EAGAN, Minn. — When the Vikings opened their annual Night Practice on Saturday at TCO Stadium, Jake Browning was the only one of four quarterbacks available.
The other three signal callers on Minnesota's roster — Kirk Cousins, Nate Stanley and rookie Kellen Mond — were not present when practice began at 7:30 p.m. (CT).
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer spoke to the Twin Cities media two-and-a-half hours before the non-padded session. It followed the team releasing a statement to announce that some players would not be available to due COVID-19 protocols agreed to by the NFL and NFLPA.
Zimmer said he wanted the mentality to stay the same.
The head coach noted that the Night Practice won't necessarily help Browning lock down the backup quarterback job he's been battling for, but added the third-year pro's availability is certainly better than not being there.
"Jake's really smart. He's vaccinated; that helps to be the backup," Zimmer said. "So as we move forward here, he's gonna get a ton of reps tonight.
"I don't know about saying 'It's going to go a long way' [in the backup quarterback battle] because we've still a lot of camp to go," Zimmer added. "But we'll see. He's out there, he's available, that's important. It's important to be available when you're playing football, a team sport."
Browning attended Folsom High School — roughly 30 minutes outside of Sacramento, California — and put together a prolific prep career.
He set California high school records for career completions (1,191), attempts (1,708), yards (16,775) and passing touchdowns (229) before heading to Seattle and playing for the University of Washington.
His eye-popping stats continued with the Huskies, as his numerous school records include career completions (958), attempts (1,483), yards (12,296), passing touchdowns (94) and victories by a starting QB (39).
Browning joined the Vikings in the spring of 2019 as an undrafted free agent.
He has spent the past two seasons on practice squad and got his feet wet in the 2019 preseason. (The NFL did not have preseason games in 2020 due to the pandemic).
Browning totaled 43 combined snaps in the first and fourth preseason games in 2019, completing 10 of 13 passes for 64 yards with an interception.
The 25-year-old has likely learned valuable lessons on the practice squad. That appeared to translate to the field as he took most of the backup quarterback reps in the offseason program, a trend that has continued in training camp.
"Jake's done a good job," Zimmer said. "He keeps getting better and he's a really, really smart kid."
Vikings.com first caught up with Browning back in 2019 when he purposefully drilled the crossbar with a pass that traveled roughly 40 yards.
Vikings Offensive Coordinator Klint Kubiak, who was Browning's position coach the past two seasons, assessed Browning and the rest of the backup quarterbacks at the end of the offseason program.
"Really competitive group. Jake Browning, Nate Stanley and Kellen Mond have really competed hard against each other," Kubiak said in mid-June. "It's a very intelligent room, so it's a very competitive room physically. But those guys compete mentally … Who can have the quickest answer? Who knows the answer the fastest? Who can think of the worst thing that can happen on this play and how we're going to fix it before it ever starts? I love that room.
"Individually, good performances. Jake Browning had a tremendous camp, made a lot of great decisions and great throws. Nate Stanley, he impressed as well and has come a long way. He did not get a preseason game last year, so he's champing at the bit for that opportunity this year," Kubiak added. "And then Kellen Mond certainly has put in a lot of work since he's got here and has come a long way in these few weeks. They guy is a tireless worker, and he has to be because he's got to keep up with those guys ahead of him."
Browning obviously won't be the Vikings starter in 2021.
But he could eventually win the backup job behind Cousins. And he'll likely always remember the night he was the lone quarterback available at the Vikings annual Night Practice.