MANKATO – Early in Sunday's morning walk-through, the opening act of training camp, Vikings offensive line coach Jeff Davidson let his linemen and anyone else within earshot know what is at stake this season when he barked, "Expectations are high!"

Wearing backward caps and bucket hats, players ran through the motions with extra pep in their steps, even with the morning sun already bearing down on Blakeslee Stadium. The light workout had the feeling of the first day of school.

The hundred or so fans sitting on the hot metal benches inside the stadium cheered when wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson caught a deep ball downfield, never mind that Shaun Hill's pass was underthrown and no defender bothered to try to knock it down.

"But everybody is excited. Players are excited, too," said Hill, the 14-year veteran quarterback. "There was a lot of speed for a walk-through out there."

The season opener in San Francisco is still seven weeks away. But the Vikings are officially back on the field in Mankato, the place where anticipation has begun to build for the next Vikings season every summer since 1966. Optimism is always high this time of year, but this year it feels warranted with a talented young core of players another year closer to hitting their primes.

"Guys are pretty focused and into it," coach Mike Zimmer said after the walk-through. "I like this team."

A year ago, Zimmer's biggest concern was choosing the right quarterback to start in Week 1. Now with Teddy Bridgewater settled in as the starter in his second training camp, Zimmer will focus on position battles at less important spots this year.

Mike Harris surprisingly opened camp as the first-team right guard, and safety Robert Blanton and middle linebacker Audie Cole were lining up with the starters, too. But those competitions still could be ongoing when the Vikings leave town next month.

The full-contact practices and subsequent thwack of shoulder pads don't start until Tuesday. But Zimmer has promised that this camp will be harder hitting than his first as head coach, when he took it a little easy to help preserve his players.

"We're going to do a little bit more of inside run [drills] that I think are important for us to continue to preach the toughness and the mentality that I want for this football team," Zimmer said.

The afternoon practice was a sloppy one, especially for the offense. The quarterbacks and wide receivers often disconnected, but that's usually how it goes early in camp.

"I don't think this was the happiest we've ever made him," wide receiver Jarius Wright said, referring to Zimmer. "But if we just keep stacking days on, we'll get to where he wants to be."

Still, it was a productive day for the Vikings. Even the front office was busy.

After the walk-through, the Vikings solidified their kicker position for the next few years, inking Blair Walsh to a contract extension before he even took his practice jersey off. Walsh, despite coming off a down year, is another young building block the Vikings have cemented into place.

That nucleus is the biggest reason why many outsiders have pegged the Vikings as a team on the rise. The players are trying to tune out all of that noise, though.

"For every team, there's a lot of optimism and all these high expectations," safety Harrison Smith said. "We're trying not to get caught up in that and just trying to go to work every day."

Consider the hundreds of fans who spent their Sunday in Mankato, especially those who proudly chanted the "Skol Vikings" fight song during a team stretch, caught up in all that optimism.

"That's how the fans were when I was here from 2002 to 2005, too," Hill said. "This is an exciting place to have training camp and the players feel the electricity."