The NFL is becoming a kinder, gentler place. Even training camp fights aren’t what they used to be, nor are they accepted or even celebrated as they once were.
In the past week, coaches Mike Zimmer of the Vikings and Doug Marrone of the Jaguars booted four star players out of practice for their parts in a couple of on-field skirmishes.
Total punches thrown by Xavier Rhodes, Stefon Diggs, Jalen Ramsey and Dante Fowler Jr.: 0.
Now, Zimmer and Marrone bring together two swaggering teams that ranked 1-2 defensively and came within one step of facing each other in the Super Bowl six months ago. Joint practices — minus Ramsey and Fowler, who were suspended for the week — will be held Wednesday and Thursday at TCO Performance Center followed by a preseason game Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“It’s important that our guys know that we’re not going to put up with any trash-talking or any fighting,” Zimmer said. “We’re not here for that. We’re here to get better. Hopefully our guys will know that, and [Jacksonville] will have the same thing. Coach Marrone and I have talked about it.”
It was Marrone’s idea to hold joint practices. Though Zimmer has no history with Marrone, he knows and trusts Tom Coughlin, Jacksonville’s vice president of football operations.
“They have done this quite a bit,” Zimmer said. “So when they called me, I just expressed my concerns that I don’t want this to be a fight.”
Those concerns were amplified by the recent practice brawl between the Jets and Redskins.
“We definitely got Zim’s message,” Rhodes said Tuesday. “We’re going to compete. Things are going to get chippy out there. But we got to understand and check ourselves and hold each one of us accountable when anger and frustration sets in. We can’t fight.”
Last week, Zimmer kicked Rhodes and Diggs out of practice for one day when he no longer could tolerate their extended arguing and trash-talking.
Four days later, Marrone suspended Fowler and Ramsey. Fowler for trying to fight Yannick Ngakoue as teammates separated them, and Ramsey for berating reporters as they filmed the incident and later via Twitter.
“Jalen not being here won’t affect anything,” said Rhodes, referring to his friend and fellow Associated Press first-team All-Pro selection from Florida State.
“He’s a big part of that team. He’s not the whole team.”
But the trash-talking probably will be dialed down.
“One thing that’s different with us is I’m not going to go out there and talk trash,” Rhodes said. “I’m only going to talk if you come at me with it like 25 plays in a row. But Jalen, he’s going to go at you first play.”
One thing is certain. In today’s NFL, things won’t get as crazy as they did when the Chiefs and Vikings held joint two-a-day, full-padded practices in 2003 and 2004.
In 2003, Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil was furious over how aggressive the Vikings were under Mike Tice. After practice, an irate Vermeil told reporters that Vikings cornerback Rushen Jones “should be shot in the head” for tackling Chiefs receiver Dameane Douglas, who suffered torn knee ligaments.
Things got even more entertaining between the teams a year later in Mankato when Tice allowed former WWE wrestling champion Brock Lesnar to try out as a defensive tackle.
Lesnar sparked two full-squad brawls. He whipped 6,000 fans into a frenzy after knocking down quarterback Damon Huard with a helmet shot to the gut. Later, he flipped guard Jonathan Ingram over his shoulder and pinned him after Smith shoved him from behind.
The ensuing melee ended with Lesnar emerging from a pile of humanity with Ingram’s helmet raised toward a roaring crowd.
“I haven’t had this much fun since I can’t remember,” Lesnar said that day.
“Yeah, I heard of Lesnar, the wrestler, but I didn’t know he tried out here,” Rhodes said. “Zim wouldn’t have been too happy with that practice. He wants us to keep our cool and respect the game.”
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org