Zulgad: Vikings find that training camp silence truly is golden
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MANKATO, Minn. - The New York Jets training camp has become a reality television series with players brawling, a backup quarterback (Tim Tebow) serving as the star and ESPN showing as much of it as they can.
Peyton Manning's presence in Denver has made the Broncos camp another primary focus for media outlets throughout the country.
The Minnesota Vikings?
For the first time in recent memory, there is absolutely no circus to worry about managing.
Brett Favre's two-year stint with the Vikings seems like a distant memory.
Donovan McNabb's one-season stay in purple went worse than many imagined possible and at last check he was working with a quarterback guru, throwing passes in the ocean and hoping someone would give him another chance.
The Bryant McKinnie fiasco of 2011 also is long forgotten. The left tackle, who showed up near 400 pounds last summer in Mankato and was then cut, is now the weighty problem of the Baltimore Ravens.
At the risk of jinxing things for the Vikings, 14 days into training camp the franchise that always seems to have a sideshow going has had zero distractions.
"It's been nice," said linebacker Chad Greenway, who is in his seventh camp with the Vikings. "Almost at times, it's been boring."
Greenway is right and coach Leslie Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman couldn't be happier.
"I sleep a whole lot better at night. No question about it," Frazier said. "You want guys to be focusing on football, the team and the message that you delivered in that first meeting. You have some of those outside distractions it takes away from that focus.
"Part of what we do requires great focus and great determination and if you don't have that it shows up on the field. We've had our share of distractions as you well know. It's refreshing that at this point we can concentrate on what's important and that's getting ready to play football."
The fact the Vikings were so bad last season, coupled with the fact there are so few expectations entering this season, has meant there is absolutely zero buzz surrounding this team.
Frazier moved the primary practice of the day into the afternoon heat, meaning that when the session begins there are fans in the stands watching but many are gone after an hour or so of the normal 2-hour, 15-minute practice is complete.
Those who have been coming down to Mankato for years will remember 2005 when coach Mike Tice operated a training camp that was part football and part party. Music blared in the background of Field 1 each morning and many fans, some feeling no pain, applauded every Daunte Culpepper completion.
There was the time that Tice stopped to watch the offensive line go through drills. Unhappy with what he saw from Adam Goldberg, Tice decided to replace the guard with a fan who was standing nearby. The fans loved it. Neither Goldberg nor offensive line coach Steve Loney looked amused.
Brad Childress was intent on eliminating this carefree atmosphere when he arrived in 2006 and the Vikings 6-10 finish that season, not to mention Childress' no-nonsense approach, created an impression of Childress from which he would never recover.
But Childress' desire to change the culture that surrounded the Vikings did not include eliminating distractions. The funny thing was that while Favre never set foot in Mankato, he was a constant source of focus for three years during the Vikings' stay in southern Minnesota.
Whether it be the NFL finding the Vikings not guilty of tampering with Favre when his rights were still owned by the Green Bay Packers in 2008 or the, "will he or won't he play" storylines that surrounded Favre and the Vikings in 2009 and 2010.
"In the past we've had a lot of things going on and different distractions," Greenway said. "Whether it be Brett or Donovan coming in last year. There's been a multitude of things over the years. It's been nice. It's been consistent every day. It's been laid back from that standpoint but it's been competitive on the field."
The field is where the Vikings need to keep the focus during their three-week stay in Mankato.
There are 90 players on what Spielman has tried to turn into a young roster. That youth needs to keep its attention on football, not the latest bit of crisis management that is needed to handle a situation.
"I think that's very key," defensive end Brian Robison said. "We're a very young team and to have those distractions not come around and things like that allows these young guys to be able to concentrate on nothing but football and just concentrate on seeing what we have to do to win ballgames."
Added running back Toby Gerhart: "It can get turned into a circus out here and for us it's kind of like we're under the radar. No one is paying attention to us, and at the same time we're taking steps in the right direction. I think that's going to bode well for us as the season goes on as the season gets here. We're going to be under the radar and surprise people."
Veteran observers of the Vikings will be the first to tell you the team already has surprised by keeping things so quiet in Mankato.