EAGAN, Minn. — It’s not a stretch to imagine the Vikings offense has a few hundred plays that involve multiple wide receivers.
That means wide receivers have to know their primary position, but also those of the other players out wide, placing an x-factor on the number of routes, blocking assignments and concepts that must be ready to be pulled from the memory bank in an instant.
So forgive Dillon Mitchell and Bisi Johnson if there was some extra chatter in the Vikings offensive huddle this spring, as the pair of rookie wide receivers worked together to make sure they were both on the same page with their roles.
“Dillon and I, in the huddle. sometimes we get a little confused, so we’ve been talking a little bit. I feel like [at first] you just worry about yourself,” Johnson said during minicamp last week. “But once you get it a little more, then you can start helping people out and double checking, and that’s what we’ve done.
“Sometimes somebody doesn’t know their job, so speak up and help them out. That’s how it’s got to be,” Johnson added. “It’s a team sport, and you have to help your boys out. It’s been working well for us.”
Added Mitchell: “We’ll whisper a few things just to make sure. We come in and grind every day, and we have to make sure we have our plays and concepts down. We’ll give each other reminders to make sure we’re on point.”
Even though Johnson and Mitchell were both seventh-round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft and could end up competing for a roster spot by the time training camp and the preseason roll out, the pair have taken on the task of working together at the beginning on their NFL journeys.
Mitchell was the 239th overall pick out of Oregon while Johnson, who went to Colorado State, was selected at No. 247.
Both players said the biggest adjustment to the NFL so far wasn’t going against veterans and established players, it was getting a grasp on the mental side of the game.
Tackling the playbook, Johnson said, was tougher than trying to beat Xavier Rhodes on a route.
“It’s not a book, it’s an iPad. The technology these days … ,” Johnson said with a laugh. “But if it was a book, it’d be huge. It gets a little confusing because you have to know each and every position on the field.
“You’re a rookie, and you’re most likely not going to take one spot and be at that spot all the time. If somebody goes down, then you have to fill in wherever you can and know every person’s job,” Johnson added. “You start to understand, conceptually, where one player is going so another player will likely go here. It comes to you, but it just takes a little time.”
Due to a handful of injuries at the wide receiver spot, both Mitchell and Johnson took a handful reps with the first-team offense during minicamp.
Each said he was appreciative of the chance, even if things didn’t go as smoothly as they hoped.
“I thought it went great, just getting out here and being with the guys and the receiving group,” Mitchell said of his overall impression of spring practices. “There were some days that were up and down, like everything in sports, but I’m glad I was able to come out here and work and get better.”
Mitchell, who said there were a few practices that left him wanting more, added: “There’s always things you did good, and always things you did bad, so you just come out tomorrow and keep going.”
But both players are on the radar of Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, who mentioned Johnson and Mitchell last week when he was a guest on KFAN’s 9 to Noon live broadcast from Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center with “Voice of the Vikings” Paul Allen.
“The two young receivers, I think [Bisi] Johnson has done a nice job,” Zimmer said. “And a lot of these guys are just young, so they’re raw.
“Like, Dillon Mitchell is a guy who can really, really run, but he’s got to work at the top of his routes a little bit,” Zimmer added. “He flails his arms when he’s going to break, and those are very good tells for a defensive back."
Mitchell said he’s been focused on not tipping his hand, so to speak, when trying to get open. He’s looked at Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs as role models in that area.
“I’ve grown mentally on how to run routes with guys like Xavier and the older DBs,” said Mitchell, who led the Pac-12 with 1,184 receiving yards in 2018. “They are able to tell anything in a route if you’re running it a certain way.
“Just becoming a route runner and getting better that way … we’re working through my whole route game and my whole route tree,” Mitchell added. “Just being consistent like 14 and 19 … that’s the level we want to get to.”
Johnson is putting in his extra work, too. After Wednesday’s minicamp practice, he spent 30 minutes chatting with fellow wide receiver Chad Beebe and catching passes from quarterback Kyle Sloter.
“[Beebe] was just a rookie last year, so he knows how it goes. He was telling me to not get too hard on myself,” Johnson said. “I talk a lot about the mental game, but it is a mental game, because if you make a mistake, you have to take it and move it aside and go to the next play.”
“And I’m a rookie and in a place where I need the work and need the reps,” added Johnson, who was second on Colorado State with 796 receiving yards in 2018. “I get a certain amount of reps in practice and then get a bunch of reps after practice so I can be better the next day.”
Johnson said he plans to go back to Colorado to train over the next month or so before returning to Minnesota in July, while Mitchell said he likely work out in Southern California.
But you can bet the two will stay in touch and continue to help each other once the pads come on for their first pro training camps.
“We’re coming in and trying to help each other out as much as we can,” Mitchell said. “If one of us doesn’t know something, we’ll learn something and help each other out on the field.
“On the field and off the field,” Mitchell added, “we’re becoming real brothers instead of just being draft partners.”