EAGAN, Minn. — The morning meeting begins at 6:30 sharp in the defensive line room inside Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
Sometimes Ade Aruna and Vikings assistant defensive line coach Robert Rodriguez will watch film. Other times they go through body movements and hand placements needed to succeed on the field.
The daily lessons have been a tremendous help to Aruna, who didn't play organized football until he was a senior in high school.
"One thing about it, when it comes to football … it's not like I don't know football, but it's more about learning the game," said the Vikings defensive end, a sixth-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
"It's just like, you went to high school and got your diploma. You went to college and got a degree. After that, you want to get your Masters, and that's how it is at this level. It's way more complicated. You have to perfect your craft and know what you're doing 24/7," Aruna added with the snap of his fingers. "When I got drafted, I kind of looked at it as there was so much more for me to learn. I can't just say, 'Oh, I know everything now and that I don't want to learn anymore.' The moment you start doing that, your game will start disappearing. [Rodriguez] took me in and said that if I wanted to meet in the morning, he'd study with me."
View images from Vikings Training Camp practice on August 2 at the TCO Performance Center.
Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson said he had noticed the meeting time translate to the field for Aruna.
"They are big time, because they're able to go slow and they are able to physically put him in position and physically show him how he's supposed to line up, the technique, what his feet do, what his hands do … you can't do that in a meeting with everybody else," Patterson said. "You can't go that slowly [in team meetings]. It's been big for him."
The meetings have proved vital over the past calendar year, especially since Aruna tore his ACL in Minnesota's second preseason game of 2018 against Jacksonville and missed the entire season.
The injury happened on a simple run play to the left, where Aruna said it was his job to keep the running back from getting to the outside.
But as Aruna engaged with Jaguars tight end Ben Koyack on the play, the pair moved toward the sideline before Aruna stumbled.
"I was just kind of fighting the tight end, and the next thing I heard was just a pop," Aruna said. "It was like somebody got shot or something like that. Pop!
"I felt like I couldn't put any weight on that leg and even that guy, he kind of grabbed onto me a little bit before he let me go," Aruna said. "I was just playing football."
Aruna's rookie season was over before it really began, as he spent the fall and winter rehabbing from the injury.
While Aruna said he missed the feeling of playing football, he also noted he enjoyed the chance to grow mentally within the sport.
That was beneficial for a player who was born in Nigeria and moved to the United States by himself when he was 16 to play basketball.
"Even though I wasn't there physically, I kind of picture myself doing things," said Aruna, who explained he used an iPad to re-watch practice every day. "That really helped."
Added Patterson: "It's not just learning what we're doing, but he's still processing the game of football."
Aruna returned to the field for spring practices and worked with the second and third-team units at defensive end.
But there was a mental hurdle to get over, as the 25-year-old said he felt some apprehension when a crowd of players would head his way.
Slowly but surely, Aruna said he has worked through that as spring practices progress and training camp arrived.
"That was the most difficult part of it, I'd say," Aruna said. "You have to trust your body and you don't want to think about, 'Which leg are you going to plant?' That's what was most difficult.
"When I got in the middle of people again, sometimes I kind of, you know," Aruna explained as he acted out wincing. "I could trust myself, but I didn't trust anybody else. I just kept envisioning that someone was going to fall on my leg when I was in the middle of them. But it's getting better every day. When I was in OTAs, I was doing it every time. But now I don't think about it too much anymore."
Patterson, who said he's dealt with similar injuries in the past, could relate to Aruna's mental state when he first returned to the field.
"That's normal for you to protect it, but when the doctors tell you you're healthy … you have to go out there and go," Patterson said. "That's the only way you can fight through it, and he's done a good job with that."
Aruna, who had 12 career sacks in 44 career games at Tulane, is only in his eighth season of playing organized football. By comparison, if a Vikings teammate began playing at age 6, he could be in his second decade of playing the game.
Still, Aruna is making improvements as he battles for a roster spot along the defensive line.
"He's doing a good job. He's still kind of working his way back through coming back off the injury. I think a lot of that has to do with just continuing to get confidence in his knee," said Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer. "He shows flashes. Like a lot of these young guys, he'll make some mistakes here and there, but I think he's got a chance.
"He's very smart. He's very coachable. He's a really good kid," Zimmer later added.
The Vikings have veteran defensive ends in Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter, and Stephen Weatherly took a leap forward in 2018. Aruna is among a group of Ifeadi Odenigbo, Karter Schult, Stacy Keely and Anree Saint-Amour trying to make the 53-man roster.
Aruna said during a recent chat that he doesn't think about his standing on the roster. Instead, he's focused on still learning the game he loves, even if that means more early-morning meetings with Rodriguez.
"[The roster] is up to the coaches, because they are going to do their job and pick who they know is going to do what they want them to do," Aruna said this week. "The goal of every team is to win the Super Bowl and make the playoffs. But I'm not worried about that right now, I'm just worried about my game and how I can improve every day.
"It's about the team, it's not about Ade Aruna. Defense, special teams, whatever it is … I just want to help the team," Aruna added. "If me coming in each morning and meeting with Coach Rob is going to make me a better player, I will continue to do that."