MANKATO – Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon ultimately didn’t have to pay up for the $12,154 fine he incurred after grabbing his, ahem, crotch following a touchdown run against the Giants last season.
“It was my first offense,” McKinnon said.
Well, McKinnon’s clutch would still be an illegal gesture this season even as the NFL pulls back on its punishments for touchdown celebrations. A group of NFL officials are in Mankato this week to meet with coaches, players and reporters for brief forums on rule changes and emphases for this fall.
Allowing “more spontaneous expression” in the game was at the forefront of this year’s 10-minute video summarizing the alterations. For instance, group celebrations will once again be allowed. So all 11 Vikings could jump into the stands at Lambeau Field if they felt like it.
If it were up to McKinnon, the Vikings offense would do that — or orchestrate some routine.
“I want something where the whole offense has something [planned],” McKinnon said. “But I don’t know if we’ll get to that.”
Players can now use the ball as a prop and celebrate together, but they can’t use the goalpost or any other objects. Officials will still flag what they deem “violent” or “offensive” gestures or anything directed at an opponent.
“There is some room for interpretation,” said official Mike Spanier, entering his 19th season.
Leaping over the line of scrimmage on extra point or field goal attempts is now outlawed, even if the defender doesn’t touch anybody. Extra emphasis will be placed on protecting quarterbacks from low hits, defenders from blind-side blocks and receivers from “launching” defenders.
A limited test run
Defensive coordinator George Edwards has been calling the defense during recent camp practices, seemingly leading up to a test run Aug. 10 in the preseason opener at Buffalo. Coach Mike Zimmer has been a defensive signal caller for the past 17 NFL seasons but is considering handing off the duties for more of a centralized focus on game days.
An exhibition won’t be a complete simulation, however, with different prep and no stakes on the outcome.
“As a signal caller, calling defenses in the regular season — you’re calling them to win,” Edwards said. “It’s not like we went through trying to stop a specific play they run. It’s more about executing what it is you do have called whether you have a base coverage called, sub, blitz, whatever it is.”
Pace of play
For the first time this season, final say on all replay decisions will be made by the NFL’s officiating headquarters in New York. This comes as officials are also looking to speed up the game.
Seeking a streamlined process, replay tablets will now be at each 20-yard line. Warnings will also be ready for any celebrations that take too long. Officials will also look to speed up extra points. Each team will have 40 seconds once an official signals touchdown to line up for a kick or attempt a two-point conversion.
Second-year linebacker Kentrell Brothers’ bid for a roster spot has been put on hold. The Missouri product “heard a pop” in his hamstring at the start of camp last week and has yet to suit up in pads for the Vikings. He might not be ready by the Vikings preseason opener against Buffalo.
“Maybe a week or so, I hope,” Brothers said Friday.
Treadwell sees growth
Receiver Laquon Tread-well also hopes to return soon from a calf injury that has kept him out since Monday. Last year’s first-round pick said he’s not worried about this speed bump after injuries limited him as a rookie.
“No reason to be frustrated,” Treadwell said. “I see the production. I see the growth in my game. I really don’t have any stresses right now. I’m just ready to play.”