Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from www.purplePTSD writer and editor of purplePTSD and VikingsTerritory, Joe Oberle.
Monday at Vikings training camp—“time to rise and grind,” as many players are wont to say. Monday is, in a way, the third unofficial start to training camp—first the rookies report, then the veterans report and Monday the hitting starts. The Vikings will don pads for the first time this camp on Monday afternoon and for the first time at TCO Performance Center. And we are here to report what that is like.
Everything that happens for the first time is new at the new Eagan facility, but there is nothing new about hitting in the NFL—unless, of course, if you consider the new hitting rule.
The way it stands, the players have to learn (yet again) a new way to tackle and hit without being penalized for it—or even ejected for it in some cases. The new rule is trying to eliminate players from leading with the crown of their helmet to initiate contact. That includes hitting the defenseless player anywhere, not just the head and neck area; it can affect every player on the field. The rule has caused plenty of discussion, concern and, as we will we be seeing soon, plenty of adjustment from the teams.
“I think there is going to be a lot of challenges with it,” head coach Mike Zimmer said on Saturday in anticipation of the first padded practice. When I am going through tape right now from past games or plays and [I am] thinking to myself, ‘I think that is going to be a penalty right now or, I wonder if that one is going to be a penalty this year’. It is going to take a little bit of preseason to clean up a little bit. I think they [referees] kind of understand what they are going to call, but talking to officials and things like that, it is going to be tough at first.”
Team owner Mark Wilf was asked about the rule on Monday and it appears to top of mind with the organization. The league is trying everything they can to help eliminate concussions and other major injuries, and this has become the latest step in the process.
“I know Coach Zimmer spoke to it, and I will defer to his comments on that,” Wilf said. “But the reality is there are rule changes and talking to officials and league officials and going through preseason, everyone is going to feel out where the reality hits the road on those rules—so, the players can adjust to what the reality is. It’s still to be worked through in this preseason.”
For the players, that process starts on Monday with the first padded practice and while that is always a landmark day for the defense, they have to keep the new rules in mind when putting on the “foil”, er . . . uh, the pads.
Of course,” Linval Joseph said after the morning walk through, when asked if the new rule is something he has to be cognizant of. “But I don’t [think about it constantly]. At the end of the day I am football player. I have been doing it as a pro for nine years. I know my job and I know what I have to do, and right now my job is to help this team understand how to be a pro. That’s what I am going to do this afternoon.”
But for Joseph, the advent of pads in practice is not that much of a change for him.
“It’s the same for me. Pads, no pads, it’s the same physicality inside,” the defensive tackle said. “It will just be great to finally figure out our team. So, first day in pads, I am excited to see what happens, how good we can be and how many less mistakes we can make. So that’s the challenge to see, can we go out there and do our job and make no mistakes—that’s day one for pads.”
Regardless, the new rule is going to have an effect on everything the teams will do going forward. They won’t be really taking players to the ground in camp, but they will have to adjust to a new way of playing the game—starting with the first padded practice.
“Yes, we will have to,” Zimmer said, when asked it will change the way the coaches instruct practice. “I think it is going to happen way more in the secondary and things like that or open field situations. That is where I notice it most on tape. We will definitely have to talk about that.”
Starting Monday afternoon.