EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — As Vikings center John Sullivan enters his ninth season in the NFL, the 30-year-old still enjoys the grind of minicamp practices.
Especially since the longtime Viking missed the entire 2015 season due to a back injury.
"It's a job when you're in the building in meetings and lifting weights," Sullivan said. "But it's fun when you get out here and practice.
"It's nice to get back on the field and put myself through the workouts," he added.
Sullivan was injured during the preseason and was designated to return but suffered a setback while recovering.
The former Notre Dame standout said, while he deeply missed playing last season, his entire focus is on the upcoming 2016 campaign.
"I hated it, but it stings a little less now that I'm back out here on the field," Sullivan said. "It's never ideal for a football player and a competitor to be away from the game."
Sullivan said it was tough to watch as his teammates went 11-5 and won the NFC North for the first time since 2009.
That success has pointed a bit of the spotlight on the Vikings, something Sullivan said the team is doing its best to manage.
"You can't help but hear a little bit of the buzz," Sullivan said. "We're trying to block that all out, and that this team doesn't want to get complacent.
"We know that the 2015 team accomplished great things but we have higher aspirations than that," he added. "2015 and 2016 have nothing to do with each other, so we don't want to fall into that trap. We want to keep getting better."
Plenty of courage
The Vikings welcomed a special guest to Wednesday's practice. Casey O'Brien, the winner of the Minnesota Football Honors Courage Award, is a student at Cretin-Derham Hall High School. O'Brien played in five games last season even as he underwent chemotherapy for cancer.
O'Brien chatted with Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer among others at practice. O'Brien closed the practice by getting a round of applause from the players before leading the post-practice break down.
There was extra media on hand for Wednesday's practice as about a dozen women with GALvanize, a sports journalism boot camp for women founded by FOX Sports reporter Laura Okmin, were on hand for practice.
The group spoke with Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer Wednesday morning before talking with players such as Harrison Smith, Terence Newman, Adrian Peterson, Teddy Bridgewater and Kyle Rudolph on Wednesday.
Wednesday's top plays
The most intriguing battle of Wednesday's practice was between cornerback Xavier Rhodes and wide receiver Charles Johnson.
The two went back and forth throughout the 90-minute session. Rhodes stuck with Johnson down the sideline in 7-on-7 drills early in practice and later broke up a potential touchdown for Johnson in the end zone.
Rhodes broke up another pass late in practice before Johnson responded with a strong catch over the middle in the final minutes of the session.
Here are a few other highlights from Wednesday:
— Cornerback Jabari Price had a clean pass breakup against rookie wide receiver Laquon Treadwell over the middle and made an impressive diving catch along the sideline for an interception.
— Rookie linebacker Kentrell Brothers corralled an interception against Shaun Hill while in tight coverage against rookie tight end David Morgan. Brothers later knocked away a pass at the tail end of practice.
— Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater tossed a pair of touchdowns in red zone drills. Bridgewater first connected with wide receiver Stefon Diggs across the middle before he found Johnson in the right corner of the end zone.
— Wide receiver Adam Thielen made a diving catch across the middle on a pass from Bridgewater.
— Defensive end Everson Griffen had a lighthearted moment with Bridgewater midway through practice. Griffen would have had a likely sack against Bridgewater, who scrambled away. Griffen playfully gave chase to Bridgewater as the two shared a laugh.