EAGAN, Minn. – It's all Vikings hands on deck at the tight end position.
In the absence of Irv Smith, Jr., – who underwent thumb surgery Tuesday – it's "next men up" for the rest of the position group.
Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell spoke with Twin Cities media members Wednesday and outlined other players at the position group.
"I think you come into camp with some good numbers for a reason, just in case, you know, not really knowing where Irv or Johnny [Mundt] would be, coming off their injuries from last year," O'Connell explained. "So we have some depth there, and we have some guys we really want to see kind of handle the different roles.
"I know with this group we talked a lot about the role of a tight end – what that really looks like offense to offense in the NFL nowadays. We ask our guys to do a lot – both in the run game and the pass game, so across the board, from Johnny all the way down, we're going to ask those guys to fill that void," O'Connell continued. "Irv – he had already created a real good start to training camp – will hopefully pick up right where he left off."
The Vikings signed Mundt in free agency, bringing in the former Rams tight end familiar to O'Connell and Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips.
Also in Minnesota's tight ends room is Ben Ellefson, 2021 draft pick Zach Davidson, rookie Nick Muse and former Iowa Hawkeyes tight end Shaun Beyer, whom the Vikings recently added.
"We've got a big group of guys in there that are kind of vying for roles, and it will be good for them to get some more reps and see kind of how that plays out," Phillips said Tuesday.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins also spoke with media Wednesday and was asked about working with the tight ends behind Smith.
Cousins noted the potential and ability he recognizes in the speedy, 6-foot-7 Davidson.
"You see a high ceiling and a desire to work and get better. So it's exciting to work with a guy like that, where you see all this potential down the road, similar to how I felt about Tyler Conklin three or four years ago. You want to see that development happen, and it's going to," Cousins said. "With Johnny it's fun, because he was in this system, so there's times when I'm leaning on him to tell me what he's feeling or seeing, because he knows it better than I do because of his experience.
"He had a phenomenal catch in one of the early practices a week ago on a high ball that he came down with and showed his athleticism," Cousins added. "So those two guys we'll lean on a lot. We ask a lot of our tight ends. It's a unique position, and they've got their work cut out for them."
Cousins later elaborated on Davidson, whom the Vikings snagged out of Central Missouri last spring.
"There's certain things you can't teach. You can't teach 6-7. Talking about his speed, I've got a funny backstory," Cousins said before referencing the individual trackers players wear on the backs of their jerseys that record player speed and other stats.
"All of us want to know how fast we are, right? Like in the Arizona game last year, I got just over 19 miles an hour. So it was a big deal that Cousins broke 19," Cousins said. "We have a T-shirt that we give out in the building. Our head strength coach, Josh [Hingst], gives it out.
"I'm never going to see 21 miles an hour, but obviously the fastest guys on the team are going 21. So it's an elite group, and Zach's one of those guys. He's at, like, 20.9," Cousins continued. "So whenever he gets a vertical route, I know he's going to be flying because he wants that tracker at the end of practice to say that he went 21. So one of these days we're going to get him his T-shirt."
Everyone wishes Smith was on the field, to be sure. But O'Connell feels confident in the other tight ends, as well as the decision to repair the thumb injury, which he said occurred while making a block during Monday's practice.
And if last season taught us anything, it's that Smith attacks rehab the say way he does game day.
"I think he's ready to handle some adversity. It just hit in a way that none of us would have liked," O'Connell said. "As I told him, 'An injury that holds you out right now, but we get you back potentially for that [season] opener, that's different than some of the news that came out around the league yesterday.' We don't take that for granted.
"We're all in this together. We just have to set the plan, just like we do for our team, for individual positions and sides of the ball," O'Connell continued. "We lay out a standard, lay out a goal, and Irv knows exactly what that goal is, and we don't have to spend much time worrying about it because we're going to attack it. I've got no doubt he's going to do that."