EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Vikings players sprinted to drill stations with a youthful exuberance similar to what's shown by children heading out for the first snow of the season.
"Ton of energy, and that's what you want to see after a bye week," defensive end Brian Robison said. "You don't want to see guys come back and be lethargic and stuff like that. We came out today with great energy, everybody was in tune and ready to practice and we showed it today. We came out and had a heck of a practice so hopefully we can keep that going throughout the week."
The demeanor of players inside the fieldhouse at Winter Park had less to do with the first snow of the season falling outside and more to do with how refreshed they felt from a bye week.
Players said the scheduled rest, timed just past the midweek of the regular season, did much to refresh them for the final seven games that start with a trip to Chicago at noon (CT) Sunday in a game that will be cross-flexed to CBS.
"My bruise on my butt is almost gone, so that's always a good deal," Robison said. "Just feeling refreshed and ready to go. I feel like I'm 29 again."
Robison, who set the pace for defensive linemen returning to drills, is 31 for the record.
The Vikings (4-5) have won two in a row by a combined nine points and want to secure their first NFC North win of the season. The Bears (3-6), meanwhile, have dropped three in a row by a combined 133-51.
Monday's practice also drew positive reviews from players on offense and Head Coach Mike Zimmer.
Veteran receiver Greg Jennings said keys to performing well after a bye are "being able to execute in practice, making sure guys are having that recall, getting back in their books, the game plan and different things like that, and just staying sharp mentally and physically."
"A lot of times you come off the bye and guys are fresh, but you worry about guys slipping into that comfortability where they're not hearing the plays and you have those mental errors and lulls in practice," Jennings said. "From what I could tell, I'm not a head coach, I didn't look from the sideline, but I thought practice went pretty good today."
Zimmer, who spent some of his bye weekend hunting and some time watching game tape on his tablet next to a wood-burning stove in his barn, liked the way his players answered the post-bye questions he had.
"It's actually what I told the team this morning when I met with them was, I was curious to find out how they were mentally with their techniques, their footwork, their hand placements, the splits, everything that they did, and actually I was impressed today and I don't get impressed much," Zimmer said.
Right tackle Phil Loadholt said players wanted to show their coaches that they were rejuvenated and ready to return to business.
"We just wanted to come out and have a great practice, let coach know that we're all rested, but we also have our focus right and we're ready to put together a good week of practice," Loadholt said. "Hopefully that will translate into a great game on Sunday."
HEAT IS ON THE WAY: Zimmer said a heating system that will enable the Vikings to use the outdoor practice field is on its way to Winter Park via a boat from Europe. He said the team didn't expect the weather "to be this bad this soon."
With the Vikings playing their home games the next two seasons outdoors at TCF Bank Stadium, the idea is to be in the elements that will match each week's game conditions as much as possible. That desire, however, is balanced by the imperatives of having efficient practices.
After this week's trip to Soldier Field, the final two road games for the Vikings are at Detroit (indoor stadium) and at Miami, quite the haven from the cold.
"(The system is) going to heat the field, keep it from freezing, so we can get out there and practice in the weather," Zimmer said. "We'll have heaters like 40 yards of heat vents for the players when they are on the sideline but the field will be heated so it's not frozen."
RUDOLPH MOVES CLOSER: Tight end Kyle Rudolph, who has been recovering from sports hernia surgery, is moving closer to the lineup for the first time since Week 3.
"He practiced a little bit today so he ran routes and did a little bit everything, more than individual," Zimmer said. "We're hopeful but we'll see as the week goes on."
Chase Ford has 19 catches for 212 yards, including his first TD catch against Washington, and Rhett Ellison has added nine catches for 111 yards, but the 2012 Pro Bowler Rudolph could add to the Vikings firepower.
"It's always great to see 'Rudy' back out there, a big, friendly giant, smiling guy, another face you can lean to and smile and have fun with," Jennings said. "He definitely has made a lot of plays for this team, and we're excited to have him back."