The Chiefs/Vikings scrimmage has become an event in River Falls, and this year's setting was the same as any other. Fans filed into the undersized Division-III football stadium hours in advance to get an early glimpse of their teams in 2008. T-shirts were sold, lines were long, and autograph hounds lined up along the outer fence-line before practice even began.
There was one definitive difference between this year's Chiefs-Vikings scrimmage and the previous four: Jared Allen was not present. Everyone knew Allen, the urban cowboy, wouldn't be wearing a Chiefs jersey Thursday night, as he had in the previous four meetings, but most expected him to at least show up with his new team. Perhaps he could do a few drills and sit out the scrimmage, but nope, he wasn't even in uniform.
Allen wasn't the only Viking missing. The statement spread by the Vikings was that they weren't going to bring anyone over the age of 30, including their two monstrous defensive tackles, Kevin and Pat Williams, and their two heralded offensive linemen, Matt Birk and Steve Hutchison.
Not only was Branden Albert robbed of his potential learning experience (playing against Allen), but so were many other young Chiefs like Glenn Dorsey and Rudy Niswanger. Oh, and I checked the Vikings roster. Jared Allen was the only 26-year old who didn't make the trip.
Thursday night was supposed to be a star-studded event in River Falls, but some of Minnesota's biggest stars couldn't make the two-hour bus trip. It was speculated that Jared Allen would miss out on the practice, but not solidified until the Vikings buses were empty and #69 was nowhere to be found.
This kind of holding back of veteran players was unprecedented in the Chiefs-Vikings annual summer meeting, and it didn't go unnoticed by the Chiefs front office.
“You guys brought your JV team,” said Bill Kuharich, Vice President of Player Personnel, to a Vikings exec. “We're playing everybody, we're young.”
The Chiefs are young, and for a lot of players, this was their first experience going against someone not on the same team. For ex-Chief and Vikings cornerback Benny Sapp, scrimmaging against the Chiefs in River Falls felt like home. He felt so comfortable he accidentally caught a pass thrown by a Chiefs quarterback. Tyler Thigpen, former Viking, made a similar mistake when he threw a pass that landed in the hands of one of his former teammates.
While Thursday night wasn't the event that many Chiefs and Vikings fans were salivating over, with pro bowlers lined up all over the field for both teams, it did showcase two of the league's best running backs in Kansas City's Larry Johnson and Minnesota's Adrian Peterson. Both had long runs and scored touchdowns. Johnson and Peterson stole the show, and looked poised to put up big numbers in 2008.
A lot has been written in and around the Twin Cities area about Peterson needing to gain the patience to wait for his blocks to develop, and to not necessarily try to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. That’s something Johnson has shown a knack for in the past. It was one of his greatest assets as a runner when he had a good offensive line to run behind.
What Peterson's coaches are trying to get him to stop doing, is exactly what a lot of Chiefs fans wanted to see more out of Johnson last season. Peterson would run at full speed from the time the ball was snapped to the time the whistle blew or he crossed the goal line.
Larry was more patient, looked for holes when there weren't any, and may have actually benefited from lowering his shoulder to create a few. It's an interesting parallel between the two talented running backs. You can say what you want about LaDanian Tomlinson, but the two most gifted pure runners in the National Football League may have been honing their skills on Ramer Field Thursday night, and both had something to learn from each other.