EAGAN, Minn. — The public window of 2022 Vikings Training Camp practices at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center will open July 30 with Back Together Saturday.
To get you ready for the return of football, we'll go through a position-by-position preview of the Vikings. We started Tuesday with quarterbacks, previewed wide receivers on Wednesday and covered running backs Thursday. Up next is Minnesota's tight ends group.
Returning starter: Irv Smith, Jr.
Also on the roster (listed alphabetically by last name): Zach Davidson, Ben Ellefson, Johnny Mundt, Nick Muse
2021 recap: Though Irv Smith, Jr., appeared poised for a breakout Year 3, he was sidelined for the entirety of the 2021 season with a knee injury. Tyler Conklin, who this spring signed with the Jets as a free agent, led the Vikings tight ends last season with 61 catches for 593 yards and three touchdowns. No other tight ends currently on the roster logged a catch.
3 Key Questions for Vikings Tight Ends
1. Will Smith pick up where he left off?
As mentioned above, Smith's anticipated Year 3 was cut short by a knee injury suffered in the team's final preseason game against the Chiefs.
The question now is if Smith will pick up right where he left off. Quarterback Kirk Cousins believes he will.
"I felt he was one of our most impactful players in training camp last year, and even in the preseason games he played, I thought he made an impact and was making plays and putting good things on tape," Cousins said this spring. "We expect big things."
New Vikings Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips lauded Smith's work this spring, saying, "Wow, that's the Irv I saw on tape from a couple years ago."
In 2020, Smith played 13 games for Minnesota and totaled 30 catches for 365 yards and five touchdowns.
The Vikings will be running a new offense under Head Coach Kevin O'Connell, who has emphasized the significant role he anticipates Smith playing in the system.
"I know there were a lot of folks excited about him last fall, before that injury happened," O'Connell said. "And I think where he's at in his career and some of the success he's had, both with how we're going to use him and then, ultimately, where he's at in his career, I think he's ready to kind of absorb all this and be in a position to go play fast, go play with a bunch of confidence that he's going to be a major part of what we do."
Smith progressed to the point of taking some 11-on-11 reps during Minnesota's offseason program.
2. What impact will Johnny Mundt have on Vikings offense?
Mundt may be new to the Vikings roster, but he isn't new to the head coach.
Mundt spent the first five seasons of his NFL career with the Rams, where he played under O'Connell in 2020 and 2021.
The Vikings signed Mundt early in free agency, adding a familiar face to O'Connell's new team.
"It's been helpful for a lot of guys," O'Connell said of bringing Mundt aboard. "Not only that tight end room, but he's able to share a lot of the similarities, a lot of things that are the same [from the Rams system], and then we try to keep him on his toes by changing a few things, as well."
Mundt wasn't a flashy tight end for the Rams, with his most productive campaign being a four-catch, 53-yard 2020 season, but he shined as a blocker and also played a lot of special teams.
Teams always are on the lookout for tight ends who can make in impact as a blocker and pass catcher, and Mundt could provide that option for Minnesota after working his way back from an injury last season.
View photos of Vikings TE Johnny Mundt getting introduced to the team for the first time at the TCO Performance Center.
"I'm an athletic guy. I can catch the ball, and I'm ready to prove that," Mundt told Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press last month. "I've been around the game, I've watched Tyler Higbee with the Rams and learned a lot from him. So I'm really ready to take the next step and contribute quality minutes to the Vikings offense."
While it's clear Smith is the Vikings main pass-catching tight end, it will be interesting to see how much 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TEs, 2 WRs), 22 personnel (2 RBs, 2 TEs) or other multiple-tight-end sets O'Connell implements into the offense.
3. Who else makes the active-roster cut?
Whether O'Connell opts to keep two, three or four tight ends on the active roster remains to be seen.
Beyond what coaches have learned about Smith and already knew about Mundt, they'll be evaluating Davidson, Ellefson and Muse.
Minnesota drafted Davidson in the fifth round last April, and the former Central Missouri standout spent his full rookie campaign on the practice squad. The Vikings this year drafted Muse out of South Carolina in Round 7.
And then there's Ellefson, a Minnesota native (Hawley) who's made his career as a blocking tight end. The Vikings claimed Ellefson off waivers last September, and he played in five games before landing on Injured Reserve.
Vikings Training Camp, plus the team's three preseason games, will offer O'Connell and his staff the opportunity to see Davidson, Ellefson and Muse in action and determine how they can best benefit the team. Davidson has a long frame and offers some intrigue as a receiving target; Muse did a mix of responsibilities at South Carolina.