EAGAN, Minn. — It was 10:59 a.m. on Wednesday when George Iloka jogged onto the practice field at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center in a white No. 28 jersey with no name plate.
The 28-year-old safety spent the next two hours or so doing through drills, including lining up with the second-team defense and helping on the scout team, while meeting his new teammates.
Then it was off to meetings as Iloka, a free agent who signed with the Vikings earlier in the morning, dove headfirst into getting acclimated to his new surroundings.
“I woke up at 5 [a.m.], got to the airport at 5:30, had a flight at 7 and got off the plane and started practicing,” said Iloka, who added the Vikings first contacted him late Tuesday evening. “That’s the business, and speaking with [Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer] made me comfortable.
“Obviously, how late into camp it is with like 10 days, two weeks left, whatever it is … it doesn’t give you much time to pick up other systems and playbooks and things like that,” Iloka added. “I think I’m a smart player, I could but obviously knowing the system here and knowing Zim’ and kind of what he wants made it a little easier.”
The ties between Iloka and Zimmer date back six years, to when the safety was a fifth-round selection by the Bengals in the 2012 NFL Draft. Zimmer was Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator for Iloka’s first two seasons before Zimmer was hired by Minnesota in 2014.
Iloka has nine career interceptions and has at least one per season since he became a full-time starter in 2013. Iloka’s career high for interceptions in a season is three, which he accomplished in 2014 and 2016.
“George is a very smart guy, he’s helped us a lot in the past,” Zimmer said. “He’s very smart, a good tackler, he’s going to be where he’s supposed to be all the time.
“He pretty much knows a lot of things that we’re doing, and we went over most of the calls with him today, and he knew probably 85 percent of them,” Zimmer added.
Iloka concurred with Zimmer’s assessment of how quickly he will be able to pick up the playbook.
“It felt very familiar. I would say about 80 percent, at least from what they told me and just hearing the calls we similar,” Iloka said. “He’s changed some things up, obviously, some names, some calls, a little bit of philosophy here and there, but it’ll be easy.
“Now it’s my job to do my due diligence study the playbook, get with the coaches, and learn it,” Iloka said. “Like I said, it’s late into training camp, they have a season to worry about and I don’t want to be a distraction. I just want to come in and learn it as fast as I can and when called upon do what I have to do.”
Besides Zimmer, Iloka is also familiar with Vikings cornerback Terence Newman. They teamed together from 2012-2014 in Cincinnati.
“He’s a big, imposing, physical safety who has got great coverage skills,” Newman said of the 6-foot-4 Iloka. “Smart guy, tough, hard-nosed, hard worker … he’s going to be a great addition.”
Iloka joins a safety group that includes All-Pro Harrison Smith plus Andrew Sendejo, who has made 53 starts over the past five seasons for the Vikings. Anthony Harris and Jayron Kearse have also started in a pinch in recent seasons, and both contribute heavily on special teams.
“This wasn’t a move to replace anyone,” Zimmer said. “This was a move to get as many good players as we can. He became available, so I think we’re fortunate.”
Iloka has 76 career starts, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery to his name. Yet as he transitions to the next phase of his career, the safety said he’s willing to take on any role to help Minnesota make a deep run in 2018.
“I’m comfortable with the system, the playbook, and this is a good team,” Iloka said. “They were real close last year. They were on the brink of making it to the Super Bowl, and I’m just here to help the team out in any way I can.
“I’m just coming here to add depth and, when called upon, go out there and play well,” Iloka later added. “However that comes out, we’ll see.”