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Jack Tocho Discovering a Free Mind Can Make His Feet Faster

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –When an opportunity presented itself to Jack Tocho in his first NFL game, he didn't hesitate.

Minnesota held Buffalo to three-and-out early in the third quarter, forcing a Bills punt.

Vikings receiver Rodney Adams positioned himself to field the punt but muffed the catch. It was recovered by Tocho, preserving possession for Minnesota.

"We were in a vice on the punt return, and [Terrell Sinkfield], he had the gunner pretty much handled, so I let go a little bit so I could work back and work on anybody else freeing up," Tocho recalled of the play. "But you have to take a peek at the returner so you can know where to leverage yourself, and I saw that Rodney had muffed it, so I just jumped on it.

"I got a lot of pats on the head [from teammates], Tocho added.

Tocho's quick thinking allowed the Vikings to keep the ball and embark on a 71-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard touchdown catch by Adams. 

He's grateful to Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer for the way he's helped him react to various situations.

"[Coach Priefer] also been moving me around a lot, on all different phases of special teams: punt, punt return, kickoff return, kickoff. I've pretty much done multiple positions on all of those units," Tocho said. "So being able to go in at any given moment to play any position that's necessary has been very beneficial for me, as well."

Tocho made his pro football debut on Minnesota's kickoff return team. He described the pace as "a little bit faster than practice" but not beyond what he expected.

After months of anticipating for his first game, Tocho was ready.

"It was great to get out there and get my feet wet, to get that experience," Tocho said.

In addition to special teams contributions, Tocho played 23 defensive snaps, as well.

The rookie was a standout cornerback at North Carolina State, starting 42-of-45 games and recording 122 total tackles, 26 passes broken up and six interceptions. But when the Vikings selected him in the seventh round of the 2017 draft, they planned to convert him to safety.

The transition was a challenging one at first, but Tocho took the shift in stride. From rookie minicamp, through OTAs and now throughout training camp, the 22-year-old is feeling much more comfortable.

"I've definitely [gained] a basic understanding of the entire defense," Tocho said. "I have to know what everybody's doing to make my job easier and to perform more effectively."

He added that the biggest learning curve he encountered was readjusting his field vision.

"Being a corner, you're really kind of locked in on one man the entire game, but as a safety you have to read the quarterback, and you have to read the receivers, and you have to also key the tackle for the run-pass reads," Tocho said. "So you have to broaden your vision a lot more when it comes to safety versus corner."

He credited Vikings defensive backs coach Jerry Gray, along with veteran teammates in the position room, for his progress.

"He's been a very, very helpful coach during this process," Tocho said of Gray. "He's broken it down just so I don't absorb too much at a time. He's just given me different points to key on, so I'm able to play faster and play more freely."

A number of more experienced players have been quick to come to Tocho's aid, including Harrison Smith. The two-time Pro Bowler often gives the rookie pointers at practice or in the meeting room.

"He tells me what he's learned from his past experiences, and that really helps me," Tocho said.

Whether on defense or special teams, Tocho is striving to be a versatile player whom the Vikings can rely on.

Priefer said he's impressed with how far Tocho has come since arriving in Minnesota in April.

View images from the Vikings practice on Wednesday, August 16 as the team prepares to take on the Seattle Seahawks on Friday night.

"He's a very intelligent guy, and sometimes the real smart guys overthink things," Priefer said. "He's really settled down and into his role; he's improved immensely. I'm real pleased with where Jack is and where he's tracking right now. So far, so good."  

Tocho confirmed Priefer's comments on overthinking. Heading into the Vikings second preseason game against the Seahawks Friday night, his biggest focus is on keeping a clear head.

"Free your mind, free your feet," Tocho said. "I think just having all these next experiences, having to face this new transition, it's easy to get bogged down and just think about [too much] stuff.

"So just going into the game, focusing on performing well, executing and just not worrying about the unnecessary stuff," he added. "That will definitely help me play faster and better."

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