As part of the U.S. Bank’s Vikings Biggest Fan contest, I joined 100 lucky fans for the experience of a lifetime yesterday — touring U.S. Bank Stadium and attending Vikings Training Camp in Mankato, Minnesota. Below, I’ll give my impressions of the day and my takeaways from a blustery day of padded practice. Enjoy!
As I stood at the fence outside of U.S. Bank Stadium, I couldn’t help but marvel at the Vikings’ future home. I’d seen pictures of the building, but a picture doesn’t capture the sheer size of the stadium on Bud Grant Way. On my last trip to Minnesota, I visited the Metrodome, and my 10-year-old self left disappointed by the concrete husk of dome. This time, things were much different.
I strapped on my bright yellow vest, buckled my purple hard hat — reminiscent of the Vikings’ current helmets — and pulled my gloves on before stepping through a narrow passage into the stadium. We were the first 100 fans to ever take a tour, and we didn’t care that we looked ridiculous in our fluorescent construction gear.
There is an openness to the stadium that’s unlike any other venue in the NFL. From the wide concourses to the view of downtown Minneapolis, U.S. Bank Stadium was made for fans. Compared to the old Metrodome, architects have nearly doubled the square footage through a clever use of obtuse angles and a number of different suites, allowing more than 68,000 guests to enjoy games comfortably.
At the field level, fans in the Field Club will be closer to the action than ever before, with access to the Vikings tunnel and a chance to give players high fives on their way to the sideline. The suite is one of six available to willing fans and will give fans exclusive access to their favorite team on gamedays.
As we walked under massive steel beams, more than 1,500 construction workers hammered, welded, and lifted the stadium’s many pieces into place, working around the clock to ensure the venue is complete for its scheduled finish — exactly one year from yesterday.
It’s a tall task, but Vikings and stadium officials seem optimistic. This is one of the country’s most advanced stadiums, with Wi-Fi hotspots lining the handrails, seats attached to steel guides for added leg room, and a majority of the roof covered in ETFE paneling.
From any point throughout the stadium, the field was more than visible — it was in perfect view. Because of the building’s unique design and easily accessible concourses, fans can enjoy the game whether they’re in their seat or grabbing a beer. On either side of the field, the Vikings are installing brand new jumbotrons, which dwarf the screen that sat in the Metrodome before.
After the tour, we had a chance to visit the Stadium Preview Center, where we got a firsthand look at the team’s plans to revitalize the surrounding areas. In addition to the stadium’s plaza area, the Vikings are brining in an ACTUAL ship to place outside of the building. They’ll also be renaming the streets and painting a few of them purple, to add to the already impressive aesthetics of the downtown Minneapolis.
U.S. Bank Stadium was designed with Vikings fans in mind, from the sprawling concourses to the accessible views of the field. When the 2016 rolls around, the stadium will be ready to host the Minnesota Vikings and thousands of excited fans. The question remains — will the team live up to their new home’s hype?
Fortunately, we had a chance to answer that question later in the day, when we traveled to Mankato for a VIP experience at Vikings training camp. Upon arriving, we were whisked into what was technically a “tent.” In reality, it was an air-conditioned club, with free food, drinks, and an all-access view of the Vikings’ three practice fields.
Before the first practice horn blew, Vikings Network lead, Mike Wobschall, and the voice of KFAN, Paul Allen, shared their thoughts on this Minnesota Vikings team. While Wobschall loves Danielle Hunter’s size and explosive athletic ability, Allen shared a surprising revelation with fans in attendance.
Trae Waynes, the first-round rookie cornerback, has been shifting from the outside to the inside throughout training camp, but Allen believes the rookie will start the season elsewhere. “Don’t worry if Waynes isn’t starting Week 1,” Allen said. “I think he has a chance to be an elite gunner against the San Francisco 49ers in September.”
After the chat with Wobschall and Allen, the horn blew, and practice began. Zimmer has this team moving at a rapid pace, shifting from special teams drills to 7-on-7 in a matter of minutes, and in some cases, seconds. At first glance, the Vikings appear to be loose and enjoying themselves, but it’s clear that they’ve bought into Zimmer’s way of doing things.
