[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Maybe next year Jay Glazer will get this wasted at Boomtown![/caption]
I remember basketball practice in high school and then in college, and how my coaches would always yell at me during drills, "FULL SPEED!" Even the easiest of drills, like cutting off an imaginary screen and catching a pass at the elbow and shooting a jump shot, it was demanded that I do it at game speed or "FULL SPEED!" That memory was fresh in my mind as I headed to Mankato, MN this past Saturday to take in Viking training camp for the first time. I fully expected to see full speed football drills by some of the best athletes in the world. (preposterous statement if I had said in the NFL, but in the world almost any NFL player falls in the category of "some of the best athletes in the world")
I was disappointed in the lack of fullness in speed and more...
I headed down with two guys known to STOB folk, D the Producer who is on possibly permanent hiatus from STOB and Luke who here and there will drop some knowledge on us all with guest contributions. The fourth member we will call Chuck also made the trip. Dressed in our Vikings purple like good rubes we took to 169 south like giddy schoolgirls about to see Justin Bieber.
We got to Mankato and quickly needed lunch. Chipotle filled our bellies, then that filling almost came back up when we saw we had to PAY to park for TRAINING CAMP! Seriously? This monstrous, EMPTY, parking lot to watch a practice is in such hot demand that we need to pay for parking? Again though, being the good little rubes we are, we paid up.
As you enter the Minnesota State-Mankato University football complex, where training camp is held, you walk through a tented area with jerseys, t-shirts, hats, cups, shot glasses, horns, foam fingers and more for sale, all with the Vikings purple and gold proudly displayed. After not being good little rubes in this welcome area and buying nothing, we headed towards the practice field after snapping a (somewhat sarastic) pic with a Christian Ponder poster.
Kids games with inflatable Vikings crap lined the walkway towards the practice field and instantly it hit me who training camp is best for. Yet, I haven't drawn any conclusions and keep a positive outlook at this point. We get to the stands and take a seat on some bleachers with other Viking faithful. As we walked to the bleachers we were all handed programs, rosters and schedules for the camp. In the 300 feet we walked after getting these materials we all threw those pieces of paper away. It was a matter of 5 seconds after we sat down one of us (can't remember who) asked, "Who is number 17?" Probably should have kept that roster we were just handed.
We sat and watched players warming up for about seven minutes before we were bored and went behind the stands to throw the football around. We developed a game in which we had to all catch and throw the football around with ever-changing challenges. One time around without using your fingers to catch and throw the ball. Now without your hands. Now your left hand with no fingers. Now the left hand no hand at all.
Wait aren't we at an event that is supposed to be interesting enough that we don't have to hearken back to our elementary school days of making up games to pass the time?
That's right we are at Vikings training camp!
We see the tight ends heading over to start a drill near the fence we're standing next to and decide to head over and see how John Carlson (new acquisition), Kyle Rudolph and the rest of them are looking. The 50% speed on a good rep drills the tight ends were running were so enthralling that we were back to throwing the football very quickly.
Here is what I don't get, why did you just spend 20 valuable minutes running a drill for professional athletes in which they line up in a three-point stance across from one another and then at barely a jogging pace on a coaches say, come out of their stance, give a half-hearted swim move to the man across from them and then jog another 2-3 steps? There has to be a better use of everyone's time involved in this drill. I'd understand it if they did it full speed and with enough contact to actually practice the swim move. But they honestly did this at a pace that there is not a chance they got anything out of that 20 minutes of practice.
The next hour was filled with the four of us trying to grasp onto anything interesting on the field and failing miserably as at any given moment during these individual/position drills 90% of the team was just standing around. The other 10% of the team were going through the drills at a retirement homes speed.
Most of our time when we weren't creating different ways to throw a football was spent watching a couple's very odd PDA. The guy was sitting on a folding chair right next to the fence for the field and his gal was standing, facing away from him, straddling his right leg and right arm. It was kind of a hot day, but if you saw this chick and her only half way on tank top you would've thought we were in the Sahara. She kept pulling the tank top up, until finally it could have passed as just a bra. Then while still straddling her guy, she began grinding on his arm and knee. It was quite uncomfortable to see and at the same time very hilarious. Our group, lacking the ability to keep our mouth's shut, began making comments to each other in a volume that was likely a bit too loud, which then resulted in being mean mugged by the fella whose forearm was receiving a very public lap dance.
Waiting for the part about the Vikings on the field doing things that were interesting? We were too!
