MINNEAPOLIS — The important players from both teams will soon be on the sidelines, and the fans at today’s preseason contest between the St. Louis Rams and Minnesota Vikings will quickly remember they’re watching an exhibition, not a game that counts.
But with the monotony of two-a-day training camp practices finally broken, the preseason opener is plenty exciting for these players — especially the rookies.
“I’m looking forward to getting out there against another team, playing in the stadium, and hearing the screams. I’m looking forward to my first NFL experience,” Vikings running back Adrian Peterson said. “Coming into my rookie year and my first rookie game, I can’t explain it. It’s a dream come true.”
The seventh overall draft selection out of Oklahoma, Peterson missed the first five practices of camp while his contract was being negotiated and was held out of a handful more over the past week as a precaution for a sore hip.
Though coach Brad Childress deferred a decision on the participation of Peterson and others the injury list until just before today’s kickoff, the rookie said, yes, he will be playing.
“Part of protecting yourself is to be able to open up and run away,” Childress said. “If you can’t do that, you can’t protect yourself. So we’ll see.”
Second-rounder Sidney Rice, who’s in line to be at least the third receiver for an offense in dire need of some long-gain threats to emerge, was just as enthusiastic about the prospect of playing an actual game. Even if it’s, well, not an actual game.
“The tempo is going to be fast, but it’s going to be a great experience,” Rice said.
Outside linebacker Chad Greenway, who suffered the dreaded anterior cruciate ligament tear in his left knee while covering a kickoff in last year’s preseason opener, is probably more pumped than anyone.
“We might have to give him a sedative or something like that,” Childress said.
Rams nose tackle Adam Carriker should play as much, if not more, than any of the rookies in the building. After playing defensive end at Nebraska, the first-round draft pick is adjusting to the interior of the line and could use the extra time.
St. Louis selected running back Brian Leonard in the second round from Rutgers, and he has emerged as the backup to Pro Bowl pick Steven Jackson, who is unlikely to play more than a series or two but was still eager for the opportunity.
“I am definitely glad the games are back,” Jackson said. “Training camp gets to be long. ... To be able to go out and play a different team is going to be refreshing.”
Return specialist and receiver Dante Hall has been bothered by a hamstring strain, but he could see some time for the Rams, who won four of their last six games and finished 8-8 in coach Scott Linehan’s first year.
Like Childress, Linehan has felt a lot more comfortable in his second camp.
“This is a new season, but there are a lot of things that aren’t new,” Linehan said. “We have a lot of expectations within, and we would like to get off to a nice, crisp, fast start and give some of these younger players a chance to show what they can do.”
St. Louis, with all its offensive stars, struggled through some low scores last year that prompted Linehan to delegate the play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Greg Olson when the team was 4-6.
Minnesota doesn’t have nearly the same arsenal that the Rams boast with Jackson, quarterback Marc Bulger and receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, but — similar to St. Louis — Childress is mulling at least a partial handoff of the play calling to offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
“I’m not going to stand there like a deaf mute, and he’s not going to stand there like a deaf mute,” Childress said. “It’s going to be a collaborative deal....We all kind of author this together.”
Today will be their first public opportunity to show progress to Vikings fans who grew bored and frustrated with the sedentary offense during a 6-10 season. Tarvaris Jackson will be the quarterback for at least the first quarter, giving him perhaps two or three series to warm up his arm and move the chains.
Don’t expect too much excitement, though. The game plan is sure to be on the bland side.
“We don’t want to deceive ourselves by being too cute,” Childress said.