EAGAN, Minn. — Aviante Collins was a busy man against the Broncos.
The Vikings offensive lineman played 62 offensive snaps Saturday night in Denver, the most by any Vikings player. Heck, it was the most by any player on offense or defense on either team.
Collins grabbed some screen time in the second quarter as his key block helped spring running back Roc Thomas for a 78-yard touchdown on a screen pass.
Yet as the Vikings returned to practice Monday, the second-year linemen said he was more than happy to get back to work on his game.
“There’s always room for improvement,” Collins said. “Honestly, you know, people talk about the good plays or the screen that I made, or ‘You ran downfield fast.’
“But I’m thinking about the play I got beat on. You know, those things that I can improve on,” Collins added. “Yeah, things happen a lot different, things happen a lot faster, but [there are] things I need to work on to make myself better to help this team out.”
Collins spent the first part of his night at left tackle after he took over for starter Riley Reiff on Minnesota’s second possession. The former TCU standout later switched to left guard, a position he has recently tried because of injuries on the interior of the offensive line.
“I was just sitting there one day, and I said, ‘Let’s just look at him at guard and see what he can do.’ Run-game wise, the footwork is similar between a guard and tackle, so that’s not a big change,” said Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer. “But pass sets are different, things happen a lot quicker in there, but he’s a very, very athletic guy. It happens a lot quicker in there, so that’s kind of the thing we have to find out about with him. He’s got a little bit of a nasty streak, and that’s good.”
Collins tried out left guard last week in practice and then transitioned there in the game. Overall, the 25-year-old said he is getting more comfortable inside.
“There’s always going to be a challenge, no matter what you do. You just have to learn to roll with the punches and move on. I can’t complain about it. I can’t moan about it or anything like that,” Collins said. “I have to just learn from the players ahead of me and grow, grow as a player. That’s what I came here to do. It’s not just to play one position – I came here to play multiple positions, and I just want to excel at that.
“At guard, things just happen a lot faster. There’s a lot of hands-on things. At tackle, you have a little more time to time things out, see what’s going on outside,” Collins added. “Either position, it’s the trenches. You’ve got to get dirty, you’ve got to fight down there. Both of them have their unique challenges, but at the end of the day, you’re still offensive line. You’re still one unit.”
And what about that nasty streak Zimmer mentioned? Where did that come from?
“I’m from South Houston. If you didn’t have a nasty streak there, you didn’t make it out,” Collins said. “I’m not trying to say I grew up in a bad neighborhood or went to a bad school, but I mean, you have to have some attitude about you or people are going to push you over or run you over throughout your whole life.
“And that’s anywhere in the world,” Collins added. “But that’s how I grew my nasty streak, pretty much. It all started in high school.”
Off the field, Collins is one of the gentler giants in the Vikings locker room. But with Minnesota placing guard Nick Easton on Injured Reserve on Monday with a neck injury, Collins could possibly find himself in the mix if he continues to progress.
His versatility — and that nasty streak — will certainly come in handy along the way.
“You have to be that mean guy,” Collins said. “Most people don’t understand that, but you have to be that guy that’s just, ‘I’m not here to be your friend. I’ll be your friend afterwards, but I’m not here to be your friend right now.’ That’s how I take it.
“It’s definitely a switch. Like I said, I love everybody. I’ll be your best friend outside of football, we can go grab something to eat together, we can have conversations, stuff like that,” Collins added. “But on the field, I have a goal to accomplish. I promised my mom something, I promised my family something, and I’m not there yet. I want to make that goal.”
Hill leaves practice, later returns
The Vikings seemingly avoided a scare on the offensive line Monday when right tackle Rashod Hill returned to practice after initially being carted off.
Hill left practice midway through the session as he laid on the ground in pain for a few minutes. But he later returned and took his starting spot, which had been occupied by rookie Brian O’Neill.
Hill said he stepped on the foot of right guard Danny Isidora, who was matched up against defensive tackle Linval Joseph.
“I stepped on the back of a guard’s foot and just got rolled up on,” Hill said. “I just rolled [it] over a little bit. Everything else is good, though.
“It’s football, you’re going to get rolled over and everything. I think LJ made a good play,” Hill later added. “I’m going to go in and look at it. But I’m going to get back right.”
Thomas benefits from patience
An NFL debut is highly anticipated and hard to wait for, but Roc Thomas benefited from a dose of patience before making a big splash in his pro debut.
Thomas, an undrafted rookie out of Jacksonville State, explained he has learned to be more patient on runs and allow blocks.
“At the beginning of camp, I wasn’t patient at all,” Thomas said. “I was running up [the offensive linemen’s] backs and wasn’t letting the blocks get developed and that type of stuff. Coach kind of talked to me and the players kind of talked to me, told me to kind of slow down, gather my steps and stuff like that. Being patient worked out a lot better for me.”
Thomas totaled 29 yards on eight carries and did even more damage in the passing game, totaling 102 yards and two touchdowns on three receptions.
O’Neill impressed by road showing
O’Neill and his draft classmates will get their first opportunity to play in front of the home crowd. O’Neill said he is looking forward to Saturday, especially after the showing by Vikings fans in the Mile High City.
“I think it’s going to be crazy, just because the amount of Vikings fans that were in Denver and how loud they were,” said O’Neill, a second-round draft pick. “They had the SKOL Chant going, so I think it’s going to be fun, but then again, I’ve never been there to play. From what I hear, it’s crazy, it’s loud. It’s the most fun stadium to play in in the league, so I’m pumped.”
Play of the day
An All-Pro made the highlight play Monday, as wide receiver Adam Thielen showed off his nifty route running and his strong connection with quarterback Kirk Cousins.
The Vikings were in a team drill when Thielen, a Second-Team All-Pro in 2017, was matched up against safety Harrison Smith, who was a First-Team All-Pro this past season.
Thielen ran a smooth corner route, getting past Smith and allowing Cousins to place a perfect pass in front of lurking safety Andrew Sendejo.
The play went for 30-plus yards and drew a big cheer from the crowd.