EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —Laquon Treadwell took more than 30 minutes to get to his locker after Monday's practice had come to an end.
By the time he did, the beads of sweat on Treadwell's face were evidence of another hard day's work from the Vikings wide receiver.
As Treadwell has navigated himself through his rookie season, both the player and his coaches say there are numerous signs of progress for the first-round pick.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has noticed the change.
"You could kind of tell in practice," said Zimmer, who mentioned Treadwell's quickness and acceleration as having improved. "And for a while there, he was pressing and trying to do everything.
"It's probably been a few weeks now, he's starting to look better," he added.
Vikings Interim Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur has seen the improvements, too.
"We see a guy who is continually getting better. Each day out here, he makes more and more plays," Shurmur said. "He's running his routes better. They're sharper.
"He has been blocking well when he has been in there," he added. "He hasn't had a lot of great opportunities yet to catch the football, but you just see his total game improving each day."
Treadwell has appeared in seven games and has one reception, a 15-yard grab that moved the chains on third down against the Lions on Nov. 6.
The 22-year-old made his first career start Thursday in Detroit, drawing a pair of flags against the Lions defense and playing a career-high 34 offensive snaps.
As his first NFL season approaches the stretch run, Treadwell said the increase in snaps helped.
"I've just been working hard, waiting on my turn. It's my turn, so I just have to keep going," Treadwell said. "The last game really helped me with my mental state and feeling the game out.
"I was competing every day in practice and making plays," he added. "But the game is a whole new edge of intensity you have to play with, and it gives you a better perspective on it, so that helped me out."
As the Vikings look to make a playoff push, Zimmer said Treadwell could see more opportunities going forward.
"I'm not going to say, 'Hey, throw it to this guy' or 'Throw it to that guy,' " Zimmer said. "It's just sometimes, that's how things come up.
"In the last few weeks, I think he's been kind of catching up to the NFL a little bit now," Zimmer added. "He's doing a good job … he's a diligent, hard worker, and he'll be a good player."
Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford mentioned after Thursday's loss that Minnesota's offense could use more explosive plays.
Treadwell said he's more than willing to help stretch the field and inject some firepower into a Vikings offense that is tied for 24th in the league at 19.8 points per game.
"I think we all can do it and we're all capable of it," Treadwell said. "We take very few chances of going down the field but the receivers are ready, the quarterback is ready, we just have to take them."
One game at a time
A season ago, the Vikings went 11-5 to win the NFC North and grab a postseason berth.
With Minnesota sitting at 6-5 this season, the Vikings and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn have the same goals in mind.
"If you look at the NFC race, it's very tight," Munnerlyn said. "If it takes 11-5 to get us in the playoffs, I'm with it. But it starts on Thursday."
With the 10-1 Cowboys coming to town, and the game on prime time in front of a nationally televised audience, Munnerlyn knows this a game the Vikings can make an impression on the football world.
"I wouldn't say it's a statement opportunity," Munnerlyn said. "But it's an opportunity for us to go out there and get a big win.
"We need it and haven't been playing our best football lately," he added. "But we need this win to get to our ultimate goal, and that's to make the playoffs and make a Super Bowl run."
Relishing the underdog role
After losing five of their past six games and preparing to face the Cowboys (whose sole loss came in Week 1), the Vikings know they've been all but counted out of Thursday's game.
But they're OK with that.
Running back Jerick McKinnon said it's fun prepping for a matchup that not many outside the locker room feel will go in Minnesota's favor.
"This team has a lot of heart and a lot of fight, and I think that's shown this year," McKinnon said. "Of course these past couple weeks, we haven't come out on top, but one thing we do well is fight and have heart. I think that's going to be what carries us the rest of the season."
Receiver Adam Thielen smiled when he was asked the same question by Twin Cities media members.
"I love it," Thielen said. "I love being the underdog.
"I love when people doubt us, because I know how good this team can be," Thielen said. "And I know if we come out and play the way we have in the past, we can win a lot of games."
View images from the Vikings Monday, November 28 practice at Winter Park.
The Vikings held their second practice of the week on Monday and were without a few key players.
Joe Berger (concussion), Marcus Sherels (rib), Harrison Smith (ankle), Munnerlyn (ankle), Sharrif Floyd (knee) and Chad Greenway (not injury related) did not practice. Sam Bradford (ankle), Mackensie Alexander (groin), Jeremiah Sirles (hip), Terence Newman (neck), Stefon Diggs (knee) and Eric Kendricks (hip) were limited. Thielen (shoulder) was a full participant.
For the Cowboys: CB Morris Claiborne (groin), LB Justin Durant (hamstring), T Chaz Green (back) and S J.J. Wilcox (thigh) did not participate. S Barry Church (forearm), DE Jack Crawford (foot), DE David Irving (illness), DE DeMarcus Lawrence (back), DT Terrell McClain (thigh) and T Tyron Smith (back/hip) were limited.