EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –Fourteen months after being drafted in the sixth round, David Morgan is making first-team impressions.
Morgan wore a smile along with a white practice jersey as he left the field after the Vikings final minicamp practice last week.
The game has slowed down a bit for the tight end since last year, and he's feeling confident with a season under his belt and a slew of teammates and coaches in his corner.
"It's been good; things have definitely been running smoothly," Morgan said of the spring practices.
Morgan still remembers the first moment that it hit him – the realization that he had made it to the highest level in football.
"There was a time when I was in the huddle … and Kyle [Rudolph] was on my right, and Teddy [Bridgewater] was at quarterback, and then Adrian [Peterson] was at running back," Morgan recalled. "And I was just like, 'This is real. This is the real deal. This is pretty crazy.' "
The 24-year-old said there isn't a thing he would change about the whirlwind of a rookie year, but he's glad to be settling in and finding his role on the team. He considers that responsibility to be "whatever is called on from me to contribute," and thus far he's been a versatile weapon in Minnesota's offense.
Sam Bradford, also entering his second Vikings season but eighth in the NFL, said he feels comfortable whether Morgan is blocking or receiving.
"You can put him in there and he can block, and I've got all the confidence in the world that if we need him to come in there in a two-tight end set and kind of help get things going in the run game, blocking in the pass protection, he does a great job," said Bradford. "But also, his route running. He's got good speed, he's got good hands. It seems like he's got a pretty good feel for some of the things over the ball, just finding spaces and zones."
It's Morgan's ability as a blocker specifically that's caught defense's attention, especially that of Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen.
The two defensive ends regularly line up across from Morgan during practices, and the second-year tight end hasn't made things easy for his teammates.
"Man, David, he's a great blocker," Hunter said. "Me and Everson always talk about it all the time, how much better he's gotten since last year."
Added Hunter after a brief pause: "He's a pain in the butt sometimes."
Morgan identified Griffen as the defensive player that he's most grateful he doesn't have to play against on game day. In the wake of Organized Team Activity practices and minicamp, however, Griffen will tell you that Morgan has been far from a pushover.
According to Griffen, Morgan has gotten "a lot better" since his debut NFL season.
"He challenges us," Griffen said. "He got a lot quicker, his hands got a lot tighter, and he's doing his job on a high level. He's becoming a guy that wants to be out here, he wants to get better, and he has the attitude. It's always a challenge out there when you go against him."
From a Pro Bowler of Griffen's reputation and Hunter, who led the Vikings with 12.5 sacks in 2016, there's no better judge of talent.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer agrees.
"I think the biggest compliment you can give [David] is, defensive players say that he is one of the best blockers we have had around here in a long time," Zimmer. "So that, the tenacity, he is a guy that does a lot of dirty work, does not say a lot, has good hands and catches the ball well in the pass game. He is just a tough guy who will compete. He likes to compete."
Morgan credits much of his development during the offseason to tight ends coach Clancy Barone, whom the Vikings hired in January.
The 2017 season will mark Barone's 14th in the NFL, and Morgan said that the coach's extensive experience has been extremely beneficial. Barone has coached a variety of players, personalities and playing styles over the years, and Morgan said he's gained specific guidance on how to block depending on the opponent.
As Morgan's skillset under Barone has grown, so has his confidence.
"Just being involved more, obviously I'm kind of getting a grasp on these guys and trying to figure out how they play," Morgan said. "[If you] go against a guy a lot, it's a lot easier to get a beat on them, so that's just a countdown to when the season comes around. [I've been] studying a lot, knowing what people's tendencies are."
Daily battles between Morgan and the defenders illustrate the concept of "iron sharpens iron," a common saying of Zimmer's.
Morgan believes that facing a Minnesota defense also known for its tenacity has helped him improve at his position.
"You got Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen on the ends, and I'm going against them every day," Morgan said. "So that's definitely going to carry over to when we play other teams."
Added Morgan: "I know there aren't two Everson Griffens out there on the end of the line, so it's definitely going to help us out when it comes game day."
Brian Robison often rotated with Hunter on the line in 2016.
Entering his 11th season in Minnesota, Robison has seen plenty of young players come through and said that Morgan has "really taken the steps" necessary to develop into a talented player.
Robison tabbed Morgan as one of the best blocking tight ends in the league.
"Not a lot of people have seen that yet, but I think you are going to see that this year," said Robison, who also emphasized the challenge Morgan faces in practice.
"He's got some guys in our room that can actually play the run pretty well," Robison said. "I think for him, it has helped him become a better blocker … I think he is going to be a very important role in order for us to be successful on that side of the ball."
Morgan first came on the scene in 2016 as a strong special teams contributor, and although he's hoping to take the next step in offense this season, his teammates recognize his work ethic and willingness to fill any role that's asked of him.
Harrison Smith is known for his blue-collar mentality, and he sees a similar strength in Morgan.
"He's one of those guys you can count on, no matter what his task is," Smith said. "He's that guy that's going to get it done. Those guys are hard to find."
As the Vikings take a brief break from team practices and prepare for the start of training camp in July, Morgan has his sights set on just one thing: making the active roster and helping Minnesota win as many games as possible in 2017.
"If it's me blocking 80 plays a game, that's what it's going to be," Morgan said. "Whatever it is, my job on that play, I'm going to do it as hard as I can."