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Vikings have a fresh look for 2014 training camp

Former Minnesota Vikings coach Jerry Burns talks with new coach Mike Zimmer during practice on Feb. 14 at Winter Park in Eden Prairie, Minn. (Brian Mark Peterson / Minneapolis Star Tribune)

This week, the Minnesota Vikings will arrive in Mankato for their annual training camp. It will be the 49th year in a row that the team will hold its summer session at Minnesota State University.

The first of 30 practices (walk-throughs and full-pad practices) will take place on Friday morning at Blakeslee Stadium.

One twist to this year’s schedule is that there will be three night practices, including the traditional Family Football Day on Saturday, Aug. 2, instead of just one. The others will be Monday, July 28, and Monday, Aug. 11.

That won’t be the only thing different about this year’s camp. New faces are everywhere. Here’s are a few worth keeping an eye on over the next three weeks:

Zimmer’s team

This is the first training camp for Mike Zimmer, the ninth coach in franchise history but the fifth in 14 seasons. Zimmer comes to Minnesota from Cincinnati where he was the defensive coordinator.

Last summer’s Bengals training camp was featured in last summer’s “Hard Knocks” on HBO, and Zimmer became a bit of a star on the reality show. Players seemed to love his straight-forward and, uh, sometimes R-rated demeanor.

Vikings players got their first face-to-face taste of Zimmer’s style and attitude during offseason activities, including last month’s minicamp.

“It was tough; it really was,” defensive end Brian Robison said of the minicamp. “It was a lot of hard work. Guys were very fast-paced on the field. It was one of the harder minicamps that I’ve been part of. Guys are working hard, and that’s always good to see.”

Offensive guru

His face may be familiar, but this will be Norv Turner’s first trip to Mankato.

The offensive coordinator is starting his 30th year of NFL coaching, a career that’s included 15 years as a head coach at Washington, Oakland and San Diego.

His most successful stint as a coordinator came during the Dallas Cowboys’ dynasty of the early 1990s when he had Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin in his toolbox. Now he has Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph and Cordarrelle Patterson to play with.

“To me, it’s the Minnesota Vikings offense,” Turner said. “We’ve worked hard since we got here, and I’ve spent a lot of time with coach Zimmer in terms of what style we wanted to have, what we want to bring in terms of giving our players a chance to have success.”

QB quandary

The Vikings are in the all-too-familiar position of going into training camp with big questions at quarterback.

Back are experienced signal callers Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder. While one of them could win the No. 1 job (likely Cassel, if either gets it) the future is tied to the team’s second first-round draft pick from this year, Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville.

“(Bridgewater is) very instinctive,” Turner said. “He’s a very natural player. One of the things that has been the most impressive to me is I knew he’d be very accurate; I knew he’d make great decisions, quick decisions, but he’s been outstanding throwing the ball deep, which some people thought was going to be an issue.”

Zimmer said on the last day of minicamp that he has a date in mind to name a starting quarterback for the season but wouldn’t reveal that date.

Don’t forget Barr

Passing on a big-name quarterback with its first first-round draft pick (No. 9 overall), the Vikings selected linebacker Anthony Barr of UCLA.

While Johnny Manziel was hanging with Justin Bieber and partying in Las Vegas, Barr remained in Los Angeles, finishing college classes before moving to Minnesota.

When he does make some noise, the Vikings sure hope the versatile, 6-foot-5, 255-pounder will be doing it on the MSU practice fields.

“Right now, we’re kind of just working at different skill sets, different positions ... all of those things that he’s able to bring to the table,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “We’re just moving him around right now ... and just seeing where he fits.”

Fixing the D

The Vikings added two veteran starters on defense through free agency.

They signed former New York Giant Linval Joseph with the hopes of getting their best physical, run-stuffing defensive tackle since Pat Williams.

Meanwhile, former Carolina Panther cornerback Captain Munnerlyn should bolster what was a much-exploited defensive backfield a year ago.

Joseph is just 25 years old; Munnerlyn is 26.