EAGAN, Minn. – Football is back, everyone.
After some players – including rookies, quarterbacks and players rehabbing injuries – reported for Vikings Training Camp Sunday, the remainder of the team checked in Tuesday.
General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, Head Coach Kevin O'Connell, safety Harrison Smith and running back Dalvin Cook each spoke with Twin Cities media members. Below are 10 takeaways from their podium sessions.
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Veterans and rookies arrived at the Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center for 2022 Training Camp.
1. O'Connell's first training camp
O'Connell may not be new to NFL training camps, but he is new to leading one.
The first-time head coach is excited, to be sure, but that energy has been present since he arrived in Minnesota.
"The way my mind works, I'm moving a thousand miles an hour, on to the next – whether it's a team setting, an offense setting, just with our coaching staff or anyone around the building," O'Connell said. "It's just constantly – I've clicked into gear, and I'm ready to roll."
Adofo-Mensah concurred that there isn't "some seminal moment" coming for O'Connell because he's been in full-go mode since being hired.
"He's been ready for this for a long time. He's incredibly detailed. I show up in his office and he'll be in there with [Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips] or [quarterbacks coach Chris] O'Hara or somebody like that, and they're just talking in detail about plays, ready for reaction to this play, counters to this — they're in full season mode, and we're excited."
2. 'Feeling good' about the roster
During his opening statement, Adofo-Mensah told reporters he feels good about Minnesota's roster as it stands heading into Wednesday's first full training camp practice (Saturday's session will be the first open to fans).
Asked to elaborate on the basis for his confidence, Adofo-Mensah said the following:
"Just a lot of detail we went into, honestly, when we started this process. Just evaluating the team – there was a good team that played last year. … So I think this team had a good baseline to start. We tried, on the margins, to correct some key things that could happen. Small things that could have a bigger impact.
"Ultimately, we love our draft class. We love the people we brought in," he added. "We love the mindset and the character of all those people. And we're excited to see where we're at."
3. Old dogs learning new tricks
At 33 years old, Smith is one of the oldest active safeties in the league.
The Hitman looked a bit blindsided by the nugget of info, laughing, "I haven't thought about it, obviously."
But the reason Smith doesn't think too much about his age is that he still loves the game of football and still has plenty to offer. Changing coaching regimes and defenses (from a 4-3 to a 3-4) will be a transition after eight seasons with Mike Zimmer, but Smith is up to the task.
"There's some stuff similar to what we've done in the past and some new stuff," Smith said. "Just getting the reps, getting the mental reps, watching the film and envisioning, 'OK, I've done something maybe like that, but this is what it looked like. Now this is what it needs to look like.' Or, 'This is totally new. Or, 'I did this in 2009.' You can always call on different experiences; that's what makes it fun."
Cook echoed Smith's enthusiasm about learning Minnesota's new offense under O'Connell.
"It's going to be a new system. But I approach it the same way every year. I learn, and I attack. That's just my mindset," Cook said. "How are they going to use me? I don't know. We all don't know. We're just ready to go out there and compete and have fun and show the stuff we learned in OTAs and minicamp.
"You never know until you get out there and start flying around and making plays," he continued. "I don't care how I'm being used. I just want to win at this point, and I know we've got the guys and coaches and the right people in the building to do that."
4. Injury updates – Irv Smith, Jr., good to go
As mentioned above, players who have been recovering from injuries were invited as early reports for training camp.
The Vikings did announce earlier this week that receiver Blake Proehl and linebacker Ryan Connelly were added to the Physically Unable to Perform list. Cornerback Nate Hairston was placed on the Active/Non-Football Injury list Tuesday. Aside from them, though, everyone should be good to go.
O'Connell specifically noted that tight end Irv Smith, Jr., who missed all of the 2021 season with a knee injury, and receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette are at full health, as is free agent addition Johnny Mundt.
"Talk about a guy that put in some work. Coming out of the spring, I thought he had a good spring for what he was able to do for us. He was great in the classroom, he was great in that walk-through, jog-through setting," O'Connell said of Smith. "But then to see him moving around yesterday – we got out on the grass with those early-report guys – you can tell the work's been put in. You can tell there's a real mindset for Irv, and I'm really excited about him.
