Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman
Let's go ahead and get started. Had a lot of draft picks today. Did move up to go get Dru Samia, another guy that fits what we want to do offensively, felt that there was going to be a surge, so we were able to move up to get him, spent some time with him down at the Senior Bowl and at the combine, and coaches, scouts, everybody felt that he's going to be an ideal fit in this system, as well. Then Cameron Smith in the fifth round. We moved back, I believe, a couple spots there because of the depth at the linebacker spot. I know he also played very well down at the Senior Bowl. He's a multi-position linebacker that's very productive, very smart, and going to play very well on special teams.
When we got into the sixth round, a couple of the guys that we ended up taking and why it was a benefit for us is our coaches at the east-west worked with some of these kids, so they had an opportunity to be with them in meetings, to teach them out at practice. So that was Armani Watts and Udo would be -- we're coming up with a nickname for him now.
But both those guys I know worked with our coaches. Our coaches were very excited about what they saw and what they were able to learn from these players while they were down working with them at the east-west. Marcus Epps is a very good safety, very instinctive. I know we spent a lot of time with him on the film and in the evaluations and group studies, to bring in another probably special team player, high-character, very good football player.
When we got through the seventh rounds, we were trying to look for as much value as we can. Kris Boyd I know was also down at the Senior Bowl. We spent a lot of time with him. Technically he probably has some things to clean up, but he is a very gifted athlete and very physical in the run game. So he had a lot of traits that we were looking for, and I know when we go through and have this many picks in the later rounds, one thing we are trying to identify with the coaches and with the scouts are traits that these coaches can get in and work with and develop.
We took, you know, Dillon Mitchell and Olabisi Johnson, all those guys, our coaches and scouts did a tremendous job studying, trying to stack the bottom end of that board to go ahead and get guys that we think have the ability to develop and hopefully turn out for us.
Last pick, Austin Cutting, the long snapper from Air Force. Just so everybody understands, we've been in constant communication with the Air Force Academy. What I can tell you is I know Austin is very excited and obligated to serve his commitment. I know talking with the people at the academy, we're working through right now ways that he can serve his commitment but also be able to serve his capacity here as a football player. So that's a work in progress. It's something that we have discussed over the past week or so.
I give a lot of credit to Mouf (Maalouf) and Ryan Ficken. Those guys went out and did a lot of personal workouts with all these specialists and the long snappers, and felt when they came back that he was the best long snapper out there.
All we're looking for is just like at every other position is to bring the best players in and create as much competition as we can.
Q. Given how much draft capital and currency you were able to get yesterday, were there points this afternoon where you were hoping to package and move up and couldn't find a trade partner? A: We did it with Dru. There was another player that we tried to do it with, weren't able to get it done, and so we went ahead and stood by our draft picks.
Again, I thought it was a very deep class, and some of these players that we were able to get in the later rounds we felt were going to be options for us as we come down and make the 53-man roster.
Sometimes, like I said, it worked out in the Dru situation. In another situation it didn't work out. But you know, and then after that we kind of sat there and we spent so much time on the back end of that draft board with these draft picks, probably last week we had all the coaches and scouts sit in and we went through and discussed hundreds of players, again, over and over to make sure we were all on the same page and seeing the potential development of these guys.
*Q. Getting Bradbury in the first round and picking up two offensive linemen today, how much overall do you think you helped the offensive line?
*A: I think that's why we drafted them. We wanted to come in and try to improve that area. I think the guys we drafted were very specific to what we're going to do from a schematic standpoint, and that's what we want to do is make sure that we're matching up the traits of the players to the scheme that we're going to run.
Q. With Samia, do you see him at guard, and is he a project?
A: Yeah, you know, he -- which one was that? I know Rico Dennison and Andrew Janocko spent a lot of time with him. He was an unbelievable interview at the Combine, maybe one of the toughest competitors we've seen on tape on how he finishes: He fits the zone scheme very well. He has a few technical flaws to clean up, but we think that is correctable with coaching. He was the highest-rated player on our board at the time, and we were going to stay true to our board and continue to add to that competition on the offensive line.
*Q. How good is that Oklahoma offensive line and four guys going, is the coaching a little better down there?
*A: Well, they've got a quarterback that's pretty good. But no, they've always produced some offensive linemen down there. They've got some young ones I'm sure that will step in and play in the NFL, but Oklahoma always does a great job in developing talent just like the Alabamas of the world, the Ohio States of the world, the Clemsons of the world, and Oklahoma is right up there with the coaching job that they do with their players.They had a very talented football team. That's why they have been so successful.
Q. What did you like about Cameron Smith?
A: His versatility. I think he has the ability to play Mike, Sam and Will. You can cross-train him, his intelligence, his passion for the game, his character off the field. And I just don't think you can go wrong because he is a very good football player, and we can get smart, passionate, high-character guys that are good football players, you usually have a pretty good chance on hitting on them.
*Q. You've got a lot of guys it looks like can battle for the No. 3 receiving spot that you guys took in the seventh round. Are they going to be in that mix?
*A: Yeah, like I said, we've got to get them all in here and start -- we haven't evaluated them on the practice field yet, so that evaluation part starts this weekend coming up with the rookie mini-camp, and then we'll just -- that's what training camp is for. All we want to do is get the best 90-man roster we can possibly get right now.
Q. What do you like about (indiscernible)?
A: Both of them are very athletic. Dillon Mitchell has explosive speed and play making ability. Olabisi is a very quick-twitched athlete for a bigger receiver that has excellent hands. So we'll get a better sense. Done all the tape work on them, our scouts, I can't thank Jamaal Stephenson and all of our scouts and the time and effort they put into this because I'm not going to be able to see all these guys. When we do get into these draft meetings and a couple guys that might be identified as potential guys, I try to take a look at them, as well, but they do all the work and all the background, and I have the utmost confidence in them and what they produce.
