SI.com has dispatched writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Peter King had to say about the Vikings' camp in Mankato, Minn. For an archive of all the camp postcards, click here.
The Vikings have been coming 80 miles south of the Twin Cities, to Mankato, Minn., since 1966, and the marriage shows no signs of crumbling. My Fairfield Inn in Mankato was populated Thursday morning at breakfast with 11 men, women and children with Vikings clothing, and two men in business attire. The bleachers at Minnesota State University (formerly Mankato State) were filled, and about 3,500 people attended the two-hour morning workout.
1. Percy Harvin is making an immediate impact. Drafted with the 22nd pick in the first round last April, Harvin is being run ragged by coach Brad Childress, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and receivers coach George Stewart. They're coaching him hard.
On one three-route sequence this morning, Bevell stopped him after he ran a route out of the slot and gave him five seconds of coaching points. On the next, a short out to the right sideline, Stewart bellowed, "Right to me! Right to me!'' In other words, "Finish your route every time!'' On the last of the three, a go-route out of the slot, Childress followed him back 15 yards to the line when it was over, giving him a fine point about avoiding getting knocked off his line by the defense.
"We want to overload him now and teach him as much as we can,'' Bevell told me, "because when the season starts we don't want his head swimming with everything. We just want him to play.''
It's early, but expect Bernard Berrian and Sidney Rice to start, with Harvin the third wideout, playing mostly in the slot. Also, he'll return either punts or kicks, most likely, and he'll be a Wildcat quarterback.
2. I didn't feel a Brett Favre hangover here. The unanswerable question now is: If the winner of the Quarterback Derby, Sage Rosenfels or Tarvaris Jackson, struggles early or gets hurt, will Childress place a call to Brett Favre and ask him to reconsider. My gut feeling is Childress will make the call if he has to, but he's seriously hoping not to have to do it. Steve Hutchinson, who's as honest a player as there is in the league, told me he felt nothing negative around the offense because Favre didn't come. "That whole thing was an 'if,' '' he said. "It's nothing we hung our hats on.''
3. The Vikings feel good about the prospect of having a Starcaps-free season.Kevin and Pat Williams, the defensive-line mainstays due to serve four-game suspensions at the start of the season dating to a 2008 positive test for taking a banned substance in a weight-loss pill, appear to be on track to have their cases heard in court after this season. But as Kevin Williams said, that could change tomorrow. Or the next day.
"We're in the ninth round of a 12-round fight,'' one club source told me, "and we feel good about their chances, but nothing's final yet.'' With a state court siding with the players, it seems unlikely to be overturned before 2010. That's a huge factor for the Vikings, who play in a division in which one September loss owing to their failure to stop the run could mean a division title -- or a playoff berth.
Safe Rosenfels, quarterback, acquired from Houston in trade last spring. Rosenfels, 31, has never had a team to call his own. Imagine his joy when the Texans dealt him to a team that appears to be a competent quarterback away from winning the Super Bowl.
"I have to give thanks to [coach] Gary Kubiak and the Texans, because they didn't have to trade me here,'' Rosenfels told me. "But he told me he would try to do something that was best for me and my family, and he did. Coming here was a tremendous break for me.''
Phil Simms always has maintained that Rosenfels should have a chance to be an NFL starter because he thought he had a professional arm and brain. He's in a head-to-head battle with Tarvaris Jackson, and I think Childress is going to pick the man who can do two things well and make the fewest mental errors while moving the chains, and throw the deep ball efficiently. Jackson's arm is stronger. This camp will determine if he's more accurate deep than Rosenfels. On Thursday, both completed a deep ball to Harvin, and Jackson's perfect spiral was so effortless you wondered how much deeper it could have gone.
