EAGAN, Minn. – Thursday morning's Minnesota Chamber of Commerce event, titled Unite the North, looked a little different but went off without a hitch.
The monthly meeting for all members was held virtually and hosted by the Minnesota Vikings, providing an inside look at the team for the business community.
Plenty of topics were covered during the 60-minute program moderated by "Voice of the Vikings" Paul Allen, from COVID-19 concerns and questions to a Q&A with Vikings teammates Kirk Cousins and Eric Kendricks. Autographed jerseys of the quarterback and linebacker were also given away to a pair of community members.
Below are eight highlights from the event.
1. Mark Wilf weighs in
A highlight of the morning's program came near the end and as a surprise to participants when Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf joined the Zoom video conference.
Wilf expressed gratitude and well-wishes to business partners and the Twin Cities community.
"It's great to be on the Vikings Hollywood Squares here," Wilf said with a smile.
Allen asked Wilf if he's had a chance to sit back and generate excitement for the 2020 season or if it's too soon for that level of optimism.
"Not a lot of breaths have been taken. It's been quite a whirlwind – around-the-clock Zooms and meetings and discussing and getting everything ready," Wilf said. "But as the summer starts coming to the midpoint, you start feeling, 'OK, it's getting to be time soon.' We're getting to that critical point.
"The Draft was the same excitement as [always]; it was virtual, but it was great," Wilf added. "A tremendous job by [General Manager Rick Spielman] and his team. And now Rick and [Chief Operating Officer] Andrew Miller working hard to get our facility ready for our players and coaches and everybody, the excitement is starting. It's starting."
2. Rick Spielman celebrates Year 30
Spielman addressed Thursday's guests and touched on a number of subjects, including anticipation of the rookies signing their contracts, Cousins' 2019 season and consistency of the offense heading into the 2020 campaign, and the way Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak fits so well into the Vikings blue-collar culture.
Allen wished Spielman a "happy 30-year anniversary" in the NFL, a career that started in 1990 as a college scout for the Lions. Spielman joined the Vikings in 2006 as the Vice President of Player Personnel and in 2012 was promoted to his current role.
"It seems like my first year in the league," Spielman quipped. "Every year, there's always something new that you have to deal with, and that's what makes this job so exciting. It's the challenges that you're faced with, the adversities that you're faced with, but that's why you get up and come to work every day."
3. COVID-19 reflections of COO Andrew Miller
Miller, who is approaching his one-year anniversary with the organization, acknowledged the challenges and disappointments of the past four months while remaining hopeful for the upcoming season.
Miller took a moment to reflect on positive takeaways he's noted while navigating the coronavirus pandemic – namely, how members of the organization have responded to adversity.
"We have seen people rise to the occasion, we've seen people who adapt," Miller said. "We've talked a lot about how … a successful organization, successful people, they adapt. They're resilient. And they find ways to be positive and find the silver linings and find a way to evolve as circumstances change. We live in a world where the circumstances are always changing – not necessarily pandemic-related changes, but everything is changing around us at all times – and this has just has been a unique circumstance."
Miller specifically mentioned Spielman, Vice President of Player Personnel & Assistant General Manager George Paton, Executive Vice President of Football Operations Rob Brzezinski, Head Coach Mike Zimmer and the coaching staff, Vikings scouts, the Information Technology department and members of the Vikings COVID-19 Committee those who have done an "unbelievable" job at rolling with the punches in an unprecedented environment.
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of January 4, 2021.
4. A few jottings on Jefferson
Cousins is just as excited to see first-round pick Justin Jefferson truly in action as Vikings fans are.
He noted that he did meet Jefferson in-person a while back when he got together with a group of receivers for a throwing session, but due to the coronavirus and lack of on-field offseason program, it's tough to provide "a summary of Justin's game."
Cousins did, however, note a few things about Jefferson's skill set, including his catch radius.