Q. Was it a priority on the receivers to get some guys deemed as a deep ball threat?
A: I think as we looked at the board, we wanted to go back and look at where are the best athletes, and these two stuck out from an athletic standpoint from some of the other positions we were looking at. So we're really, I guess, in those late rounds looking for guys that have tremendous upside because you don't know what you're going to hit on. And all these guys I feel are extremely athletic that have potential to be very good football players for us. And that'll be determined as we get going here.
Q. They both have punt return experience. Was that a priority?
A: We looked at that as punt return, too, I know losing Marcus Sherels, we're going to have a couple candidates on our roster right now, but that's another reason why they had some value for us.
Q. Can Kris Boyd be a kickoff guy?
A: I know, but we had Ameer Abdullah is a very good kickoff guy and showed he can do that last year, as well. Again, I think all the areas on special teams and the returners, until we have enough viable options to identify who's going to be the punt and kickoff returner, but that's yet to be determined until we get out there and start evaluating.
Q. How important was it to get Boyd in here, with some of the depth questions at cornerback?
A: Yeah, no, we have pretty good depth at the corner position, but also Mike Hughes is coming back from injury. I know you know the situation with Holton Hill. So we wanted to make sure when we were down there that we get another corner in here to develop. And seems as you go through the year, especially with the defense and the demand that's put on the corners -- and it's true, you can never have enough of those guys because when you do get injuries you have to have guys that have that athletic skill set that can play in this scheme because a lot of corners are very good corners, but they may not be as good of a corner in our scheme because of what's demanded of them on the outside, and a lot of the man type of defense that we play in this system.
*Q. You talked about emphasizing undrafted free agency the past few years. When you have 12 picks, does that ease the pressure a little bit?
*A: No, no. We're up there hammering away and spending money and trying to get the best guys we can get in here. They're finalizing that now, but think how many college free agents are on this roster right now. How many guys in college free agency have started for us, from the Eric Wilsons to the Anthony Harrises. We have a lot of guys, the Thielen and CJ Ham.
So we have a lot of guys and a lot of college free agents that come in here and make this football team, and I think that's why -- we drafted a corner in the first round and have two first-round corners and a second- round corner and Holton Hill played for us last year, and he came here. So I think amongst the agents we have a pretty good reputation of we're going to get the best 90 guys in here and once they get here we're going to play the best players. We're here to win football games, and we throw draft -- where you drafted or if you come in as a college free agent or if you come in as a rookie tryout guy next weekend, we're going to try to find the best players that are going to help us win football games, and that's kind of been the philosophy since Coach Zimmer has been here, and I believe in that, too.
Q. Do you anticipate signing fewer of them, especially with the AAF signings?
A: We'll get to 90, I know that. So we're close to that. We didn't have to sign 25 guys after the draft. A couple of those AAF guys stuck out to us on film. Our scouts went out to an AAF game, as well to scout it with George Paton when we were out at Utah pro day. We went and saw San Diego versus Utah on a Saturday night after Utah and BYU pro day.
You know, I give credit to the pro side, too, because those guys are watching all the tapes, putting evaluations in on those guys. They're doing the same thing in the Canadian league every year. In December, we have top five or six Canadian kids come in and work out. We're always going to try to look everywhere to try to find the best players and sign them and let them come in and compete.
*Q. You were pretty aggressive getting defensive depth from the AAF. Did that in any way let you spend more attention on the offense?
*A: We just felt those were the best players. Like when we look at the Canadian league, when we look at the AAF, we try to identify the best players regardless of position, and we felt that a lot of those defensive guys seemed to -- those are the guys that we felt not offense or defense but were the better players in the AAF .
Now, some guys, we couldn't get them all, but the guys we honed in on -- we have great relationships with the GMs that ran the AAF. Talked to them constantly. Know a lot of the head coaches in the AAF, Mike Riley in fact coached my son, so I had a pretty good source down there. So we had a lot of contacts in there, and those guys kind of helped us identify some guys, as well, and had great communication.
Q. As you're using your first four picks on offense, what was Zimmer like?
A: Very excited. We need to run the ball. We need to be better on offense, and that's where we needed the help. Our defense we have I think every starter back, and signed Shamar back. So kept Anthony Barr, so we don't have a lot of defensive needs from a starter position. So we wanted to add depth in the later rounds, and we have some pretty good depth even from last year's draft. I'm excited to see some of these guys and the opportunity they're going to get.
Offense was kind of a point of emphasis, and we were never going to pass up a defensive guy if he's sticking that high on our board, and one of those guys would have fell. We were never going to not take the best player. But as we went down through the draft, I thought it fell very well for us on the players that we did get on the offensive side.
*Q. Udo already moves pretty well but he's a little bigger than what you typically see for a zone lineman.
*A: He ran I believe close to five flat, 5.05, and our coaches worked with him down at the East-West. They got their hands on him and seen some of the things in the movement that he can do. That's invaluable. I mean, you hate to miss the playoffs and I never want to miss the playoffs, but if you do, then to throw all of our young coaches down into that East-West game, I thought it was a huge competitive advantage for us to really hone in and scout because we had coaches on both teams. So they had an unbelievable opinion of not only working with them but also what they did in the classroom, how they acted, was their character the right character. So we had some really, really good insight on those players.
Q. Did you get any calls today from teams wanting to potentially tap into any current Vikings?
A: No, not really, no. I would say we didn't. As I said, most of our day was honed in on this. Most of the calls were us either trying to move up or teams calling us for us to move back. But we had an opportunity, a couple opportunities to move back again, but I said, we're going to run out of players on our board. We should have enough to get what we need to get done.
*Q. Were you able to draft another handful of guys this year that played down at the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine game. Can you talk about why that's so beneficial to get that extra in- depth look and maybe just the job guys like Phil Savage and Jim Nagy have done?
