Vikings cornerback Mackensie Alexander has had an up-and-down ride through his first two-plus seasons in Minnesota.
The standout from Clemson was asked to learn the nickel back role as a rookie and admitted that he pushed back against the position change, but in 2017, Alexander embraced the responsibility, became more open to coaching and, in turn, improved at the position.
Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune wrote recently about Alexander's progress and the bigger role he potentially could receive in the Vikings defense. Krammer wrote:
After two NFL seasons of lessons learned, and some battles with coaches, Alexander earned the Vikings' starting slot cornerback role. Now with fellow slot cornerback Mike Hughes out of the picture because of a torn knee ligament suffered Sunday against Arizona, Alexander will occupy an even larger share of the job in what could become a statement season.
Those lessons, Alexander said, are "understanding this defense more, listening, being more accountable."
"I used to be so serious about my job," Alexander told Krammer. "You can be serious, but you can't be too serious because we change so much every week, every play and every set. You just have to understand what's going on, be able to make the adjustments and move on."
Krammer pointed out talented slot receivers ahead of Minnesota on the schedule, including Detroit's Golden Tate (Nov. 4 and Dec. 23), New England's Julian Edelman (Dec. 2) and Miami's Danny Amendola (Dec. 16) and said the Vikings will need strong performances from Alexander, "whose quick-twitch reaction and speed best match up with those shiftier receivers."
He said that Alexander made some mistakes, particularly early in the season, but that last Sunday's defeat of the Cardinals "was a different story," when he defended "critical throws" on third and fourth down to Larry Fitzgerald.
Krammer quoted Zimmer, who spoke highly of Alexander's performance against Arizona.
"I thought he played a lot better this last week, did some good things," Zimmer said. "He's been more disciplined in coverage, I guess is the best way to say it. I think he understands things so much better now."
The Athletic delves into father-son relationship of Rick, JD Spielman
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and his wife, Michele, have long been advocates of adoption, having adopted all six of their children.
Recently, The Athletic's Chad Graff spoke with Spielman about the bond with one of his sons, JD, who currently plays football for Nebraska. Spielman told Graff about the emotional waiting period before starting a family through the adoption of foster children in Chicago. Graff wrote:
In the fall of 1998, they adopted Ronnie and JD, brothers from the city. Ronnie's birthday was two days apart from that of Chris Spielman, Rick's younger brother. And JD's was two days apart from Rick's. It was a sign.
That fall was a whirlwind. No amount of planning, not even years of trying to start a family, could properly prep them for parenthood, especially during one of the busiest times on the NFL calendar. As Rick built a crib for JD, who was eight months old, he was on the phone negotiating a contract for Olin Kreutz, the Bears' third-round pick that year.
As Rick juggled work and becoming a father, which he had long-awaited, the "first few weeks were filled with the usual anxiety of early parenthood."
Rick and Michele woke up with each sound from the baby monitor. One night, they awoke to loud cries from JD. Michele ran into their new children's room and Rick followed. When they arrived, they saw that Ronnie, then two-and-a-half, had climbed into JD's crib and was comforting his baby brother.
Ronnie looked up at his new parents, then back down at his brother and began to sing a song he learned from Barney.
"I love you, you love me, we're a happy family."
Twenty years later, little brother has grown into a record-setting football star at Nebraska, with a game against the college program from his dad's team's backyard coming up on Saturday.
Click here to read the rest of Graff's deep dive, including how JD receiving a timeout at 2-and-a-half years old gave Rick an early inkling of his son's athletic skills.
Thielen tabbed as 1 of NFL's '8 best players'
Heading into the slate of Week 7 games, Adam Thielen leads the NFL in receiving yards with 712.
Thielen has continued to impress, having logged 100-plus receiving yards in each of the first six games this season. It's undeniable that the Minnesota native has established himself as one of the league's best receivers.
But is he among the NFL's top players overall? Robert Mays of The Ringer believes he is.
Mays highlighted the eight players he rates above the rest, including Thielen. Mays wrote:
As recently as last season, Thielen was still just considered a feel-good story: the former practice-squad player who rose up and performed at a Pro Bowl level. We're past all of that now. Over the last year, the list of receivers you'd take ahead of Thielen has gradually gotten shorter and shorter, and at this point, I'm not sure how many people are on it anymore. Aside from Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and DeAndre Hopkins, anyone else is debatable. A.J. Green is having a great season, and Michael Thomas has been an absolute beast for the Saints.
But Thielen's production stands on its own. He's one of the more refined route runners in the sport, but his game is about more than savvy and nuance. Thielen is good for one "How in the hell…?" reception per game, and he elevates Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins' play — which is saying something, because Cousins is already playing pretty damn well. The rapport that Minnesota's first-year QB has developed with Thielen this early in their partnership is incredible, and it's helped elevate the 28-year-old receiver to the upper echelon of NFL wideouts.
Mays included the following other players on his list: Rams RB Todd Gurley, Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes II, Rams QB Jared Goff, Bears DE Khalil Mack, Saints QB Drew Brees, Chargers QB Philip Rivers and Packers T David Bakhtiari.