EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- In the postmodern NFL, where every team and player searches far and near for extra competitive edges, optional offseason practices are voluntary in name only.
Players can't be fined or officially disciplined for absences, but the coaches are never pleased when the locker room isn't completely full.
So, as much as Brad Childress tried to divert attention toward the 80-some guys who showed up for Tuesday's workout, the focus of this week's launch of these light helmets-and-shorts walkthroughs -- dubbed by the league "organized team activities" -- was on three important veterans who weren't there.
Running back Chester Taylor was attending to a family emergency, Childress said.
Center Matt Birk was not there, either, as the six-time Pro Bowl pick predicted last month. He has chosen to work out on his own, trying to get the mental break he needs before the season begins.
Left tackle Bryant McKinnie was also absent, because of a court hearing he had Tuesday in Florida. This was the latest step in the legal process following his arrest on assault-related charges for his role in a fight outside a Miami nightclub. McKinnie pleaded not guilty in March.
His agent, Larry Kerr, said he is trying to get his client in a pretrial diversion program. If he's successful, and McKinnie fulfills his requirements, the charges would be dropped. The trial date, originally June 2, was continued Tuesday. The next hearing in the case has been scheduled for June 20, Kerr said, but he and McKinnie -- not to mention the Vikings -- are hoping it doesn't come to that.
Because of prior off-field trouble, McKinnie could face a short suspension from the NFL even if he's acquitted. Childress said he's not concerned about the situation dragging on into the summer.
"It's a little circumspect to think about it," he said, referring to training camp.
Defensive end Erasmus James was there, though his activity was limited as he works his way back from another knee surgery. Defensive tackle Pat Williams and cornerback Antoine Winfield were also being watched closely, not quite yet cleared for full participation.
Running back Adrian Peterson was noticeably watching from the sideline for most of the practice, including the concluding conditioning drill, but Childress said there was no problem; Peterson took part in all of Monday's workout.
"The coaches wanted some of the young guys to step in today and do the majority of the stuff," Peterson said.
But, alas, it is only May, nearly four months away from games that count in the standings. Even though Childress, wearing a big smile and a gray, floppy hat to shield his head from the sun, was full of energy and enthusiasm.
"It's good to get them back doing football-type things on a beautiful Minnesota day," Childress said.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press