MANKATO - Depending on who you talk to, the Vikings' first practice in full pads will be an aggressive but respectfully restrained exercise between teammates who have a prearranged understanding or a potential free-for-all that could teeter toward that street brawl between Rocky Balboa and understudy Tommy Gunn in "Rocky V."
"I guess we'll find out Monday," said center John Sullivan, smiling at the possibilities that could evolve from the much-anticipated marquee matchup between 30-year-old All-Pro veteran defensive end Jared Allen and rookie left tackle Matt Kalil, the fourth overall pick in this year's NFL draft.
"You do have to have an understanding about certain things in practice," said defensive tackle Kevin Williams, a 10-year veteran. "No helmets in the back and stuff like that. But everybody is going to be [full of] vinegar when we put the pads on, so we'll see. We'll probably have a little fun on Monday."
If nothing else, the hype leading up to Monday's practice has been entertaining. Allen, whose 105 career sacks includes a near NFL-record 22 from last season, lobbed the first playful jab in an interview with NBC SportsTalk earlier this month.
"Just don't touch me," Allen said when asked what his camp instructions were for Kalil. "I'm too old to deal with overzealous rookies right now. Keep your hands out of my face, don't grab my jersey and we won't have to fistfight. That's pretty much what it is."
Kalil played along via Twitter, tweeting, "I'll try not to be overzealous in camp but if I am I got a gift for you." It included a link to a photo of a wheelchair.
"Jared's a great guy," Kalil said. "The first day he was here, I met him and he gave me some advice here and there. I'm excited and just looking forward to getting in pads and going against the best defensive end in the NFL."
Asked if things could get heated between the two of them, Kalil spoke with the kind of worry-free shrug that comes with being a young man standing 6-7 and weighing 308 pounds.
"You know maybe, but that's what happens," Kalil said. "It's football. Sometimes, things get heated. It's a bunch of grown men running around hitting each other. So some nerves will fly eventually. That's all part of the game."
Allen tried to downplay the one-on-one competition and refocus the attention on two cornerstone members of the team simply trying to make each other better.
"My goal here isn't to beat Matt Kalil," Allen said. "Me beating him, me touching [quarterback] Christian [Ponder] on the butt 16 times at practice doesn't do anything for us. Each day, I have something fundamentally that I want to get better at to prepare myself for the season. And if I can help Matt with tips like, 'Hey man, don't do this, don't do that. Or try this,' that's what it's all about, trying to make each other better. ... I need him to be the best player he can be so I can win a championship."
Naturally, the Vikings are expecting Allen to dominate the matchup. At least early on.
"You really want it to be game-like, and that's going to help Matt as much as anything," coach Leslie Frazier said. "You watch Jared practice over the years, he only practices at one speed, so he's not going to take it easy on Matt. And it will help Jared as well because Matt is going to challenge him. He may be a rookie, but we think he's going to be a rookie who can play above being a rookie."
Scott Studwell, Vikings director of college scouting, has witnessed up close the benefits that can be shared between a great pass rusher and a premier blind-side protector. During Studwell's 14-year career (1977-90) as a Vikings linebacker, he watched defensive end Chris Doleman practice daily against left tackle Gary Zimmerman. The competition helped both players reach the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"Chris had all those sacks [150 1/2], but he didn't get many at all in practice against Gary," Studwell said. "The work Chris had to put into practice really helped make him a great pass rusher."
Frazier and his staff will try to make the full-padded practices as close to game speed as possible. The line play will be full contact, but there won't be any tackling, except during the popular goal-line period.
"You do have to practice smart," Sullivan said. "You have to get your work in without injuring someone. So everybody has to be smart. At the same time, when it's goal-line period and you're taking the ball-carrier to the ground, you got to go all out."
Rick Spielman, the team's general manager, said the coaches do a good job establishing the proper tempo and then communicating to the players what's expected of them.
"Although you don't tackle, you do finish blocks, run to the ball and go to the whistle," Spielman said. "You have to protect each other, but at the same time, if you don't train at the speed of the game, it makes it so much harder to do it on game day."
Frazier said last month's mandatory minicamp showed him how eager the players are to let loose with some full contact.
"There were some heated exchanges going on between the players at our minicamp," Frazier said. "I remember standing up in front of them on that last day and I said, 'When we get the pads on, we'll be able to find out who is who.' We'll start separating some of those guys who can talk and some of those guys who can back it up."