Jared Allen is happy to help out the younger players, answer any questions or give some critiques on performance.
But be clear about this, young fellas: You’re getting paid to play, and the expectations are just as high as those for the veterans.
“This isn’t high-school or college,” said Allen, who is beginning his ninth season in the NFL, fifth with the Vikings. “I can show them how to be a pro or show them the standards we expect, but at the end of the day, you have to do your job. If you can’t, we’ll find out pretty quick out here.”
On a team that’s given a good chance to win a Super Bowl, a veteran player is easily motivated. But in a sport where careers don’t usually last too long, being an older player on a rebuilding team can be challenging.
“There’s not too many (veterans) left here,” Allen said. “Our expectations are always the same: win the NFC North, get a home playoff game and get to the Super Bowl. There are no real outside expectations for us.”
So what motivates a player that’s already achieved personal success? Contract? Pro Bowl? Pride?
“It might be tough (being the veteran) in some situations, but not for me,” veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield said. “I still want to come out here and work hard and compete. I want to do everything I can so we can improve ... quickly.”
Winfield has been in the NFL for 13 seasons, and at 35, his career won’t last much longer. He finished last season on the injured reserve as injuries have become more of a factor each season.
He’s grown accustomed to mentoring young cornerbacks; outside of Chris Carr, Winfield has been in the league for more than a decade longer than the team’s other defensive backs. He’s not won a Super Bowl, and no one is picking the Vikings to win a championship this season.
But he’s not giving up on a winning season.
“Things change pretty quickly out here,” Winfield said. “A team is driven by its leaders, and we have some really great leaders on this team.”
Defensive tackle Kevin Williams is the longest-tenured Viking, having been here 10 seasons. He watched as the team released or didn’t re-sign several of his former teammates, replacing them with younger, less experienced players.
“We got young in a hurry,” Williams said. “You could say we’re rebuilding, but in my mindset, we’re still expecting to win games. I think with the young guys we brought in here, we definitely plan on playing those guys and having them helping us win. And definitely improve from what we did last year.”
It doesn’t seem long ago that Chad Greenway was the youngest linebacker on a team with championship hopes, but with E.J. Henderson no longer in the middle, Greenway is clearly the veteran of the group, despite only six professional seasons.
“I love it,” Greenway said. “If anything, it makes me want to work harder. It kind of takes me back to my first and second year when I was fighting for a job.”