Training camp preview: A final primer; Vikings report on Thursday
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At this time one year ago, Minnesota Vikings players were on the way to Mankato with the expectation they'd take the field there for the first time with Brett Favre.
By the time most of them arrived, Favre had told coach Brad Childress he was staying retired -- only to reverse that decision days after the team broke camp, sign a two-year contract and lead the Vikings to the NFC championship game.
This time around, there are no illusions about Favre showing up in Mankato. But his teammates have a pretty good idea they'll be seeing the veteran quarterback in two or three weeks, and the onus is on Childress to ensure things keep moving in the right direction in the interim.
All players -- the ones under age 40, that is -- are scheduled to report for training camp by Thursday night. Here's a primer:
Where and when
For the 45th consecutive year, the Vikings will hold training camp on the campus of Minnesota State University, Mankato.
Practice begins at 4 p.m. Friday -- the first of 23 sessions in 14 days leading up to the preseason opener Aug. 14 at St. Louis. (Full schedule below.)
All training-camp practices are open to the public. The Vikings break camp on Aug. 12 and then resume practice at their Winter Park headquarters (closed to the public) in Eden Prairie the following week.
How the roster stands
The only player not expected to be at camp is Favre, who still hasn't announced whether he'll play a 20th NFL season. That means backups Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels will get the bulk of reps in team drills for the second straight summer, with rookie sixth-round draft pick Joe Webb expected to primarily run the third string initially.
As of Wednesday evening, the Vikings had agreed to terms with six of their eight draft picks. Negotiations with the agents for second-round picks Chris Cook and Toby Gerhart were ongoing, and though it was unclear whether either player would report on time, there were no concerns yet about either missing the first practice on Friday.
There are 81 players on the roster -- one over the offseason limit -- so the Vikings will have to make one more cut or place a player on the physically unable to perform or injured reserve lists before completing the rookie signings.
Included on the roster are 16 rookies (19.8%) and 18 other players with one year's NFL experience or less (22.2%). There are seven players (8.6%) in at least their 10th season, led by Favre (age 40, 20th season), DT Pat Williams (37, 14th) and K Ryan Longwell (35, 14th).
Of the 55 players who finished last season on the active roster, injured reserve or suspended lists, 52 return -- a 94.5% retention rate that's easily the NFL's highest. The only players gone are running back Chester Taylor (UFA, Chicago), guard Artis Hicks (UFA, Philadelphia) and defensive back Karl Paymah (nontendered).
What to watch
For more on the best battles, potential sleepers and scouts' thoughts on the roster, click the red position links below:
• Quarterbacks: Will Webb show enough potential to earn a spot on the 53-man roster -- and place Rosenfels squarely on the trading block?
• Running backs: How will Gerhart fit into the Vikings' offensive plans?
• Receivers: Will Sidney Rice pick up where he left off in 2009 -- or will his ailing hip give him trouble?
• Tight ends: Can Mickey Shuler, the rookie seventh-round pick, beat out a veteran?
• Offensive line: Will Steve Hutchinson regain his All-Pro form after a season marred by shoulder trouble?
• Defensive line: Will rookie fourth-round pick Everson Griffen fade in the August heat or continue to put his inconsistent college career behind him?
• Linebackers: How much will E.J. Henderson be ready to do from the start of camp -- and will Jasper Brinkley show significant progress from his rookie year?
• Defensive backs: Will Cook or Asher Allen push veteran Lito Sheppard for a starting job in Cedric Griffin's absence?
• Specialists: How will having a second kicker in camp affect veteran Ryan Longwell?
Plenty of focus will be on the two players who suffered significant injuries late last season: Henderson (fractured femur) and Griffin (torn ACL).
Henderson participated in individual drills during minicamp and likely is far ahead of Griffin, who is a good bet to open camp on the active PUP list and is highly questionable for the start of the regular season. But there's a good chance Henderson's workload will be limited in the early going to avoid a setback.
Hutchinson (shoulder surgery), defensive tackle Pat Williams (elbow surgery), Cook (hamstring) and linebacker Chad Greenway (undisclosed) also sat out team drills in minicamp but are expected to be ready for camp. Rice was a full participant in minicamp, but the hip issue came to light this month and is a minor concern.
• Friday: 4 to 5:10 p.m.
• Saturday: 9 to 11:15 a.m. and 7:00 to 8:55 p.m.
• Sunday: 3 to 4:55 p.m.
• Monday: 9 to 11:15 a.m. and 3 to 4:55 p.m.
• Tuesday: 9 to 11:10 a.m. and 3 to 4:55 p.m.
• Wednesday: 9 to 11:10 a.m. and 2:10 to 3:15 p.m. (special teams)
• Thursday, Aug. 5: 9 to 11:10 a.m. and 2:45 to 4:05 p.m.
• Friday, Aug. 6: 9 to 11:15 a.m. and 2:10 to 3:15 p.m. (special teams)
• Saturday, Aug. 7: 9 to 11 a.m. and 5 to 7 p.m.
• Sunday, Aug. 8: No practice.
• Monday, Aug. 9: 9 to 11:15 a.m. and 2:45 to 4:05 p.m.
• Tuesday, Aug. 10: 9 to 11:15 a.m. and 2:10 to 3:15 p.m. (special teams)
• Wednesday, Aug. 11: 9 to 11:15 a.m. and 2:45 to 4:05 p.m.
• Thursday, Aug. 12: 9 to 11:15 a.m.
Other key dates
• Saturday, Aug. 14: Preseason game at St. Louis, 7 p.m.
• Sunday, Aug. 22: Preseason game at San Francisco, 7:20 p.m.
• Saturday, Aug. 28: Preseason game vs. Seattle, 7 p.m.
• Tuesday, Aug. 31: Roster cutdown to 75.
• Thursday, Sept. 2: Preseason game, vs. Denver, 7 p.m.
• Saturday, Sept. 4: Roster cutdown to 53.
• Thursday, Sept. 9: Regular-season opener at New Orleans, 7:30 p.m.