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Thielen Breaks Down Challenges, Differences of Playing in Slot

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —Opponents might have incorrectly limited possibilities for Adam Thielen, but the Vikings don't plan to do so.

The receiver emerged as a starter last season and responded with career bests of 69 receptions, 967 yards and five touchdowns.

Thielen did the brunt of his damage as an outside receiver in 2016, but he has recently seen a little more action in the slot. Playing in the middle of the field gives slot receivers more options for routes that can significantly benefit from a rhythm between passers and receivers.

Quarterback Sam Bradford, who quickly developed chemistry with Thielen in their first season together, is working on the coordination when Thielen slides inside.

"It's been great with Adam," Bradford said Wednesday during his media session. "Obviously last year he was primarily used outside, and then this year he's playing a little bit more in the slot. So just trying to develop that chemistry with some of those routes on the inside, spending a little bit of extra time in OTA's (organized team activity practices) just getting the feel for how he sees things from the slot.

"It's a little bit different in there, coverages are a little bit different, especially in zone coverage," Bradford added. "It's kind of finding voids, finding openings and having a feel for how to get open. Just having those conversations with him and trying to get on the same page, but it's been great so far."

Thielen said he's ready to give his best on every play, no matter the starting point on the line of scrimmage. He noted that he's moved from outside to inside before, "whether it was a couple of plays here and there or moving around."

"It's always good to move around and be a little on the outside and a little on the inside," Thielen said.

There are differences, however, between the positions.

"I think releases [at the end of routes] are probably the biggest thing because you pretty much have a two-way go in a lot of situations, whereas when you're on the outside a lot, you have a one-way go," Thielen said. "The routes are a lot different. You have a little bit more time to make moves when you're in the slot, whereas on the outside, you're more just speed, so it's one of those things you have to remember where you are and how to win in that situation."

Thielen's production boost last season — he had 20 receptions for 281 yards and one score from 2014-15 — was fueled by opportunity and enhanced by an understanding of how a receiver can work to set up a defensive back for a double move, perhaps best exemplified in Week 16 at Green Bay when he scored a 71-yard touchdown on a double move and totaled 202 yards on 12 receptions.

"It's one of those things where you have to try and make everything look the same, whether you're going in or out, the same thing you do on the outside, you try to make a lot of routes look the same so it keeps the DBs on their toes," Thielen said.

The receiver said playing in the slot can be tough on offensive and defensive players, but he welcomes the challenge. He also knows it's a place where he can help the Vikings offense on run plays.

"I think I take pride in it because that's where you get the big runs," Thielen said. "When you can get those blocks inside and can block as a slot receiver, that's when you get those big runs."

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