Vikings rookies pursue NFL dream at minicamp

It felt like the football version of the first day of school Friday as dozens of football players were hoping to start their NFL journey at TCO Performance Center.

The Minnesota Vikings are hosting rookie minicamp all weekend. For the 12 players drafted last weekend, it’s a chance for them to get face time in front of coaches they spent time with during the draft process. For the 37 Vikings minicamp tryout players, it’s one of the few chances they’ll get to be seen by an NFL coaching staff.

The Vikings have gone down the undrafted free agent route plenty of times before to find talent for their roster. Just ask Adam Thielen, Chad Beebe and Marcus Sherels. Thielen went from not being drafted to recently becoming one of the highest-paid receivers in the NFL.

“I told them last night every year we sign somebody from there, whether it be Adam Thielen, Chad Beebe or Marcus Sherels. The list goes on and on,” Zimmer said. “Really we’re looking for guys that No. 1, they’re good people. No. 2, they have to have athletic ability, come out and do what they’re being coached to do. I think it’s a little bit different for each position.”

After months of going through interviews, pro days and the NFL Combine, Friday marked the first day for Vikings’ rookies to put on a helmet again. There were no pads, but they went through positioning and a few schemes they might see if they make the roster.

More importantly, they just got back to playing football.

“It’s been exciting. It’s been a lot of new things, I’m just enjoying the process so far,” running back and Vikings’ third round draft pick Alexander Mattison said. “It’s a dream come true, so I’m just taking it all in.”

Irv Smith Jr. has never been to Minnesota. He was the Vikings second round draft choice, and the tight end looks to make an impact on offense this year after making four catches in the national championship game last year against Clemson.

He’s put in the work to get drafted and should have no issues making the roster, but is still thankful for the opportunity the Vikings gave him.

“Man it’s been awesome finally getting up here. It’s my first time coming to Minnesota so it’s a blessing. I’m excited to be here,” Smith said.

The expectations will be kept pretty simple throughout rookie minicamp. Be coachable, listen to your teammates and coaches and do your best to be in the right spot during drills.

“It’s really about can a guy get lined up? You give them different formations, things like that, if they can’t get lined up right, that’s kind of a red flag,” Zimmer said. “That’s part of it, or if they’re slow-thinking in seeing plays and things like that.”

The reality of being in the NFL is starting to hit for some of the draft picks, even first-round selection Garrett Bradbury has to pinch himself a little bit. He’ll likely compete for a starting spot on the offensive line, but he put a helmet on Friday for the first time since the draft process began.

A week ago, he was waiting for the phone to ring at his North Carolina home.

“It’s still a little surreal but I think once you put the helmet on and see it’s a different decal, it’s an NFL helmet and you go out to practice,” Bradbury said. “I mean it’s starting to get a little more real. Excited to get around the whole team, I mean it’s still a little surreal. You’ve waited for it your whole life and it’s finally here.”

USC linebacker Cameron Smith was drafted by the Vikings in the fifth round. He joked that he’ll get find a way to get along with his new defensive teammates Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, who are Pac-12 rivals from UCLA.

“We’re Vikings,” Smith said. “I can’t wait to shake their hand and hopefully get to work with them.”

Smith said Friday getting the call from the Vikings in the fifth round was proof to him that it was meant to be.

“I’m just excited to be here. It’s going to be fun to learn from a guy like Zimmer and the rest of the staff here. Today was just a taste of what is yet to come,” Smith said.

Between the 37 minicamp tryout players and 30 to make the minicamp roster, more than 60 players are hoping to make their NFL dream become a reality this weekend and become the next Thielen, Beebe or Sherels.