EAGAN, Minn. – It was a miniature Pittsburgh reunion in Minnesota.
Former Panthers teammates Patrick Jones II, whom the Vikings tabbed 90th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, and Jaylen Twyman (199th overall) reconnected at the start of Vikings rookie minicamp Thursday.
Then Friday, they hit the practice field for the first walk-through.
Jones said it was "just amazing" to play on Pitt's defensive line with Twyman, and joining the same NFL team makes the story that much better.
"It was like having a partner in crime. We were out there, just doing our thing, going back there every day and just getting after the quarterbacks," Jones told Twin Cities media members via videoconference. "We were just talking about that today when we were warming up – like, it's crazy that we actually got drafted together."
Jones has long been preparing for a move to the next level.
The 22-year-old has some moves in the arsenal – "an inside move … a really strong bull rush and a cross-chop and ghost move" – and spent five hours a day in college studying NFL pass rushers.
Wait – you mean five hours a week, right?
View photos of the Vikings 2021 coaching staff.
Nope. You heard that correctly.
"I watched a lot of film. Of course I watched Aaron Donald, because he was at Pitt, even though he plays D-tackle, but he lines up at the edge sometimes. I watched Khalil Mack, I watched T.J. Watt, I watched Yannick [Ngakoue]," Jones said. "I watched Danielle Hunter when he started making noise. He really caught my attention of how he was doing it.
"I watched Preston Smith. I watched J.J. Watt. I watched so many people," he added. "I probably watched two hours in the morning, two hours in the afternoon, an hour after practice – probably about five hours a day I'm watching film. So like 20-25 hours a week of just film I was studying."
Jones and Twyman are among 31 total players, including 11 draft picks, participating in this year's minicamp. Another 11 rookies signed as undrafted free agents will be part of the weekend's activities, as well. Five tryout players also are present, in addition to three returning Vikings: tackle Blake Brandel and quarterbacks Jake Browning and Nate Stanley.
Below are additional first impressions by Vikings youngsters after being partway through their first NFL minicamp.
(Note: Christian Darrisaw and Kellen Mond were not part of the first media session. They are scheduled to speak post-practice.)
Getting back on the field
Although Friday morning's session was just a walk-through in advance of an afternoon practice, several rookies expressed appreciation for the chance to lace up their cleats and get back on the gridiron.
"Just being able to get back on the football field was exciting," said running back/kickoff returner Kene Nwangwu.
The former Iowa State standout said he made the three-hour drive from Ames, Iowa, to Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center on Wednesday.
"I was listening to music, couple albums, I was trying to listen to some BROCKHAMPTON," Nwangwu said. "I was [previously] traveling back and forth from Ames to Frisco, Texas, so it's way better than that drive."
Wyatt Davis, whom the Vikings snagged with the 86th overall selection, said he was "more than excited" to get back at it. The former Buckeyes offensive lineman initially opted out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic but returned for his final campaign when the Big Ten opted to play last fall.
"I'm so happy that we're playing football now and not running around cones," Davis said. "The first practice went well, and I'm looking forward to this upcoming practice and getting back into that rhythm of playing football."
'Mind-blowing' practice facilities
It's not uncommon for new players to be impressed by the Vikings headquarters at TCO Performance Center, and the rookies were no exception.
Even Davis, who spent his collegiate career at the high-esteemed Ohio State, found himself in awe of his new home.
"First of all, Minnesota's beautiful, and the facility's outrageous. It's mind-blowing," Davis said. "It's so big, I almost get lost every time that I come in here."
Camryn Bynum, who played cornerback at Cal but will transition to safety for the Vikings, concurred.
"These facilities are crazy, probably the best I've ever seen and ever been in," Bynum said, "so I'm just super thankful to be somewhere like this and under a coaching staff like this. [They're all] really good teachers. They're more than coaches. They're actually teaching football. I really enjoy it.
"These past couple of days have been more orientation-driven and a lot of meetings, but today we're able to hit the field, so I'm excited to be able to do that," Bynum said. "I love being busy with football stuff, so I wouldn't trade this for the world."