Vikings linebackers coach Adam Zimmer had his eye on Ben Gedeon and Eric Wilson long before they signed with Minnesota.
Out of more than 100 players at the 2017 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, Gedeon stood out to Zimmer as a good fit for the Vikings defense.
"I said, 'That guy from Michigan's a really good player,' and I told [Head Coach Mike Zimmer] and [General Manager Rick Spielman]," Adam Zimmer recalled. "And then when I got back, I was excited to watch his film because he's physical, he got off blocks, and he makes tackles. He finds the ball.
"Once I started watching the tape, that kind of reaffirmed my opinion of him," he continued. "And he's done the same thing since he got here."
The Vikings drafted Gedeon 120th overall, one of 11 players they selected over the course of three days.
But they weren't done building their linebacker corps.
As Adam Zimmer had been studying players leading up to the draft, Cincinnati standout Eric Wilson was tabbed by scouts as a potential undrafted free agent option. But the position coach had a hunch that Wilson might be a diamond in the rough.
"We brought him in on a Top 30 [visit] because of what I saw on film," Adam Zimmer said. "He's fast, he made a ton of plays – he had over a hundred tackles – and was really instinctive."
Added Zimmer: "He's really athletic, and he also had a heck of a pro day."
Wilson signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent and arrived in Minnesota determined to the make the most of his opportunity. Looking around a crowded, 90-man locker room, Wilson knew the chances of sticking around after roster reductions were slim but planned to take it one day at a time.
Gedeon didn't take the draft pick designation for granted, either. Maintaining the mindset that nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, the former Wolverine put his nose to the grindstone and didn't look up.
"I think during preseason, during camp, I was just taking it day by day," Gedeon said. "Just maximizing every rep that I had during practice."
Throughout training camp, Vikings coaches got a good look at Gedeon and a handful of others vying for the weakside linebacker slot left vacant when Chad Greenway retired in March 2016.
Gedeon garnered attention heading into the preseason and received starting nods against the 49ers and Dolphins. He also played a substantial amount against the Seahawks, although the Vikings started the game in their nickel defense.
Following the San Francisco contest, Mike Zimmer said he liked that Gedeon is "an old-school kind of guy."
"He's tough, finds the football, gets off blocks well," Mike Zimmer said. "He's probably [more naturally] a Mike linebacker, but we're just trying to get the guys in there that can play, and I figure if we're playing 30-percent base, it's a chance to get him in the game more."
Receiving that trust from Minnesota's coaching staff meant a lot to Gedeon, who finished the preseason with 12 total tackles in addition to a special teams stop.
"I think at Michigan and going through that system, that was always the biggest thing: 'Play tough, play physical,' " Gedeon said. "I like to think I'm that tough player, versatile. Whatever the position is on the team, I just want to maximize my role … And I think that's how all of us rookies are kind of going about our business."
Meanwhile, Wilson also was making his mark.
The former Bearcat, largely unknown throughout the offseason practices, soon became hard to ignore. Through four preseason games in Purple, Wilson recorded 14 total tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and three special teams tackles.
"It's awesome being out there and just being able to impact the game in any way that I can," said Wilson.
Both Gedeon and Wilson breathed a sigh of relief when roster cut day came and went without a phone call.
"I kind of [thought], 'No news is good news,' " Wilson said. "Then I started seeing stuff out there about me being on the roster, and my family of course is excited. It's great just to know that all of this hard work is paying off."
The rookies now have a good grasp of the Vikings playbook and have three regular-season games under their belt. Gedeon, who has seven tackles (four solo) and a pass defensed thus far, said a comfort level in the defense allows him to play more freely in his starting role. Adam Zimmer has seen the results, as well.
"Now that he knows the defense, we can make little adjustments, and it doesn't faze him one bit," Adam Zimmer said. "He's done a really good job picking it up – he picked it up as quickly as any rookie I've had."
The linebacker duo on Sunday will face a team they both have familiarity with – Gedeon after attending school in Michigan, and Wilson as a native of Redford, just 16 miles outside of Detroit.
While neither grew up a Lions fan, both Gedeon and Wilson paid close attention to the NFC North division as young players.
"Our division and its teams have a lot of history, and that makes for great football and competitiveness," Wilson said. "It makes the game great."
Added Gedeon: "I always watched those games and knew about the rivalries in the division and how good the football is. So I'm just excited to be a part of it now."