EAGAN, Minn. — Newly installed purple bleachers and two hospitality tents overlooking lush practice fields are in place.
So are Vikings veterans who reported Tuesday for 2021 U.S. Bank Vikings Training Camp.
… and protocols.
As fan activity elements were being placed at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and Head Coach Mike Zimmer spoke to media members Tuesday to kick off the fourth training camp at the venue and 61st season in team history.
There was excitement in their voices for the opportunity to begin again with restored optimism, as well as a hint of wanting to see how unknowns unfold. There was a gratitude for being able to hold the Vikings voluntary offseason programs, which featured a high degree of player participation this spring, and a mandatory minicamp in June.
"The offseason was so critical for us this year, especially with all new players coming in, and for our coaches to be out on grounds with our players, teaching them the basic schemes," Spielman said, "but also Coach Zim' and the job that they've done and some of the tweaks [they're] going to add to our scheme.
"And I'm excited about the fans coming out here, finally, to see us in training camp here at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center," Spielman added. "Our fans haven't seen our players in over a year. This gives them an opportunity – and what an incredible job the business side did, getting this training camp ready to welcome our fans back."
Zimmer was asked if the benefits of again having an in-person offseason program makes him less anxious than a year ago and said, "I always have anxiety. It's why I've got that big bottle of Pepto Bismol up there.
"I think it is much better. We've had a chance to work with the players and talk to them," Zimmer said. "I have not been able to have a team meeting in person with them yet which I will today for the first time. That's good. I think it's important that I see what they're doing when I'm talking to them as opposed to playing on their phone while faking that they're on Zoom or something like that. I think all those things are important.
"I'm excited about this football team," Zimmer continued. "I think these guys upstairs have done a great job, honestly, filling a lot of the holes that we have. To add guys like Sheldon Richardson, get guys like Michael Pierce, Dalvin Tomlinson, Pat Peterson, [Bashaud] Breeland, Xavier Woods, he had a good spring. So it's going to look completely different. I like the way this group is heading."
There was a sense of less uncertainty — how could there not be from a year ago as teams navigated uncharted water? — but also an understanding that protocols remain in place.
View photos of the Vikings 2021 coaching staff.
The protocols agreed to by the NFL and NFLPA will be implemented and differ, depending on if players are vaccinated or unvaccinated.
Both Spielman and Zimmer declined to say where the team's vaccination rate is at, but they also shared their personal beliefs in vaccines.
"I know how our organization feels about people getting vaccinated," Spielman said. "I know me personally, I've been vaccinated, and I think it's very important not only to protect yourself but to protect a lot of other people.
"That is a decision by our players. We'll continue to educate them, but I know the players that are unvaccinated, there's a specific protocol in place for them," Spielman added. "Last year, [Vikings Vice President of Sports Medicine/Head Athletic Trainer] Eric Sugarman and a lot of people did a tremendous job of getting us through the season with the protocols in place last year. There's going to be two sets of protocols now, as many of you have read, going forward, and we'll adhere to all of the protocols, not only for the vaccinated players but for the unvaccinated players as well."
During the offseason program, the Vikings arranged virtual informational sessions with medical personnel, including Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL's Chief Medical Officer. Hall of Famers Alan Page and John Randle also discussed their decisions to get the vaccine during a video session with the current team.
Zimmer doesn't share his off-the-gridiron thoughts from the podium, but he opted to explain his position Tuesday.
"So I'm going to talk personally right now, OK? Personally, with this Delta variant the way it is now and the people that are getting infected, I think it's extremely important that everyone gets vaccinated," Zimmer said.
"Everyone has to make their own decisions. The same thing with our players. But I will continue to push that they understand everything," Zimmer added. "We've had Dr. Sills and we've had former players and all those guys talk about the reasons why you should get vaccinated, and I also think that you're seeing a lot of people now that didn't get vaccinated who are deciding that, 'You know what? Maybe we should have.' So I just want our players to be safe. I want them to be healthy. I want their families to be healthy and safe, and if they don't get vaccinated, they've got to follow the protocols."