*A: Yeah, those guys do a phenomenal job, both guys do, at the All-Star Games. I think Harold Richardson is still heavily involved in the East-West, and I think Dan Shonka helps him a lot putting that roster together. But it gives you an opportunity to see them in a different environment. It gives you an opportunity to see them matched up, especially if they're a smaller school or even some of these big-school kids, just to see how they're going to go down there, and are they spiralling up after their season, and you see an upward movement through the All-Star games and then through the Combine and pro day. And some guys we may have liked, and then all of a sudden we go through this pre-draft process going through the All-Star games and the Combine and the pro days, and they spiral down, and then, okay, we'll adjust to that, as well. Because I think it's a critical part of our job and a critical part of the whole draft process to get the big picture of everything you want.
*Q. Going back to your long snapper Austin, what do you think the chances are that he'll be cleared to potentially make and play for the Vikings?
*A: I'll just tell you this: Like I said, I've been in communication with the Air Force Academy, and we've had talks and I'll leave those talks private at this time.
*Q. Is there a character trait that you look for specifically with later-round guys, especially since this team has had some guys later in the rounds, like Stefon Diggs had such great success? Is there something you've learned from your successes that you carry over to now?
*A: I think guys that are competitive. You can't go wrong with guys that love to play this game, and we try to identify that the best we can through every process that we do.
Now, like I said, I'm never going to be or no one is ever going to be 100 percent right, but guys that really truly love to compete and go out there and play, that's one of my big questions as we go through the interviewing all these kids at the All-Star games, at the Combine, when they come in on the top 30. I'm always curious because every one of those kids will say, yeah, no, I love to compete, I love the game. I said, I can hear that from every other player, the 5,000 other ones that sat across from me, and I really try to find, what's your driving force? Everybody has some kind of force or something woven inside of them why they do the job they do. I know why I do this job. You guys probably have that same driving force on why you're so successful at what you do. So you try to identify whatever that is woven inside of them to see why they like to play.
*Q. The past few drafts there's been some players with Nigerian descent coming this way. What has led to that?
*A: A lot of these colleges are getting kids over from Africa. They're coming from everywhere. And I think it tells you that they're -- I think the Arkansas offensive guard was from Denmark, if I'm not mistaken. But there's a lot of talent out there. You know, the NFL has done a pretty good job of trying to comb through the players over in Europe that potentially may have a chance to develop over here. They have that special program now.
We haven't been in a cycle yet where you get to keep an international player on your practice squad and it doesn't count. So I think they do a great job at trying to identify some guys. But the colleges are aware of where these kids are coming from. When you see them come over here and they come over and live with their families and they get an opportunity to learn American football and start playing, I think that's why you're seeing it.
*Q. What a lot of people love about the draft is just the unknowns. I know the dust hasn't settled, but when you look back do you think there's something specific that was unique about this draft class, the way it unfolded?
*A: I think probably it's that especially with the first two picks, we were pretty patient letting it come to us, and I think we were pretty blessed and fortunate that we were able to get those guys that fell in our laps without us having to move up or down and staying patient and hoping no one would jump you for one of those players and letting them fall to us.
Vikings Offensive Lineman Dru Samia
Thank you guys for having me. It’s been a long process, but I’m very happy to be a Minnesota Viking. Very excited to join this franchise and take this offensive line to where it needs to be. I’m excited to get back on the field.
Q: How much does it mean to have four Oklahoma offensive linemen get drafted already?
A: It means the world. A lot of people come in to college and are like, “We’re going to come in and we’re going to ball out and get drafted,” but it’s rare that you can have that whole group do that. We’re just blessed that we had a great coaching staff, a great culture at Oklahoma and we were able to accomplish what we wanted to.
Q: Was there any competition amongst that group as to where you all were going to go and who would draft you?
A: Yeah, we have competition all the time. Cody [Ford], he’s going to take us out for our first meal together, so it’s on Cody now.
Q: Where are you going to go eat?
A: I’m trying to pick somewhere expensive, he went high. I don’t know, we’ll see. It’s not my money.
Q: How comfortable do you feel in the zone running scheme?
A: I’m very comfortable. I felt like at Oklahoma we ran a pretty versatile offense, so whether I went to a team for power or zone, I felt like I was going to be a good fit. Of all the NFL coaches that I was talking to, they said that I was more of a zone scheme guy. I’ll just trust the NFL expertise. I am ready to get into this scheme and get things going.
Q: How much did you talk to the Vikings leading up to the draft and what were those conversations like?
A: The conversations were always good with the Vikings in particular. I always got a good vibe from them. My agent was always telling me that the Vikings were really high on me. Throughout this entire process, I was always thinking like, “Man, Minnesota is probably going to be the spot.” I was even looking up things. I didn’t’ know anything about Minnesota to begin with. So I was like, “Man, where is Minneapolis? How much does it cost to live there?” Stuff like that. I have been planning to be in Minneapolis for a long time. I am very excited it came to a head.
Q: Do you remember Adrian Peterson from Oklahoma playing for the Vikings?
A: Hell yeah, I do remember that.
Q: Have you ever seen his film?
A: Yeah, I’ve seen the film. They have it running on the TVs throughout Oklahoma everywhere, just trucking through people around the field.
Q: How much of an influence did Bill Bedenbaugh have on your career?
A: I can’t even put it into words everything that that man has done for me. All of the linemen from Oklahoma, he took a group of kids who had talent, who had work ethic. He was the one who really cultivated that, taught us how to play the game properly, and taught us how to study the game properly. I owe so much to Coach Bedenbaugh. He is a huge reason why I am here right now.
Q: Do you have any areas of your game you want to improve at the NFL level?
A: I feel like I need to improve on body control. I feel like that was one knock on my game that was pretty fair throughout the entire draft. Whenever someone said that, I was like, “Okay, that’s a fair assessment.” But I’ve been working on it, trying to get my stability down. It’s coming along, but once I can start playing under control, which I have, but once I start really playing under control 100 percent I feel like good things are going to happen.
Q: How much pride did you guys on the offensive line take in blocking for back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners?
