MANKATO – Leslie Frazier puts a lot of thought into his opening sermons for training camp, speeches he believes can set a tone for an entire season.
So when it came time to address his players on the opening day of camp Thursday, Frazier shared a vision that will put the Vikings back in the playoffs this season.
But only, the head coach said, if they attack camp with energy and passion and use these next three weeks to build camaraderie and momentum.
“One of the things we try to get done in training camp is to develop that buy-in,” Frazier said. “When we get here, now we’re in pads and how we do things and how we work, it’s ‘You need guys to buy in.’ … If you can get that, especially at this time of the year where then you’re not still trying to get that done during the season, you’re just that much farther ahead of the curve.”
Don’t forget, a year ago Frazier gathered a team widely pegged by analysts as an NFC bottom feeder and told players to forget about outside expectations. On the night before practice began, he asked for an investment from every player, a no-distractions focus that would help the Vikings unify and make great strides in their first three weeks on the practice field.
Not coincidentally a little more than four months later, the Vikings were completing a surprising 10-6 regular season that took them to the postseason.
“With the fast start we had a year ago, I think it tells you that our players really bought into what we were trying to get accomplished and how we wanted to get things done,” Frazier said.
On Friday, the Vikings return to practice at Minnesota State Mankato, hoping in many ways for a repeat of their 2012 camp, a stay that was void of drama and attracted almost no national attention. Sure, there was the daily check-in on Adrian Peterson’s ACL rehabilitation plus the food allergy that hospitalized the star running back one afternoon after a run-in with cafeteria jambalaya.
But for the most part, last year’s camp simply hummed on with a team no one expected anything of digging into its dirty work day after long day.
“I think we were just about the business,” linebacker Chad Greenway said Thursday. “There were no frills. There was no real excitement. … It’s not always that way. We’ve had some crazy years. If you look back, the McNabb and the Favre years and all of the drama that sort of ensued. It was nice to kind of have a calm year.”
And it’d be nice, Greenway noted, to experience that again.
“Boring camps are good. As long as you’re getting work done.”
As usual, Frazier checked in with his unbridled optimism. He reflected back on an offseason during which his team steered clear of negative publicity and felt confident there hadn’t been any notable steps backward.
Frazier believed the sessions of organized team activities and minicamp established the offensive and defensive schemes and provided a sturdy foundation for this camp.
Then in his Thursday speech, Frazier told his team of its potential with an equally sharp reminder of the constant turnover in the NFL playoff mix.
Only New England, Baltimore, Green Bay and Atlanta, he noted, have qualified for the postseason in each of the past three seasons.
In other words, as encouraging as last year’s run was, it now means so little.
Said Frazier: “I’m sure over this offseason they’ve had a lot of people telling them, ‘Hey, you guys are on your way. You’re moving in the right direction.’ And all that’s good. But you can’t forget how in our league it changes from year to year. You can’t ever look back at a season ago and say, ‘Based on that we’re going to be a playoff team.’ … I have to get that point across to our team. We have to work our tails off while we are here at training camp.”