EAGAN, Minn. – Adam Thielen blinked, and suddenly he's preparing his eighth NFL season.
The receiver spoke with Twin Cities media members via video conference Tuesday and said it's sometimes surreal how much time has passed since he first caught the eyes of Vikings coaches as a tryout player in 2013.
"It goes by fast, but at the same time it's such a cool thing to have that bank of reps and experience. It just makes this game so much fun," Thielen said. "The more experience you have, the more reps you have under your belt, you just get to go out there and play football and have fun doing it."
From practice squad guy to two-time Pro Bowler, Thielen has developed not only as an athlete but as a leader for younger players in the locker room. That guidance will be especially key this offseason, during which the COVID-19 pandemic has dictated that teams start their offseason programs virtually.
"I think the biggest thing is just allowing them to trust me as a person and as a player to be a resource for them," Thielen said. "First of all, it is good to create a relationship virtually right now, to the point where they feel comfortable asking questions or calling me or coming to train with me.
"That's really my job. I know that I've been able to learn from some veterans that came before me as far as how they handled those things and how they helped me become the player I am," he continued. "I'm just trying to be that resource for those guys and to know that, hey, when I'm teaching these guys and when I'm talking to them, I'm really talking to myself, because there are a lot of things that I need to get better at. And usually it's those things I'm talking about and teaching those young guys – the things that I need to work on the most."
The old man of the group, Thielen will celebrate his 30th birthday on August 22. The Vikings next-oldest receiver is 26-year-old Bralon Addison, who spent the 2016 season on the Bears practice squad and has since been in the Canadian Football League. Chad Beebe and Tajaé Sharpe, whom Minnesota signed in free agency, are 25.
Among the youngest players looking up to Thielen is first-round pick Justin Jefferson, whom Minnesota tabbed out of LSU from the 22nd overall slot.
Thielen empathized with Jefferson, acknowledging how challenging it could be to start an NFL career under the current circumstances.
"We had a team Bible study last night and there were a few of us [who talked about] how difficult this would be if we could turn back," Thielen said. "Honestly, I probably wouldn't be in the NFL if this would've happened my rookie year.
"It's kind of crazy to think about those things," he added. "But at the end of the day, the best athletes, they can adapt."
View the top photos of Vikings WR Adam Thielen from the 2019 season.
And according to Thielen, Jefferson already has shown his ability to roll with the punches.
"He's one of those guys, he's taken advantage," Thielen explained of his new teammate. "I see him smiling and joking around in these virtual meetings, and knows his stuff when they ask him questions, things like that."
Jefferson hasn't been afraid to text Thielen, whether it's to ask a question about the playbook or even to "just B.S. a little bit" and build a relationship with the experienced receiver.
"He's an adaptable person, and that's why he was able to be a 0-star recruit and now was a first-round draft pick in the NFL," Thielen said. "That's probably why he was able to do that – he's able to adapt, he's able to put a little chip on his shoulder, and he's able to prepare when no one thinks that he can do it."
Although it's less-than-ideal to be unable to meet in-person, Thielen said the virtual offseason program has been going "really well." He pointed out that this time of year is classroom-heavy anyway, as opposed to on-field work, and it's fairly easy to conduct the meetings via video conference.
Thielen has continued to lead his room by example. He's reminding teammates to concentrate on "controlling what they can control," which has been a positive approach for the group.
"Really just focusing on little things you can learn, how we can communicate," he said. "It actually probably has provided a better opportunity to share input of, 'This is why I did this' or 'Maybe on this route, do this' or 'This is what you're trying to make this look like,' things like that. It's provided a better opportunity to do that, to try to help these young guys move along.
"Obviously, you don't have the on-field component to it, you don't have the locker room, there's definitely some things like that that you're missing," Thielen added. "But it provides an opportunity – if you're handling your business outside the virtual meetings and if you're grinding and taking care of your body … then it creates a really good opportunity to make some strides as an individual first, but also as a team. The better each individual can get, the better our team will be."