EAGAN, Minn. — Vikings players underwent physicals Monday before opening a three-day mandatory minicamp Tuesday with a pair of refreshed faces.
Harrison Smith said he was "kind of sitting back as a fan, just like everybody else," when news broke that Danielle Hunter planned to be in Minnesota for minicamp after not attending the voluntary Organized Team Activity practices. More encouraging news for the defensive line and entire unit followed when it was reported that the Vikings would be returning Sheldon Richardson after his two seasons in Cleveland.
"There's no secret updates for the players, so even just yesterday, a lot of news," Smith said after Tuesday's hour-long practice.
Hunter was back in his 99 jersey, but Richardson donned a singular 9. Neither did too much on the field, but Minnesota is less concerned about three days in June than it is with third downs this fall.
Smith's description almost equated to two teams picking sides for pickup basketball, and Richardson walking in a gym after the opponent had already used its final pick.
"Obviously the news of Danielle coming back, and then it was like, 'Oh, we got Sheldon too.' It was a pretty big time for us," Smith said. "He's an absolute playmaker, and I'm happy he's back. He's a great guy in the locker room, always got a smile on his face, and he's always ready to work.
The safety called the defensive tackle with a knack for interior pass rush "a baller."
"That was apparent before he got to us the first time, but once he got here, the plays that he could make, just a really athletic guy, has a good feel for the game," Smith said.
View photos of DT Sheldon Richardson who signed with the team on June 15.
Richardson returns to Minnesota where he played in 2018 on a one-year deal. His successful campaign was rewarded with a three-year contract in Cleveland, but the Browns released him this offseason. He said Tuesday that the Vikings reached out "a couple weeks ago, but I told them I was waiting to hear back from Cleveland."
"You know, I started something there. Honestly, just couldn't come to an agreement with what I wanted from Cleveland," Richardson said. "And me being cool with the organization here and knowing everything with what [Head Coach Mike Zimmer] and [Assistant Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson] bring to the table for me … they put me in position to make plays earlier in my career. It was a perfect fit."
Richardson has started 118 of 121 career games with the Jets (56 of 58 from 2013-16), Seahawks (all 15 he played in 2017), Vikings (all 16 in 2018) and Browns (31 of 32 from 2019-2020).
View photos of the Vikings first mandatory minicamp practice at the TCO Performance Center.
But unlike in 2018, his role in Minnesota going forward could be more situational, allowing his skill set to shine brightest at the most opportune moments.
The Vikings have invested in Michael Pierce at nose tackle (in 2020) and Dalvin Tomlinson (in 2021) at the other defensive tackle spot in the past two offseasons. Pierce opted out last season because of COVID-19 concerns, but he and Tomlinson might start games and help shut down the run for other teams before Richardson tags in with a nickel rush unit that will intend to generate more than the paltry 23 sacks totaled by the Vikings all of last season.
"I still want to be one of the dominant guys in the league, like I've been," said Richardson, who was named the 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year by The Associated Press. "Other than that, honestly, what I learned about myself is that I really don't need media for [fame and attention]. I'm not looking for popularity; I'm looking to be productive and making sure the guys who play on the field, who play with me and against me, respect me. That's it."
Teammates respect Richardson for sure, from defensive linemen to Smith to receiver Adam Thielen.
"I love to talk with him. My locker is next to him now. It's kind of fun to see him and catch up a little bit," Thielen said. "Just a ton of guys we've been able to bring in. This coaching staff and management has done such a great job of bringing in a bunch of talented guys that are creating depth and competition and leadership.
"It's exciting. I tell people this all the time when they ask me, 'How are you guys looking this year?' I'm like, 'Well, every year at this time I'm excited.' But I can be truly confident in saying this is the most excited I've been in a long time. Does that mean you're going to have success? No. We have to go out there and prove it, and that's what we're trying to do."
The No. 93 that Richardson wore in 2018 was issued to third-round draft pick Patrick Jones II. Although a rule change this year would allow Richardson to wear No. 9, he might try to add a digit by training camp.
Richardson, who said he's down to 286 pounds (he had played at 330 during part of his time with the Jets and was listed at 295 in the Vikings 2018 Media Guide), was asked about trying to get a jersey back in the 90s. He said half of that was better than what was initially available on the quick turnaround.
"I really don't mind numbers, but I wasn't wearing 67," Richardson said. "That's what they first gave me when I came out. I think I've got No. 9 just for minicamp, and hopefully we'll see what happens."