MANKATO - Ifeadi Odenigbo turned to a group of unknowing reporters, asking where Vikings rookies were convening for dinner.
Odenigbo, the seventh-round pick, was one of 35 or so Vikings players to report early Sunday afternoon for training camp at the Julia Sears dormitory at Minnesota State University in Mankato. The NFL allows teams to set early report dates for rookies, quarterbacks and injured players for up to a week before veterans are required to show up.
These Vikings will get three extra days before veterans report Wednesday, giving rookies such as Odenigbo a chance to settle into their new homes for the next couple of weeks. However, Mike Zimmer’s decision for younger players to bid an early adieu to their summer vacations has a fine point — doing anything possible to make sure these rookies are ready to contribute more than last year’s rookies.
“I just felt like it was important,” Zimmer said. “I just felt like we wanted to try to get them up to speed as quickly as we can. Last year, a lot of the rookies didn’t play as much as they had in the past, so I just figured let’s give these guys every opportunity to get them up to speed a little bit quicker.”
This is Zimmer’s fourth training camp as Vikings head coach and the first time he decided to open camp early.
As some NFL teams fearing injuries tone down rookie work in the offseason, the Vikings ramped it up, Zimmer said.
This comes on the heels of the Vikings’ 2016 draft class playing the fewest snaps of any NFL rookie class last season. Zimmer made clear the expectations for this class, highlighted by second-round running back Dalvin Cook, are to make a difference.
“The other thing we did in the spring, we’d have three OTAs, but we’d practice [rookies] on the other two days,” Zimmer said. “They probably got another — before it’s all said and done — another 10 practices, basically. With the way the NFL is going now with younger and younger players, I just thought it was important. And hopefully a lot of these guys will be playing.”
That wasn’t the case last year with first-round receiver Laquon Treadwell finishing with one catch and second-round cornerback Mackensie Alexander turning in a handful of forgetful snaps on defense.
The first practice will be Monday afternoon, when Zimmer will have enough players for full 11-on-11 sessions. Quarterback Sam Bradford isn’t expected to arrive until Wednesday, but young passers Taylor Heinicke and Wes Lunt are on hand.
So by the time Bradford shows up, third-round pick Pat Elflein should know his way around before the competition at center kicks into high gear. Sunday was like the first day at Ohio State all over again for Elflein.
“Just finding my way around here,” Elflein said. “Getting on my bike, figuring out where I’m at — where the locker room is, where the field is. Just kind of getting my bearings and getting into the flow of things. Seeing those twin XL beds kind of brought back some memories, for sure.”
All eyes will be on the Vikings’ top pick, Cook, who believes he’s set up for success in a similar system that he ran at Florida State. The Vikings have shifted to a zone blocking scheme this year, one that Cook said helped him take college football by storm.
“I just think that’s why this situation is so unique,” Cook said. “I’m in the same situation, just got to take advantage of it.”
Rookies won’t be the only players to benefit from extra practices and meetings. Fifth-year running back Latavius Murray was one of a few veterans to make an early appearance, taking advantage of rules that allow injured players to report early for medical treatment and rehab.
“I’ll be able to dive back into the playbook,” said Murray, who is recovering from offseason ankle surgery. “I want to learn it as much as I can, inside and out, so when I am back on the field I can play fast.”
Teddy on PUP list?
Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is expected to start training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list, according to Zimmer.
Bridgewater, who has not practiced in 11 months since dislocating his knee and tearing multiple ligaments, has made progress in his rehab, but not enough yet to be medically cleared. If Bridgewater is placed on PUP and remains there all preseason, he would need to sit out the first six weeks on the regular season.
Murray playing catchup
In an Adrian Peterson-less backfield, Murray is the veteran in the room. However, offseason ankle surgery has kept him from seeing the field and he’s still unsure when he’ll be ready to practice. The expectation has been he’ll be ready at some point during camp. The 27-year-old Murray admitted he has some catching up to do, even behind a rookie in Cook.
“They got the upper hand,” Murray said. “They’ve been out there practicing. Dalvin, he’s been in the system. When you’re in it, you learn a lot. It’s much easier to learn when you’re going out there and you’re able to make the mistakes. I can only see, but I’m not doing it right now.”