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Now In Pads, David Morgan Enjoying Vikings Physical Practices

MANKATO, Minn. —Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was mic'd up for Sunday's practice, the first one the Vikings held in pads.

The video captured Zimmer sharing a humorous but series moment with David Morgan, as the head coach wondered aloud whether the rookie tight end was ready to get physical with NFL linemen.

"He's a real hard-nosed guy," Morgan said. "He loves his defensive guys but he loves offensive guys like that, as well.

"I just knew that he knew what I had and he wanted me to show it to him," he added.

What Morgan has is a strong blocking ability, one that the Vikings called the best in the country among college tight ends when they drafted him in the sixth round out of Texas-San Antonio in April.

Morgan, who has lined up against stout defensive ends Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter at times, said he welcomed the chance to get tangled up with his teammates.

"It's fun to be out there and put the pads on and thump around (with) these guys and see what it's all about," Morgan said. "Everyone nowadays is so big and fast and strong, I was really excited just to see what it was like.

"These guys are professionals, the best of the best, and it's a step up in the game," he added. "If the game steps up, I've got to step up even more."

The Texas native was the first UTSA player to be named an All-American after he hauled in 45 catches for 566 yards and five touchdowns in 2015.

That production landed Morgan in the top 12 nationally of all tight ends in catches and yards, and showed Vikings coaches that Morgan was more than just a blocker.

The 23-year-old said he's dropped just one pass in individual drills but couldn't recall letting one hit the ground during team sessions.

"I think I get a lot of that as a big blocker," Morgan said of the perception that he's only a blocker. "But I caught the ball well in college and the way we used me in our offense really helped my case (to be drafted).

"Whatever they ask me, I'm going to do what I can," he added.

With the Vikings more than halfway through camp, Morgan said he's looking forward to slamming against players who aren't in purple. Minnesota's first preseason game is next Friday in Cincinnati.

"I practice and I play with a lot of intensity and a lot of heart," Morgan said. "I feel like just the way I play and how physical I am, I think (the coaches) have gotten a good sense of that.

"We've been going against each other in OTAs and minicamp and all that stuff for a couple months now," he added. "It's fun and all with my boys, but I'm ready to get out and hit some different colors and some other people."

Kearse's height has positives, challenges

A quick look at Jayron Kearse shows a tall, almost lanky player. Some have said he maybe looks more like a guard in the NBA.

The rookie safety was asked this week about using his 6-foot-4 frame.

"The plus is I can cover a lot of range, cover a lot of ground whether it's in the run or pass," Kearse said. "The minus of it, with me being so tall, I have to sync my hips and when I'm coming out of a break. It's definitely something I'm working on throughout this camp, along with trying to impress coaches."

Zimmer, who coached 6-4 George Iloka for two seasons in Cincinnati told beat writers that transitions from front to back, back to front or opening up are usually the toughest challenges for safeties that are that tall.

"Sometimes it's breaking down in space, but if the guy's a good knee-bender — there's been a lot of good safeties in the NFL that are 6-4," Zimmer said. "Kenny Easley (6-3) was a big guy, and Iloka in Cincinnati. Kam Chancellor is a big guy, and they play him a little different than we do, but there's guys that can do it. … I like big guys."

Vikings add running back

The Vikings on Thursday announced the signing of free agent running back Kevin Monangai.

After playing four seasons at Villanova, where he totaled 618 carries for 3,177 yards and 29 rushing touchdowns, Monangai spent part of 2015 and the 2016 offseason with the Eagles.

Monangai added 38 receptions for 274 yards and five touchdowns for the Wildcats.

A numbers game

Right tackle Andre Smith sported a new number on Thursday, switching to No. 71 from the No. 72 he's worn since joining the team this offseason.

Smith said he made the change because he's always worn No. 71, now available since Phil Loadholt retired, and to pay tribute to a handful of great linemen who wore the number before him.

Zimmer told beat writers after practice that the Vikings will continue to evaluate the right tackle position.

"We haven't made the decision. We're just working. We'll make it," Zimmer said. "I think we'll try to have something done after the day off on Sunday, but if we don't feel comfortable with it, we won't.

"[Smith is] doing a good job," Zimmer added. "Some of the techniques we're teaching are a little different with him, too, so [offensive line coach Tony Sparano] is trying to grind that with him, but he's got really good feet in the passing game, and I think he's been doing a better job of getting down and being physical in the run game."

Defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis is now No. 72, the same number he wore with the Vikings last season. Offensive tackle Sean Hickey is now No. 66, which Ellis had been wearing this spring and in training camp.

Play of the day

Safety Harrison Smith gave fans an example of incredible hustle Thursday with a play that won't show up in the box score.

With the Vikings offense in a 2-minute drill facing a fourth-and-3 on the offense's 41-yard line, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater found wide receiver Charles Johnson on a crossing route.

Johnson bolted up the left sideline and looked like he might score before Smith scampered from across the field to shove him out of bounds at the 10-yard line.

The offense grabbed momentum with a 49-yard gain, but Smith's hustle didn't go for naught.

Minnesota's defense, whose red-zone percentage of 44.19 percent was fourth in the NFL in 2015, stood tall as cornerback Xavier Rhodes picked off Bridgewater in the end zone to end the threat.

Quotable

A playful back-and-forth between a coach and player ensued on Thursday immediately after a competitive back-and-forth occurred between the Vikings defense and offense. CB Trae Waynes undercut a Stefon Diggs out route and intercepted a pass from Teddy Bridgewater. Moments later, Diggs got over the top of CB Mackensie Alexander and hauled in a long completion from Bridgewater. Diggs had a big smile on his face as he jogged back toward the offensive huddle, prompting this from DBs coach Jerry Gray: "Don't worry, we'll get that blanket back on you in a little bit!"

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