EAGAN, Minn. — It was quite the scene.
Second-year safety Lewis Cine zoomed across the field, snagged the ball and secured it as he fell to the turf.
Defensive teammates roared in approval.
The interception effectively ended a 2-minute drill by the second teams during last Saturday's Vikings Training Camp practice.
But for Cine, it's more of a beginning, a new opportunity after his rookie campaign abruptly ended with a broken leg in London last fall.
"Honestly, for me, I'm just happy to be back and play," Cine said this week. "It's not anything that I'm not used to. I'm used to making plays like that. It's just people are now seeing it since I've been out for so long. I'm happy people are seeing it. It's cool, but I've got to make plays like that on a consistent basis."
Cine remained in the United Kingdom to undergo surgery, but he was able to connect with teammates through a video conference that patched into the team meeting.
When asked about the recent reaction to the interception, Head Coach Kevin O'Connell recalled the team's reaction in that meeting when the surprise fell on Cine's 23rd birthday.
"Yeah, I think it speaks to, from the time he was still back in London and we put him up for his birthday on the video board, just the reaction of his teammates in that moment when it was his birthday and we made sure he knew we were thinking about him," O'Connell said. "That feeling has not diminished in any sort of fashion. And now when you see him make a play, which he has quite a few early in camp here, people are that much more excited. But it's also, hey, that's been the norm since he's been back with us and even before that. That's the way this place is built and that won't change."
After he returned, Cine attacked the rehab and was able to participate in Minnesota's offseason program.
Now he's showing the level of play that helped him become a first-round pick in 2022 after helping Georgia win a CFP National Championship.
Cine said he's seen a few similarities in the defensive system being introduced by new Vikings Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores, who advanced his career through the Patriots organization under Bill Belichick.
Belichick and current Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban overlapped earlier in their careers, and current Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart previously worked for Saban.
"It's real close. I feel like it's under the same umbrella — Patriots, Nick Saban, Kirby Smart type of thing," Cine said. "I've got more freedom to just go. That's a beautiful thing, but at the same time, it's scary in a way. The fact that I'm combining speed with my abilities is an amazing thing."
Flores described the initial impression Cine has made on him, impressions that go beyond the flashy interception.
"I start to think about all the other little things that you guys may not see that he's doing just from an alignment standpoint, from a communication standpoint, from a processing standpoint, all the things that lead up to a play like that," Flores said. "That's kind of where I go. I think he's doing a lot of good things from that standpoint. Just learning and processing and understanding so that he can let his God-given gifts show on the field consistently.
"It was great to see his teammates celebrate," Flores continued. "That's what I really like watching him, and that's what I showed him. You see the entire sideline light up, it's funny, you get into meetings and, 'Why aren't you celebrating? You should be yelling. You should be jumping a little bit more.' But it was good to see. You want to see that kind of joy, camaraderie."
Cine is ready to take the next steps. Even though he deeply missed being able to play for most of his rookie season. He's taken that experience as a period of development.
"I feel like there was a whole lot of growth, mental, spiritual and physical," Cine said. "I feel like my body, I got bigger, I got more comfortable within myself in this scheme, so now it's just playing without thinking and having fun at the same time."