EAGAN, Minn. — The 2021 Vikings offense could feature a good bit more of Irv Smith, Jr., on its menu.
The versatile tight end is entering his third pro season for a team that bid farewell to Kyle Rudolph this spring after 10 seasons.
It turns out that part of Smith's offseason preparation has been focusing more on his own diet.
Smith spoke with Twin Cities media members Wednesday after Minnesota's fifth of 10 voluntary Organized Team Activity practices and explained that he enlisted help from a cousin, a dietician who is about to graduate from Tulane, in his home city of New Orleans.
"I feel like diet is definitely something that's not really talked about too much. I think it's very key," Smith said. "She calculated all of my meals exactly like, 'OK. You need this much protein, this many calories, this, this this.' Just having that is awesome so you don't have to worry about, 'OK. What am I going to eat today?' "
Combining that discipline — although he does allow a few "cheat meals here and there" if crawfish or a shrimp po-boy are involved — with training to get "bigger, faster, stronger" and be the "best version of yourself possible" makes a difference, Smith said.
"You're not sluggish out there. You don't feel heavy or slow," Smith said. "A lot of times after you eat you kind of get tired, but when you're eating healthy and eating the proper things, it's like fuel for your car. You're putting the best gas in you."
Smith has had a similar production and workload in each of his first two seasons.
In 2019, he appeared in all 16 games and made seven starts when Minnesota opened games with two tight ends. He caught 36 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns on 47 targets as a rookie.
Last season, he missed three games but also opened seven, including the final three of the season when Rudolph was out with an injury. … Smith caught 30 passes for 365 yards and five scores. In addition to boosting his trips to the end zone, Smith also shot his per-catch average up from 8.6 to 12.2.
Smith played 612 snaps on offense (60 percent) in 2019 and 545 (50 percent) last season, so he's already been involved a good bit. Rudolph played no fewer than 793 snaps in any season from 2015-19 and averaged 83.2 targets in the passing game. In 2020, he played 574 snaps on offense, despite missing the final four games.
Tyler Conklin's role increased from 146 offensive snaps in 2018 to 274 in his second season. Conklin played a career-high 449 offensive snaps in 2020 when he caught 19 passes for 194 yards and a score.
Head Coach Mike Zimmer was asked Wednesday about Smith taking on a bigger role in 2021 and said, "Honestly, I don't think it's any bigger role for him whatsoever."
"I think it's a bigger role for Tyler Conklin. He's kind of emerged as a guy that's moving upward, and with those two guys, we have a lot of weapons there," Zimmer said. "Irv always has been able to do what he's been able to do, whether Kyle was here or not. Obviously, Kyle's a great kid and we miss him, but we're excited about these two young tight ends that we have."
Offensive Coordinator Klint Kubiak said last week that Smith has come back in "phenomenal shape."
"He's really been working at it since we last saw him in the building. But I don't want him to do anything different. I want him to be himself," Kubiak said. "And now he's going to have more opportunities, and I'm excited to see what he does with it. But I just want to push him in the day-to-day, just like we said with Justin [Jefferson], to get better at a few things every day and just get some aggregate gains and put those forward toward the payoff in the season."
Kubiak was asked about the Vikings options at the third receiver spot behind Jefferson and Adam Thielen. He said there are multiple young options at receiver, but tight ends will be in the mix for targets because of their versatility.
"Those two tight ends, they can play wideout, too. Those guys are extremely versatile," Kubiak said. "They're complete tight ends: run, block and line up in a 2-point stance and go at you, so in addition to that, we have our halfbacks we're going to use in the pass game, as well."
View photos of the Vikings organized team activity on June 2 at the TCO Performance Center.
Smith is excited about the prospect of working with Conklin in sets with two tight ends.
"Conk' is a great player, great guy on and off the field. I feel like the tight end, you want to be able to move and not only be a threat in the pass game but in the run game, as well," Smith said. "I feel like me and Conk' are one of the best [duos] at doing that. I'm very excited about me and him playing together and having this opportunity."
The Vikings haven't shied from putting a bunch of variety on Smith's plate, even if it led to him being described as "swimming" in the early days of his first NFL offseason two years ago when he was only 20 years old.
He'll turn 23 this August, ready to handle whatever the Vikings dish up.
"I just want to help this team make plays in any way possible," Smith said. "I'm confident in myself in the run game, I'm confident in myself in the pass game, and I feel like our coaches are as well. Coach [Brian] Pariani and Coach Klint, they're going to do a great job of just getting us ready and calling those plays and dialing it up to whoever to get us the ball."