A: We took pride in that every single day. Coach B [Bill Bedenbaugh], his main statement that he said to us was… I won’t say exactly what he said, he used a lot of cuss words, but he pretty much said to take pride in who you’re blocking for. Every time someone gets hit, that’s your fault. It’s up to you to defend your brothers. Your brothers are out there working their butts off every day, and you’re not going to go out there and let them get hit. We’re the protectors of the team, we were the wall, and we took incredible pride in our play.
Q: You played tackle and guard at Oklahoma. Is there one position you feel most comfortable with?
A: Not really. It was just early on in my career that they needed a tackle, and later on they needed a guard. I feel like I can play at anywhere. Obviously just kind of have to adjust at the very beginning learning a new position.
Q: Have the Vikings talked to you about which position they see you at?
A: They definitely said the interior of the offensive line, and I would guess with them drafting [Garrett] Bradbury that it’s 100 percent going to be guard. Whichever one they need me at.
Q: Are you more comfortable moving laterally or are you more of a north-south type of guy? How do you see yourself fitting in with the technique of the zone scheme?
A: I feel like I’ll fit in with the technique very well. But I don’t really have a preference as far as moving laterally or north and south. Just kind of depends on the play. Outside, inside zone, power, just whatever the set up angle is, I feel like I can move laterally or north and south.
Q: What it like to watch Kyler Murray go first overall?
A: It was awesome. There was all that hype leading up to the draft. Everybody was trying to nitpick every little thing about the guy, but we just sat back and were like, “Man, Kyler is going number one. We don’t really care about what they’re saying on TV right now.” We’re very excited for him, and we know that that dude works his butt off too. Just excited where he went where he deserves to go. He was the best player in the country.
Q: Can you confirm which high school you went to in California?
A: I graduated from River City High School in West Sacramento, but all my football was played at San Ramon Valley High School in Danville.
Vikings Linebacker Cameron Smith
I am just excited to be here. It’s such an honor to be part of the Vikings. It’s been a long weekend but I can’t wipe the smile off my face. Just excited and can’t wait to get there.
Q: Did you think the Vikings were a possible option coming into the draft?
A: It’s hard to walk in thinking that. I feel like the teams that talk to us a lot, you have a feeling for it. But you just never can predict what is going on. I had a feeling in my heart that I could be a Viking because in the last three years at USC we ran the exact same defense and I feel like it will be a perfect fit walking in there. I feel like I wouldn’t have any issues learning the defense. As of right now, I just feel like it was meant to be.
Q: How do you see your skillset transitioning?
A: I feel like I can do whatever they want me to do to be honest with you. I feel like I have so much more to learn and I can get a lot better and I think that getting there and working with the linebackers coach and some of the veterans there, I just think I can learn a lot. Whatever they need me to do, if it’s play the bigger package and stop the run or even come in and play on third down and do whatever they need. I am really confident in whatever they ask of me. I am just ready to contribute as much as possible.
Q: How do you think your play speed as opposed to timed speed translates to the NFL?
A: That is hard to even think about just because I’ve never played in the NFL. I think my instincts are going to take over. I remember getting there to USC my freshman year in the spring. When the game gets picked up and everyone else is playing faster, I just feel a true player plays faster. I’m just excited to feel that speed. The unknowing part is just different. Everyone talks about it but I think if you are a football player, you adjust to whatever is going on. I am excited to be there and just start working with the team.
Q: Was it hard battling your injuries?
A: I think my freshman year with my ACL is something I never had to deal with in my life but it’s something that I feel happens for a reason and I feel like I run stronger and worked on muscles you just don’t always work on unless you’re rehabbing for something. Again, I looked at it like it was supposed to be and just have to overcome that adversity and move on. My last two years I played my best football and the best is yet to come to be honest with you.
Q: What factored into coming back to play for your senior year instead of declaring?
A: I felt like I have a lot to work on. I just felt like I left high school early and I felt like I was rushing things. I just didn’t want to look back and think that I rushed out of college. You look at a lot of guys right now and I think this is the back-to-back year they broke the record with juniors coming out. I don’t always feel like it’s beneficial. I think growing up and maturing and especially playing. The offensive and defensive linemen and even linebackers you’re dealing with grown men. The more that I can mature and grow into my body and I started to just figure out what I am supposed to eat right. I think overall it was the best fit for me to come back and learn more and keep picking [Clancy] Pendergast’s brain and then I look back at it right now and we run the same defense. I’ve worked with Clancy for so long and I feel I am going to walk in and things are going to click for me. I felt like this was just meant to be.
Q: How would you describe the kind of leader you are?
A:There are guys that talk too much and it isn’t always reciprocated as well as they’d like to. There are guys that lead by example too much and they don’t have as much as a voice. I think that there is a fine line between the both of them. Obviously, leading by example is the best thing that you can do as a leader and always doing the right things and people will want to follow. But being able to express your opinions and get after some guys is how you set yourself apart. Being in the middle of those two and just in terms of leadership style for your team. Everyone responds in different ways and I think it’s important to get to know your teammates and figure out how to lead them and get guys behind you.
Q: Did you play basketball player or is there any other basketball or football players in your family besides your grandfather playing basketball at Duke?
A: I played basketball when I was little. I wasn’t that great because I always fouled out around the second quarter. I wasn’t all that great at basketball. I played a lot of baseball growing up. We traveled all over the country and competed in Florida twice, Georgia once, and Cooperstown twice. Competition has always been a big part of my life. My dad has always pushed me to be productive. His least favorite phrase was ‘just hanging out’. I was never allowed to just hang out. Sports have always been a huge part of my life.
Q: How did you get an interest in wine making?
A: I just thought it was fascinating, what goes into a glass. I remember looking at people and they were ordering wines. I think it’s just an off the field interest that I think is cool. I think in the last year and a half or so I didn’t find myself drinking that much wine because all I focus on is football but I think the science part of it that goes into it is really fascinating and really cool. The agriculture part and farming is fascinating to me.
Q: What is your favorite wine?
