EAGAN, Minn. — School may be out for the summer for the Vikings, but don’t expect a lot of sleeping in and lazy days leading up to training camp.
Minnesota wrapped up three days of mandatory minicamp practice Thursday with flashy plays on both sides of the ball, but the expectation from Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer is that the work will continue while players are away.
And it was Pro Bowl wide receiver Adam Thielen who passionately described Zimmer’s message when he chatted with members of the Twin Cities media after practice.
This is not the time, Thielen implored, to just sit back and relax.
“If we sit back and do that, we’ve got some issues. We’re going to go back to the grindstone,” Thielen said. “We talked about this after practice, that this isn’t vacation. This next month isn’t our offseason. This is leading into training camp and the season. Nobody wants to go 8-8, nobody wants to miss the playoffs … so what are you going to do this next month to help the team get better and help the team make the playoffs?
“It starts with tomorrow. What are you going to do when you wake up tomorrow?,” Thielen added. “Are you going to go sit on the beach or are you going to get a workout in? I think that’s a great message, and I’m excited to get back to work.”
The Vikings will likely enter the 2019 season with tempered expectations outside of the building after Minnesota went 8-7-1 in 2018 and missed the playoffs despite being a win away from the Super Bowl a season before.
If the previous five seasons are any indication, it seems Zimmer’s group thrives with the underdog mentality.
Minnesota went 7-9 in 2014, Zimmer’s first season in Purple, but surprised the league with an 11-5 record and an NFC North title in 2015.
That set the pace for lofty goals in 2016, but Minnesota went 8-8. Zimmer’s squad rebounded with a 13-3 mark in 2017, a season in which they claimed another division title and went to the NFC title game.
But that led to a frustrating and inconsistent season in 2018 where the offense and defense both had big moments but were never seemingly on the same page. Minnesota missed the playoffs by half a game.
Vikings running back Dalvin Cook said Zimmer implored his team to be ready to go when training camp begins in late July.
“Just stay a step ahead. That’s part of being in the league,” Cook said. “Just be a step ahead of everything and not let an opportunity pass up when we get back.
“Everybody is going to have an opportunity to earn a job and go out there and show the coaches they’re ready to make plays, so don’t let that opportunity pass you up and be ready when we come back,” Cook added.
Vikings safety Harrison Smith added that the veterans have passed along the message for younger players on the team.
“Offseason-wise, showing up in shape and not showing up to training camp trying to play catch up,” Smith said.
While Zimmer himself won’t need to worry about his acceleration on a route or his technique in the trenches, he did say that he’ll also be tuned in and engaged while at his ranch.
“Typically, I try to [disengage from the game],” Zimmer said. “But like this morning, I had Nick [Rallis], our assistant linebackers coach, put a bunch of teams on an iPad for me, and some other things that I’m looking at.
“So, I’ll go through the cut ups from the spring and some of the things that we did. Today, I'm probably going to be done with football today,” Zimmer added. “But I know that I’m sitting back there in Kentucky, I’ll probably get the iPad out a decent amount.”
The 2019 season will be Zimmer’s sixth in Minnesota. And if his players have learned anything, it’s that the expectation is crystal clear heading into summer.
“I don’t really want to talk about what I talked to the players about,” Zimmer said. “They know what I expect.”
Zimmer assesses the ground game: Cook has been healthy this offseason and impressed in multiple ways.
After that, the Vikings are returning veteran Ameer Abdullah, who joined the team last November and 2018 undrafted free agents Mike Boone and Roc Thomas, as well as fullback C.J. Ham.
Minnesota also drafted Alexander Mattison in the third round and signed undrafted free agent fullback Khari Blasingame.
“I think [Dalvin] Cook has had a really, really good spring,” Zimmer said when asked about the position’s depth. [Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor] Gary [Kubiak] and I were talking about him this morning. He looks really, really good, especially on the things we’re trying to do in the running game.
“[Mike] Boone and Roc Thomas, and [Alexander] Mattison, they’re all still learning,” he added. “So, we’ve got some work to do, but I think C.J. Ham’s had a nice spring.”
Alumni return for BBQ: The Vikings were able to host alumni, including new Ring of Honor inductee Steve Jordan, for a barbecue Thursday after practice.
“It was good to have the alumni players come out for the barbecue,” Zimmer said. “Like I told the team, it’s important to me that we honor the guys that have come before us and allowed us to continue to do what we love to do. So, that was nice to have those guys out here.”
Zimmer opened the final minicamp session to the Vikings Legends and non-football staff members.