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Lunchbreak: Cronin Tabs Rookie as Vikings Training Camp Standout

The Vikings, and most other NFL teams, put a bow on training camp in recent days, a sign that the 2019 regular season is right around the corner.

Minnesota wrapped up Verizon Vikings Training Camp on Friday, and had a visit from Twins outfielder Byron Buxton.

But now that the focus is solely on the preseason for the next 10 days or so, ESPN’s group of NFL beat writers took a peek back at which players stood out during the grind of training camp.

Courtney Cronin, who covers the Vikings for ESPN, tabbed rookie wide receiver Bisi Johnson as Minnesota’s recent training camp MVP.

View images from Verizon Vikings Training Camp on August 16 at the TCO Performance Center.

Cronin wrote:

Johnson has emerged during training camp as a bright spot on offense. As it stands, the seventh-rounder is somewhere between the No. 4 and No. 5 receiver and is furthering his consideration for a spot on the 53-man with his work on special teams.

“He’s a guy that can play multiple spots, and I think the more he has done that, the more he’s been able to get involved in the offense,” Head Coach Mike Zimmer said.

The progress he’s made has earned him first-team reps.

Johnson was the 247th overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft after a notable career at Colorado State, where he had 125 career receptions for 2,019 yards and 11 touchdowns.

After continually impressing in camp, the 22-year-old carried that over to Minnesota’s first preseason game where he had two catches for 35 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown.

Johnson was targeted once but did not have a catch Sunday against Seattle. He did show his versatility by returning a pair of punts for 11 total yards.

View exclusive images shot by Vikings team photographer Andy Kenutis as the Vikings and Seahawks competed against each other in a preseason matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Brooks gives high marks for rookie tight end’s preseason performance

There were multiple positive takeaways from the Vikings preseason win over Seattle on Sunday, with running back Mike Boone, the kicking game and wide receiver Brandon Zylstra all performing well.

You can add Irv Smith, Jr., according to NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks.

Brooks evaluated one rookie from each preseason game, and handed out a grade of ‘B+’ to Smith, Jr., after Sunday’s win. The 2019 second-round pick caught five passes for 28 yards and a touchdown.

Brooks wrote:

On a team loaded with playmakers on the perimeter, Smith could get lost in the shuffle during the regular season. However, he has the kind of receiving skills that could make him a dynamic weapon over the middle of the field when opponents attempt to double Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs on the outside. Smith gave the football world a sneak peek at his potential on Sunday with five receptions for 28 yards and a score. Although the yardage was minimal, the consistent pass-catching should encourage Vikings officials to find more ways to utilize the rookie in the passing game. Smith could help his cause by turning those receptions into bigger gains; moving the chains is always a good way to stand out.

The rookie’s touchdown occurred inside the 5-yard line, when he wiggled his way to the middle of the end zone before catching a pass from quarterback Sean Mannion.

Much like Brooks wrote above, Smith, Jr., said after the game that he enjoys playing for Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski because of the creativity the coach shows.

“I feel like this offense, we have so many different weapons, and Coach Stefanski and [Vikings Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak] want to get us all involved,” Smith, Jr., said. “They did a great job of that tonight, just getting everyone involved and making plays out there.”

Smith was a second-round pick out of Alabama, where he had 58 receptions for 838 yards and 10 touchdowns in 38 games.

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