Adam Thielen is, without a doubt, one of the most talked-about guys in Mankato this year. He impressed early on in training camp, and after Friday’s first preseason game, the buzz only increased.
“[Adam]’s a guy that has a lot of toughness, a lot of heart,” head coach Mike Zimmer said during Sunday’s press conference. “He wants to make the football team, and he’s giving his best effort to do it. Guys like him—you can win a lot of football games with guys like him.”
Thielen entered his second year ready to make an impression, and he certainly has. His explosiveness, agility and reception accuracy spoke for itself on the practice field, but the receiver stepped onto TCF Field and proved he is ready for the real stuff.
The Vikings mic’d Thielen for the game, so television viewers could listen in on bits and pieces of the game experience. He laughed, admitting he occasionally forgot that he was wired up. “It was a really different experience, but it was great.” *
Special teams coach Mike Priefer utilized Thielen for punt coverage and returns, and the WR hit the ground running—literally. After Oakland went three and out on its first possession, Thielen fielded Marquette King’s punt and ran for three yards before being tackled at the 30. He immediately jumped up, pumping his arms in a gesture of equal excitement and frustration.
Priefer said the following regarding the play:
“[Adam] did a good job. As he saw the tape this morning, he is probably disappointed that he didn’t score on that one. But that’s something that a young punt returner—that’s a mistake they are going to make. He saw the seam and he just went for it full speed, where he has to kind of dip and go to the outside or widen them and go back inside. It was a very, very well-blocked play.”
Thielen remained charged up. Later in the first quarter, the 23-year-old returned another punt, this time for 26 yards. In the second quarter, one more return for 23 yards. His punt coverage was well-executed as well, in the first half specifically. “He ran the punt team very well,” Priefer said. For receiving yards, Thielen grabbed 15-yards on a third-quarter Ponder pass.
When one talks with Thielen, two things immediately stand out: (1) his absolute love for football and (2) his humble, “team-first” mentality. A raw passion for the game is so evident, and yet he is hesitant to talk about himself. Asked about his positive performance Friday, Thielen just smiled and responded, “[The game] was great—It was fun to just be back out there and play football again.”
Upholding his class-act reputation, Thielen transferred credit to his teammates and coaches. “The cool thing about the receiver group is that we have a lot of great veterans,” he said, listing Jerome Simpson, Greg Jennings and Jarius Wright. Even Cordarrelle Patterson, despite being the same draft class, has influenced Thielen’s playing style. “I’ve learned a lot from all those guys […] watching the way they practice and the way that they play. It’s pretty cool when you have that many leaders in one group.”
Thielen expressed the impact Coach Zimmer makes on the team and the positive changes already evident on the field. Zimmer may be a former defensive coach, but he boasts an incredibly high football IQ across the board.
“[Coach] does a good job of watching both sides of the ball, caring about both sides of the ball,” Thielen said. “We have a lot of coaches on our staff that have been in the NFL for a long time, and they know how to get us into position and how to get us to play our best football. That’s exactly what you want as a player.”
No. 19 is quick to pay tribute to everyone around him, but what he doesn’t easily acknowledge is the praise and confidence that his teammates have in him. ESPN’s Ben Goessling caught up with Patterson, who has developed a friendship with Thielen after rooming with him for both camps. According to Goessling, the starting receiver had nothing but accolades for Thielen. “I’ll be trying to give him a compliment, and he still feels like he’s not part of the team,” said Patterson. “I tell him every day, ‘You’re part of the team.'”
Thielen looked to have the fifth WR position in his grasp when starting camp. After the win over Oakland, it looks even more probable that he will have a roster spot locked down. If the MSU-Mankato alum continues to perform the way he has these past three weeks, Vikings fans can expect him to play a significant role on the team.
“Thielen is a leader,” Priefer said. “He’s smart. He’s tough. He’s a good football player.”
*Click here to listen to Thielen “wired up” during Friday night’s preseason game against the Raiders.