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Notebook: Mitch Leidner Ready for Bite of the NFL Apple with Vikings

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.– Mitch Leidner expected to be delivering food this week, but instead he'll be delivering the football.

The former Golden Gophers quarterback has been moonlighting as a delivery driver for Bite Squad while spending his days at the gym and on the football field, hoping for an NFL team to contact him.

He got that call Saturday night while fishing up north at his family's cabin.

"I didn't have my phone necessarily right by me at the moment," Leidner told Twin Cities media members after coming off the field from his first Vikings practice. "And then a couple minutes later, I looked to see, and I was like, 'Holy Cow, this is crazy.' "

Leidner said it was "an unbelievable feeling" to get the phone call nearly five months after being undrafted.

"It's been a lot of months of just grinding and preparing and hoping this moment would come," Leidner said.

He added of leaving his Bite Squad gig: "I hate to let those guys down, but it's good to have an opportunity out here."

The Vikings announced Sunday that they had signed Leidner.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said the proximity of Leidner's college career increased their familiarity with his abilities and noted the quarterback's performance at the combine.

"He did good at the combine; he did good at the workout over there," Zimmer said. "The big thing from his college tape is making sure he's getting the ball to the right people, getting the ball out on time, making accurate throws. I think those are probably things he probably struggles with the most, being his accuracy. So that's the big thing, getting out here and get timing with these receivers and be accurate."

Leidner attended the Ravens rookie minicamp this summer and was invited to workouts for the Jaguars and Lions but said he couldn't think of a better storyline than ending up at the Winter Park practice facility.

The quarterback grew up less than 30 miles from Eden Prairie, attending Lakeville South High School before staying in-state for his collegiate career.

"I don't think you can draw it up any better than that," Leidner said. "And I mean, you've got [Minnesota natives] Adam Thielen, Marcus Sherels and Isaac Fruechte here paving the way for guys like me. It's a great group of guys there to look up to and just an unbelievable opportunity. I'm really grateful to the Vikings for giving me this opportunity."

View images of Vikings new QB Mitch Leidner from his days with the Minnesota Gophers.

Leidner and Fruechte played together for the Gophers in 2013 and 2014. The two have stayed in close contact since, and Leidner said he'll be looking to his former teammate for support in a crash course of the Vikings offense.

Leidner was given a copy of the playbook just before Sunday's team meetings and plans to do plenty of homework. 

"It's probably going to be a lot of late nights," Leidner said. "Luckily I have my good buddy Isaac Fruechte here to help me out, too. He probably doesn't know that that's coming, but he better be ready.

"I think he's a really smart guy, with his dad being such an unbelievable coach as well," Leidner continued of Fruechte. "He really understands the game, and he understands how quarterbacks think out there. He can do a great job of helping me out with different reads and progressions throughout the playbook."

In Maroon and Gold, Leidner ranked second in Gophers history in completions (590) and attempts (1,029), third in passing yards (7,287) and fifth in passing touchdowns (36). His 33 rushing touchdowns are the most in school history by a quarterback, and his 1,495 rushing yards are the third-most by a passer.

Now swapping out the maroon for purple, he's just grateful for an opportunity to get some reps during preseason and showcase his skillset.

"I think I bring a lot of athleticism and size to the position," said Leidner, 6-foot-4. "I feel like I'm pretty smart and can get a quick understanding of what they're trying to do on offense here and really understand the playbook. And hopefully the faster I can learn it, the quicker I can get out there and actually take some reps against the defense."

Added Leidner: "They just wanted me to come in and compete, work hard, learn the system and just be a sponge and soak up as much as I could."

He believes his abrupt transition will be made smoother by a familiarity with some of his new teammates.

"[Isaac] and I threw together for the majority of the summer, with a few other Vikings guys and [Vikings quarterback] Case Keenum, as well," Leidner said. "So just having that relationship with a lot of those guys makes it easier."

Eliminating red zone penalties:The Vikings were hurt twice by red zone penalties against the Seahawks Friday, once by a false start and then being flagged for delay of game.

Zimmer addressed the issue during his podium session Sunday, saying he hopes it was more of a fluke than a long-term concern.

"Today we didn't have any, we haven't had them in training camp," Zimmer said. "I get the report every day from practice, and we get two or three penalties all day. It's just understanding that down there it's going to get a little louder, especially on the road."

But that doesn't mean that the team didn't get a lecture.

"You complain about it a lot, and you talk to them about it a lot," Zimmer said. "Just keep trying to grind it into them that they're hurting the team. At some point, the guys that are committing the penalty, you've got to get their butt out."

O-Line evaluation continues:After rookie center Pat Elflein made his first NFL start Friday night, he received some praise from the head coach.

Zimmer said he thought Elflein "had a good day" against the Seahawks.

"He moves his feet, he's a little bit of a grinder-wrestler kind of guy in there, so he'll stick with the extra block, kind of get a guy turned a little bit," Zimmer said. "I think on the one, it might have been [Joe] Berger and him, but on the one that [Dalvin] Cook busted through on the middle there, I think it was him who kind of squeezed the seam, if it's the one I'm thinking of."

Zimmer emphasized the importance of individual performance but also evaluating the way players work together as a unit.

"I think as a group, you always try to figure out who play together," Zimmer said. "But at the end of the day, we've got to get the five best guys out there, however we do it. I'm not opposed to whoever it is."

With the recent absence of Alex Boone, who started at left guard in preseason week one, and Riley Reiff, who was injured in the July 27 training camp practice, the Vikings have gotten a long look at the combination of Rashod Hill (LT), Nick Easton (LG), Elflein (C), Joe Berger (RG) and Mike Remmers (RT).

Both Boone and Reiff practiced on Sunday, however, and the Vikings shuffled things around multiple times, using as many as eight different players with the first-team offense.

Zimmer said Vikings coaches are trying to cement the starting five as soon as possible but want to make sure it's the right verdict.

"I'm hopeful that this week we can see how it goes," Zimmer said. "We might have some different combinations in there this week, too. But I don't know when I'll make the decision."

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