EAGAN, Minn. — It's been nearly a full year since Vikings cornerbacks Andrew Booth, Jr., and Akayleb Evans were preparing for Vikings rookie minicamp.
Booth, a second-round pick, and Evans, a fourth-rounder, arrived at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center last May to take their first steps in Vikings jerseys.
They have quite a bit in common beyond their selections in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Both players flashed at times in Vikings games.
Both had their time on the field as rookies shortened by injuries.
Both learned from those challenges.
View black-and-white photos from the Vikings 2023 offseason workouts at the TCO Performance Center.
Both are incredibly excited about what their NFL futures could hold.
And both have been mentioned by Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Head Coach Kevin O'Connell as players poised to deliver on expanded opportunities in 2023.
Booth and Evans spoke with Twin Cities media members this week after an on-field workout by the defense, which is now being led by new Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores.
The biggest takeaways for Booth from his first season?
"Learning how to become a pro was what my rookie year was about," Booth said. "I dealt with a lot of injuries, just learning how to be a pro and take care of your body. Your body is what's going to get you through this, and that's what's going to provide my longevity.
"It's work that has to be done outside this facility; even if I'm in the training room and I just live there, there's work I have to do at home," Booth added. "I can go different places to get that extra treatment. They say our bodies are like Ferraris, so we've got to treat them a certain way."
View photos of Vikings players during offseason workouts at the TCO Performance Center.
Booth had dealt with injuries in college, which could have been a factor in his drop to the second round. He experienced some other issues as a rookie but appeared in six games before suffering a meniscus injury against Dallas.
He wound up playing 68 defensive snaps against the Cowboys and was surprised by the extent of the non-contact injury that happened in the first quarter.
When Booth learned his season would be over, teammates "made sure I stayed up and didn't get too down."
"The day I found out, [Patrick Peterson] took me in and spoke some words to me … very encouraging. I was very blessed to have it," Booth said.
The Vikings and Booth project that he'll be a full go when training camp opens at the end of July.
Until then, Booth will try to self-govern to avoid doing too much while learning as much as possible about Minnesota's new defensive system.
"[Executive Director of Player Health and Performance] Tyler [Williams] will tell you he has to stay on me like, 'Booth, chill out. You're going to have your time,' so it's all about like I said, becoming a pro and understanding that everything is not full-gov and knowing when to hit the brakes and stuff like that."
The biggest takeaway for Evans?
After appearing in 10 games and making two starts before being sidelined by concussions, Evans is focused on technique and mindset.
He also talked to Peterson, who signed with the Steelers during free agency, and defensive backs coach Daronte Jones at the end of last season, "just about how I tackle."
"First, I think it's about my mindset," Evans said. "Not every single tackle has to be as hard as I can, right? So being smart about that, but whenever I do go in to make a tackle, just being smart about keeping my head out of it and being intentional."
Evans clarified that he was placed in concussion protocol as a precaution after Minnesota played Chicago in Week 5.
"I was in protocol, so they considered it one, but I was fine," Evans said. "I understand they wanted to be safe. I have a lot more life to live after football, so it was a smart thing to do."
Evans made his first career start at Buffalo in Week 10, but he left that game with a concussion. He returned and started against the Jets in Week 13 but also left that game and was shut down for the rest of the season.
In addition to focusing on his technique, Evans will be custom-fit with a new helmet next week.
Evans and Booth have been excited to learn more about Flores' system during the early part of Minnesota's voluntary offseason program. They've also adjusted to their meeting room after turning to veterans Peterson, Chandon Sullivan, Kris Boyd and Duke Shelley last season.
With all four of those players heading elsewhere this offseason, Minnesota has added veterans Byron Murphy, Jr. and Joejuan Williams during free agency and claimed John Reid via waivers on Thursday.
"I didn't know what to expect at first. A lot of people left the room, but it's been really good," Evans said. "Coach Flores has really emphasized all of us coming together, because when we're on the field, we have to communicate together and understand each other. It's been really good so far.
"You never know where you might end up on the field, so you have to be able to understand corner, safety and nickel and be versatile," Evans added. "I like that because it expands you as a football player, and I feel like that's how you make money in this league, so I'm all for it."
View photos of the Vikings 2023 coaching staff.
Fresh off the heels of Minnesota adding six players, including two defensive backs last week in the 2023 NFL Draft, Evans remains grateful for being drafted, but he is clearly glad the prolonged process occurs once-in-a-career.
"It was crazy because you go through the draft process — I did the Senior Bowl, so it was like one big run, right? So this year, you have the offseason, you've got a little bit of money in your pocket, 'OK, I'm feeling a little bit of life,' right? It was good," Evans said.
As for advice like newcomers Mekhi Blackmon and Jay Ward, who are scheduled to participate in next week's minicamp, Evans advised for them to "stay the course."
"During the season, most guys hit that rookie wall, but you've just got to remember why you started and realize that it's going to be OK," Evans said. "This offseason was a lot different."