MANKATO, Minn. –Along the stretch of Hwy 169 South and just before you reach the heart of Mankato, you'll spot the iconic Happy Chef restaurant.
The larger-than-life, portly chef for years has waved his ladle at fans as they make the drive to Vikings Training Camp.
This year, the last training camp to be hosted on the campus of Minnesota State University, the Happy Chef sign displayed a special message for a Vikings rookie: BEN GEDEON STOP IN AND GET A FREE MEAL ON US.
The restaurant's manager is a Michigan Wolverines fan and ready to show it.
"It's definitely a testament to the type of fan base that Michigan has – they're all over the country," Gedeon said of the warm welcome that caught his eye en route to his first NFL training camp. "It was pretty fun to see that."
Gedeon hasn't made it in for that meal, however, because he's been pretty busy on the football field.
The linebacker now has 11 camp practices under his belt and said it's been a significant learning experience.
"It's been going well," Gedeon said. "Learning a lot from the older guys, and I think every day us rookies are getting better in the linebacker room, for sure. I'm just trying to absorb everything that's going on."
Added Gedeon: "I just try to go out there and try to practice harder than I did the day before – correct mistakes and just learn every day."
His hard work has been paying off, as Gedeon has caught the coaches' attention.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has gotten some looks at the fourth-round pick at both middle and outside linebacker. Gedeon has recently received a few reps at the latter with the first-team base defense.
"He's playing both right now, and a lot of those guys are kind of playing different spots," Zimmer said. "I thought he had a good day [Tuesday]. He's a guy that finds the football, he's getting physical off of blocks, he did a good job of coverage yesterday – which, that will be the thing he's going to have to work on, because it's a little different being outside than it is inside."
Zimmer added that there's "really not any big hurry" to put a permanent label on the player who will replace Chad Greenway, who retired following the 2016 season. He said there likely won't be a final decision made until he sees a variety of players there during the first few preseason games.
Emmanuel Lamur and Edmond Robinson have taken the majority of snaps in the weakside spot, but Gedeon said he appreciates the opportunity to get his feet wet there after playing middle linebacker at Michigan.
"This is a time where we can learn different spots on the defense," Gedeon said.
"You have to be smart, you have to be instinctive," he explained about playing outside. "There's so many parts to playing that spot specifically, and all the linebacker spots on this defense. You have to be physical."
Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards said the Vikings are looking for the "best three guys" to fill the starting linebacker spots in Minnesota's base 4-3, and he will continue to evaluate Gedeon among the other competitors.
Edwards called Gedeon a "very instinctive football player."
"Like any other position, the biggest deal is handling your responsibility and [going to] find the ball," Edwards said. "He has been able to find the football here at training camp thus far.
"He makes a lot of plays for us," Edwards continued. "He does a good job in the run game of getting on and off blocks. He's got a good understanding of the passing game as far as the matchups underneath."
Gedeon credited his uptick in performance with an increased understanding of Zimmer's defense.
"I think that comes with learning the schemes, recognizing plays," Gedeon said. "I think those first few days [I was] struggling a little bit, learning the schemes, but as practices have been going on, kind of picking up on things faster and being able to react faster."
He's also grateful to be learning from some of the older players in the locker room.
Gedeon missed crossing paths with Greenway, but Anthony Barr has stepped up to be a veteran voice in the position room. Gedeon also mentioned Eric Kendricks, Lamur and Robinson as teammates who have helped show him the ropes of the NFL and specifically the Vikings defense.
After finishing up the final three practices in Mankato, Gedeon will depart for the Twin Cities, offer a wave to the Happy Chef – and who knows, maybe even grab the complimentary – and then get right back to work.
"He's earned a spot to get up there and compete with those guys," Edwards said. "He's done a good job of coming to work every day and knowing what to do and the temperament we want to do it with."