Offensive tackle Phil Loadholt (second round, Oklahoma). You have to see this guy, and his bookend. Loadholt is 6-8, 343 pounds. Bryant McKinnie is 6-8, 335. The practice I saw, McKinnie was playing left tackle and Loadholt right. It's hard for a defensive end to get around either man, obviously. "Phil had a 36-inch reach,'' Childress said, "the longest at the Scouting Combine. One of the things we like about that is that it should take a rusher an extra step to get around that right side now.''
Loadholt's only problem as he adjusts from college to pro football? For the Sooners, he could just maul people once he locked onto them. In the NFL, he'll need to learn to be more flexible and bend his back so he can get leverage on rushers and so they don't bowl him over.
Easy. Harvin, split wide right outside the numbers, versus cornerback Marcus Walker, playing inches across the line from him, planning to get a bump on Harvin in the five-yard bump zone to knock him off his route. Harvin juked almost imperceptibly left-right-left at the snap of the ball. Walker lunged at him but only got a piece of him as Harvin got outside Walker's left shoulder at the line. NFL corners, and highlight producers in TV stations across the country, are going to see a lot of this. Harvin is so quick off the line, then so fast, that if you give him a half-step and don't have a safety over the top for double-coverage help, the Vikings are going to throw a lot of deep touchdowns to this man. On this play, Walker never caught up, and the deep throw nestled cleanly in Harvin's arms. Touchdown.
With the Viking cafeteria off-limits to reporters, p.r. man Bob Hagan took me across the street from the practice fields to a Mankato tradition, Jake's Stadium Pizza, which has been serving Viking players and fans since 1972 here at camp. Two tables behind us: the Sage Rosenfels family. Just the other night, Adrian Peterson and seven teammates sat at the table we inhabited now, creating some mayhem that included a fervent dad rushing into the place when he heard Peterson was here, thrusting his 1-year-old son at him and asking, "Can I take a picture of you and my son?'' Peterson's a good guy and did it, holding the boy.
I had three mini-slices of Italian bread topped with cheese and dipped in pizza sauce. Tender, tasty. Then I got the 10-inch ultra-thin-crust pepperoni-and-mushroom pie. A little cheesy for me (the cheese is trucked in from Wisconsin, and the guy who runs the place, Wally Boyer, will not compromise on the pricey cheese), but that's the only thing wrong with it.
The crust has some quasi-sweet taste, very interesting and different. Overall, it's as good a non-East- or West-Coast pizza I've had in a long time, maybe ever. And Boyer's company was good. "In the old days, we'd have 20 to 30 players in here before supper,'' Boyer said. If that sounds strange, understand that around here, "supper'' is the word used for "team dinner.'' Boyer said they'd use the pizza "as an appetizer before their meal.
Appetizer? I didn't need dinner. I mean supper.
Washed down with diet Pepsi.
Overall grade: A-minus.
1. What a strange schedule. The Vikings make up for a cupcake sked to open the season (at Cleveland, at Detroit, San Francisco) with a killer close (at Carolina, at Chicago, Giants). They've got Green Bay twice in the first eight weeks. They've got Chicago twice after Thanksgiving.
2. The bell may be tolling for Brad Childress, and soon. He's 24-24 with a playoff loss in his first three seasons with the Vikings, and I don't care if Paris Hilton plays quarterback this year, Childress has to take this playoff-ready team into the postseason to be assured of surviving.
3.Antoine Winfield is terminally underrated among NFL corners. Maybe people don't want to give 5-9 corners credit. But I can't imagine a tougher, clingier, all-around cornerback in football.
4. Want to give credit where it's due if Percy Harvin has a standout year, which I think he will? Give it to George Stewart, the receivers coach. Whether it's staying after practice with him or catching him on what he missed during his holdout, Stewart is in Harvin's grill most every day. That should pay off, assuming the kid gets the mental part of the game quicker than most do.
5.John Sullivan looks ready to be a starting center for the first time as a pro. The sixth-round pick from Notre Dame last year has earned the trust of the coaches and the men he plays alongside. When Steve Hutchinson trusts you to hold your ground and make very few mental errors, you know you've got a future.