EAGAN, Minn. – Last week, it was the Oakland Raiders and Detroit Lions. This week started with a brawl between the New York Jets and Washington Redskins. Training camp joint practices have commonly boiled over with emotions and led to multiple confrontations between teams.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is determined not to let this week’s joint practices with the Jacksonville Jaguars devolve the same way.
“Today we've got 12 of our players and 12 of their players are going to get together before practice and kind of talk about respecting each other and doing this thing the right way, and try to get a lot of good work done and get some really, really good football tape,” Zimmer said Wednesday after Minnesota completed a walk-through on their own. “So, it will be great evaluation for our young guys, really great evaluation for us for where we're at and we'll go from there.”
The Jaguars, the Vikings’ opponent on Saturday for the second preseason game, came to Minnesota early for joint practices. Jacksonville had approached Zimmer in the offseason about the opportunity and Zimmer agreed.
Zimmer has preached to his team the need for a professional approach and not getting involved in trash talking or brawls. The message went a step further when Zimmer met with a small group of players, who suggested the player meeting with Jacksonville.
“One of them suggested it and I thought it was a good idea, so I talked to their guys,” Zimmer said. “They're going to get their guys together so... we really... Jacksonville coach Marrone, myself and the rest of our team, we really don't want to end up being on TV like some of these other things, we just want to get out there and get some work done and try to get each of us better.”
Instead, Zimmer and the Vikings are focused on two joint practices against a team that was in the AFC Championship game last season. The Jaguars won’t have All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey or defensive end Dante Fowler, who were both suspended, but it offers Minnesota the chance to see how it stacks up against a quality opponent.
“We came here to work,” Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs said. “That’s the No. 1 thing. We came here to work. We came here to get things done. So as far as anything extra, we’re not interested.”
Diggs and Adam Thielen won’t get the chance to matchup against Ramsey, but Jacksonville still has cornerback A.J. Bouye and a defense that finished No. 2 in the NFL last season behind Minnesota in fewest points and yards allowed. The Jaguars were also second in the NFL in sacks, second in interceptions and tied for the league lead in forced fumbles.
“Their secondary, that’s what stuck out on tape,” Thielen said. “That’s what I look for. The way that they were covering guys, every catch that you saw against them was contested. So, we have a lot of respect for those guys in the back end, what they’ve done. It’s kind of a bummer that Jalen’s not here because he’s such a great player. They’re such a good duo so it would have been fun to compete against them.”
Zimmer said he’ll keep a close eye on the Jaguars’ defense and joked, “we're not above stealing.” Jacksonville’s defense is similar to some the Vikings’ will face later in the season.
Minnesota last had joint practices in 2016 when it traveled to Cincinnati to face Zimmer’s former squad.
The joint practices will also break up the monotony of training camp two-a-days where Minnesota’s players have been banging against their teammates for nearly three weeks.
“After going against the same defense, the same schemes, the same players every day, at some point it gets a little old,” Thielen said. “So, I think it will be good just to kind of break up and see different faces, see different schemes, a different defense and compete at probably a little bit more of a pace just because you’re going against a different colored jersey.”