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Monday, August 11, 2008
Minnesota's veteran-style camp

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert 

MANKATO, Minn. -- I believe it, but only because I saw it myself.

For weeks, we've been reading about the relatively sweatless training camp that Brad Childress has been running in his third year as the Minnesota Vikings' coach. But after watching the brutal conditions he implemented as recently as 2006, it was hard to imagine training camp practices without the constant crash of helmets and shoulder pads.

But that's exactly what we found during our visit Monday to Minnesota State, Mankato. The Vikings practiced in shoulder pads and shorts for about an hour and 50 minutes during the morning, and then in shorts and shells (soft shoulder pads) for a little over an hour in the afternoon.

Childress has put players in full pads only four times in 25 practices this summer; one of them was a dual practice with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Contrast that to two years ago, when Childress scheduled full-pads practices for 12 consecutive days. Childress' first camp with the Vikings was similar to the one John Harbaugh is running in Baltimore: A summer dedicated to setting a permanent foundation and tempo for his new program. (Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune had a good piece on the topic last week.)

"We still bang but it's not like previous years," nose tackle Pat Williams said. "I think it's going to pay off in September, in October and in the long run after that. It'll definitely pay off for us."

Yes, the approach has gone over well with the Vikings' veteran roster. Practices are focused on installation and mental work rather than hitting. Depending on personnel groupings, the Vikings could start as many as seven players who will be at least 30 years old during the season. They are a professional group, and Childress is leaving their conditioning up to them.

It is a delicate balance, of course. Excessive hitting wears down many players. In the worst-case scenario, it leads to injuries. On the flip side, the violent nature of football requires some degree of hitting to re-condition players to contact.

The Vikings fumbled five times, losing four, in their 34-17 preseason loss to Seattle last Friday night. A cynic might make a connection between fumbles and the level of contact in practice, but it seems way too early to draw that conclusion.

Here are a few other random observations from today's practices: