Vikings 13-3 season to become head coach of the New York Giants. Shurmur headed to the Rocky Mountains for the coordinator role in which he's thrived here and elsewhere. The Vikings look forward to facing his system, which used to be their system.
"We've been going against the same scheme for two weeks now, and the OTAs, and Pat will give us some different plays and different looks and different runs and different passes," Vikings Co-Defensive Coordinator and linebackers coach Adam Zimmer said. "I think that will be good for us, as well, because we're going to see a lot of different stuff throughout the season."
Vikings linebacker Nick Vigil was a rookie with the Bengals in 2016 when Cincinnati hosted Minnesota for two sessions before opening the preseason. He expects the practices to be beneficial.
"I think it brings out the best in the competition because you're seeing different looks from the offenses. You get to kind of run your stuff and test your stuff when you're not getting the same plays over and over through camp," Vigil said. "You get different looks from different guys, and I think it's good. … I think it's fun."
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 5, 2022.
Zimmer said practice periods will include work of 1s vs. 1s, 2s vs. 2s. and 3s vs. 3s with the Vikings offense and Broncos defense working on the southeastern of four Land O'Lakes, Inc., practice fields. Minnesota's defense and Denver's offense will clash on the southwestern field.
"Evaluation, mostly, of trying to get some of our backup players against some of their good players – that's a big part of it," Zimmer said when asked what he wanted to accomplish. "Just seeing how they attack some of the schemes. I know we're not really scheming against one another, but we're just trying to get some more evaluation, get some good work done."
The connections run well beyond Shurmur.
Here are notable connections between the teams.
5 Vikings assistant coaches have Broncos ties
Minnesota Assistant Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson (2005-06), Offensive Coordinator Klint Kubiak (2016-18), Senior Offensive Advisor Rick Dennison (1995-2009 and 2015-16), tight ends coach Brian Pariani (1995-2004; 2015-16) and offensive line coach Phil Rauscher (2015-17) all previously coached in Denver. Dennison played linebacker for the Broncos from 1982-90.
4 Broncos players have played for the Vikings
Broncos QB Teddy Bridgewater (2014-17), RB Mike Boone (2018-20), C Brett Jones (2018-20) and DT Shamar Stephen (2014-17; 2019-20) all previously played for the Vikings.
Bridgewater is in a position battle with Drew Lock for the starting job.
3 members of one family in NFL?
Colquitt, his brother and father all played in the NFL.
Vikings undrafted rookie Christian Elliss is trying to become the third member of his family to do so. His father, Luther, played defensive line for Denver and later served as team chaplain for two years. Christian's brother, Kaden, was drafted by New Orleans in 2019. We caught up with Christian for a Water Break to discuss his ties to the Broncos.
2 Vikings players have suited up for the Broncos
Minnesota P Britton Colquitt played for Denver from 2010 to 2015 and helped the Broncos win Super Bowl 50. Colquitt's punting was significant during the title march. He punted 23 times in three postseason games and averaged 46.6 yards per boot.
Vikings rookie WR Warren Jackson recently spent time with the Broncos before Minnesota signed him on Aug. 9.
1 reunion for Rick Spielman and George Paton
Two general managers, one brotherhood.
Viking General Manager Rick Spielman knew that former Vice President of Player Personnel/Assistant General Manager George Paton would eventually get an honor he couldn't refuse.
Paton had fielded numerous offers in the past but had always opted to return to Minnesota. The offer by Denver in January was too good to pass up for Paton, who was hired here by Spielman in 2007.
The duo also previously worked together in Chicago and Miami.
"We started our career back when I was the co-director in Chicago and he came in as an intern, I believe, in 1997-1998," Spielman said earlier this offseason. "When I left Chicago and went to Miami, it took me a year, but I knew that was the number one person I wanted to bring with me down to Miami. And then when I came here to Minnesota, it took me a year, but I was not going to give up until I was able to get George Paton up here with me.
"I've been in this business, I think, going on my 31st year, and I don't believe I would be in the position I'm in without having George Paton by my side through everything that we've been through," Spielman continued. "He's been my sounding board, my closest friend and truly like a brother to me."