Published July 29, 2006 12:54 am

[size=18px]Die-hard fans come to eye prospects[/size]
Fans are looking at, for, 'the future'

By Nick Hanson

The Free Press
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — Despite a season that promises uncertain expectations due to a large crop of spanking-new players and coaching staff, loyal Vikings fans flocked to training camp Friday.

Just not in the numbers one might expect.

A sparse crowd assembled on the first day of practice, which can largely be attributed to its limitation to rookies and a select few veterans.

A larger crowd is expected to turn out Tuesday when the full team reports to camp and fan attractions such as Vikings Village open.

For those in attendance, expectations for the team were about as high as the blistering hot temps that blanketed sweaty spectators in the bleachers.

Ruth and Larry Olinger traveled four hours from South Dakota with their grandsons Tate and Ty Ziebart to catch a glimpse of linebacker Chad Greenway, who lives in Mount Vernon, about 20 miles outside their hometown of Woonsocket.

The rookie out of Iowa State is expected to compete for a starting spot.

“He’s a local kid we follow,” Ruth Olinger said. “It adds a little excitement. He was really good in high school.”

Another rookie generating a lot of talk is quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. The Vikings second-round draft pick from Alabama State has been training hard all summer in Alabama, which had Hopkins resident Brennan LaFore singing his praises.

“He’s the future. He’s going to (take us to) the promised land,” LaFore said, as he clung to a fence watching the rookie throw perfect spiral passes. “He sees the field well. He just has to learn the new system.”

The other new Vikings quarterback Mike McMahon — former Philadelphia Eagles backup to Donovan McNabb — was on hand and running through drills as one of a select few veterans at practice.

He should fill the shoes of a backup, said Brandon Beitlich of New Ulm.

“He seems like a good guy for the spot,” Beitlich said. “He played a lot last season.”

Last year McMahon threw eight interceptions, five touchdowns and had a 55.2 passer rating as quarterback for seven games after he replaced McNabb as a starter, who was forced to go under the knife for a hernia.

“He’s still a backup ... but Brett Favre threw a lot of interceptions last season, too,” Beitlich said.

As for the draft and Beitlich’s reaction to the other rookies out on the field?

“It was one of those drafts where you trust the coaches,” he said. “You can’t tell for a few years down the line. They have a lot of players who look like they have a lot of promise.”

Speaking of rookies, head coach Brad Childress conducted himself well during the first day of practice, Iowa resident Bob Beckman said.

“It was time to move on and get new leadership. They faltered and didn’t make the playoffs (last year),” he said.

And making the playoffs is something Beckman — and every other purple-blooded fan — certainly hopes the Vikings accomplish this year.

Die-hard fans come to eye prospects