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Minnesota Vikings: Playing catch-up

MANKATO, Minn. -- On paper, the Minnesota Vikings are lining up for the NFC North race wearing leg irons and a sack pulled up to their chins. It's not that they can't win. This is the NFL, after all. But when compared with the stability that the ...

MANKATO, Minn. -- On paper, the Minnesota Vikings are lining up for the NFC North race wearing leg irons and a sack pulled up to their chins.

It's not that they can't win. This is the NFL, after all.

But when compared with the stability that the Packers, Bears and Lions carry over from last season, the Vikings have a long way to go before they catch the teams that aren't quite as far behind the proverbial 8-ball. That's their reality, thanks to the league's 4 -month lockout and the revised practice rules in the new labor deal.

"Yeah, but how many times do you see teams stacked No. 1 on paper not come through?" Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said. "How many years have we been stacked No. 1 and not won the Super Bowl? Every year stands on its own."

The lockout and new practice rules came at a terrible time for the Vikings and other teams in transition. In the Vikings' case, the biggest of many hurdles to clear is introducing a new offense with a new coordinator and a new quarterback who received his playbook a week ago.

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"We're in uncharted territory," offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. "We've never been through anything like this, whether as a coach or a player. We're trying to be smart in whittling down the volume that we present to the players. We want to be diverse and difficult to defend on offense, but at the same time, we want to know what the hell we're doing."

Desire is strong

That's obviously not something Aaron Rodgers and the defending Super Bowl champion Packers are having to worry about.

"Does Green Bay have an advantage right now because their offense has been together?" Allen asked. "Yeah, but our defense has been together, too. So we feel we have an advantage, too. We also have that hunger and desire to get off our butts and get back to the top of the NFC North."

Besides the usual offseason training regimen, the Vikings also missed out on having two mandatory minicamps. Coach Leslie Frazier, who had his interim tag removed in January, would have been given the extra minicamp.

Once the lockout ended and training camps opened, teams couldn't hit the ground running. Full-contact drills were prohibited for the first three days, and veterans that changed teams or restructured their contracts were sidelined until the new collective bargaining agreement was ratified on Thursday.

The latter rule meant the Vikings went the first three days without their No. 1 quarterback, three of their top four receivers, and starters at nose tackle, outside linebacker, strong safety and left tackle. Overweight left tackle Bryant McKinnie was released Tuesday and replaced by Charlie Johnson, who got his playbook less than a week ago.

Throw in right guard Anthony Herrera's spot on the physically-unable-to-perform list and All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson's excused three-day absence to be with his fiancee for the birth of their son and, well, let's just say there's some overall catching up to be done ASAP.

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"But it's not like we don't have time," cornerback Antoine Winfield said. "We have all the way up to Sept. 11. The preseason is long, so there's time. I think we can catch up in a couple weeks. I don't see a problem."

Gentler practice days

Under the revised practice rules, two-a-day, full-padded practices are eliminated. Teams are limited to 4 hours on the field a day for training camp. Padded practices are limited to three hours and a second practice is permitted but must be a walk-through with no pads or helmets. Teams also can't practice more than six consecutive days.

"One of our big concerns over the past couple years has been player safety, and this is definitely going to help with that," defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. "That's all you heard the past couple years was concussions and player safety in general. With all the rule changes in the games, why not make the practices a little lighter?"

Jets linebacker Bart Scott criticized the new practice rules and suggested it could have the reverse effect and result in more injuries during the season.

"I think it's wimping out, making football more soft," Scott told the Neward Star-Ledger. "I get concerned you're making football players weaker because you don't push them past that threshold."

Vikings tight end Jim Kleinsasser said he believes the Vikings can adapt quickly and make up ground on other teams. But he admits the journey has been a strange one, to say the least.

"We have 90 guys in camp," Kleinsasser said. "A lot of us are still learning guys' faces. There's probably half these guys I've never seen before."

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