EAGAN, Minn. — The guys who are among the league leaders are also the pace-setters on the practice field and in the receivers meeting room.
Drew Petzing has seen this play out as Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs have risen the NFL ranks to be one of the top tandems on any team.
Petzing was promoted to receivers coach this offseason and is excited about the attentive approach that Thielen and Diggs have shown to learn new things as they build off their dual 100-reception, 1,000-yard efforts in 2018.
"I was in the room when we drafted Diggs, I was in the room early in Thielen's career and developed really good relationships with those guys," Petzing recently told Vikings.com's Mike Wobschall. "Similar to the way that it's been great in the room with those coaches, those two guys love ball and they want to win, so as a position coach, it makes your job really easy.
"You know you are getting guys who have a ton of talent, but they're also willing to listen," Petzing added. "They're willing to tweak things, to change things. Anything that I say, whether it's the way to run a route or something related to scheme, they're all ears, and that makes my job that much easier, but also a lot of fun."
With Verizon Vikings Training Camp on the horizon (rookies and select other players arrive on July 22 and veterans report on July 25), Vikings.com is looking at Minnesota's group of assistant coaches and their position groups.
Here is background info on Petzing:
— Petzing joined the Vikings in 2014 as an assistant wide receivers coach, a role he held under George Stewart from 2014-16, and Darrell Hazell in 2017. Petzing assisted Kevin Stefanksi with quarterbacks in 2018.
— A native of Wellesley, Massachusetts, Petzing played two seasons as a defensive back at Middlebury College in Vermont before injuries capped his playing career. Petzing teamed with kicker Stephen Hauschka while with the Panthers.
— Petzing transitioned to coaching as a volunteer student assistant, earning a degree in economics with minors in math and philosophy.
— After graduation, Petzing worked as a volunteer assistant at Harvard in 2009 before two years as a graduate assistant with Boston College and a season as Yale's outside linebackers coach in 2012. In 2013, Petzing joined the Cleveland Browns as a football operations intern. He joined former Vikings assistants Norv Turner and Scott Turner in Minnesota.
The overarching goal that Petzing has for his group is to "be difficult to defend."
"That can mean so many different things … and a lot of it might be based on the players you have and what they do well," Petzing said. "That's part of our job, to figure out how we can have success and become difficult to defend. Ultimately, the goal is winning, so whatever is going to give us the best chance to do that is maybe the only thing that really matters in that regard."
Thielen and Diggs became the first pair of Vikings receivers to each have 1,000 receiving yards in the same season since Hall of Famers Cris Carter and Randy Moss in 2000.
Thielen's 113 catches ranked fourth in the NFL in 2018, his 1,373 yards ranked ninth, and he and Diggs tied for 10th (along with Saints receiver Michael Thomas) with nine touchdown receptions apiece.
Diggs' 102 receptions (11th in NFL) and 1,021 yards (20th) were career bests for the 2015 fifth-round pick.
After the output at the top, the next receiver with the most catches for the Vikings in 2018 was Laquon Treadwell, who had 35 catches for 302 yards and a touchdown on 53 targets. All were career bests.
Aldrick Robinson, a former Washington teammate of Kirk Cousins, was added during the season on a one-year deal. He totaled five touchdowns on his 17 receptions.
Chad Beebe (four catches, 39 yards) and Brandon Zylstra (one catch, 23 yards) also caught passes from Cousins in their rookie seasons and are looking to build on their experience from a year ago when both joined the Vikings "Thielen style" as undrafted free agents.
With plenty of proof from Thielen and Diggs, Petzing said the coaching staff will "get a good look at everybody in that room" during Verizon Vikings Training Camp as the team evaluates players at the third receiver spot and beyond.
That will include newcomers Jordan Taylor, a veteran who began his pro career with the Broncos but missed all of last season because of hip surgeries, 2019 draft picks Dillon Mitchell and Bisi Johnson, undrafted rookies Davion Davis and Alexander Hollins, as well as Jeff Badet, who spent 2018 on the practice squad after joining Minnesota as an undrafted rookie.
Wobschall asked Petzing if Mitchell and Johnson have shown in person the level of play demonstrated on college game film that resulted in their selections.
"Yeah, there's no doubt," Petzing said. "One of the things you look at in the college process is you try to translate it; there's a lot of things that show up in the college game where you say, 'He's really good at that, but we may not need him to do that.'
"So you try to pick out the plays or the characteristics that translate to our game and our offense," Petzing added. "I think both of those guys did that at a high level consistently over the course of their careers. As you watch their game tape, as you watch their cut-ups, you start to see those things and say, 'Hey, that's something that would make us a better team.' You saw it on their college tape, and they come here in that rookie minicamp and through this offseason, and it shows up time and time again, route-running ability, athletic ability at the top of your routes, making big catches, making plays down the field. All of those things really excited us then and are still exciting us now."