MANKATO, Minn. — The Vikings and Bengals believe they have the makings of a gridiron gentlemen's agreement that will lead to a pair of productive practices on Wednesday and Thursday in Cincinnati.
Prior to his hire in Minnesota, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer served as defensive coordinator in Cincinnati from 2008-13 for Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis. The strong relationship between the men is helping set the tone for a first day in full pads and a second day in shoulder pads before opening their preseason slate Friday.
Zimmer said players from both teams will collide and thump but not go in trying to tackle to the ground during the practice sessions. Quarterbacks for both teams will be in no-contact jerseys.
And most certainly, there is to be no one coming off the top turnbuckle.
When Vikings Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner was head coach of the Chargers, his team practiced twice with the Dallas Cowboys. Turner credited his relationship with Cowboys Head Coach Jason Garrett for the success of those sessions.
"Well yeah, and I think it's that deal of approaching your team ahead of time and saying we are not coming in here to have a WWF situation," Turner said. "We are coming in here to help each other get better, and I think that when you have that starting point and understating, you have a chance to have it work.
"[Garrett and I] got together and said what we are going to talk to our team about and how we want to it get that done and why we are doing it and how it benefits both teams," Turner added. "I think that's what has happened with Zim' and Marvin Lewis. They know each other really well, so I think they've a good plan to make sure that doesn't happen."
What are some of the benefits?
- The opportunity to go against different personnel
"We've had nine practices, or whatever it is, and you've been practicing all spring against each other, and you get to know each other pretty well," Turner said. "You get to know how a guy runs a route or rushes a passer, or whatever those things are. It's not a pure game experience, but it gives you a feeling of different players and how they play. It's another experience for all the players, but particularly the young players."
- Keep things hidden
Another aspect is being able to run plays that coaches have in mind for critical moments of regular-season games without showing them to the entire league during the preseason. The prevalence of game film means any foe can try to track what a team might do if it shows too much.
"There are some things we have that we like, and you run them against a team in practice, and people shouldn't be scouting you and people shouldn't find out what you're doing, so it gives you a chance to get some full speed work in that area," Turner said. "And again, I think it's valuable for your quarterback, particularly your starting quarterback, because you can give him a lot of reps without the concern of getting him hit or banged up in the preseason."
- Responding to the unknown
Some Vikings offensive and defensive players have gone against each other for multiple seasons, and this is the third season in which Turner and Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards have held their roles. After going against each other during the organized team activity practices in May and June, as well as at training camp, there's a certain familiarity developing on how a corner might defend a particular receiver.
The practices, however, are going to be pretty much sight unseen, creating an opportunity to quickly process information and react to it.
"It has been kind of a progression as we've gone through camp, and now we're going to go and get ready against a team that we really haven't seen every day," Edwards said. "So, they're going to have to recall that information, play their base roles, concentrate on their fundamentals and techniques, and we want to see them be able to do those things in practice, and then we play them there on that Friday at the end of the week. We're excited about the opportunity to get a chance to go up there and compete, because this is going to be a continuous competition all the way through the preseason."