Vikings look to improve at more relaxed training camp

MANKATO, Minn. (AP) -- How the Minnesota Vikings will fare this season is still a mystery, but as they prepare for their first official practice it's clear they're at least a little more comfortable.

For Steve Hutchinson, there was no worry about driving directions to training camp.

"I didn't have to go MapQuest it, which kind of sums it up," said the left guard, whose first year with Minnesota ended badly with a stagnant offense, frustrated and apathetic fans, and a 6-10 finish.

This is about more than memorizing the route to Mankato, obviously. The style, expectations and playbook of coach Brad Childress and his staff are more clear, to start.

"There is a little bit more confidence and comfort," Hutchinson continued. "We had a great offseason, great minicamps. Everybody has kind of picked up where we left off last year - and knew what we had to improve on."

There is plenty of that, especially on Hutchinson's side of the ball. With two games started to his credit, Tarvaris Jackson is the expected holder of a quarterback job that Childress has maintained is open to both him and Brooks Bollinger. Bobby Wade, one of a handful of low-profile free agents the Vikings signed this spring, will be asked to help upgrade a group of receivers with little accomplishment to date. Running back Adrian Peterson was drafted with the seventh pick to give the offense some life, but he must have a contract first.

Negotiations with the agents for Peterson and receiver Sidney Rice, the team's second-round selection, were ongoing Thursday but not to the point of completion. That meant the two rookies were likely to be no-shows for the first full-squad practice at Minnesota State University on Friday morning.

Childress, of course, made his push for them to avoid holding out.

"The more looks that you can get at things, the better off you are as a football player," he said.

Discussing differences between his first year and his second, Childress acknowledged that he has made efforts over the offseason to improve communication between him, his players and his staff. That was one problem that developed last year.

And after generally coming across as stubborn throughout his first season, Childress has made some mild changes to the camp schedule, moving morning practices back by 15 minutes, trimming two-a-days from 14 to 12, and allowing players to take their conditioning test ahead of time. Fifty-five of them took him up on that offer.

Childress said he took team feedback into account when deciding to scale the schedule back a bit.

"Everybody is smarter for having been through the journey," he said.

That made the veterans happy. Safety Darren Sharper called last season's camp the hardest he had endured in his first 10 seasons in the NFL.

"If it gets more physical than that, I don't know if it's possible," Sharper said.

Change often makes people uncomfortable, as Childress said many times during his first year. On Thursday, he spoke optimistically that it would be a short-term issue.

"Hopefully we are building the foundation as we move ahead," he said.

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