MANKATO, Minn. —The Vikings went low in a plan to reach new heights.
Wearing a ball cap flipped backward, offensive line coach Tony Sparano dropped to one knee so he'd be underneath a horizontal, spring-loaded metal plane. Some call it a rack; left tackle Matt Kalil called it "the chutes."
Whatever the terminology, it's clear that Sparano considers it an important teaching device. It is wide enough for the likes of the 6-foot-7 Kalil and 6-8 Alex Boone to join three other linemen, till up some turf with their cleats for a couple of steps and explosively power into blocking pads held by teammates.
Grunt, grunt, grunt. Pop, pop, pop.
"That's the way the game sounds," said Sparano, a former head coach who was hired by Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer this offseason.
The drill drew a crowd of media and fans with field passes who took advantage of the close vantage point.
"It helps keep us low off the ball," Kalil said. "Obviously, we've got a great running back, so the better we are at run blocking, it's only going to make him better."
The Vikings were the only team in the NFL to start the same five players on the offensive line in 2015. Positions will change in 2016, and players could too.
Boone (left guard) and veteran Andre Smith (right tackle), who were acquired via free agency, worked with the first team in the Vikings first morning walk-through and afternoon practice.
John Sullivan returned to center after missing all of 2016 because of injuries, and Brandon Fusco returned to right guard after playing all of 2015 at left guard.
The Vikings haven't played for Sparano long, but said they've enjoyed learning from him so far.
"It's different, but it's fun," Smith said. "He's honest all the time and is going to shoot you straight."
Fusco said Sparano is "very hard-nosed, demands a lot."
"But I think it's what we need here. You get his respect by how you come out every day and work," Fusco said. "He always wants you to use his technique and be the best player you can be. So if you come out here and work hard for him, he respects you a lot."
Kalil said Sparano "pays attention to the little details."
"It's a lot of things, but he's definitely making me better."
McKinnon shows off blazing speed during first practice
By Eric Smith
Jerick McKinnon has always been known for his speed, but it looked like the Vikings running back grew an extra set of wings over the summer.
Although practice was only in helmets and shorts, McKinnon looked like he was on another level with his quickness Friday.
"I feel like I was moving pretty good," McKinnon said. "I said before I got to camp that I was just going to come out here and fly.
"For me it's all about working and finding a way to get better," he added.
The former fourth-round pick who rushed for 271 yards and a pair of touchdowns last season said he thought his teammates moved well, too.
"I think guys were flying around the first day and there was a good tempo," McKinnon said. "But like Coach Zimmer said at the end of practice, we've got a long way to go.
"The coaches are going to coach us hard and that's the good thing about them," he added. "Everybody is going to take that criticism and find a way to get better."
McKinnon then expanded on getting criticism from Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner and running backs coach Kevin Stefanski, saying it's a part of the league he actually enjoys.
"I love to learn and be a student of the game," McKinnon said. "Come to work and come to learn."
With Adrian Peterson getting some light work in for the first practice of 2016 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, McKinnon took most of the reps with the first-team offense.
With McKinnon looking to carve out a bigger role for himself in 2016, the 5-foot-9 speedster said he was more than up for the challenge.
"This is my third camp, so there's no reason I should feel uncomfortable," McKinnon said. "It's just about seeing things and putting myself in game-type situations.
"I don't take a play off and just go full-speed every play," he added.
Vikings connect with fans
Vikings players have been able to connect with fans in multiple ways since arriving in Mankato Thursday. That's expected to continue over the weekend with walk-throughs and practice sessions scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.
Click here for the full training camp schedule and list of fan events.