EAGAN (FOX 9) - With Kyle Rudolph absent for a charity function in Ohio and David Morgan out injured Wednesday, it was an opportunity for Irv Smith Jr. and Tyler Conklin to stand out at Minnesota Vikings organized team activities.
The Vikings took Smith with the No. 50 overall pick in the second round of the NFL Draft. It might have signaled the beginning of the end of Rudolph with the Vikings, though the team insists the two can co-exist at tight end.
As a junior in Alabama’s offense, he had 44 catches for more than 700 yards and seven touchdowns. He was all over the field Wednesday, lining up in multiple spots and making plays that had coaches and teammates watching.
Smith had Trae Waynes beat down the sideline on a play that Kirk Cousins underthrew him. Smith also caught a pass for a touchdown from Jake Browning on a corner route during a red zone drill. He later battled again with Waynes on a play in the end zone, which Waynes knocked away.
Smith is likely to spend a lot of time at practice going against the likes of Waynes, Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith. It’s a challenge he embraces.
“In practice in the NFL, everybody’s good. You gotta bring your A game every play. Just trying to get better,” Smith said. “Those guys are the best, they’ve made Pro Bowls, they’ve been at the top of their positions. Going against them is only going to get me better and get this team better. It’s awesome having that opportunity.”
Smith took advantage of his opportunity with the first-team offense Wednesday with Rudolph gone. He might get more of those chances if Rudolph and the Vikings can’t agree on a contract soon.
Offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski believes Smith can be a weapon in the Vikings’ offense with his combination of speed and athleticism at tight end.
“I can just see a kid that, he’s young, but you can see this kid developing into a veteran that knows what to do every single time,” Stefanski said. “He’s a threat in the pass game, but we didn’t draft him just to be a threat in the pass game. He needs to be a complete tight end.”
Smith has talked about wanting to be a complete tight end for the Vikings since they picked him in the NFL Draft. It’s a work in progress, as is every day at the NFL level as a rookie.
“As a tight end, you need to be able to block and catch the ball,” Smith said at rookie minicamp.
Treadwell seeks improvement in critical year
One of the more intriguing battles at OTAs and heading into training camp is for the No. 3 receiver spot. At this point, it appears to be a race between Jordan Taylor, Brandon Zylstra and Laquon Treadwell.
It’s a critical year for Treadwell. The Vikings declined the fifth-year option on his contract in the offseason, which means he's currently in the final year of his rookie deal. He’ll likely be battling for one of the final roster spots, especially after the Vikings drafted a pair of wide receivers in the seventh round.
He’s determined to do everything he can to help the Vikings, however long he wears the Purple.
“I’m very intentional. Intentional with my communication with everyone, coaches to teammates, to anyone around the building. Very intentional in my work, just everything I do, just being intentional,” Treadwell said. “Making sure it’s a clear understanding of what I need to do and what I want from them. We’re on the same page and working towards a goal.”
Treadwell had 35 catches in 15 games last season, including one touchdown. But the 23-year-old and 2016 first round draft pick has underperformed by both his and the Vikings’ standards.
He had just 20 catches in 2017, and has 56 catches in 40 career games.
The inconsistency is why he hasn’t locked up the No. 3 wide receiver spot as he enters his fourth season in Minnesota. His hope is to improve every day as the Vikings revamp their offense under Stefanski.
"I don't think Laquon is any different than any of our guys. I hope each one of them walks out here and has something that they're trying to get better at," Stefanski said.
His goal is to help lead the Vikings to the Super Bowl. His primary focus is to be on the field and a legitimate weapon in Week 1 when the Vikings open the season against the Atlanta Falcons.
“There’s a lot of things that I can do better, there’s a lot of things that I would like to do better and I’m very intentional with being in my coach’s ear,” Treadwell said. Learning from Coach (Gary) Kubiak, learning from Coach Stefanski, just picking everyone’s mind as much as I can to be the best player I can on Sept. 8.”