During drills, players repeatedly finish sprints through the goal line and play through the whistle. That doesn’t change during 11-on-11’s, as Zimmer and his staff have created a competitive environment. This is especially true at cornerback, right guard, and even wide receiver, where players are jockeying to start or earn a roster spot.
In my short time at camp, I paid close attention to a few players and took note of some general happenings on the field. Below, my biggest takeaways from the day:
Pruitt the Playmaker
MyCole Pruitt, the team’s rookie tight end and fifth-round draft pick, looks to be an integral part of Norv Turner’s offense. During one stretch of practice yesterday, Pruitt made multiple plays on the football, running crisp routes and finding ways to get open against Zimmer’s aggressive defense. He ran a drag during a goal line session, separating from underneath defenders with surprising speed to haul in a touchdown. In the next live series, Pruitt made a diving catch in the middle of the field that impressed the crowd and didn’t appear to drop a pass all practice. Behind a healthy Kyle Rudolph, who looks to be in better shape than last year, Pruitt has a chance to contribute in the passing game.
No Rush on Waynes
As I wrote in Lindsey’s Question of the Week this morning, head coach Mike Zimmer is taking his time with Trae Waynes. After almost every individual rep or play in 11-on-11, Zimmer took Waynes to the side and demonstrated proper technique, explained route combinations, or showed Waynes how to correct his footwork. Waynes spent a majority of yesterday’s practice in the slot, and Zimmer kept a watchful eye on his pupil. It’s clear that Waynes is playing the Nickel with the mindset of an outside cornerback. His aggressive jams are making it hard for him to recover on crossing routes, and he was beat multiple times yesterday. With his growing pains, Waynes has a long way to go before he starts over Terence Newman outside or Captain Munnerlyn in the slot. And that’s okay — Zimmer is being patient with the rookie.
Bridgewater Battles the Wind
The wind in Mankato created problems for every quarterback yesterday, but Bridgewater’s passes were exceptional in the howling conditions. For a quarterback who’s had his arm strength questioned, Bridgewater’s ball cut through the wind with ease, and he hit more than a few tight windows yesterday. His added strength and size were clearly helping him through a rough passing day, and it’s encouraging that his efforts to become more durable are also improving his ability to throw the football.
Patterson the Professional
I’ve had my doubts about Cordarrelle Patterson, and like many fans, I’m not sold on his ability to play wide receiver. He’s an elite ball carrier and kick returner, but he hasn’t proved he can succeed running a number of complex routes and winning battles at the catch point. Yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised. Patterson, running with the second team, drew the coverage of Trae Waynes, and repeatedly brought in tough catches while snatching the ball out of the air with his hands instead of his body. His corner routes, digs, and slants were sharper, and Patterson never seemed out of place. Based on reports from earlier in the week, Patterson is improving, and this may be the year he turns the corner.
Tyrus Thompson: A Tank
When Mike Harris opened training camp at right guard, many fans and media members were surprised. Harris has been average at best, and Rick Spielman’s most recent draft class is filled with younger, potentially better options at the position. One of those options, Oklahoma’s Tyrus Thompson, stirred a few excited emotions with his play in practice yesterday. While Harris struggled in 1-on-1’s, Thompson consistently overpowered his opponents. In 11-on-11, Thompson was excellent when pulling, flattening defenders in the backfield and holding his ground against the likes of Linval Joseph, Shariff Floyd, and Everson Griffen. Harris may be the starter Week 1, but look for Thompson to make a push if his surprising play continues at training camp.
With a beautiful new stadium and the beginnings of what could be a playoff team, the future is bright in Minnesota. The Vikings are well on their way to football excellence under Mike Zimmer, and they’ll have the perfect home to prove it come 2016.
Be sure to check out the scavenger hunt results later tonight, and follow Chris Price for even more photos from training camp! Vikings Territory will be in Mankato starting Friday, and we look forward to the continued coverage of the Minnesota Vikings!