Blink and you’ll miss it, but the Minnesota Vikings have been training at Winter Park for over a week now. Lost in the hype for the 2016 NFL Draft is the fact that Vikings players are right in the swing of the annual offseason training program. And today, a handful of names — new and old — spoke to the media for the first time in months.
The hot topic was general manager Rick Spielman’s assertion that the Vikings could deal their first-round selection, the 23rd-overall pick, once the draft begins on Thursday. According to Spielman, two teams have already called about moving up, but the decision to trade likely won’t be made until Minnesota is actually on the clock.
Let’s rewind, though. The draft is less than 48 hours away, and we’re talking about players who aren’t even on the roster yet. For the Vikings currently working out in Winter Park, the offseason presents an opportunity to focus on improvements and speculate on a potentially exciting future. After a long hiatus from the spotlight, what were some of the best comments from earlier today?
Recognizing Bridgewater’s leadership
It’s no secret that Teddy Bridgewater is the Vikings’ quarterback of the future. The team’s starter since Week 3 of the 2014 regular season, Bridgewater has earned the respect of his teammates, coaches, and peers. Players like Kyle Rudolph have vocally supported the third-year quarterback since he was drafted 32nd-overall, but it’s the new faces who are already lauding Bridgewater’s command of the offense.
“I love him because he is the prototypical quarterback,” Boone said, per Vikings.com. “He’s a great guy, he’s great to be around. He doesn’t overstep his boundaries, which is awesome.” On another note, Boone also confirmed that he will be playing left guard for the Vikings when the season begins.
Of course, Bridgewater won’t be satisfied until the team wins a Super Bowl. He may have the backing of his newly-acquired left guard, but in Bridgewater’s eyes, there’s still room for improvement. “Just being more of a vocal leader and getting more and more comfortable,” he said when asked what he can do better in 2016. “As I’m around the guys, they’re gravitating toward my personality and my leadership skills, and that’s going to take us a long way.”
Sullivan hopeful and healthy heading into ’16
John Sullivan, Minnesota’s long-time center and arguably the team’s best lineman, missed all of 2015 with a back injury. Fortunately for the Vikings, the veteran appears optimistically healthy as the Vikings finish up their second week of offseason workouts.
“I’ve got fresh legs, I have to say,” Sullivan said, per Lindsey Young. “Obviously I’m a year older, but I didn’t have that same wear and tear on the body in 2015.”
Like Adrian Peterson in 2015 — though under very different circumstances — Sullivan enters 2016 a year removed from football. He wouldn’t put a percentage on his recovery when speaking to reporters today, but Sullivan sounded optimistic and ready to take over in the middle of Minnesota’s offensive line. His healthy return would allow Tony Sparano to mix and match combinations at other positions, most notably right guard and right tackle.
Don’t worry about Harrison Smith’s future
If any player on Minnesota’s roster deserves a contract extension, it’s Harrison Smith. Vikings Territory’s reigning defensive MVP is one of, if not the league’s best free safety, and he automatically makes the Vikings a better team when he’s on the field.
After Spielman’s slew of free agency moves, many wondered why Minnesota’s general manager hadn’t locked up Smith to a long-term deal. But Spielman’s past moves — signing Jarius Wright and Blair Walsh to extensions right before the season last year — indicate he’s willing to wait on inking Smith. The free safety confirmed as much to the media today:
Harrison Smith, entering fifth-year option: "I'm here to be part of a really good team in 2016." Points to Spielman record of keeping talent
— Andrew Krammer (@Andrew_Krammer) April 26, 2016
The Vikings are in no rush to sign Smith, and Ben Goessling reiterated that point in a recent mailbag at ESPN. “My hunch is the Vikings get something done with Smith before the start of the season, though even if that didn’t happen, they could have him play on his $5.278 million fifth-year option and finish a deal at a later time,” he wrote. Regardless of when the negotiations happen, it’s a foregone conclusion that Smith will remain in Minnesota for a long, long time.
Meaningful football won’t begin until September, but it’s always encouraging to hear from players that haven’t spoken to the media in months. All of the draft chatter, mock draft craziness, and speculation can’t drown out the fact that the Minnesota Vikings are back in the building at Winter Park and preparing for a successful 2016 season.