Vikings prepare for cold late-season games
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) Though the label will only last for two years, the Minnesota Vikings are an outdoor team again.
Their winter-weather mettle is about to be tested.
The high on Sunday at Chicago has been predicted at 34 degrees, and then the Vikings have three straight games at their temporary home stadium on the University of Minnesota campus.
The long-range forecast for the Twin Cities area is for mostly below-freezing temperatures in the coming weeks. The first snowfall of the season already hit the Twin Cities this week.
Well, a certain Miami-raised rookie claims to be ready, at least.
''I'm feeling very confident,'' quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. ''I've been able to experience some cold games in college, but none like what I'm going to face on this level. I know it's going to be different, but it's all going to be a mental thing. Our coaches are doing a great job of preparing us for these next couple of games down the stretch. I think we'll do pretty good.''
The first-round draft pick from Louisville pointed to a game at Connecticut he played in college in the 20s, but warm weather was much more the norm. Bridgewater, for his part, has devised a post-practice drill called ''Wet Ball Wednesdays.''
Exactly like it sounds, he soaks a ball in cold water before starting to throw it.
''If the field is wet from the snow or anything in these upcoming weeks, I think I've prepared myself well to know what to expect,'' Bridgewater said. ''We'll just continue to just get comfortable, whether we're practicing outside or indoors.''
During their 32 seasons at the cozy, climate-controlled Metrodome, the Vikings didn't have much reason to take their work outside in November and December unless they faced a wintry road game at Green Bay or Chicago.
But now they do, while their new domed stadium is being built downtown. If they're not ready for the elements themselves, that ever-important home-field advantage won't be as great.
The Packers are far more accustomed to playing in cold or snow than they are, so the Vikings won't have that as an advantage when they host their rival on Nov. 23. But the plan is to practice outside next week, thanks to a special field cover the organization has ordered to keep the grass warm (and safe) enough to run around on.
The inflatable waterproof material, complete with heaters and fans, has been shipped from England. Coach Mike Zimmer said it's expected to arrive on Monday.
''If we were going to get outside this is the way we had to do it,'' Zimmer said.
Knowing the team would play several wintry games in 2014 and 2015, ownership decided during the offseason to make the investment, spokesman Jeff Anderson said.
When the Vikings prepare for games at Detroit on Dec. 14 and Miami on Dec. 21, practices will probably be inside. But the bubble-like protection system gives them an option Zimmer didn't have before when he was the defensive coordinator at Cincinnati.
The Bengals don't have an indoor facility.
So the Vikings have started to gear up, in the name of Bud Grant, for being a cold-weather team again. Zimmer joked he hoped he'd be able to stay warm on those days.
''If anything it's going to make us not only physically tougher being out in the cold but mentally,'' defensive end Brian Robison said. ''And that's really what it comes down to a lot of times when you play cold-weather games, just mentally being able to block it out.''
The good news for the Vikings (4-5) is they're not built around the deep pass. Their six touchdown passes are by far the fewest in the NFL. Running the ball and playing defense shouldn't be as affected by a windy, chilling or even snow-filled afternoon.
''It's just football,'' fullback Jerome Felton said. ''It's just another thing you've got to do.''
AP NFL websites: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL