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Pressley Picking Up Pass Protection as Rookie RB


MANKATO, Minn. —Jhurell Pressley's time at the University of New Mexico was a little one-sided to say the least.

The Vikings rookie running back was part of an offense that ran the ball almost 75 percent of the time in a triple-option attack, a scheme not necessarily known for requiring running backs to pick up opposing blitzers.

Pass protection has become Pressley's key focus at 2016 Verizon Vikings Training Camp as he delved into a specialty he had little experience with during college.

Still, Vikings running backs coach Kevin Stefanski said he's been impressed with Pressley's ability to pick things up quickly.

"A lot of the things we did on day one (of offseason practices) were new to him," Stefanski said. "It's been a transition he's worked really hard at, and you can see the work we've done is showing up. 

"You've got to remember that he's a very good athlete, and he's strong and tough. And that's a great place to start … he has the tools in the toolbox that are necessary," he added. "It just a matter of repetition after repetition after repetition, and that's the beautiful part of camp. We're here to work, and you can truly see his work has shown up."

The 5-foot-10 Pressley's main job at New Mexico was to run the ball. He totaled 394 carries for 2,725 yards and 35 touchdowns in 50 games while averaging 6.9 yards per attempt.

Pressley was part of a three-pronged attack as a senior when he was one of three players to record exactly 147 carries.

And in an offense that totaled just six touchdown passes all season, Pressley said he almost never was asked to protect the quarterback.

"That's the hardest thing to do as a running back, period," Pressley said. "You have to keep doing reps and reps and reps at pass protection. The more reps you get, the better you get.

"It's just a challenge where either you're going to step up or you're going to go down," he added. "I'm never going to go down to anybody, I'm always going to step up to the challenge."

While the 24-year-old's pass protection is a work in progress, he has turned some heads with his smooth and fluid running ability.

Pressley has broken off a few strong runs in camp, using his strong speed to get outside and away from the defense.

"He was a 4.38 guy coming out, so you know that's part of his arsenal," Stefanski said of Pressley's 40-yard dash time. "In space, he can really flash a little bit. It's just been tailoring what he's does best to what we do and letting him show the traits."

Pressley said he's enjoying the grind of his first camp, noting he's ready to see how much his pass protection has improved when the Vikings play in Cincinnati on Friday night in their first preseason game.

Stefanksi will be watching, too, to see if the Delaware native is ready to face the pressure coming his way.

"You can't just snap your finger and get it," Stefanski said. "When someone else is in there, you have to watch them."

"It'll be exciting to see him in the bright lights," he added. "As much as I love to practice out here, it's fun to get in the competitive environment with games and let them go."

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