Less than four weeks remain before the Vikings are scheduled to open the season against the Packers, and the fact they’re putting pads on for the first time on Aug. 17 — with no preseason games on the schedule — creates a different set of challenges for coach Mike Zimmer than in any of his first six camps with the team.
He said Monday the Vikings could employ some live tackling during special teams periods in camp “to find out if some of these guys can run down the field in space and tackle.”
The Vikings also have to try and guard against injuries, though, with players trying to be in football shape minus the benefit of organized team activities and minicamp this spring.
During 11-on-11 periods between the offense and defense, the Vikings might resort to thud tempo — where defenders are making contact with ball carriers but not driving them to the ground — and hope it keeps injuries out of the mix.
“I want to get to September 13 healthy if we can,” Zimmer said, referring to the Vikings’ opener against the Packers. “But on the same token, we want to make sure we do a good job of tackling. I think thud periods may be more important than getting them to the ground.”
Zimmer said rookie cornerback Jeff Gladney, who had meniscus surgery before the draft in April, had the injury “flare up on him a little bit,” adding, “He probably took too many reps the first day. We’ll ease him back in as we go.”
Danielle Hunter did not practice for a second straight day; Zimmer said the defensive end “had a little tweak” that kept him out, but “he’ll be all right.”
Cornerback receives ‘nothing but good news’
Cornerback Mike Hughes fractured a vertebra in his neck during the Vikings’ regular-season finale against the Bears, ending his season before the Vikings’ playoff game against the Saints.
Hughes said Monday he didn’t need offseason surgery, however, adding he got a series of positive reports from visits to different doctors this offseason.
“We heard nothing but good news,” he said. “We didn’t think it was that serious from that point on. Got cleared to do everything, so I’m ready to go.”
The neck injury came after the 2018 first-round pick tore his ACL six games into his rookie season. Now in his third year, Hughes, 23, is the Vikings’ most experienced corner, playing in the team’s base defense while moving into the slot as part of the team’s nickel package. Headed into 2020, he’s heard from Zimmer about approaching his job with more confidence.
“Whenever I go on the field, I use that as a chip on my shoulder to kind of let loose and be who I am as a football player and person,” Hughes said. “He’s brought it up. I don’t take it as a negative. Just put your head down and work hard and that confidence will build however long it takes.”
Observations from Monday’s practice
• Rookie cornerback Cameron Dantzler had one of the day’s more impressive moments when he gave Adam Thielen a shove coming off the line of scrimmage and turning to run with the veteran receiver before tipping away a pass from Kirk Cousins.
• Zimmer said Monday morning the Vikings are “being smart” with running back Dalvin Cook, who’s done little work in team drills and wasn’t involved with the first-team offense much on Monday, as Alexander Mattison continued to play there.
• The Vikings gave plenty of work to their backups in one of two glimpses the public — and opposing teams — will get of their roster before the start of the regular season. The team livestreamed Monday’s practice, with Fox 9 also broadcasting the session, and will do it again Tuesday.