EAGAN, Minn. — Kyle Rudolph is a happy commuter.
The Vikings have been back in the Twin Cities for a little more than a week as the team’s voluntary offseason program is currently underway at Twin Cities Orthopedics Center in Eagan.
The organization moved out of Winter Park — its home since 1981 —in early March, and the impressions and reactions from the new team facility have been jaw-dropping.
Rudolph opted not to move from the western suburbs, but he said he hasn’t minded the longer commute.
“I’d probably drive an hour to get here,” Rudolph said. “We have this incredible new building with every resource that we could need to be successful. Not that Winter Park wasn’t just amazing, but coming here is pretty cool.”
Everything from a sparkling indoor practice facility to the 6,500 square-foot locker room to expanded areas for weight training and recovery have helped inject an added energy to a Vikings team that is already hungry coming off a 13-3 season and an appearance in the NFC title game.
“The facility’s awesome. The Wilf [family] did an unbelievable job giving us every resource that we need to go out and win a championship,” Rudolph said. “That’s the expectations in this organization, and they’ve shown – first with the stadium and now with this – that they’re going to do everything they can to make sure that we have the best as anyone.”
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has been quick to remind his players that new walls and turf won’t equal wins on the field without the usual hard work, effort and preparation.
“We’re in a brand new, beautiful building. That doesn’t mean we’re going to win no ball games,” said Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen. “But it’s a vibe. I think we know the hard work that we got to put in to get where we want to go.
“It doesn’t take an individual, it takes the whole team to buy in, the coaching staff, everybody to buy in,” Griffen added.
Said Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes: “The new facility is great. State-of-the-art, one of the best. We’re not here just to love the facility; we’re here to get better. [We’re thankful to] the Wilfs for building this for us and doing everything else, but we’re just here to get better and get ready for the season.”
But it’s not just the players who have benefitted from the new digs.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and dozens more in the front office have been hard at work for months getting ready for the 2018 NFL Draft, which begins Thursday from Dallas.
A swanky new edition to Minnesota’s draft process is an electronic video screen that can be used for multiple purposes. Spielman said that he’s gotten used to the high-tech board in recent weeks and has gotten away from the old-school days of magnets.
“It’s been phenomenal, probably better than expected. It took me a few days [to realize] I can’t pull the electronic board tags off like I could the magnetic board tags,” Spielman said. “But one thing I’ll say is that it has probably made us a lot more efficient. Instead of sitting there waiting to pull six or seven tags over and waiting on having discussions on stacking the board, everything is done electronically now.
“We have the opportunity to spend a lot more time on discussions, on film evaluations in group studies, and it has made the whole process night and day from an efficiency standpoint than in the past,” Spielman added.
Getting their strength back
Griffen had at least one sack in eight consecutive games to open the 2017 season, but was slowed the rest of the way after being injured in Week 8’s road game in London against the Browns.
The former fourth-round pick still had 5.0 sacks in the second half of the season to finish with a career-high 13 sacks — and added another one in the playoff win over New Orleans — but Griffen said Tuesday that he wasn’t 100 percent for more than half of the season.
Griffen, who has 61 career sacks, battled plantar fasciitis for the final 10 games of the season.
“I played the whole rest of the season with it, so it bothered me,” Griffen said. “If anybody’s had a torn plantar fascia, I completely tore mine, so it’s doing great. I feel good.
“I’m excited to be back here, going on my ninth year,” Griffen said. “I’m just ready for whatever this year throws at us, as a team, and what can we do to get better? On the film, you’ve got to be hard on yourself, and what things can we do to improve as a team?”
Rudolph played in every game of the 2017 season despite battling an ankle injury for the final few weeks.
He provided an update Tuesday and said his workouts haven’t changed even though he is rehabbing his injury.
The tight end, who ranks second at his position with 20 touchdown catches over the past three seasons, said he is working his way back to 100 percent.
“I can pretty much do everything on a scaled basis,” Rudolph said. “So if we were to play a game tomorrow I probably wouldn’t be very good, but I could go out there.”
Cousins excited to meet fans and expectations
Kirk Cousins’ first month in the Twin Cities has been accompanied by a warm welcome.
The Vikings starting quarterback spoke to the Twin Cities media Tuesday afternoon and said he and his family have settled in nicely.
“Oh yeah, people have been phenomenal. No surprise. This is Minnesota. It’s the Midwest and it’s really good people,” Cousins said. “Our family fits in really well here, and it’s one of the many reasons we’re excited to be here.
“The people have been great. Hopefully I can play well enough to keep them smiling,” Cousins added. “I fully expect them to give me a hard time if I’m not, and I’ve got to do my part.”
Cousins added an anecdote about an interaction with a curious fan earlier in the week and how he hopes to meet the high expectations around town.
“I just walked out of a strip mall in Eden Prairie yesterday. We were walking back to the car, and a young man finishing his work day kind of did the ‘big eyes’ and put 2 and 2 together, kind of walked over and asked if I was who he thought I was,” Cousins said. “I said, ‘I try to be,’ so we took a photo.
“That kind of thing, that’s part of life, part of playing in the NFL, and it’s a fun deal to see fans excited like that,” Cousins added. “Now, you’ve just got to keep them smiling. They’re dying to cheer for us. We’ve got to give them something to cheer about.”