"So we're expecting him to be full to start," O'Connell continued. "As always, you know we'll take each thing that kind of comes up day by day – circle up with [Executive Director of Player Health and Performance Tyler Williams] and [Head Athletic Trainer Uriah Myrie] and Kwesi – and we'll have a plan for Irv, with a mindset on that opening game."
5. Approach to padded practices
O'Connell has emphasized the health and safety of his players and not taking unnecessary risks when it comes to on-field activity.
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That doesn't mean there won't be very real competition in training camp, though – especially when the pads come on.
O'Connell said he's "thought long and hard" about his approach to 11 padded practices prior to the preseason games.
"In my opinion … when we're going, we gotta go," he said. "We've done our due diligence through the whole month of the volume of work we put in, but when we put those pads on, it's just not that many opportunities to prepare your team – and for our individual players, individual phases of offense, defense and special teams to feel prepared.
"There's no other way than to go full-compete, good-on-good. We'll do plenty of that work, as well as the situational emphasis that we've got planned out through the whole camp," O'Connell added. "It's all built on making sure by the time we cut our roster down to 53, we're ready to get in preparation mode for our first opponent."
6. Giving rookies opportunities
During minicamp and the offseason programming, the majority of first-team snaps were given to non-rookies.
Will there be a chance throughout training camp for rookies to establish themselves and potentially vie for a starting role?
"Sometimes it's surprising them and giving them opportunities … maybe before we even see anything," O'Connell said. "But anything other than the habits in the classroom and the habits studying, you can tell a guy who knows what to do. Now we can feel comfortable turning him loose to try to compete in these settings – especially in the 1s-versus-1s settings. Because ultimately, it's something that every young player in this league, especially our rookies, we'll want to see them do."
7. Smith and Cine relationship
Speaking of working with rookies who may have a shot at starting, Harrison Smith was asked about working with first-round pick Lewis Cine.
Smith said there's "no set plan" on his approach to mentoring the youngster but made it clear he'll be there to support.
"I've worked with enough guys, a lot of different personalities, body types, game styles. We'll figure something out," Smith said. "He's got a good head on his shoulders. He's smart. He's got a bunch of tools, plus we've got a bunch of other guys in there who know what they're doing. So we'll figure it out."
8. Acupuncture part of The Chef's offseason recipe
Cook may not be quite as experienced as Smith, but it's hard to believe The Chef already is entering his sixth NFL season.
When Cook is on the field, he automatically makes the Vikings offense better. But he has yet to play a complete regular season. He was asked if he's incorporated any new practices into his offseason plan to help set himself up for physical success.
Cook said he's "tweaked" his recovery process a bit and spoken to older teammates about their processes.
"Just tapping in and trying some new things. I've been trying a lot more acupuncture this offseason, just seeing what's going to work for me and what's going to get me through the season," Cook said.
So, has acupuncture helped?
"We're going to see," Cook said with a smile. "Here comes camp. Camp is a grind."
9. It's about 'where we can go' on defense
It's no secret that Minnesota's defense went from one of the top units in the league a few years back to struggling especially over the past two seasons.
What do you need to do to get back to the defense you used to be?
"I don't think 'get back to' – I appreciate that question, because obviously we were pretty good for a long time in Minnesota – but we've got some new things we're doing, a bunch of new faces," Smith said. "It's more about where we're going, where we can go – not thinking about where we've been and trying to get back there.
"It's about being fresh and maximizing guys we've got not," he added. "We have the guys we need. It's just up to us to make it happen."
10. Smith evaluates Rodgers' Con Air look
In case you missed it, division rival quarterback Aaron Rodgers reported to Packers training camp as a Nic Cage in Con Air lookalike.
Harrison Smith is used to viewing Rodgers as the enemy, per se, but he tipped his cap to Rodgers' tribute.
"I did see his look when he reported to camp today," Smith said. "I appreciate it, because I'm a Nic Cage fan myself, as we’ve discussed before. So it's a good look."