A: My response is a little bit different than who you think I am. I worked at Melville Winery over the summer two years ago and their pinot noir is off the chain. It’s very light and pretty and elegant. I still feel like most people look at me like I am going to be a big body heavy cabernet. I just like the lighter, prettier looking pinot noirs that taste really good to me. That whole cluster that adds just a little more veggie to it that I think tastes great. It’s something that it’s always important to have a life outside of football and be ready for whatever happens.
Q: What is your favorite thing to hunt?
A: I spent a lot of time hunting waterfowl. We actually shoot a lot of ducks in California so people always look at me a little dumbfounded when I say that. Up north in Chico, I spent a lot of time up there hunting with some of my buddies shooting a lot of ducks and geese. The best time for me, for football players in general I guess, the hunt is probably turkey season because you’re only going to catch the latter half of waterfowl season. All of deer season is pretty much a busy time. We try to get out and hunt turkeys every now and then as much as we can. Going to school in Los Angeles, it was my way to get away and do the things that I love and come back up north and go to Chico and hunt and wear my boots and jeans and get after it a little bit.
Vikings Safety Marcus Epps
I’d like to start by saying thank you to the Wilf family, Mr. [Rick] Spielman and Coach [Mike] Zimmer for taking this chance on me and giving me this opportunity. I am so excited to be a Minnesota Viking. I can’t wait to get up there and go to work and do whatever the team needs me to do.
Q: What was this day like for you just waiting to get picked?
A: It was a long process. Took a while but in the end it worked out. I went to the team I wanted to go to. Everything worked out perfectly.
Q: Did you head in thinking you’d be drafted today and why is this the team you wanted to go to?
A: Going into the draft, I had thought about sixth or seventh round or possibly undrafted. Just throughout the process you hear everything so you never really know. It’s unknown where you’re going to go but I had a lot of good conversations with Coach Jeff Howard. He liked me a lot and really believed in me so I knew he was pulling for me. I had real good conversations with him and Coach [Jerry] Gray. I am glad to be a Viking.
Q: What did it mean to you as a walk-on to be a three-time captain in school history?
A: It means a lot. To be able to lead such a great group of guys for not one or two, but three years. It was incredible that they thought of me as a captain of their team for so many years.
Q: What type of experience do you have with special teams?
A: Early in my career, I played a lot of special teams at Wyoming. As my years went on, they tried to phase me out a little bit more. I am definitely looking forward to playing special teams and helping the team in any way that I can.
Q: How did you end up there as a walk-in?
A: I didn’t have anybody recruiting me so I was thinking of going the junior college route but I had some connections. Somebody sent my film up there really late in the process. They ended up liking me but it was too late to offer a scholarship so they asked me to walk on.
Q: What was it like making the switch from Los Angeles to Wyoming?
A: It was different but it wasn’t anything that I couldn’t handle. I wasn’t worried about where I was at or anything like that. I was just worried about playing ball. That is what I love to do and Wyoming is the place that gave me the opportunity to do that. I wasn’t really concerned with where I was at or the culture change or anything like that. I just wanted to play ball.
Q: How did your son, Braxton, change your outlook on life?
A: It changed tremendously. You go from more of just thinking about taking care of yourself to taking care of another human. It’s definitely been different but it’s been a beautiful thing as well just watching him grow.
Q: Do you look at this as an opportunity to prove people wrong?
A: Yeah, definitely. He loves going to the facility. All my teammates love him and he loves to play with all of them. He plays inside the facility since he likes that so it’s been great.
Q: Do you look at this as an opportunity to prove people wrong?
A: A little bit. But that chip is always on your shoulder. I am just more looking forward to proving the Minnesota Vikings organization right and proving myself right and to all the people who believed in me.
Q: Do you feel the pro day process helped you get noticed more?
A: Definitely. Just going into the whole process of pro day I knew I had to do something to make people go back and watch my film. I worked really hard at EXOS down in Los Angeles and they got me ready to perform like that.
Q: What skill do you think it was you showed you could do that you will need at the NFL?
A: My versatility or my football IQ. I feel like I can play different positions anywhere the team needs me or wants me to play. I am willing to put the work in and get it done.
Vikings Defensive Tackle Armon Watts
I just want to thank the Wilf family for giving me this chance. I’m just proud to be a part of an organization with so much history. Got a lot great players, great defense, great offense and I know we’re on the right track.
Q: How important was it to you that when they had the coaching change they brought out the best in you?
A: I was grateful really. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know where I would be in the mix; obviously it paid off for me. I bought into the program and what they were trying to accomplish and I’m grateful for that. It paid off big time for me.
Q: What was the biggest fact in turning around your career and having a big year last year?
A: I think for me it was of course the elephant in the room was it was my last year. You had to put on some good tape to even get an opportunity. I think once I established that confidence within myself, established trust with the coaches I found things that worked for me as a player. I think once I put all those things together it paid off for me, got me to where I am today.
Q: Is there anything you can point to where the light went on?
A: I think for me it was as the season progressed. I made a few plays, good plays early on in the season and once we got to that competition, you know SEC play. I didn’t slack off at all. I think once I felt like I could compete with those guys I could just build my confidence more and I didn’t let up.
Q: In general what was it like battling in the trenches in the SEC?
A: In my opinion the SEC is as tough as it gets and as you see in the draft we always have the most draft picks. In the SEC it’s never a question about toughness, and toughness starts in the trenches. You absolutely have to win in the trenches to win a game, period. It was definitely challenging. I took it upon myself to be the toughest guy in the trenches that game and whoever we were playing against. It was definitely challenging but something I can handle.
Q: How much did you talk to the Vikings in the pre-draft process?
A: I did. I worked with Coach Rob Rodriguez during the East-West, met with a few front office guys, I established a relationship with Coach [Andre] Patterson during the combine. After, he told me he saw me as a real good interior D-lineman. I know he’s able to see me as a one-tech, or a two or three-tech. The more I can do for him, the more I know he’s going to like it. I’m just ready to be coached by such a great defensive line coach.
