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Notebook: Browning Enjoys Being Back in Purple; Watts Signs Deal

EAGAN, Minn. — Jake Browning felt right at home on the practice field Friday morning at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.

He was back under center and in the huddle, getting his first taste of the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Vikings.

Of course, the helmet color probably helped the former University of Washington quarterback on Day 1 of rookie minicamp.

“It felt good to be back in purple, so that was kind of nice,” Browning said. “Other than that, just trying to lock in, to make sure I get the play calls right in the huddle so everybody does the right thing, and then going through my reads.

“There’s a lot of stuff going on, and that’s kind of my main focus because that’s what it takes to be successful – you’ve got to know everything and get everybody on the same page and then execute,” Browning added.

Browning is now one of a handful of quarterbacks on Minnesota’s roster along with Kirk Cousins, Sean Mannion and Kyle Sloter. Former Western Illinois quarterback Sean McGuire is also in town on a rookie tryout basis this weekend.

Yet as the quarterback group goes through spring practices and training camp over the next few months, the Vikings are excited to see what Browning can bring to the table.

Browning started 54 games for the Huskies in college, winning 39 of them to set a Pac-12 record. He also threw school records for career passing yards (12,296), career touchdown passes (94) and career completions with 958.

Yet for all of his gaudy stats, including tying Jared Goff’s conference record for touchdown passes in a season with 43 in 2016, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Friday that he’s interested in seeing the whole package with Browning.

“The guy won a lot of games; he’s a very good athlete. We felt like he’s got a lot of upside to work with, a lot of tools,” Zimmer said. “But we thought he was a good athlete, and he won a lot of games, so that was important to us.

“I think all these guys [behind Cousins] are going to have to come in here and compete and kind of figure it out. I think his athleticism probably will show above some of these other [quarterbacks],” Zimmer added. “The scrambling ability, we haven’t seen him throw too much, so obviously he’s going to have to be accurate. That’s always a key to the quarterbacks.”

Browning said Friday that he wasn’t concerned with the fact that he wasn’t drafted and had to sign with a team after 254 players were selected.

Instead, he’s focused on making the most of his opportunity with his new team in Purple.

“Obviously I wanted to be drafted, but like I said, there is where I wanted to be,” Browning said. “I’m fortunate to be here and very grateful to be here.

“I just went through one walk-through as a Viking, and now I’m pretty focused on having a good practice later today,” Browning added. “Keep putting together good back-to-back days, and that’s kind of my goal.”

Watts signs with Vikings, excited to work with Patterson

Armon Watts put pen to paper Friday to become the ninth Vikings draft pick to sign with Minnesota. The first eight signed Thursday.

“I think it’s finally hit me that I’m in the National Football League,” said Watts, a sixth-round defensive tackle out of Arkansas. “I’m excited. I’m ready to get to work.”

Watts and his new teammates had a walk-through Friday and went through practice in the afternoon.

It was Watts’ initial chance to work with Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson, who is regarded as one of the best in the league at his job.

This wasn’t Watts’ first go-around with the Vikings, however, as he worked with Vikings assistant defensive line coach Rob Rodriguez at the East-West Shrine Game in January.

Watts said that he feels like he is a step ahead on Minnesota’s defensive scheme already.

“Luckily I got to work with Coach Rob Rodriguez at the East-West [Shrine Game], so I watched a lot of film on the Vikings and their guys, and he told me some of the things Coach Dre taught him,” Watts said. “A lot of it I’ve heard, and that helps me a little bit, so it’s a great situation. 

“I’m getting coached by a great coach, a legendary coach, we’ve got a lot of great resources here, and the facility is one of the best I’ve ever seen. So I’m just soaking it all in,” Watts also added. “I think with Coach Dre, everything’s about technique – getting great hands, great feet, and everything else will fall into place. I’m listening to him closely and learning a lot.”

Watts played sparingly until his senior season at Arkansas, recording just 14 total tackles in his first three seasons.

But he flourished in 2018 as he racked up 42 total tackles (19 solo) with 7.5 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks and three forced fumbles while starting 11 games.

Watts will now join a defensive line that features Pro Bowlers in Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph … not to mention perhaps the NFL’s best defensive line coach.

Watts said he’s ready to get to work and make an instant impact.

For me, it’s confidence. I’m going to come in with some confidence, knowing I can compete at this level,” watts said. “I think that’s going to help me a lot, and I’m going to talk to Coach Dre, ask him where he sees me best, and I’m sure I can fit [what he asks of me].”

Cutting honored to be rare long snapper drafted

Austin Cutting made a bit of history this past weekend, as he was the only long snapper selected in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Cutting, who is currently enrolled at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, also became the first player from the football program to be drafted since defensive end Bryce Fisher in 1999 by Buffalo.

“It’s an honor,” Cutting said. “Going to the academy, serving comes first and then the NFL. But it’s an honor to get drafted.”

After he was drafted, Cutting said that he is required to serve 24 months on active duty in the military. While it remains to be seen when, not if, Cutting will serve, the long snapper said Friday that he didn’t have many answers on that subject.

“I know we have to serve 24 months. That’s a guarantee. Outside of any of that, we’re working through it,” said Cutting, who is an acquisitions officer in the Air Force. “They’re talking and we’re trying to figure it out. As of now, I’ll be serving 24 months. That’s how it is.

“That’s something that I’ll have to talk with everyone when I get back to school,” Cutting later added. “If it plays out that way, it plays out that way. It’s whatever they want me to do.”

While Cutting soaked up the atmosphere at rookie minicamp, he did say that he still has to worry about graduating from the Academy on May 30.

He does, however, expect to attend Organized Team Activities that begin later this month.

And, he was thrilled to be the rare long snapper that got selected in the draft.

“I was thinking it was a possibility. But I didn’t say, ‘OK, I’m going to get drafted,’ because I typically know how the draft works for snappers and all that,” Cutting said. “I was home just in case because you never know.

“It was awesome. It’s an unreal feeling. I know people always talk about getting a phone call and all that stuff, and you think it’s cool,” Cutting added. “But when it happens, you can’t really describe it. It was a great feeling.”

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