EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –Don't panic, Vikings fans.
General Manager Rick Spielman sat down with Twin Cities media members for a Q&A session Tuesday, and he said there's no reason to be concerned about rookies' modest playing time thus far.
Rather, Spielman considers the Vikings fortunate to have a deep roster that allows their coaching staff to slowly and carefully develop young players before throwing them into the fire too quickly.
Spielman emphasized this especially on the topic of Laquon Treadwell, Minnesota's first-round draft pick that has played sparingly at wide receiver over the first five weeks of the season. Second-round draft pick Mackensie Alexander has also seen only a few glimpses at cornerback.
"It shows that if you have the flexibility to have time to develop those guys, that when their number does come up, they're truly ready to go," said Spielman, who watches practice – or practice film, if he's on the road scouting – every day. "To see this draft class and the development of where they were in Week 1 to where they are today, I don't think our coaches or I have any doubt that when these guys' numbers get called, they'll be ready.
"It's amazing how a four-week period can change a guy," Spielman added. "How all of a sudden they're not thinking as they're out there playing – they're just playing naturally. And how much more comfortable they feel in this environment, in the locker room and in the schemes."
Following Minnesota's 11-5 season in 2015, the Vikings re-signed 12 of their players in addition to bringing in two veteran free agents. As much as Spielman focuses on building the team, it's all a process to create as successful and as deep a group as possible.
Spielman credited Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and the rest of the coaching staff with finding ways to most effectively develop young players to be successful in Minnesota's system. He offered examples of last season's rookies that didn't play immediately, including cornerback Trae Waynes (11th overall), Danielle Hunter and Stefon Diggs.
"Trae was waiting his turn," Spielman said. "By taking our time with him, [it shows in] how he played toward the end of the season and how he's played so far in his second year. At some point, these guys are going to have to step up and play."
He also referenced offensive linemen Jeremiah Sirles, 25; Zac Kerin, 25; and Nick Easton, 24; while none of them were called upon in 2015, all three have now stepped in at some capacity to take the field. Sirles has replaced Andre Smith, who was recently placed on injured reserve, while Kerin and Easton were both utilized Sunday when injuries hit at both the guard and tight end position.
"When you have the luxury to take time to develop these guys and then play them when they're ready, and not force them when they're not, I think it's helped us," Spielman said. "And it's helped them become better football players."
View exclusive images shot by the team photographer (IG: vikingsphotog) from the Oct. 9 game against the Texans.
Spielman reminded that special teams often holds opportunity for young players to start that development process, and it's been evident this season. As players like Andrew Sendejo and Adam Thielen – both of whom started as undrafted free agents – have gained larger roles on defense and offense, it allows Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer the chance to bring along a new class.
"What probably went unnoticed was Laquon playing special teams last week," Spielman said. "He made one of the key blocks on [Marcus Sherels' punt return] for a touchdown.
"The way [Jayron] Kearse is coming along on special teams, and Alexander," he added. "[David] Morgan carved out a role as kind of a blocking tight end, but he got hurt."
Spielman said he's also been impressed with the progress of Willie Beavers, who was drafted this year as a guard but has recently also been practicing at the tackle position.
"These guys are finding a way," Spielman said. "We bring them along slowly and at the right pace, and I think that gives them the best chance to have success."