Notebook: Zimmer puts focus on fitness during upcoming five weeks off
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - The National Football League is a marathon, not a sprint.
Generally the more healthy teams late in the season find success, and that's what Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer hopes he can instill into his 90-man roster as they prepare for a month off before training camp.
"I think it's important that when players go off for five weeks that they understand that they can't lay on the couch," Zimmer said. "You've got to be prepared. And that's by making your body prepared for the physicality of the season, being prepared for the length of the season and all the different scenarios. One of the things we want is guys with stamina, guys who can go 16 games and go 65 plays if they have to. They have to understand that this is part of it, too."
In order to keep stock of his players' conditioning, Zimmer plans on giving each player a fitness test, of sorts, upon reporting to training camp in July. The Vikings also have a strength and conditioning program for players to follow during the five-week off period.
Part of the Vikings' struggles last year was an inability to stay healthy. Stars like Harrison Smith and Adrian Peterson missed games to injury, while other role players struggled to stay healthy and integral players like Matt Kalil played injured.
You'll hear about the change in offensive and defensive schemes, but under the hood the Vikings have taken a concerted effort to update their diet and conditioning routines. Zimmer, for one, has taken up eating fish for lunch every day, but more importantly - players like Kalil and Fred Evans have shed fat for muscle.
"I've changed my whole diet around, lost even more fat if you can believe that," Kalil said. "It helps a lot, obviously eating better, eating healthy. I've noticed a difference in how I recover from certain workouts, certain injuries."
Kalil has dropped from 312 pounds, his weight when he first reported this offseason, to 304 pounds during this week's mandatory minicamp. The Pro Bowl left tackle had knee surgery this spring and is still held back in practice, but vows to be ready for training camp.
The knee injury was a compiled ailment, Kalil said, and not a one-time incident that possibly hampered him during a sophomore slump in 2013.
"There's still a little pain in there, but there's no inflammation after I work out any more," Kalil said.
Zimmer claimed, as a team, the Vikings had lost 170 pounds of fat and gained 70 pounds of muscle through programs run by team chef Geji McKinney-Banks, strength and conditioning coach Evan Marcus and others this offseason.
The Vikings re-signed Evans, who has taken the bulk of first-team reps as Linval Joseph recovers from labrum surgery, to a one-year contract this offseason. Evans looks leaner on the field and says he's focused on converting fat into muscle, still weighing over 300 pounds to be the run-stuffing defensive tackle that Zimmer needs.
"Just wanted to get my body in the best shape of my life, my career," Evans said. "Have to be able to perform, these guys are getting younger. I have to be able to perform with them."
A new home
The Vikings had nearly perfect attendance at the first day of mandatory minicamp, missing only tight end Allen Reisner and the trio of specialists, who were at TCF Bank Stadium for practice.
Second-year punter Jeff Locke has to prepare for 13 of 16 games outdoors after playing college football in Los Angeles and his first professional season in a dome.
"It's always a challenge having more outdoor games, any punter will tell you it's easier to kick inside," Locke said. "It's finding the right aiming points on the field. It's more about trying to give us the biggest advantage as possible going in. If we know what the wind is doing, versus what the flags are saying, we have an advantage there."
Locke and kicker Blair Walsh will spend the five weeks off before training camp in California, where the pair train with the same kicking coach and say they'll workout and kick together three or four times a week before reporting to camp on July 24.
The University of Minnesota has installed the new turf and heating elements, part of $6.6 million in upgrades to the stadium to make it NFL ready, which has allowed the Vikings specialists time to test out the new home field a few times this month before the preseason kicks off.
• Josh Robinson returned and appeared to be a full participant in practice after sitting out the past few weeks with a muscle pull. Robinson was thrown in with the first-team defense alongside Xavier Rhodes for a bit on Tuesday. Jamarca Sanford (muscle pull) also returned, while Andrew Sendejo (back) continues to work with a trainer during practice.
• Chad Greenway continued to get middle linebacker snaps as he, Jasper Brinkely (typically MLB) and Audie Cole saw first-team reps in the linebacker corps. First-round pick Anthony Barr didn't see much work, if any, with the top team, but was thrown all over the field in his first practice back since wrapping up his degree at UCLA this month. Barr played on both the left and right side, including along the line in five-man fronts in a four-point stance.
• Fred Evans and Kevin Murphy continued to fill in for Linval Joseph (labrum) and Matt Kalil (knee), respectively.
• Counting up 11-on-11 throws (not overall reps) by quarterbacks: rookie Teddy Bridgewater (15) saw the most work with his arm than both Matt Cassel (8) and Christian Ponder (5). Tuesday was a solid outing for passers as Bridgewater went 13-of-15 in team drills (still no pads or contact). Greg Jennings made an impressive one-handed grab down the hash marks from Cassel in team drills.
• Cordarrelle Patterson and Marcus Sherels still lead off kickoff and punt return duties, respectively, but Patterson was joined by third-round pick Jerick McKinnon in returning kicks, while Sherels saw Adam Thielen, Kain Colter, Jarius Wright and Josh Cooper join him in the punt return cycle.