"When the ball was thrown far off to his right or left, he had an ability to reach for it and extend and cover a lot of ground with the ball in the air, adjusting to it," Cousins explained. "I think that's a skill that obviously receivers need to have, but a lot of guys who are wired to just run fast may not have that ability to adjust to a ball and kind of expand their radius. That was a subtle thing I noticed. He's just a fluid athlete.
"As a quarterback, you really like the guys who are natural receivers as opposed to just really good athletes, and from what I could gather, Justin's a 'natural receiver' – playing that position kind of comes instinctively to him," Cousins continued. "That's what you want to see. And then you also want to see a work ethic, someone who … is willing to put in the time and energy. He was there for the two days working and making progress, so that's another great sign."
5. Linebackers as leaders in 2020?
With the departure of several veterans from Minnesota's defense this spring, Kendricks and fellow linebacker Anthony Barr are among those remaining from the core group, along with Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris and Danielle Hunter.
Allen pointed out the more soft-spoken nature of Hunter and Smith and suggested that because of that, Kendricks and Barr will be looked to as the "bona fide leaders" of the defense when it comes to more vocal roles.
"I think we're going to take that role on ourselves, for sure," Kendricks said. "But in the same breath, I feel like our culture [and defense] breeds the type of [players, regardless of position], they have to communicate. If you're on Zimmer's defense, you're going to have to communicate whether you're a quiet person or not.
"Guys like Harry, guys like Danielle, are forced to communicate and talk in a game whether they necessarily want to or not," Kendricks continued. "Those kinds of guys, even though they're quiet off the field, when they take on that role on the field, they really become a different person … You definitely hear them on game day, and I'm not worried about the communication."
6. Best part of playing the game
Cousins emphasized the importance of everyone's health and safety while also expressing an itch to get back to football.
"The return to normal is, I think, what we all want in whatever business we're in. And for us, it's on a practice field, wearing football cleats, running and throwing," Cousins said. "I hope we can get there soon. I hope we can play this season as planned. I think players are going to do everything in their power to make that happen, [and I] can't wait to get there.
"I think the best part of playing the game is the locker room and seeing everybody," he added. "That's one thing we were denied – with the offseason program not being face-to-face, we didn't get to spend time together. Getting to see the guys and catch up will be one of the real benefits of getting back together.
View photos of the stadiums where the Vikings will play during the 2020 season.
7. Third time's the charm
Kendricks shares Cousins' eagerness to re-join his teammates.
The sixth-year linebacker spends his offseasons in his home state of California and has largely stayed there with the exception of two week-long trips to Minneapolis. Kendricks said he's "kind of been staying in my own area" during the pandemic and avoided highly populated spaces or beaches.
He still is doing whatever it takes to keep his training up, though, despite hurdles he's encountered.
"I got up this morning to work out before this call, and the first field I went to, it was locked up with big, high gates. The second field I went to, the groundskeeper crew kicked us off of it," Kendricks said. "I finally found a field right by my house where I was able to get a ladder in and some cones in, and I finally got my work in. But just jumping through those kinds of hoops is kind of frustrating at this point, so I'm definitely excited to get back to Minnesota and get back to work."
8. Coming together for change
In the wake of the senseless death of George Floyd while in police custody, Kendricks and several teammates who are part of the Vikings Social Justice Committee have upped already-existing efforts to create change and make a difference in the community.
Allen asked Kendricks about the heartfelt video he shared following Floyd's death, which can be viewed below:
"It was just an emotional time," Kendricks said. "Obviously our country has things we've been dealing with, and we have issues within the police force and things like that, but just to see it play out like that in the city that I play in and the city that I love, it just broke my heart. To see someone treated [inhumanely] … it just broke my heart.
"The Vikings have been on board the whole time, with a lot of these things we've been trying to deal with in the community and be proactive," Kendricks added. "I'm looking forward to getting guys like Kirk on board and just seeing how much of an impact we can truly make in the city and around our communities. So let's get it done."