As the Minnesota Vikings open training camp, there will be information emanating from their Eagan facility that will be important or at least somewhat significant. There will also be a lot of things that just don’t matter. It can be helpful for fans to know the difference.
Obviously, holdouts (the Vikings don’t have any), arrests (again, none — knock on wood), and serious injuries or surgeries (knocking on all the wood) matter. The Sidney Rice hip surgery during camp in 2010 mattered. Teddy Bridgewater’s knee injury in 2016 – which technically happened after training camp had ended – mattered a lot. Had Dalvin Cook held out last July, it would have mattered. Have any Vikings players been arrested during camp since the team moved its workouts from Mankato to Eagan? Not throwing shade at Mankato. I’m just pointing it out.
Position battles, to the extent that there are any, will matter. However, we really won’t know the position battle “winners” until the Vikings kick off in Week 1.
Along with these obviously important storylines, as well as other vital things for fans to consider, such as where to have food and cocktails after watching the workouts – I suggest Union 32 (close proximity, wall of beer taps) or Cooper’s (if you want more of a dive bar feel) – there will be a lot of noise that you can filter out.
With that in mind, here are the top 10 things that don’t matter during training camp:
Who doesn’t love a good donnybrook or fracas during camp? Unless someone really gets molly-whopped and winds up injured, all that results from fights are highlights for the sports segment on your local TV news and ticked-off coaches. Usually, the players wind up shaking hands, calling it a “heat of the moment” thing, and move on. And if they don’t become buds, it usually doesn’t matter — as long as the team wins games during the season.
9. Highlight plays
Along these same lines, one or two highlight-reel catches that go viral on the Twitter machine can’t offset dropped passes or running the wrong route. You’re going to see some flashy plays on TV or social media. Just remember they call them highlights for a reason. The lowlights you don’t see usually have more of a bearing on playing time for any individual player. Moreover, looking good in shorts is one thing. Making plays during preseason games is generally more impactful.
8. Players in the “Best shape of their lives”
We hear it every summer. So and so is “in the best shape of their life.” Yawn. First of all, they should be. It’s their job to be in shape and ready to go. Secondly, sometimes these offseason workouts wind up backfiring, i.e., the running back who puts on too much muscle weight slows down or loses agility or the lineman who cut weight needs to put some back on to better hold his ground. In the end, the “best shape of his life” or “added 15 pounds of muscle” narrative gets way overblown and winds up being a non-factor. Most of it can be ignored.
7. Resting veterans
Whenever a veteran gets some days or practices off during camp, the local media will pick up on it and report it as if it’s important. About 99% of the time, it’s just a routine day off for a guy who’s been there forever, knows what he’s doing, has a job wrapped up, and doesn’t require all the extra reps a younger player might need.
6. Starters that don’t stand out
Similarly, if guys like Harrison Smith or Adam Thielen or Anthony Barr don’t stand out during practices, who cares? They’re going to start, and they don’t need to do anything flashy. They just need to set a good example for other players, help where they can, get their workouts in, and, most importantly, stay healthy. If they do all that without showing out, mission accomplished.
5. Practices cut short
You’ll hear it reported at least once every camp: Coach Mike Zimmer cut practice short or even called off an afternoon practice because of the heat or because the players worked really hard and looked sharp. Or maybe the kicker made a 65-yard field goal, so they got to hit the showers earlier than expected. Whatever the reason, don’t read anything into it. Let the reports go in one ear and out the other. It doesn’t mean they are ahead of or behind schedule in their preparations. At most, it’s a morale booster for the players.
4. Active PUP list designations
This one is misunderstood more so than it is irrelevant. Sometimes when a player is placed on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform List at the start of training camp, it matters. Such is the case with Vikings’ kicker Riley Patterson, who is battling for a job. In other cases, with players who are locks to make the team and are merely getting additional time recovering from injuries or offseason surgery, it’s just a procedural designation, meaning they won’t be practicing until they are removed from the list – which can be done at any point. The active/PUP designation can literally last a few days. It’s not to be confused with the reserve/PUP designation, which costs players at least the first six weeks of the regular season.
If you haven’t experienced it already, brace yourself because it’s coming: Play-by-play of training camp practices will be heating up soon, courtesy of local media members. It’s something to do during the long, boring practices, but it doesn’t make it meaningful. If Kirk Cousins throws three interceptions in one practice next week, we’re going to hear about it. There will be a tweetstorm. Some will choose to blow it up into something it’s not. It won’t impact his position as the starter, so let it go.
2. Coach speak
This is a tricky one, especially with Zimmer, who can be pretty blunt in his assessments sometimes. He can tell it like it is to the media, but more often than not, the coaches and other executives will be purposely opaque. They won’t give you anything definitive on injuries, for instance, because they don’t have to. See last year’s situation with Danielle Hunter’s neck “tweak” that cost him the entire season. For anything else, such as position battles, you’ll rarely get anything too helpful from coaches during camp. You may hear some critical reviews of players whose jobs are safe, and at the same time, you might hear praise for certain players who wind up not making the team. If a player is called a “three-down back” or “starter in this league,” it doesn’t mean he will be. If a coach says someone should be “heavily involved in the passing game,” it doesn’t mean they will be. The hot, humid air isn’t limited to the weather.
1. The Depth Chart
Few things get NFL observers needlessly soiling themselves faster than training camp depth charts. Teams publish them because they kind of have to, and then they get reported far and wide, but they shouldn’t be taken as gospel. Think of them as a glorified list of names, sorted by position and tenure. To wit, the rookies and other newcomers will always be buried behind the veterans on the initial training camp depth charts – even when you know they are in line to start. This has always been the case and probably always will be. Use them more like a reference sheet for who is playing what position. Things will get sorted out in practices and the preseason. You’ll know the actual depth chart, rotations, and snap shares once the season starts, no sooner.