Finally some offense vs. defense drills began and the interest level in the practice peaked. No real highlights for you here. Though a scouting report I would file is that the Viking's passing game looks like it will be very "dink and dunk". I don't think Ponder attempted a pass longer than 10 yards more than once or twice. Not that this is a bad thing, the Patriots live off dink and dunk passing and they have had a pretty nice lil' run. Plus, with our new two tight end sets we are expecting to see with Carlson/Randolph, it seems we really are looking to take a page out of New England's book.
Another highlight was Mistral Raymond running down FB Ryan D'Imperio, after D'Imperio had run for about a 40 yard gain on a screen pass, and coming over to the fans bragging, "He can run but he can't hide!". He nearly outran you for the touchdown and did gain 40-50 yards on the play and you are bragging? He is a fullback...
After a $6 dollar Miller Lite, watching a guy get his forearm grinded down to a nub and a few more games of "throw the ball this way" we headed towards the cross walk where the players cross from the practice field to the dorms in which they spend training camp. Not really going to get autographs, but just to see the behemoths up close and personal.
Yet again, we ran into quite the character at this juncture of our training camp tour. A young man, who from what he tells us is 6 feet tall, was standing on the side-walk to the side of where most of the fans were lined up for autographs. He was wearing a white tank top, sagging jeans and seemed to be there alone. As big offensive linemen Phil Loadholt crossed the street this young man (probably mid-20's) yelled out, "Hey Phil, maaan, 6 feet tall man and I can dunk! Phil! 6 foot and I can dunk maaan! Wassup?!?!" Loadholt raised his right hand and kind of waved, which to me means he likely has seen/heard this kid here before. Because the natural response to someone randomly telling you they can dunk and how tall they are out of completely nowhere would be, what the shiz are you talking about?
The tank topped 6 foot dunker (SFD) continued his annoying randomness. He yelled to some linebacker I currently can't remember, "Hey (insert LB's name), let's arm wrestle dog! Let's arm wrestle!" The LB rolled his eyes and said, "You'd probably get me," as he walked with monstrous biceps and the SFD stood with spindly little arms that likely the LB could have, and likely wanted to, snap in half. SFD then offered to buy Kevin Williams, and many other Vikings crossing, a beer which they all declined. Lucky for SFD, even though he can't buy these fellas a beer or win an arm wrestling match, he thinks he can dunk and is only 6 feet tall. And isn't that all that really matters at the end of the day?
Speaking of the end of the day, that was the end of our day at Viking training camp. We headed off to our hotel room, then to dinner, then to the pool, then to the bars where we drank among the Vikings at a bar called Boomtown. The bar itself we'd likely never go to had we not known that it's placement close to where the Viking players would be staying makes it a player hangout. We arrived around 11 pm to find general manager Rick Spielman yucking it up with some top shelf Mankato ladies, along with Kevin Williams (for some reason wearing a Angry Birds t-shirt), a subdued Brian Robison, shockingly short Antoine Winfield and the best clipboard holder in the NFL Sage Rosenfels. Bonus for us was that teeny tiny FOX NFL insider Jay Glazer was also there eyeing the ladies of the Boomtown like a hungry bum outside a rotisserie chicken window display (see pic above, not a pic of Boomtown Saturday night but Glazer working his magic all the same).
Nothing too eventful happened with the players while we were chugging down beers. Sage Rosenfels chatted it up with some ladies until bar close, which I guess was shocking to me. If you had told me that Winfield, Robison, Rosenfels and Williams were going to be at a bar and then asked who I thought would leave last, I would have said anyone BUT Rosenfels. Yet, there he was, camped out with a couple chicks doing his thing an hour after his teammates had headed back to their dorm rooms.
The next morning as we headed back home I realized that Vikings training camp itself isn't for me. I am not a kid or a diehard Vikings fan, and if you are neither of these things, you likely will find the actual training camp event to be kind of boring. That isn't to say I won't go again though. Knowing that I don't care that much about the camp, I will prep myself more by sneaking in booze to avoid paying $6 for a beer. I will then drink that booze and even if that still doesn't make the practicing NFL players any more interesting, the football throwing and people watching will be. More than anything I'll go again because it's a great excuse to get out-of-town and hang out with some buddies, which really sports in general usually turns out to be that anyway, so maybe that is what I should have expected. Maybe Allen Iverson had it right when he said, "Practice? Practice? Wait...we talking about practice? Not a game, not a game...but practice!?!?"
Yes we are AI, and next time I'll take mine with more drinks, less practice.