Q: Where do feel is your best fit on the line with your pass rushing skills?
A: To be honest anywhere between the three and one. I’ve rushed from the inside from a one-technique in college and I was able to beat double teams. I’m great with my hands so whenever I can get that initial contact, which is most likely you get that fast at the one-tech. I like getting those hands often. I know coach will put me in different situations and whatever he sees fit best I’m ready to work at.
Vikings Offensive Lineman Olisaemeka Udoh
Q: How rare was it to play in both the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl. What was that experience like?
A: It was pretty fun for me to be able to go through that East-West training. To get that all up was pretty exciting on that Thursday. And then to go to the Senior Bowl, it was a really fun experience to be able to play with my peers and some of the best talent in the nation right now. For the most part, it was a pretty eye-opening and good experience for me going forward.
Q: Do you feel like you had a lot to prove as a small-school player?
A: Yes, that was probably the number one thing for me coming out for this draft. Being from Elon and that level of competition, those two invites and me getting to compete against those guys definitely helped me out with this whole process.
Q: What’s it going to be like dealing with high-motor, quick-twitch guys in NFL?
A: I think it’s going to be a good challenge for me coming from this level of competition. Just being able to adapt, I feel like that’s one thing I would say is my strong suit … just being able to adapt to different circumstances. That entire experience is going to be a good and fun challenge for me. I’m excited to get started with it come camp in a couple weeks.
Q: How do you use your size and frame and wingspan to your advantage?
A: I would say that it really helps on being able to zone block and also in pass protection being able to get my punch out there and my reach out there longer and a lot quicker. That helps me also with the initial contact and getting that a lot faster than regular offensive linemen.
Q: What is the backstory with your parents coming from Nigeria? Do they know about football?
A: My mom came when she was 18, and my dad when he was in his early 30s. They met in the New York/New Jersey area, and I was born in New Jersey. With everything they had learned from Nigeria, they just taught it to me and my other siblings. It definitely helped me with this whole process and just becoming a better player. They loved the game more the more I started playing it in high school. It was honestly a really awesome experience to see that happen.
Q: Are you familiar with Vikings having a few players of Nigerian descent in Ade Aruna and Ifeadi Odenigbo?
A: Yeah, I know both of them actually. Ade is with my agent’s group of people who he represents. And Ifeadi, I knew him because I used to live in Ohio. We lived pretty close to each other and hung out a couple times so that’s pretty cool to be able to join the ranks with more Nigerian players.
Q: Early in your career you weighed as much as 384 pounds. How difficult was it to drop 60 pounds and keep it off?
A: I would say keeping it off is a lot easier than dropping it. The dropping of it was probably the roughest part because I was pretty big, and just being able to change my diet and my weight and then get in shape more, start running and do more cardio to shed the weight was definitely a really tough process. But it was honestly something I wanted to do because I wanted to be the best football player that I could be. I think I’m achieving it, staying at this weight and hopefully progressing from maintaining this weight and playing in the NFL will help me out.
Q: You have great size, but do you think you also have sneaky athleticism to help you execute in the zone scheme?
A: Yeah, I think that’s another huge factor that the Vikings kind of could tell from tape and other factors, but because of the weight that I have, you wouldn’t expect me to be as quick as I am. Just being able to be my size and move the way I’ve been moving these past couple months with those games and my season I think definitely helped with this whole process of getting me to be a Viking.
Q: Have teams set a target weight for you to hit?
A: I don’t think it’s a discussion that we’ve had. It’s not a discussion that we’ve had. I don’t think it’ll be a problem. Whatever they want me at. A lot of talk has been where I feel comfortable at, and I would say probably in the 320-330 range. But I’m also willing to lose some more weight if they would like me to. Whatever for the benefit of the team is honestly what I’m looking forward to doing. Just being able to get in and get that squared away will be good.
Q: With part of the Vikings staff coaching in the East-West Shrine Game, how much contact did you have with them that week?
A: I had a good amount of contact with them during that week. The assistant offensive line coach [Vikings Assistant OL Coach Andrew Janocko] was the offensive coordinator, so that also helped with this whole process because he liked me a lot. Down the line, saw them at the Combine and at the Senior Bowl, so just staying in constant contact with them ultimately led me to the Vikings.
Q: Did you play on both sides of the line at the Shrine Game or stay mostly on one side?
A: I played right guard and right tackle. Just the right side of the offensive line.
Q: Your sister is a pretty good basketball player at Wake Forest. What can you say about her?
A: She’s heading into her senior year. She started just about every single game since her sophomore year. They had a pretty rough year this past year, so she’s looking forward to getting back to work and figuring it out so she can leave next season on a good note with a pretty good record.
Q: What are your interests off the field?
A: I’m a pretty low-key guy, so I wouldn’t say I do anything too crazy. I like watching movies, like playing video games, just the casual things. I’m not really too much of a different activities outside [person]. I like to stay in and watch football, watch film or do something of the sorts instead of going out and doing activities.
Vikings Cornerback Kris Boyd
I’m just thankful for this opportunity. Being in the position is a blessing. I’m just thankful. Thankful to the Vikings staff, all the coaches – ready to see my teammates and meet new friends, build new relationships and just be the best team player I can be.
Q: Can you describe your relationship with Holton Hill?
A: Yeah, that’s my brother.
Q: Did you commit to Texas at the same time?
A: Yeah, we actually committed to the University of Texas together at the same time on TV and it’s like being in this position and actually getting drafted with no control over it, I mean it’s all a blessing and I’m just thankful for it.
Q: Have you talked to him since you’ve been drafted?
A: Yeah, I called him.
Q: What did he say?
A: He was just happy for me. It’s crazy because 20-30 minutes before I got drafted me and him were on the phone together and we were just having a casual conversation not thinking nothing of it. We were just like if we had the opportunity to be drafted to the same team and then right after that happened me, him, and Devante [Davis], we had a three-way Facetime all smiling. It’s a blessing getting this opportunity. When you get that coming from where I come from, I’m just happy, ready to embrace it, and just show everybody what time of player I am.
