Notebook: Leslie Frazier delivers a message of hope as camp kicks off
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MANKATO, Minn. -- The reality for the 2012 Minnesota Vikings is this appears to be a team in rebuilding mode.
Coming off a 3-13 season, general manager Rick Spielman has complete control of the 53-man roster, and it's become clear he is willing to take some short-term lumps if that's what it takes to achieve long-term success.
But coach Leslie Frazier, entering the second year of a three-year contract, wasn't about to convey that as his message to the 90 players who reported to Minnesota State University for the start of training camp.
Frazier's message in his first meeting on Thursday night?
"I think all 32 teams in the NFL today ... I don't know if you want to count yourself out of any situation," Frazier told reporters outside the Gage Residence Community.
"This is a very fluid league in the way things are. The teams that are sometimes favored don't always end up being the favorites at the end of the year and teams that are counted out are sometimes the teams that flip the script a little bit or are in places most people don't expect before the season began.
"Not to say that's going to be us. Our goal is to come down here to Mankato and the same thing we talked about in the spring, it's to try to continue to improve across the board, with every player on offense, defense and special teams. If we make the necessary improvement and we can come together as a team, we feel like our chances are as good as anybody's."
That echoed sentiments expressed recently be several players -- most notable, quarterback Christian Ponder, who said earlier this week that last year's Vikings were "inches away from being a playoff team."
Linebacker Chad Greenway said the Vikings are "not going to have too many people barking up our tree for playoff berths or division titles. We're just going to have to grind for every win and we're young. It's going to be the best scenario for us to kind of lie in the weeds and be the underdogs.
"In most people's eyes, we're just not talented enough, not as good, not as experienced. ... I think we're going to be a lot better than what people think we are, and I think we have a chance."
However, Greenway expressed caution when asked a question about talking playoffs, pointing out many players believed the addition of Donovan McNabb last season would help them back to the postseason, rather than to a second straight last-place finish.
"You can't ever start thinking that way," Greenway said. "Last year, we got ourselves into that a little bit, where, 'Wow, the foundation is here to have another successful team, make a run for it.' You have a veteran quarterback coming in. ...
"You sort of give yourself too much credit, and obviously, everybody else across the league can beat you any week if they're doing the things that are necessary to win and you're not. I've seen how that ends.
"We've just got to go back to being humble and knowing where our bread is buttered, and that's by winning end of halves, winning end of the ballgame, 2-minute situations, making kicks, defense getting off the field on third downs -- just basic things that we can (do).
"We're there. We have the talent. There's no question about that. We play in a tough division. We've got to be good every week. We've got to be consistent."
Taking on the heat
In Frazier's first season as coach last year, the Vikings continued the trend of often holding their most intense practice in the morning and then had what amounted to a walk-through session in the afternoon heat.
But that has changed this year.
When the Vikings open practice on Friday, they will have their walk-through from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. and then conduct the more intense practice from 2:45 to 5 p.m. They will continue with that type of schedule throughout camp.
"A lot of (the change) had to do with the experience from a season ago," Frazier said. "As you know, it was the first year with the new CBA and so you're kind of feeling your way. What's the best thing to do? How to coordinate practices. We alternated practices a year ago. There were times where we had full-padded practices in the morning and sometimes we had full-padded practices in the afternoon.
"Just looking back at a year ago, I felt like we needed a little bit more consistency. I also like that you can count on the sun being out at 3 in the afternoon for the most part and that was a part of it. The conditioning along with the consistency and some of the things we wanted to get achieved in training camp. We felt like having a 3 o'clock practice would be more conducive to what we wanted to accomplish."
Frazier realizes that having players go through a practice in the afternoon heat could take its toll.
"We have to do a great job of hydrating," he said. "That's going to be important. That will be a point of emphasis (on Thursday night) when we meet. We have to do a great job of taking care of ourselves in between practices as well.
The Vikings put players through physicals on Thursday and then met to cover "operational items," according to Frazier.
One thing Frazier won't do is conduct a conditioning test. Brad Childress held a conditioning test after he was hired in 2006 but eventually scaled it back.
When Frazier hired former Indianapolis Colts defensive backs coach Alan Williams as his defensive coordinator after last season, he talked about his desire to be involved heavily in the defense.
Frazier had been the Vikings defensive coordinator before replacing Childress as head coach and clearly things did not work out last season when Fred Pagac was put in charge of the defense for a year. Frazier eventually took back play-calling duties from Pagac and Pagac has now returned to coaching the Vikings linebackers.
Frazier said his role in being involved in the defense is, "going to be ongoing."
"I think this training camp is a key component to getting things the way we want," he said. "Especially now that we'll be able to wear shoulder pads and have some one-on-one competition that we couldn't have back in the spring.
"It'll be ongoing, but I definitely want to be a little more involved. But not to the point where I'm suffocating those guys and not being able to manage the entire team. I have a lot of confidence in Alan. Part of it is because we have worked together (in Indianapolis), but I know he is going to do a great job. We think alike in a lot of ways and have a lot of confidence. He's done a great job to this point.
"What we did this spring and the steps that we've made, we are so far ahead because of that."
The Simpson plan
The Vikings are hoping receiver Jerome Simpson emerges as the vertical threat they lacked last season. However, that won't be the case for the first three games of the regular season.
Simpson has been suspended by the NFL as a punishment for a felony drug conviction tied to a marijuana shipment sent to his home last fall when he was with the Cincinnati Bengals. Simpson signed with the Vikings as a free agent during the offseason.
Simpson is eligible to practice and play in the preseason and Frazier said early on his plan is to get the receiver his reps.
"At some point we'll have to pare it back because we're not going to have him in those first three games," Frazier said. "So we'll have to start getting ready the guys that are going to play in those first three games. But early on we want to make sure he has a good grasp of our offense and what we're asking him to do."
Said Simpson of having to sit out the first three games: "It sucks but I think it's kind of in my advantage because I'm going to get to go back and I'll see some games and know what I need to work on. I'll be fresh coming back after those first three games. Some of the guys, they'll be banged up and have injuries so I can use that to my advantage."
Greenway said his father, Alan, is doing well in his battle with cancer. Greenway missed practice time this offseason so he could return to South Dakota to spend time with his dad.
"My dad's actually feeling really well," Greenway said. "He's stable. ... That's excellent for me because once you sort of kick this (reporting) day off then you don't have another opportunity to go home for any amount of time. I'm really glad he's doing well and hope that that obviously continues."