EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Vikings defense of the NFC North began last week as players reported to Winter Park for the team's voluntary offseason workout program.
This part of the phased program only involves strength and conditioning workouts and limited meeting time.
The Vikings are trying to make the most of it after an 11-5 season in which they claimed their first division title since 2009 and made their first postseason appearance since 2012. They have returned with general continuity and a few fresh faces in the locker room and coaches' offices. They also are being guided through a revamped workout program under new strength and conditioning coach Brent Salazar.
Nine players — Everson Griffen, Brian Robison, Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, Captain Munnerlyn, Teddy Bridgewater, Kyle Rudolph, John Sullivan and Alex Boone — spoke with members of the media Tuesday about the workout program, goals, changes and the team's mindset. The Vikings.com staff picked out some of our favorite quotes from the session. The players' full comments are in the videos below.
We'll start with Griffen, who said Salazar is "one of the best in the game that I've seen so far," which led to a prolonged explanation about glute activation and what it can mean to a football player.
"We run before we lift, we work on our explosion, we work on using our hips, mobility, on glute activation, and all the key necessary pieces that you need to have a structured football player because it comes from the glutes, your trunk, so he brings all of that to the table. The better glutes you have, the more power, range and mobility you're going to have. Glutes are everything. You squeeze tight, you hold, you count, then squeeze again real tight."
Robison is at the onset of his 10th season with the Vikings and made it clear that he expects the Vikings to think big in 2016.
"I think we've got one main objective and that's to win a Super Bowl here. I'm just going to put it out there now, that's what everyone's objective should be this year."
Although Smith and several others are going into their third year under head coach Mike Zimmer, the safety believes nothing will be guaranteed this season because of progress made a year ago.
"You don't get to start where you left off. You've got to start kind of from the ground up every year. A lot of guys have things to build on, especially with being around Zim' for a few years now, but we can't get complacent and say, 'We were pretty good last year, we'll just get better from there.' We've got to start from the ground up."
Rhodes has made substantial progress under the guidance of Zimmer and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray since 2014, but said he has a "lot more" to learn from Zimmer, who started his NFL coaching career as Cowboys defensive backs coach.
"I sit there and listen to everything he tells me to do. Especially by being technically sound and being able to stop being aggressive on the receivers past five yards … he teaches me a lot."
Munnerlyn, who still makes his home in Charlotte, where Carolina claimed its berth in Super Bowl 50 by winning the NFC Championship, thinks the Vikings can take another step forward this season.
"I'm expecting big things for us this year. It's the third year with this coaching staff, with Coach Zim', with this defensive scheme, and I'm expecting everybody to play lights-out. We have no excuse."
Just two years ago, the Vikings navigated draft waters to trade back into the first round and nab Bridgewater, who claimed Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year honors later that fall. Bridgewater is looking forward to this year's draft, which runs Thursday through Saturday.
"We trust that Rick and Coach Zim will do a great job. As you can see over the past couple of years, the Vikings have pulled off some great things in the draft. Whoever we add to the team this year, we expect big things from those guys and to compete right away."
Rudolph's sentiments were similar to Smith's about the importance of every day going forward.
"In this business you don't get to start where you left off, that's not the way it works. Every year you have to hit the reset button. In order for us to get back to where we were last year, that starts now."
Sullivan missed all of 2015 with a back injury, but said he's feeling better at this point in the year than he has in quite a few. He's enjoyed working with new offensive line coach Tony Sparano.
"[Tony Sparano]'s no-nonsense. He lives up to the billing. These are pretty light meetings right now – I mean we're going over stuff, but you're limited in terms of how much time you have. But if answers are wrong, Tony's on guys. I can't wait to get out on the field with him, because I have a feeling it's going to be a big change as far as how much we get yelled at."
Boone, a veteran newcomer from the 49ers via a multiyear deal in March, said he's liking his new surroundings, a return to the Midwest for the Ohio native.
"I enjoy being here so much that when I'm here I'm just at a '10' all the time, so I can't control myself."