MANKATO, Minn. — Harrison Smith arrived on Thursday at 2016 Verizon Vikings Training Camp via a bus of mostly first-year players that departed Winter Park for Minnesota State University, Mankato.
Like all players upholding a camp tradition, he'll cruise around campus on team-issued bicycles, but make no mistake: the Vikings are also riding Mike Zimmer's train.
Zimmer was signed to a contract extension that the team announced as players were arriving for his third season as Minnesota's head coach.
The safety who appeared in his first Pro Bowl in January and other players who have grown to respect Zimmer greatly in a relatively short amount of time said they were glad to see Zimmer's work rewarded. The extension comes a month after the Vikings signed Smith to a multiyear extension.
"I'm pretty excited about it," Smith said. "I think that was probably going to happen at some point, as well. He didn't worry about it, either. He coaches hard. We play for him, we love playing for him, and I think that shows up on the field. And that shows up in the trust that the guys upstairs took care of him and want him around as well."
Smith said he didn't want to "over-simplify" what Zimmer has brought after years as a successful defensive coordinator.
"I don't want to just point out one thing," Smith said. "I think that his accountability and his get-it-done attitude. There are no excuses for anything, it's just really you got it done or you didn't get it done. Guys really enjoy that, because it's straight forward and you know where you stand. That allows you to get better."
Seven-time Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson, who arrived for his 10th training camp, was glad to hear about the news.
"That's awesome for him. He definitely deserves it," Peterson said. "I'm just looking forward to seeing him around for a long time.
Linebacker Chad Greenway hadn't heard the news before he stepped up to the podium for a media session. The father of three girls with another one on the way almost sounded like a public-service announcement, saying, "You don't tweet and drive so I didn't see that."
"That's awesome for him," Greenway said. "Clearly over his two years he's been here he's made an impact in the organization, I think in a very positive way. Above the wins and losses just really the culture in the building and the things he's created. That's excellent to hear; happy for him.
Greenway said he also sees Zimmer putting in the steps to maintain the system that has led to progress and resulted in the Vikings winning the NFC North last season.
"It's one thing to build it up and get lazy with it and just assume it's going to take care of itself but this is an everyday process," Greenway said. "The culture really starts from the top down within the organization. I think that's why we've had such success whether it be through the draft and now building the organization to the point where we want to be winners every year and be either in the playoffs or in the playoff hunt every year and be consistent.
"I think we're getting to that point but this is a great chance for us this season to kind of put our first foot forward on that and say hey we can go back to the playoffs and take another step. Obviously with the end result hopefully being in the Super Bowl where we want to be."
Greenway, who rose from the ranks of nine-man football in South Dakota to a two-time Pro Bowler who is prepping for his team-high 11th season with the Vikings, said he loves the "blue collar" work ethic of the team.
"We have a ton of really hard workers on this team," Greenway said. "Guys that really struggled to get to where they are in their careers and want to hold onto it, myself included. I think with that mentality, especially starting with the head coach coming down to the players, we just can't forget who we are. Everybody is so excited for our season and what could be but none of that happens without us going to work and being who we are. You've got to go to work and be yourself and not try to be something that everybody is saying you are."
Everson Griffen, who was elevated to a starter in Zimmer's first season in Minnesota (2014),
"He brought in a whole new philosophy and a whole new way of Vikings football, and you've been seeing it each year how we are getting better," Griffen said. "There's a lot of excitement."
Free agent signee Alex Boone is among players who has spent the least amount of time around Zimmer. The guard has been impressed since joining the Vikings in March and participating in the offseason workout program from April through June.
The boisterous Boone joked that he's "learned to be quiet" around the disciplinarian 60-year-old coach, whose voice rises when expectations aren't met.
"People baffle when I say this, but he's an old school coach, and you don't see a lot of those anymore," Boone said. "He's one of those guy's that's going to tear you apart to bring you up. He believes more work is good work, and it's good for you. I believe in the same thing, I'm excited to be here, and I'm excited to play for him. I'm excited to be yelled at by him."
Boone joked that he and Zimmer are "exact opposites, but I think if we were married, we'd do OK.
"Zim's a great guy, and he's the last of a dying breed of coaches, and you have to respect that about him," Boone said. "He wants the most that his team can give and you love a coach like that because he puts in just as much work. He's not just saying one thing and doing another, he's actually putting in the work. You've got to love a coach like that."