The Vikings and Jaguars held the first of two joint practices Wednesday in Eagan.
As a pair of teams full of professionals who both came within one game of playing in the Super Bowl last season, though, before they could even have that first practice there were the worries and the precautions.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, who like most NFL coaches hates disruption and chaos even more than he loves order and executing a good plan, was fretting about what might happen when two teams got together and played football. He was not alone.
“Jacksonville, Coach [Doug] Marrone and myself and the rest of our team, we really don’t want to end up on TV like some of these other things that have been going on,” Zimmer said. “We just want to get out here and get some work done and try to get each of us better.”
So on Wednesday, before the first practice, 12 players from the Vikings met with players from the Jaguars to make sure both sides agree on what everyone hopes to get out of the two days (good clean work and preparation for the season ahead!) and what to avoid (Horseplay! Fighting! Mayhem!).
“I have a group of guys that I typically meet with, and [Tuesday] we just happened to meet and one of them suggested it,” Zimmer said. “I thought it was a good idea.”
In fairness to Zimmer, his reference to winding up on TV is not paranoia. Players from Washington and the Jets had a scuffle in a similar joint practice earlier this preseason that spilled over into the spectator section. You had to work hard to miss seeing footage of that during the sports dog days of August.
But still, the fact that these sorts of things are so closely monitored and considered tells you all you need to know about the level of control coaches like to have and the nature of the NFL in general.
A good life lesson is that the harder you try to control things, the less things are in your control. But that’s not how a billion-dollar enterprise operates.
In the famous words of Allen Iverson: “I mean, listen, we’re talking about practice. Not a game, not a game, not a game, we talking about practice.”
So these joint practices went forward with the planning and operatives, like an important mission.
Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs, a player Zimmer benched earlier in training camp along with cornerback Xavier Rhodes after the two were jawing at each other, repeated that the Vikings were there “to work” and weren’t interested in any after-the-whistle stuff.
It probably helped that trash-talking Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey didn’t make the trip because of disciplinary reasons. To keep things further under control, there were NFL officials on the field.
All that to give players a break from going against their teammates in practice and to ramp it up against another opponent. But not too far. Just the right amount.
Truth be told, Wednesday looked a lot like any other practice — albeit with one team in a different uniform. Everyone behaved and got their work in.
Either they all got the very important message, or they didn’t need to be told in the first place.