EAGAN — There’s no way around it: The Minnesota Vikings need second-round pick Irv Smith to play a role in this year’s offense in order for them to maximize their potential.
At the podium on Friday Gary Kubiak hinted that the adjustment from Alabama standout to versatile NFL weapon hasn’t been completely smooth.
“Irv is extremely talented, he’s swimming right now but we’ll catch him up,” Kubiak said. “You all see how he can stretch the field.”
In general tight end is among the most difficult positions to make the jump from college. None of the top three tight ends selected in last year’s draft topped 35 receptions and the highest picked ended up with 13 receptions.
“I think it’s a multiple position,” Kubiak said. “They are asked to do a lot. You want them to be good on the line of scrimmage in the run game, you want them to be a great route runner. You ask a little bit more of them as rookie players than of some guys. The key to being a good tight end is being versatile and be able to move and do a lot. In order to get that done you have to ask a lot of them.”
Quarterback Kirk Cousins complimented Smith’s worth ethic saying that he has “come in and done everything right” but the Vikings’ quarterback has also taken it upon himself to help Smith learn the offense.
“Little things, like when I say, ‘Set, hut,’ and then expect him to know that means he steps off the ball on certain plays,” Cousins said. “He’s just a little slower to step off the ball, because it’s brand new to him. So I got to pull him off to the side and say, “Hey, make sure when I say ‘Set, hut’ you’re stepping off quickly. I don’t want to wait for you.” With Tyler Conklin or Kyle Rudolph that’s just an instinctual thing. Little pieces of the offense, things like that that we just work through every day that we’re out here.”
Rudolph said that Smith has worked hard to get up to speed and suggested that the reason he is “swimming” is that the team wants to use him as a part of the offense.
“If you are not swimming at this point then they are probably not expecting much out of you,” Rudolph said. “It’s always better to be swimming than drowning. He’s doing everything he can to learn this playbook and that’s what you want as a player when you come into this league. You don’t want to be pushed aside and brought along slowly.”
While some of the intricacies might be challenging for Smith in camp, head coach Mike Zimmer explained after practice that they will use concepts that the rookie has grasped when it comes to gameplanning for real games.
“That’s the big thing is trying to figure out how much he can handle,” Zimmer said. “It will get cut down for him on game day so that he understands all the things. But he really hasn’t been making too many mistakes.”
Kubiak noted that the Vikings’ group of tight ends has been impressive in camp, saying that Kyle Rudolph has had a strong performance thus far and that Conklin has shown an ability to block and catch. Zimmer said Thursday he sees Conklin having a role in the offense this year.
“Tyler did a lot of good things for us last year and as a player you seem to gain a much higher comfort level going into Year 2,” Rudolph said. “You have done everything before, you know what to expect. [Conklin] has made a big jump.”