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Vikings Locker Room Buzzing with Excitement as Week 1 Arrives

EAGAN, Minn.— The Vikings locker room was buzzing before practice on Monday.

It's Week 1 of the 2023 NFL season, and Minnesota is less than a week away from its Sunday home opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and the Vikings coaching staff have been preparing for the Bucs since the release of the schedule this spring. But the official start to Week 1 (following a productive five-week training camp) adds extra energy to an already optimistic locker room.

"We're all excited to get back out there on the turf and and play an actual opponent," tight end T.J. Hockenson said. "It'll be a blast for us. And I know everyone in this locker room is starting to get a little antsy."

With his new contract secured, Hockenson reiterated that he's feeling great and is "ready to roll." He said Monday was a bonus day, allowing the Vikings to practice at Twin Cities Orthopedic Performance Center. Players will be off Tuesday and then return to practice on Wednesday.

Hockenson said game week creates a natural spark around the team.

"That sense of urgency goes up a little bit," he said. "Just to be here, in the locker room, and have an opponent on Sunday is pretty incredible. All these guys in here are getting antsy for it to be Sunday. Everyone's ready to roll."

Expectations are high for the Vikings. Players are eager to build upon what worked last season while recognizing that last year's accomplishments guarantee them nothing.

Minnesota went 13-4 last year and won the NFC North. The Vikings last repeated as division champions in 2009.

"We know what we accomplished last year. But last year is behind us. We got a new team this year, and we're ready to roll," left tackle Christian Darrisaw said. "But we know the sky's the limit. We're taking this thing one week at a time, and we'll see where we end up."

Darrisaw anchors an offense line that returns all five starters from last year. Darrisaw, guards Ed Ingram and Ezra Cleveland, center Garrett Bradbury, and tackle Brian O'Neill plan to protect quarterback Kirk Cousins and open rushing lanes for running back Alexander Mattison.

But the offense will again run through Cousins and star receiver Justin Jefferson. Hockenson and rookie first-round receiver Jordan Addison were acquired to exploit the double (and sometimes triple) coverages Jefferson often faces.

Addison said he plans on doing exactly that.

"He will take a lot of attention. So, all I got to do is make sure I win my 1-on-1 and catch the ball," Addison said. "I just want to accomplish my goals that I set for myself. I don't want to put no stats or any numbers out there. I've got goals that I set for myself for each week. So, this week, I want to make sure I handle that. And then just make sure I'm making successful plays for my teammates."

Addison called making his NFL regular-season debut a "dream come true." He's not focused on what his stats could look like. Instead, he wants to build on the confidence he gained throughout training camp.

While the offense leans into its continuity, the Vikings defense hopes to keep the Buccaneers offense guessing.

Edge rusher Marcus Davenport is one of several Vikings newcomers on defense who are expected to play a key role in Brian Flores' defense. Having spent his first four years in the NFC South with the Saints, Davenport is familiar with the Buccaneers.

But Tampa Bay underwent its own changes this offseason. Now with his fourth team since the start of 2021, quarterback Baker Mayfield is replacing the again-retired Tom Brady. Davenport noted that the Bucs offensive line is different from last year, too.

Safety Josh Metellus cracked a full smile as players began their pre-practice routines. Once again, a team captain, Metellus, said the Vikings defense will be ready for Week 1 primarily because they practice against "one of the best offenses" daily.

The Vikings made it to September, and regular-season football is nearly here.

"We've got a lot of young guys who [are playing in] their first NFL game. I'm excited to see them go out there and ball out," Metellus said. "And I'm excited to see this new team we have this year put it all together and to see what we do at 12 o'clock on Sunday."