Mankato might be casualty of NFL lockout

  • Article by: JUDD ZULGAD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 15, 2011 - 1:04 PM
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A young fan watched the Vikings afternoon practice on Monday in Mankato, Minn., last August. If the NFL lockout continues to drag on, the team might lose its window of opportunity to train in its traditional spot.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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The Vikings are preparing for the possibility the NFL lockout will preclude them from holding training camp in Mankato.

Coach Leslie Frazier said on Tuesday that the team informed Minnesota State they will let the university know by July 18 whether it intends to prepare for the upcoming season in Mankato. If the work stoppage is ongoing at that point, odds are the Vikings will conduct camp at their Winter Park facility, if and when the season starts.

"It makes it very difficult for us to go to Mankato [if the lockout is still going on July 18] because of the time constraints between when we need to have everything down there and ready to go" and the time the Vikings would open camp, Frazier said.

Assuming the lockout is lifted, the Vikings will report to camp July 31 and start practices the next day. Frazier isn't as focused on having camp in Mankato as much as he is making sure the Vikings have the proper time to prepare for a season in which rookie quarterback Christian Ponder could be the starter.

"I'm almost OK with if it does become [having camp at] Winter Park," he said. "I just want us to have the full complement of time. Whether it's Winter Park or Mankato. An abbreviated preparation time for that first regular-season game, that would not be an ideal scenario under our circumstances with a potentially young quarterback."

Frazier has a plan in place for both housing the players and also where meetings would be held if camp is held at Winter Park. While it seems likely players would stay in an Eden Prairie hotel, Frazier did not want to disclose that information.

"I think I better hold on that one," he said. "We have a plan for that, too, but I don't want some of them reading that and thinking about it."

Rice's potential return

While it remains to be seen if Sidney Rice will be a restricted or unrestricted free agent under a new collective bargaining agreement, Frazier did reveal that he talked to the wide receiver during the brief time the NFL lockout was lifted in late April.

The Vikings had talks with Rice's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, at the NFL combine in February and had hoped there might be a chance to sign Rice to a long-term deal. However, the lockout ended those discussions.

"I talked to him in that brief window we had with that draft weekend and he was enthusiastic about maybe signing back with the Vikings," Frazier said. "But he still wants to explore opportunities, and you can't begrudge him for that. ... We'll just have to kind of wait and see what happens. Obviously, we'd love to have him back in Minnesota."

Rice has played four NFL seasons, which is the number of years a player needed to become a free agent before the 2010 season. Last year, unrestricted free agency required six years of service.

Coaches on alert

Things are extremely fluid for Vikings coaches as they attempt to prepare for both vacation time and the potential end of the lockout. Recent reports indicate the NFL and its players have been making progress in meetings of late.

The Vikings coaching staff is scheduled to begin what would be three- or four-week vacations on Saturday. Ordinarily, this time of year until training camp opens is when coaches and players get away.

But because the lockout could be resolved in the coming days or weeks, Frazier has told his assistants to have their cellphones nearby in case teams are allowed to get back to work. If the lockout does end, there would be a free-agency period and also could be a chance that teams would gather their players and hold a quick minicamp prior to training camp.

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