Minnesota Vikings Training Camp – Defense Is Championship Ready

Minnesota Vikings Training Camp – Defense Is Championship Ready

Aldo Gandia was at Minnesota Vikings training camp in Mankato for a couple of days. He walked away impressed with the organization, players and a sense that something special might be happening with this team. We asked him for another mind dump, like the one he did after visiting the Chicago Bears camp.

The odds on the Minnesota Vikings winning Super Bowl LI are 20-1, according to VegasInsider.com. It’s an intriguing bet. One that after spending a couple of days in training camp and feeling the mood in Mankato might have a betting man reaching for his wallet.

There are certainly some questions about the team that make them less than a sure bet. They are:

  1. Is quarterback Teddy Bridgewater capable of leading the Vikings to a championship?
  2. Will the offensive line finally giving Bridgewater adequate protection?
  3. Can rookie wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and second-year receiver Stefon Diggs provide a one-two punch for the passing offense?

Those are three huge questions. And, it’s impossible to say with any – the sun will rise tomorrow – certainty that the answer is “definitely, yes.” But, ask these three questions and there’s a positive response to each of them.

  1. Is this Vikings defense capable of playing at a Super Bowl level similar to the 2013 Baltimore Ravens, 2014 Seattle Seahawks, or 2015 Denver Broncos?
  2. Do the Vikings possess a running game which can sustain an offense through the post-season?
  3. Can the Vikings coaching staff lead this team to a championship?

The first three questions are related to the team’s passing game. And, while it’s important to have  a good one in the National Football League, it’s even more important to have a great defense. Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense did not win Super Bowl 50. The defense did. And, the Vikings are building a defense that can become the NFL’s best in 2016.

At camp I talked with players from the defense who revealed a mature confidence. I’d phrase a question in a manner to get a headline-making quote and got nothing except smart, all-business responses. For instance, I asked 6th year defensive lineman Tom Johnson if this team talked about being a great defense like the ’85 Bears. He said:

“You can’t go all the way to week 17. It’s a process. We got to take the preseason. Work on things. Get better. Work on your hands. Work on your get off. Work on your angles. Work as a unit. Work off each other. Those small things right there, in training camp, roll over to the regular season. You know what I’m saying?”

Hell, yeah.

I know you’ve got great coaching that has you focused on building toward greatness, not expecting it to happen because of the great talent your team possesses.

Minnesota Vikings Training Camp

I tried again with Johnson, to get that quote which would get retweeted a million times. I appealed to his sense of pride and asked if it bothered him that the “experts” on ESPN and other media outlets were favoring the Green Bay Packers to win the division.

“Not at all. Ha! We’ve been an underdog since I’ve been here. Since Mike Zimmer has been here. And we like that. We like that chip on our shoulder. Most guys, you know what I’m saying, come from a blue collar home, anyway. We are used to that type of grind. So we welcome that. We’re just going to do our thing and at the end of the day, we’re going to disappoint a lot of people.”

I asked veteran defensive back Captain Munnerlyn about the new faces in camp, one of which is Mackensie Alexander, the 2nd round rookie trying to take away some of his playing time. Munnerlyn wasn’t biting. He was focused on the team and re-directed the question to the coaches.

“It’s rejuvenating. But, just to see what we’ve got going with the coaching staff – the same coaching staff. Defensively, we’ve got everybody coming back and the new things we’re putting in, it’s just amazing. We’re excited about that.”

A local Minnesota reporter asked Linval Joseph a good question, “You had an excellent season last year. What did you learn from last season that you’re bringing into this season?”

Practice. If you prepare and just dedicate yourself to this game you will get results. And, I really dedicated myself and did everything I could to help this team and it paid out in the long run.”

Keep in mind, that Joseph, in the prior five years before last season, was always considered a good football player. By early November, when the Vikings beat the Rams 21-18 and Joseph had  a career-high 10 tackles, three of them for loss, two quarterback hits and an 8-yard sack that he split with Andrew Sendejo it was obvious he was having a great season. Now, all signs point to the 7 year vet having an even better year.

Minnesota Vikings Training Camp

It’s not just the veteran defensive players giving off a championship vibe. Second year linebacker Eric Kendricks talks about his inexperience with veteran insight.

“All of my coaches have been hard on me and that’s the type of player I am – it’s definitely the type of coaching I need to continue to make progress.”

Kendricks was praised by head coach Mike Zimmer just a few days before he spoke with us media folk. He responded to the praise by giving it back to the coaches and crediting his familiarity with the playbook.

“Now that I know the playbook they are putting me in different positions and different things. So, I’ve just been going out here and going hard every play.”

Defensive Coordinator George Edwards is pleased across the board with his young talent and praised the veterans for helping.

“They are reaching back and trying to help them, teach them the techniques, help them understand how to recall the information and be able to apply it those situations.”

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Like Kendricks, second year cornerback Trae Waynes, the 2015 No. 1 pick for the team, is playing faster and thinking less, according to Edwards.

“You look at him (last year) coming in and it’s totally different than what he did in college. All of a sudden he’s asked to play a little more zone, he’s asked to make different types of adjustments rather than just lining up and playing man-to-man. Now (in his second year) he doesn’t have to think about those things quite as much. He can line up and play and concentrate on the technique and fundamentals with each call.”

The mix of young players and veterans, the depth in the defensive backfield, the talent assembled to get after the quarterback, and the foundation from the past two seasons under Mike Zimmer are just some of the reasons this Minnesota Vikings might be a hell of a bet at 20 to one.

I expect the Vikings to defend their NFC North title, But, I’m forecasting even more. Playoff wins for starters. A Super Bowl win? I think they’re worth the bet. Put me down for a hundred bucks.

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Aldo Gandia

Aldo Gandia

Among my career highlights I have produced two films while in high school that received nationwide attention; leaned out of a helicopter over the Gulf of Suez at the age of 20 to shoot movies of oil rigs; won an Emmy award for a sports special and another for a kid's fitness show; and led a team of very talented creative professionals to produce break-through corporate communications.



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