The Minnesota Vikings held their first OTA (Organized Team Activities) this week at TCO Performance Center in Eagan. A bit of news came out of the sessions that the media were able to attend. And as a member of said media, I will relate the sights and sounds of the Wednesday practice.
Rain forced the practice session inside TCO and certainly limited what the team could do. Going from three practice fields to one made for a lot of 7-on-7 sessions and 11-on-11 drills, which was great for the onlookers, as many were thirsty to get a look at the new team (especially the passing game). Here are a few newsworthy items and observances:
—The big news (that won’t seem to go away) is that tight end Kyle Rudolph was reportedly offered a (five-year) contract extension by the Vikings, despite all the trade rumors swirling around him. Rudolph met with the media after practice (a practice in which he was witnessed catching a long —for him—pass down the right sidelines from quarterback Kirk Cousins) and confirmed that his agent and the Vikings were working on the offer. He acknowledged that there are other teams that are interested in his services, but that he wants to be in Minnesota, and him jumping on a plane in New York to be at TCO for a voluntary workout bears that out.
“I don’t know what kind of example it would set if I wanted to be here and I wasn’t here,” Rudolph said. “And that’s not the kind of person I am. If I was at home right now and everybody else was out here at practice, that would be really hard for me. I was on a plane yesterday from New York to get here. I could have easily skipped the optional practice but that’s not what a leader of this team does. These guys expect to see me out here each and every day and I’m going to do that.”
The contract offer was first reported by Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune, and Rudolph would only say that the principals are working on the deal, which would restructure his current deal, ease the Vikings’ cap space a bit and give the 29-year-old Rudolph five years of security. This may come despite teams such as the New England Patriot (among others) showing interest.
“That’s part of this business,” he said. “It’s not a bad situation to be in. I get to come out every day in practice with my teammates. A bad situation would have been [being] cut back in March and trying to find a job. I have a job, so that’s the good thing. I get to come out here each and every day and practice with my teammates and whatever happens, happens.”
We may soon know whatever happens.
—Rookie Garrett Bradbury got plenty of work with the first team at center, while the incumbent center Pat Elflein moved to left guard. The line was definitely new as right tackle Brian O’Neill sat out with an undisclosed injury and Rashod Hill took his place, while free agent acquisition Josh Kline took the right guard spot. Regarding working behind a new center in Bradbury, Cousins was quick to welcome the rookie:
“He’s a class act. He tucks his shirt in every day—that sends a message right there: he’s ready to work .He’s got his shorts tied tight, got a tucked in jersey. I respect that. From there he is just a hard worker, smart player, very mature. I look forward to him being here a long time and I said, ‘Garrett, last year I think I worked with, from the time I got here in April to the end of the season, probably four centers. So, that’s less than ideal. I’d like to have you and I work together for about the next decade if that is okay with you.’ So, we’ll see what happens. That will be my goal, and that’s the organization’s goal, so I just try to set that vision for him. He’s got a long way to go to do that, but he’s got all the right stuff, and he’ll just keep stacking days on top of one another to get him where he will need to be.”
—The passing game was on display despite the absence of star wideout Stefon Diggs, who missed the first two days of OTAs, but is rumored to be returning for Day Three. That gave other players the opportunity to shine—but one player basically stole that spotlight: Adam Thielen.
During the portion of 11-on-11 drills I witnessed, Cousins and Thielen created quite a connection. Thielen, who was being draped by Xavier Rhodes for most of the practice, was having a hay day. Let’s be quick to remind readers that the players are in helmets but no pads—advantage offense. Regardless, Thielen and Cousins hooked up on seven passes (without a drop), and some of them were fantastic. On one sideline play, Rhodes had very good coverage, yet Thielen spun around, twisting backward for a highlight reel back shoulder catch that I am still wondering how he did it.
Thielen, wearing some bright red adidas shoes, stood out sartorially on the field, but it was overshadowed by how much his play did the same. He appeared as though he was in mid-season form, and even though it is mid-May, his performance seems to fly in the face of this headline from ESPN that says he will regress in 2019.
Certainly Diggs being gone made Thielen the focal point, but he consistently caught balls on the team’s best cover corner—and several in acrobatic fashion. He came off the field with a big smile on his face and when I conjectured it had to be the shoes, he simply laughed and agreed. My early season hope is that the rest of the league sleeps on him. Thielen is already working to make them pay if they do.
—Another receiver, Laquon Treadwell, got work mostly with the second team. During one snap with the ones, however, Treadwell, slightly open heading toward the sidelines, looked to haul in a ball from Cousins but appeared to have trouble with his footwork near the stripe and mishandled the ball for a drop. That is all I will say on that.
—Jeff Badet torched the Vikings defense to hook up with Cousins on a deep touchdown grab. The speedy second-year man flew past the defense and nearly outran Cousins’ arm, slowing up a hair to take in the pass as cornerback Duke Thomas finally caught up to him and ran Badet over. Speed kills—or the lack of, in this case.
—Chad Beebe also looked like he wants another shot on this team after his promising, yet injury-plagued rookie season. He is quick and catches the ball well over the middle. I am not sure what the defense would do with him with pads on, but they couldn’t seem to lay a hand on him this day.
—Brandon Zylstra looked good making a couple nice grabs, but he will have to do more distinguish himself amongst this bloated group of talent receivers.
—Jordan Taylor looks skinny without pads and will have to distinguish himself, as well. But, so far, his quarterback likes what he sees:
“I really like him. I think he’s a diamond in the rough. He’s got some stuff to him,” Cousins said. “Not only does he have some juice, but he’s on the details. If the route calls for him to run 14 yards, he gets to 14, he doesn’t get to 13. If it’s a double move, he runs the double move with the right technique. He gets to the right spot and catches the football when it’s a tough catch. I just love playing football with people who are on the details, and he’s that way. So, he’s going to be a big asset. Probably one of those players who are quietly acquired but then ends up being anything but quiet come the season.”
—Kicker Dan Bailey made five of six field goals from varying distances in the full team drills. But it is the miss that always haunts a kicker. Hopefully his second season in these friendly confines will get him back on par with the kicking percentage he came in with.
—Cousins got dropped to the ground (albeit inadvertently) in one scrum and got chased down out of the pocket by Danielle Hunter in other play, causing a throw away. We all have to give the line time, as does Cousins.
—Speaking of Cousins, he looked very comfortable as he is settling in for year two of the big contract which purportedly will pay him a lot of money (it is my goal to not bring up that number since we all did it constantly last season—we will just have to remember that the number of millions involved are the same number that Randy Moss used to wear and new tight end Irv Smith, Jr. was wearing this day). Cousins, like everyone else concerned about the Purple, is expecting a better year this season, and he commented what having one year under his belt felt like:
“I have always felt in football that continuity is a big part of having success, so being able to be back for a second year should help. And there’s more of a command. I can take a little more ownership and a little more of control, maybe, than what I had last year. But then you add the fact that it really is a new system, so there’s still some level of starting over a little bit. And I look forward to having continuity as best we can and the better we play and the more you win, usually you are able to keep that. Players stick around, coaches stick around and that lends itself to having more success. That’s what we’re working toward.”
Regarding Diggs, who wasn’t back here for the second straight day, head coach Mike Zimmer was asked if he wasn’t concerned about the absence, he simply responded, “No.” Therefore, we shouldn’t either.