EAGAN, Minn. — Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center has sparkled as the new headquarters and training facility since opening in March 2018.
The facility is big, bold and was designed to encourage bonding between teammates, coaches and staff.
But the building is being retrofit and reorganized ahead of hosting its third Verizon Vikings Training Camp so that social distancing measures can be implemented during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The changes begin in the parking lot and continue into hallways, the locker room, weight room, therapy spaces, theater-style auditorium and cafeteria.
Vikings Vice President of Sports Medicine Eric Sugarman, who is the team's Infection Control Officer, and General Manager Rick Spielman guided journalist Peter King throughout the facility on Friday for King's "Football Morning in America" column that posted Monday. Sugarman also participated in a video conference Monday with media members.
Vikings rookies, quarterbacks and other select players are scheduled to report Thursday, July 23. All other veterans are scheduled to report July 28.
View a photo tour of TCO Performance Center with Vikings Head Athletic Trainer Eric Sugarman who recently took NBC Sports' Peter King around to showcase how the team is preparing to combat COVID-19.
Sugarman said education, both with initial information and reinforcement, will be "unbelievably critical" to maintain a sterile environment.
"We are going to have Tier systems, and there's going to be no inter-mixing," Sugarman said. "We're going to be safe in our building, but I'm going to go home at the end of the night and see my children and wife, players are going to go, maybe out to a restaurant, or whatever is allowed in their state and then bring that back to our building. So we all have a responsibility … to protect each other. The only way we accomplish that is through education, and it's going to be critical that all clubs do that."
Outside the Building
King was quick to notice that the parking spot usually reserved for Head Coach Mike Zimmer is one of several that has been commandeered by a portable trailer that will house a testing facility. Testing details have not been announced.
Zimmer's King Ranch F-150 has given way to a flag stand for BioReference Laboratories, the NFL's testing partner, and low end of a ramp from the trailer.
Pre-screen: Before players, coaches or staff enter the building, they must complete a questionnaire to make sure they have no symptoms and have not been in close contact with anyone with COVID-19.
Entering the Building
Technology will be at the forefront of the Vikings approach to enhanced health and safety measures.
Players, coaches and staff must wear a mask as they have their temperature scanned by a tablet. The scanning feature will not work unless a mask is in place.
Sugarman told King that entrants will receive sensors similar to the GPS units that players have been wearing on the field for a couple of years to assist with contact tracing.
"You wear it the entire time you're in the building," Sugarman said. "Players will wear them on the practice field and then you turn it in when you leave for the day. That's how — instantly — we can do contact tracing."
Lounge Area Removed
The 6,500-square-foot main locker room at TCO Performance Center is 2,200 square feet larger than the previous one at Winter Park. The space normally features a cozy area with couches around a wall with TVs and twin fireplaces. Those sofas, however, have been removed to make way for additional lockers that are needed to provide at least 6 feet of space between occupied lockers.
"We have the good fortune of being in one of the largest and most awesome facilities in the NFL, which gives us a big advantage when it comes to social distancing," Sugarman said.
There will be gaps of one or two empty lockers between teammates now.
Workout Groups Shrink and Shift
Before COVID-19, the state-of-the-art weight room would house about 45 players for workout by the total offense and 45 for a separate workout by the defense.
Now, Sugarman said, the plan is for there to be 15 players, with 15 more on the field and another 15 at TCO Stadium.
The weight room will be cleaned prior to anyone entering, and equipment must be wiped between uses by different players.
Capacity Limits Reduced for Meeting and Therapy Areas
Each position group usually spends several hours each week in specific meeting rooms, but the capacity for those has been dramatically reduced. Spielman explained that the 53-man regular-season roster and practice squad players will probably fall under those limits, but the 90-person max during training camp exceeds limits that are needed for proper social distancing.
The swaggy auditorium that houses team meetings is massive, but will be reduced to about a quarter of its capacity, with seats being removed from the theater-style chairs. The space will be able to host a full offense or defense meeting but not the entire team.
TCO Performance Center features a hydrotherapy room with hot and cold therapy pools. Capacity for each has been reduced from 12 to a half dozen.
When walking through the Fred Zamberletti Athletic Training Room, Sugarman pointed out that players will have personalized water bottles. He also showcased a facemask guard that has been designed by Oakley and demonstrated an electrostatic sprayer.
"These particles don't just go where I sprayed and wiped," Sugarman said. "These particles cover the entire table. They go underneath, they go in the cracks. A much safer way to clean."
All but one chair has been removed from each table in the cafeteria. Serving lines will continue, but they will be attended by kitchen staff as opposed to the self-scoop model that previously existed.
The Vikings also are implementing an app that will allow players and coaches to order lunch items each morning then grab and go.
That's a long way from the old days when Vikings Legends used to lower bedsheets out of Gage Hall to lift up pizzas after training camp curfew, but it's a lot more 2020.
"The nutrition of these players is critical, so we really had to reorganize and give a lot of thought to the cafeteria," Sugarman said. "Staff used to come up, take what they want and put it on their plate as a buffet line. Now that's over. Chefs will be behind the line, make a serving and hand it to you. We're having the same food. It just might look a little different when they get it."