EAGAN, Minn. — Gary Kubiak doesn't want tight ends in the Vikings offense to be known as a group of pass catchers.
Nor does the Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor want them to only focus on helping pave lanes in the running game.
In order to thrive in Minnesota, Kubiak wants that position room to be adept at both — and he likes the progress they have made so far in **Verizon Vikings Training Camp**.
Kyle Rudolph is the veteran of the group as he enters his ninth season in Purple. David Morgan is going into his fourth year but is currently on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. The rest of the group is young.
Tyler Conklin is in his second season, while Irv Smith, Jr., is a rookie second-round pick from Alabama, Cole Hikutini spent the 2018 season on Minnesota's practice squad, and Brandon Dillon is an **undrafted free agent from a NAIA school of roughly 3,500 students**.
Kubiak said Friday that he's intrigued by how that group shakes out as the preseason nears.
"It's going to be interesting because it's a really good group," Kubiak said. "I think Rudy's had an excellent training camp. Obviously, this is my first time to be around him. Irv is extremely talented … he's swimming right now, but we'll catch him up. Obviously, you all see how he can stretch the field.
"Then you got Conk', Hikutini, this young kid (Dillon) from Marian has played really good," Kubiak added. "We're going to have a chance for that to be a strength of our football team. The more versatile those guys are, it gives us a chance to move people around defensively when we're on the field."
Kubiak's coaching history suggests that the Vikings offense could run multiple tight end sets under Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski.
That's been the case in practice, as the Vikings routinely lined up with two or even three tight ends on the field at the same time, giving the defense pause as to whether or not a run or pass is coming.
Kubiak had plenty of praise for the group Friday, especially for Rudolph, who ranks first in franchise history among tight ends with 41 touchdown catches and is second at the position behind 2019 Vikings Ring of Honor inductee Steve Jordan in catches and yards.
"The first thing I always say, it looks like we have some help with him," Kubiak said. "We've got some guys who can go under and keep him fresh and those types of things, and I think that's important.
"Kyle is a very smart route runner, got a big, big body so he can bang on people, but I think it's our job as coaches to make sure we're doing the right things with him, keeping him fresh as a player," Kubiak added. "With these young kids we've got with him, I think we've got a chance to do that."
Conklin had five catches for 77 yards as a rookie after he was a fifth-round pick out of Central Michigan. Kubiak noted he expects a sizable leap from Conklin in 2019.
"Second-year player, right? Usually guys make their biggest jump from Year 1 to 2 if they're going to be a really good pro and play a while. You see that with him," Kubiak said. "A good thing with Conk' … a lot of tight ends are either physical tight ends or receiving tight ends … he's one of the few guys who looks like he has the chance to do both.
"We'll just stay patient with him and keep working, but he's having a good camp," Kubiak added.
Kubiak made it clear Friday that it's evident Smith is in his first NFL training camp by saying the tight end has a lot to process these days. But the veteran coach likes what he's seen from the 20-year-old.
"We're asking a lot of him right now, and he's playing all over the place," Kubiak said, "[Vikings tight ends coach] Brian Pariani has worked with a lot of really good tight ends in this league and does a good job of catching them up.
"We're asking a lot of Irv, but that's the way it should be," Kubiak added. "That's why he's here and I'm excited about working with him."
Kubiak will soon get to see the tight ends in game action, as the Vikings open preseason play Aug. 9 in New Orleans. It will be Smith's 21st birthday.
Kubiak will be watching to see if the tight ends can help the offense in both the running and the passing game.
"I think it's a multiple position, you know what I mean? They're asked to do a lot," Kubiak said. "You want them to be good on the line of scrimmage in the run game, and now you want them to be a great route runner.
"I think you ask a little bit more of them from … maybe some guys," Kubiak added. "They key to being a good tight end is being versatile, being able to do a lot … move and block. To get that done, you have to ask a lot of [them]."
Quote of the Day
"Yeah, we're going to have to have an open audition for that. I've got a few guys in mind, but there's always one or two rookies that don't necessarily volunteer that they've done it in the past because it adds a little bit of pressure to them, but we find ways to kind of get them to confess what they've done in the past. And then once we find out who it is, we'll give them the reps."
— Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Marwan Maalouf on potential backup long snappers behind incumbent Kevin McDermott and rookie Austin Cutting
Fans can support the Minnesota Vikings Foundation's community efforts by donating $5 and participating in the "Chuck for Charity" for a chance to win prizes.
Vikings Table, a charity food truck that was launched in June by the Minnesota Vikings Foundation, is selling tailgate fare during camp to raise money for distributions of healthy food around the community.
As part of First Responders Day, the Minneapolis Police Department invited young people from County Home Services to visit camp on Friday.
The youth have been through personal challenges and are either waiting to be adopted, or have just recently been adopted in the metro area.
Players stopped for autographs and mingled with the group after walk-through.