It’s a necessary evil in the NFL: Organized team activities.
If a player tells media members they like them, it’s a blatant lie. Sure, teammates enjoy being around each other and running plays has its moments. But all in all, there is little fun to be had when it comes to organized team activities.
It is a chance for new draft choices to get repetitions and for younger returning players to get work in. It’s also an opportunity for coaches to get a look at things before training camp, especially if there’s a potential position switch with a player.
There are plenty of things to address for the Vikings from an 8-8 season that fell flat after a 5-0 start. Here are four things to monitor from Vikings OTAs.
Coach Zimmer received a great birthday present this morning — the 👍 to return to coaching at Winter Park. pic.twitter.com/mn3eikDi9q
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) June 5, 2017
Mike Zimmer Returns From Eye Surgery
Mike Zimmer turned 61 on Monday, but if he was smiling it wasn’t because he turned a year older. Zimmer was back on the football field at Winter Park for workouts for the first time since having his eighth eye surgery. He spent two weeks back home in Kentucky, on strict rules for rest and recovery. He did watch film and likely had his own notes on certain players, but it’s hard to judge anything from workouts unless you’re actually there.
One of the toughest moments of Zimmer’s professional career came last season, having to miss a game against the Dallas Cowboys to prevent complications from another eye surgery. But he’s back this week and making his own evaluations, and he’ll likely get plenty of birthday well-wishes at the team facility.
Three-Headed Running Back Battle
It will be an interesting summer for the Vikings at the running back position. Adrian Peterson’s contract was not renewed and he signed with the New Orleans Saints. The Vikings filled the void in free agency with Latavius Murray, who spent last season with the Oakland Raiders. He’s rushed for more than 2,200 yards and 20 touchdowns in the last three seasons, but is recovering from offseason ankle surgery and hopes to be ready by training camp.
That leaves the door open for top draft choice Dalvin Cook, and Jerick McKinnon. Cook has impressed early in workouts and ran for more than 4,400 yards and 46 touchdowns in three college seasons at Florida State. McKinnon had 539 rushing yards and two touchdowns in limited duty last season, but has shown flashes when given a chance. If Murray gets fully healthy and Cook makes a splash as a rookie, that’s a heck of a combination running the football.
Jumbled Group At Wide Receiver
Cordarrelle Patterson and Charles Johnson left the Vikings in free agency. But there’s still quite a battle going on this summer as the Vikings look for a true No. 1 receiver to emerge. Last year’s top two receivers are back in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Diggs had more than 900 receiving yards with three touchdowns. Thielen had a breakout season with 967 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 14 yards per catch. Tight end Kyle Rudolph also became a top target for Sam Bradford, averaging 10 yards per catch and leading the Vikings with seven touchdowns. And there’s Laquon Treadwell, last year’s No. 1 draft pick who made just one catch last season. The Vikings are looking for him to make a big jump this year.
But their top receiver this year might very well be their free agent signing: Michael Floyd. Between the Cardinals and the Patriots last season, Floyd had 37 catches for 488 yards and five touchdowns. Yes, he had off-the-field issues, but coming home and being around the right people should help Floyd. He’ll look to be the Vikings top downfield threat, and the more comfortable he becomes with Bradford, the more dangerous Minnesota’s offense can be.
Prove It Year For Sam Bradford?
Sam Bradford was the most accurate passer in the NFL last year, when he could stay upright. But there’s also a reason for that. The offensive line was in such shambles that he had to throw short, quick passes. Bradford completed 71.6 percent of his passes last season in 15 games to set an NFL record. He averaged more than 258 yards per game with 20 touchdowns and just five. Imagine those numbers with a healthy offensive line that played well.
So now what? Bradford is in the final year of his contract. The Vikings are waiting on signing him to an extension for two reasons – they need to see another season out of him to see if it’s worth the investment, and they’re waiting to see how Teddy Bridgewater’s recovery goes. Anything can happen between now and February, but the hope is the Vikings are playing a home game for Super Bowl LII. A confident, healthy and effective Bradford can help them get there. But he’ll need to take more chances this year, go down the field more and gamble. It won’t always work, but you have to keep a defense honest.
So while things seem quiet in the offseason and practices continue, it won’t be long before we’re at training camp. Yes, we’re talking about practice. But how they play now can and will have an effect on the season ahead. Every time a player takes a practice play off or doesn’t go 100 percent, somebody else on another team is getting better and working harder. There’s your motivation.