Q: Knowing how Coach Zimmer is with DBs, what type of challenge is that for you?
A: I’m ready to get in there and be all ears, ready to learn as much as I can, become the best player at my position that I can be and I also got help with Hollywood [Holton Hill]. Y’all may know him as Holton, but Hollywood is what I call him. I mean just getting in there with him, staying in the film room, and getting along with coach. Just ready to be better than what I am and prove everybody wrong.
Q: You come from a football family, what’s it like watching their success?
A: I’m always happy for my friends and my family when they have success. He actually just walked in the door not too long ago, like a minute ago. It’s just a blessing and now I’m in the position and they’re happy for me. I’m just ready to do the same thing.
Q: What was it like waiting around to hear your name called? Did you feel like you were going to go higher?
A: Yeah, but I mean at the end of the day I told myself I’m not going to get myself worked up. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I was just chill. I’ve been chilling since yesterday doing my normal day-to-day routine, seeing my family and friends, everybody come over. I really wasn’t watching the draft because I didn’t want to think about it too much. I was turning it on when my phone was called because I’ve been chilling and embracing it at the same time. When I got the phone call I turned on the TV. I have the family come into the room and we all watched it. I mean it was a blessing, dream come true and I’m thankful for it.
Q: You returned kickoffs in college, have the Vikings approached you about possibly doing that?
A: We have not talked anything yet. I’m just ready to get down there and get to work.
Q: How important was Coach Jason Washington in tightening up your game?
A: Coach Washington is very important. I feel like he doesn’t get the recognition he needs. I feel like Coach Washington is a great coach and it really goes unnoticed. He came in and made an impact on me, Hollywood, and Devante quick. If you go back and look at the film when we were with Coach Strong and then go look when we were with them, the technique changed, everything changed and you can see it in the film.
Q: What contributes to your ability to play downhill and being so good against the run?
A: I just play football, honestly. All I want to be is competitive and win no matter what it is. The tackling is just me wanting to be competitive and win all the time. I can’t really explain it. Once the ball is snapped all I know is go.
Q: Can you talk about the quality of competition that you got to face and the scrappiness and grittiness it takes? How will that help you at the next level?
A: I’m pretty sure there’s faces that I’ve already seen before when I first got to college, just like the NFL. If it’s not I’ll just watch film and adjust. I feel like I’m prepared and I’m ready for it – every other style, all types of receivers and stuff like that. I’m just ready for this opportunity to get out there and play football again.
Q: Holton Hill is suspended for the first four games. How is he handling that situation?
A: Nobody’s perfect. Everybody makes mistakes and you’re going to be disciplined for it. It’s a mistake he made. He has to take that under the chin. Nobody’s perfect, like me, myself, I make mistakes and I take that under the chin. It is live and learn; you’re going to take that and run with it.
Vikings Wide Receiver Dillon Mitchell
I just want to start out by thanking the whole Vikings organization, the coaches, to the fans, anybody that is definitely part of the organization for giving me this opportunity.
Q: Can you describe the skillset that led to your record-breaking season?
A: It was definitely more about yards after catch and moving the chains on each and every down.
Q: What was the moment like for you to get the call that you were drafted?
A: That moment was indescribable. My heart was pounding. I didn’t know if it was going to be the call or not. I was just super excited, super emotional and crying like a baby.
Q: What was the motivating factor on coming out this year?
A: Motivating factor was just talking to my agent and my father and my coaches at Oregon, my head coach [Mario Cristobal]. We felt like it was a good time for me to come out and I can also develop my skills in the NFL as well as if I would have stayed another year in college.
Q: What do you feel you have to work on the most?
A: I feel like I have a lot of areas that I can work on to become a greater player. Going to get the ball at its highest point and getting it by any means necessary.
Q: Do you feel like it’s a goal of yours to spend more time in the weight room?
A: I wouldn’t even know how to describe it but I would be the first guy in, last guy out. Becoming more than anything, developing myself as a person and player in the weight room, on the field, catching the ball after practice. Anything to help get myself better and help make the team better.
Q: Did you expect to be picked towards the end and do you feel you have a lot of people to prove wrong coming in?
A: Most definitely. I have a lot of people to prove wrong. I didn’t really know where I was going to go. I was just excited to have a feeling of being drafted and have an opportunity.
Q: Have you studied up on the Viking wide receiver situation and are you hoping to compete for the third job?
A: I feel like I have a great shot at being the third wide receiver for the team and help out as much as possible. I know they have great guys, and I think the best duo in the league in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs and even past guys with Hall of Famers Randy Moss and Cris Carter. I definitely know the history and I want to continue that.
Vikings Wide Receiver Olabisi Johnson
I am so thankful to just be a part of the Vikings. It’s a great opportunity for me and I am just ready to contribute any way I can.
Q: Can you tell us about your draft day?
A: It was stressful, to put it lightly. I was sitting here with my family, my dad, my mom and their spouses and a few of my friends. It was getting to the end of it and we are talking about free agency and all that. I’m like, “I swear I need to get drafted. I believe somebody should take an opportunity on me.” I’m talking to the Vikings and they’re like, “Are you ready to be a Minnesota Viking?” I was like, “Oh my gosh, yes. I am so excited.”
Q: What did you learn from playing with Michael Gallup and Rashard Higgins?
A: That was an incredible opportunity for me. I think we complemented each other well, specifically Gallop and myself, Preston [Williams] and I, just because some of the things they do are different than mine and I can definitely learn from them. Coming in as a freshman, having Rashard there was a really great opportunity for me to grow up as a football player, which I definitely needed, turned me into the player I am now.
Q: Do you feel you have enough burst to help the offense be more explosive?
A: Absolutely. All of the weapons on the team, plus me, could definitely spread the field out and I can get vertical anytime you want me to. I’m down for that.
Q: How familiar are you with the Vikings wide receiver situation and are you comfortable competing for that third job?
