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Access Vikings

Breaking news and year-round coverage of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings. Access Vikings is the Star Tribune's blog covering team news, rumors, games and all things purple.

New safety impressed by Vikings combination of youth and experience

Veteran safety Michael Griffin is impressed by the Vikings’ young defensive core and experienced leadership.

“This defense is already good. … This team is right there,” said Griffin, one of the Vikings offseason free-agent signings. “I’m just here to try and fit in and make this football team and work hard and do the things I can do.

“Watching the playoff game from last year, it was a game they should have won. You saw they had a lot of the tools and things to get the job done and get to the Super Bowl and get to the playoffs. It’s just a great situation to come in to.”

The Vikings signed the 31-year-old Griffin to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. Griffin, a first-round pick of the Titans in 2007, was a second-team All-Pro in 2010 and played in two Pro Bowls (2008 and 2010).

Griffin will likely compete for a starting job next to standout safety Harrison Smith. The Vikings re-signed safety Andrew Sendejo to a four-year deal this offseason and could shift into a backup role. Whatever role Griffin plays, he’s OK with it.

“May the best man win,” Griffin said. “All I can do is stay humble and stay positive and try to teach the young guys what you know. I think it’s very selfish  of you when you don’t open up an speak and share the knowledge”

Griffin praised Smith as one of the best safeties in the league.

“He’s respected by me and that goes along with the rest of the safeties here,” he said.

Griffin had a lot more to say about the Vikings coaching staff, his role with the team, and his expectations. Also, find out what successful team Griffin compared the Vikings to by watching more of the interview from Wednesday’s OTA.

With limited practice time, Zimmer moves workouts with focus, urgency

Being organized and focused has never been more important for an NFL head coach.

Back in the good, old days for coaches — and bad, old days for players — practice time in full pads runneth over. And players rarely  changed teams, so continuity ranneth over as well.

In 1960, the year before the Vikings arrived in the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys were the league’s expansion team. They trained at St. Olaf College here in Minnesota. They escaped the Texas heat, but not the grind of what was then a typical NFL training camp.

Dallas’ rookies reported to camp July 3. There were six preseason games, per the norm at the time, and starters typically played in all of them. Veterans reported 2 1/2 weeks before those exhibition games began.

All practices were padded and lasted 2 1/2 to three hours. And there were two of them a day for weeks on end.

Under the modern collective bargaining agreement, only one training camp practice per day can be in pads. The other is essentially a walk-through. Players get days off, and their offseason is strictly regulated to prevent contact.

The OTA — organized team activity — was born a few years back. There are phases to the OTAs, and all of them are voluntary. It takes until the third phase for coaches to be able to instruct players on the field in actual full-team football activities, albeit non-padded. The Vikings, like every other team, are going through that this week.

With so little time with the players — many of whom are new arrivals — it’s vital for coaches to not waste a single teaching moment, to be in tune with mood of the team, the tone of the practice, and to set things straight immediately if anything jumps off the rail.

My sense watching the Vikings work an OTA is coach Mike Zimmer knows full well the value of every minute. First of all, there’s no loitering. Secondly, the team practices with speed and urgency.

Sometimes, the young guns mistake the up-tempo work for an excuse for initiating contact outside what’s acceptable for a morning workout in mid-May. Cornerback Keith Baxter was that over-anxious young gun on Wednesday at Winter Park. Zimmer stopped practice, huddled the team, barked some direct, colorful and effective language and put the young men back to work.

“They’ve never really practiced with the rules that we have, so it’s just reminding them every day how to do it the right way,” Zimmer said. “They’ll get it eventually.”

Feeling the pulse of the team’s mood also is important with so little time together on the practice field. Zimmer said he felt his players stray a little bit Tuesday before he had to redirect them as a group. His sense was they were starting to think too much about being 11-5 in 2015 than 0-0 in 2016.

“This team knows how to work,” Zimmer said. “I think they like to practice, I think they like to compete, they like football and it’s really a credit to them. But really, anything that we did last year really doesn’t matter and I think they understand that – most of them do. I had to remind them a little bit [Tuesday]. We came out and we were a little bit just not like us. We were kind of cocky and talking smack to one another, so I had to remind them who we were.”