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Zimmer: Vikings Players' Recall Solid After Bye

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — For Mike Zimmer, Monday's Vikings practice was about where players are, not where they've been.

Minnesota is the NFL's only unbeaten team at 5-0, but that guarantees nothing going forward.

Zimmer wanted to see players keep sharpness in spite of time off for their Week 6 bye and retain information in their return.

Zimmer and Vikings coaches used the open date to self-scout Minnesota's hot start to the 2016 campaign. He made it clear that he considers the Vikings 0-0 with plenty to prove as they enter an 11-game season beginning Sunday at the Eagles (3-2).

"My first year, when I'd give them some time off they'd come back and forget everything they had learned. Today it wasn't like that," Zimmer said. "Now there was some things that I saw that we had to correct quickly. Their recall right now is so much better than what it was. That was the important thing to me, to see what kind of recall we had with the things that we do."

In 2014, the Vikings returned from a Week 10 bye and lost at Chicago. The Vikings were 4-5, and the Bears were 3-6. Chicago scored 21 unanswered to undo a 10-0 lead by Minnesota and limited the Vikings to a field goal in the final 8:51.

Last season, the Vikings returned from a Week 5 bye and began a five-game winning streak by defeating the Chiefs 16-10 at home.

Zimmer and players said they were pleased with their first day back at work from a mental and physical standpoint.

"I talked to them about making sure when you come back that you don't come out here and pull muscles, [so] get some workouts in, watch some tape," Zimmer said. "They did a good job in meetings today. For the most part, they did a good job in practice as far as being on point with things."

Captain Munnerlyn said it's about players knowing what coaches expect from them, even though a slight drop off can be expected.

"That's crazy he said that because I was just talking to a couple of the guys, 'Man, this might have been the best practice I've ever had coming out of a bye,' " Munnerlyn said. "Normally guys would be a little sluggish, guys are not moving around and you forget little things and make crazy mistakes, but today, we kind of locked in with our focus and were flying around and having fun."

Everson Griffen and Anthony Barr said the Vikings are encouraged by what they've done so far but not complacent. They are aware of what challenges await and what is still possible this season.

"It's a lot different when you're 5-0, but we're just playing good ball right now," Griffen said. "We could be special, but it's up to us. We can't look too far ahead. We've got to worry about Philly this week and move on from there."

Barr added: "We kind of know that we've got something special going right now, so we wanted to make sure we stay on point and continue to build on that."

The bounce back from the bye was noticed by offensive players, too.

"The first two years, we'd get the bye week and come back kind of rusty," Jerick McKinnon said.

"This year, I feel like the focus was still there. I feel like this team is so greedy, we want to do everything right every day, so we nitpick. I feel like it was a good practice overall."

Long quickly adjusting to Vikings

Jake Long is ready for his first full week with the Vikings.

Minnesota signed the veteran right tackle last Tuesday after right tackle Andre Smith was put on injured reserve.

Long said his relationship with Vikings offensive line coach Tony Sparano, who was Miami's head coach when the Dolphins drafted Long first overall in 2008, has helped ease the transition.

"A lot of it is similar stuff to what I've run before," Long said. "It's just getting the verbiage down … I spent all last week getting it down so I feel comfortable with the scheme and calls and everything.

"It's just getting out there and knocking off the rust and getting comfortable with the other guys," he added. "I felt great out there today."

The 31-year-old said he's been impressed with how his teammates have handled a myriad of injuries this season.

Long added that veteran center Joe Berger and left guard Alex Boone provide leadership to the offensive line room.

"They've definitely went through some adversity," Long said. "But they've been doing a good job of sticking together and (buying into) that next-man-up concept.

"I've just got to keep rolling with them," he added. "When you've got older guys like Boone and Berger … they bring everybody else along."

Long, a four-time Pro Bowler, has made 96 career starts with the Dolphins and Rams. He also appeared in four games last season as a backup with the Falcons.

Zimmer said Long has looked good so far but added that the sample size has been small.

"Obviously, I haven't seen the tape today yet, and they had 12 plays the other day or something," Long said. "So, it's kind of hard to evaluate on that right now."

When Zimmer was asked when he'll know if Long will play on Sunday, Zimmer said, "probably Friday."

Heinicke progressing toward practice

Zimmer said Taylor Heinicke "probably will" start practicing this week. Heinicke opened the season on the non-football injury list after severing tendons in his ankle in off-time between the Vikings wrapping a minicamp in June and opening training camp in July.

Teams are allowed to start practicing players who open the season on the non-football injury or physically unable to perform lists before Week 7 through the day after Week 11 (Nov. 22 this year) for a period of up to 21 days.

The player can be restored to the active roster from the non-football injury or physically unable to perform list at any point during the 21-day practice period or the following day.

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