A: There’s always an opportunity to snatch that number three job, whether I am a rookie or it’s one of the other guys. I know you have [Laquon] Treadwell and guys like that but it’s going to be fun to compete. That is what it takes to be an athlete. That is what I love about the game is there is always competition. Guys will make you compete and guys will make you better as a player. That is what is going to be the huge change for me going from college to NFL is just how much guys know and how much they can teach me. I am just going to get under somebody’s wing and learn from them.
Q: Do you have your eyes set on any personal goal in the NFL?
A: Mine is just to get on the field and contribute any way I can, if that is special teams, the number three receiver, whatever it is. I want to return punts and I want to do it all. Wherever I can help, I am here for it.
Q: How would you describe yourself and your skillset?
A: I am a finesse guy in my routes. I take pride in my routes. I think that is what I do best, for sure. Whether it is in and out of breaks, double moves, I am a route technician. That is how I separate myself from defenders and things like that. I have the speed for sure. I am not a crazy track star but I am definitely a guy who can get some separation and just make a play. I am a very reliable guy and I am going to continue that in the NFL.
Q: Do you have any off the field interests?
A: I love shopping. I would be down to somehow get involved with that, maybe some apparel stuff. I love hanging out with kids and inspiring the youth. I feel like where my family has come from and everything, especially from Nigeria, you see a lot of poverty and things like that. Just in the position I am as an athlete, I can inspire a lot of younger people, whether it is younger or older. I am just here for whatever. I would love to get involved in the community for sure.
Q: Had your family turned into much of a football family as you’ve played?
A: I wouldn’t say they’ve completely turned into a football family. I still have my grandma on me sometimes thinking football is too dangerous. She definitely has learned to understand the game a little better now. My parents are all on board with me playing football. I am hoping to turn it all around. I am hoping to start a generation of football players in my family.
Vikings Long Snapper Austin Cutting
Just want to say that I’m thrilled to be drafted by Minnesota. It’s a dream come to be able to play in the NFL, but more importantly, I’m looking forward to graduating from the Academy and beginning my career in the Air Force. That’s why I came to the Academy, to serve my country and if there’s a way and opportunity to do both like others have in the past, then so be it but we’ll figure this situation out as it.
Q: How does that work out? Do you have to get special permission from the NFL or what exactly would you have to do to play in the NFL this year?
A: There’s a duty policy that we have to serve 24 months before we can apply to have the remainder of our commitment served in the reserve. That’s all I can really say about that; those are decisions made above my paygrade.
Q: Joe Cardona was in a similar situation a couple years ago. Are you familiar with his situation and how he handled it?
A: I am, a little bit, ending, going through it and all that. He obviously knows it more than I do. I actually contacted him after going to the NFLPA Bowl and we kind of talked. He kind of ran me through how he did it and stuff like that. I talked with him so I have some idea of how it went before getting all into this.
Q: How quickly did this process come together for you?
A: I’m still in school and looking forward to graduating next month, fingers crossed. It’s an ongoing process. It’s not, “Okay, the Air Force was done and now it’s time for the NFL.” That’s not the case whatsoever. We’re working with it and see how it goes. Like I said, it’s decisions that are made above my paygrade and they’ll help me along the way.
Q: I meant being on the Air Force’s football program to being on the NFL radar?
A: I’m sorry. It’s an honor. I think if I can remember the last time somebody was drafted from the academy was in the 80s and just to be able to show the guys it can be done if you just work at it. Just being from an academy makes it a little bit harder because you may have some things that some schools may not have. Being able to do that and show when you come to the academy it’s not just the end of your career going to school, having to find a job, or going to play football and being done playing football.
Q: Will you be at the Vikings rookie mini camp?
A: Yes, sir. They are currently actually working on that and I’ve been in touch with a lot of people at school and they’re doing their due diligence. I’ll be able to; I got to make up my work on Thursday and Friday but other than that, absolutely. Absolutely.
Q: I read that you lettered power lifting in high school. How much does power lifting help with the quick-twitch part of the game when you have to react as quick as you do when you’re on special teams?
A: Everything helps in my opinion. You always hear everyone saying this big-time names were multiple sport athletes growing up and I think it helped a lot. I think it obviously helped me get some of my strength from where it came from but as far as the snapping goes I feel like it’s more cleans, stuff like that, helped me and in power lifting that’s not one of the ones but still you’re squatting, you’re deadlifting all the hamstrings, glutes, quads. I think it’s helped a lot.
Q: It’s rare that long snappers are drafted. Was there a lot of interest in you coming out?
A: Yes sir. I believe there was. We were in touch with about half the teams about, I would say 14 to 15, right around there. There were three to four that were coming after me pretty hard and of those four Minnesota was one. We’ve been dealing with that and this is how it played out and I’m happy.
Q: What’s your role going to be in the Air Force? Are you a pilot?
A: As of right now I’m an acquisition officer, so not a pilot. Acquisition would just being buying things and stuff like that, that the Air Force needs. That’s what I’m slated for.
Q: How did you become a long snapper?
A: I originally started out as a tackle. That’s pretty much where I played my whole time in high school. I was getting recruited by a couple schools. I had a full-ride to a smaller school down in Houston and then I had Air Force. Those were the two offers I had. Air Force was just for snapping and then the school down in House was for playing tackle. That’s how I did that and then one day my coach was like, ‘Hey, we want to try you out here. We’re going to put you here at snapping, we’re going to make you learn and all that kind of stuff.’ Ever since then, that was my freshman year of high school, I picked up on it and kept going from there. That’s how that came to be.
Q: How much grit does it take to play long snapper?
A: I think at every position it takes grit to play. Obviously, there’s some positions more so than others. I would say more so on the mental side just because specialists are just such a different job. You’re not out there all the time, everyone is expecting to hit when you need to and be doing what you need to do every single time. I would say it takes a lot it just might be a little different of a way.
Q: What was the small school that recruited you in Texas?