Vikings

NOTEBOOK: Vikings Wrap Busy Week With Practice at New Stadium

A lot has happened since the Minnesota Vikings last played a football game. Mike Zimmer went toe-to-toe with the media. Teddy Bridgewater recovered from a mysterious shoulder injury. The Vikings signed a new quarterback. Matt Kalil got hurt, while several of his teammates returned to the field. Adrian Peterson said he wasn’t going to play in the preseason. And Friday, the Vikings took the field as a team at their new home for the first time.

The atmosphere was light as Vikings employees walked through the practice field with cameras that were projected up onto the stadium’s massive video board. Players danced and flexed, clearly enjoying the new digs. A select number of privileged fans were invited to watch from the second deck, and they roared as the Vikings left the field after practicing for less than an hour and a half. “Great atmosphere, a lot of purple,” head coach Mike Zimmer said as he surveyed the 66,000-plus seats.

The head coach noted that the stadium’s shadows shouldn’t play too big a factor, according to a “sun study” he’d been given, but he was impressed by how much light the ETFE roof allowed in on a somewhat cloudy day.

Zimmer made sure the stadium’s pivoting doors were open to see if they played any kind of role, though there wasn’t much impact weather-wise on a calm, 66-degree morning. According to Zimmer, the team’s main concern with the doors at this point is whether having them open reduces the noise in the stadium. “I hope our crowd is extremely loud every time,” he said.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Vikings open the doors for one preseason game and close them for another so they get a sample of the noise level in both cases. Minnesota plays San Diego on Sunday at noon, then has a quick turnaround before Los Angeles comes to town on Thursday night.

Ellison Returns After Challenging Rehab

Perhaps the best injury news the Vikings got all week was the medical clearance of tight end Rhett Ellison, who tore his patellar tendon in Green Bay late last season. The patellar tendon can be a devastating injury to many athletes, and Ellison didn’t shy away from describing his rigorous rehab process. “It’s a lot more difficult to get back,” Ellison said, “because the tendon is such a thick thing.

“Early on, you go through some dark days,” Ellison continued. “Your mind’s never had to handle something like that.”

It was the fifth-year veteran’s first knee injury, and it happened just before the Vikings’ playoff game. Instead of paving lanes for Adrian Peterson in the running game, Ellison was relegated to a box in the upper reaches of TCF Bank Stadium. He credited his fiancée – now wife – Raina Hein for helping him stay on track with his rehab. “If I didn’t have my wife there’s no way I think I’d be back at all,” the tight end said. “We got married through the process. That was awesome. She got me closer to my faith. She’s been my rock through this whole process. She had to drive me everywhere. I was pretty much completely dependent on her for three months.”

Ellison wasn’t sure if he would play on Sunday, but he said he trusts the strength of his knee and thinks he is “very close” to regaining his former speed.

Thielen Continues to Shine

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While Zimmer tried tempering expectations in Mankato, it’s becoming more and more likely that Adam Thielen is going to play a big role in the Vikings offense. He continues to get first-team reps in three-WR sets and has made flashy plays in each of the first two preseason games. Against Cincinnati he left his feet in traffic to catch a ball thrown high over the middle by Bridgewater. In Seattle, he hauled in four receptions for 61 yards, including a gritty, contested catch in the red zone. “I think the quarterbacks expect us to make those plays and make them look good,” Thielen said Wednesday. “You’ve just got to go when the ball’s in the air and got to go get it.”

From a practice squad body to a special teams ace to a quality wide receiver, Thielen’s ascent continues to be one of the better stories on the team. He is the true Mr. Mankato, having graduated from the Divison-II school that hosts Vikings training camp.

Thielen is good friends with Cordarrelle Patterson, and while the two are competing for the same reps, Patterson is happy to see his friend turn some heads. “Everybody on this team loves seeing Adam making plays,” Patterson said. “The hometown kid; coming from nothing. And he’s grinding so hard to get where he’s at, man. It gives me jitterbugs to see him out there. It’s like my little brother out there making those big-time plays.”

Thielen still has just 20 career regular season receptions, but that total should more than double if he remains this involved in the offensive gameplan.

Berger or Sully?

The battle for center is still raging with Joe Berger and John Sullivan splitting first-team reps, sometimes on a drill-by-drill basis.

Berger was forced to fill in for Brandon Fusco at right guard for over a week, which ostensibly pushed back the center competition into the third week of the preseason.

While Berger’s flexibility would be desirable to have on the bench, the Vikings clearly aren’t convinced he wouldn’t be best suited as the starting center. It’s likely their performances on Sunday will have a big impact on the team’s decision.

“We’ve still got a few more days until next Thursday,” Zimmer said on Friday morning. “We’ll keep talking about it.”

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