MANKATO, Minn. (AP) — The start of training camp has triggered many a dreadful feeling among NFL players, even amid the excitement of a new season.
The potential surrounding the Minnesota Vikings this season has made the drudgery of two-a-days look a little bit more enticing.
“The expectation is definitely at the highest level,” running back Adrian Peterson said. “You play not only to win games, but to win championships, and I feel like with the coaching staff and tools that we have there’s no reason we shouldn’t accomplish that. I would say that’s how it’s different.”
For linebacker Chad Greenway, more than likely heading into the last year of his playing career, there’s as much to savor as ever. Leaving his family behind, including a wife pregnant with the couple’s fourth child, is never pleasant, even when camp this summer at Minnesota State University lasts only 13 days including breaks.
“You just need to have a second layer of focus. We’ve got to go out and just really be focused on our jobs day to day,” Greenway said. “There’s every cliche in the book, for us not looking ahead, not getting too far over your skis.”
For center John Sullivan, who has returned from a back injury that kept him out of the entire 2015 season, the first practice on Friday was extra meaningful.
“There’s always a certain amount of butterflies that come along with doing this. It’s a hard process. You have to understand coming in that it’s a grind,” Sullivan said. “Playing football is fun, but it’s also a job. It’s also hard work, and you want to go out there and play well. We all take pride in what we do. We understand there’s a lot of pressure. There’s a lot riding on your performance. So I’m just out here focused on what I’ve been doing for the last nine years now.”
For new left guard Alex Boone, such apprehension is a foreign experience.
“I love camp. I love everything about it. I love football. I love being away,” he said, adding: “You get to be with the guys, play football all day, and just laugh.”
For the entire team, there’s the sting of the loss in the playoffs to Seattle after the improbably missed 27-yard field goal attempt that hasn’t fully disappeared.
“We thought we had the game in the bag, and it’s a humbling experience,” defensive end Everson Griffen said. “And you should come back more hungry and more ready to get the ball going and start grinding.”
Greenway, Peterson, Sullivan and defensive end Brian Robison are the only remaining Vikings who played in the NFC championship game after the 2009 season, which was followed by that colossal collapse in 2010. They haven’t forgotten about the high hopes that were dashed that year.
With U.S. Bank Stadium opening this month fueling as much positive energy around the organization as ever, the Vikings have to be careful about not buying too much into the buildup.
“There is all this excitement going around on the team and talk about how good things could be, but it really doesn’t mean anything unless we are good on the field,” safety Harrison Smith said. “So, to me, you just have to block all that out.”
There’s no better hype shield in the business than coach Mike Zimmer.
In his preseason address to the team on Thursday, Zimmer reminded the players that improvements were still needed for a team that finished 11-5 and won the NFC North.
“I probably gave them 12 areas that we need to get better at,” the coach said.
That’s good, because the Vikings won’t be underdogs much in 2016. Rival Green Bay will be especially fired up, having ceded the division title for the first time in five years.
“It doesn’t really matter whether they’re gunning for us or we’re gunning for them,” Zimmer said. “If we play better than they do on Sunday, we’re going to win. That’s really what it’s all about, and I’m not going to apologize for winning the division last year, either. We’re just going to go out and we’re going to try to get better each week.”
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