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Rookie TE Smith Focused on Being Well-Rounded Asset on Offense

EAGAN, Minn. — If every NFL tight end had his way in this fantasy football era, he would catch close to 100 passes, collect around 1,000 receiving yards and try to eclipse double-digit touchdowns each season.

But only a few tight ends, if any, reach those numbers every year. The majority of them are asked to be well-rounded weapons on offense that can certainly catch passes, but also help out in the run game.

Vikings rookie tight end Irv Smith, Jr., has jumped right into trying to master the dual roles early in his NFL career.

"You don't just want to be a receiving tight end … you want to be able to run block and move guys and open up running lanes," Smith said. "If you're a good run blocker, it's only going to make you a better player and keep the defense on their toes.

"That's something, as a group, where we need to do our jobs," Smith added. "[The passing game is] the fun part, but not everybody wants to do this."

Smith joined the Vikings after being a second-round pick, No. 50 overall, out of Alabama in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Smith recorded 58 receptions for 838 yards (14.4 yards per reception) and 10 touchdowns in 38 games for the Crimson Tide. He had 33 receptions that gained a first down or scored a touchdown in college.

But Alabama was primarily a run-first team, as the Crimson Tide ran the ball nearly 60 percent of the time on offense and averaged nearly 200 rushing yards per game.

As a result, Smith had to be sound in both aspects of the offense in college.

Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski has taken note, as he recently said he has been impressed by Smith's ability to focus on the finer points of his game.

"I think Irv is a very receptive-to-coaching type of player," Stefanski said. "I can tell you [Vikings tight ends coach] Brian Pariani and Irv spent a lot of time together, and I love watching Irv out here in his individual period because he's taking coaching and applying it to the next drill.

"He came from a pretty good program down there, and they certainly worked him and his technique," Stefanski added. "It's not there, it's by no means perfect, but the kid is really willing to work, and that's what I appreciate about Irv."

Added Smith: "Coming in and learning this offense, the coaches — Coach Stefanski and Coach Pariani — have me focusing on the little details."

View photos of the Vikings during training camp practice at TCO Performance Center.

When Smith does get his chance in the passing game, he has proven to be a big-play threat.

Of Smith's 58 total catches over the past two seasons with the Crimson Tide, he tallied 14 explosive plays of 20-plus yards, including three touchdowns.

"I feel like I'm a big mismatch on the field," Smith said. "They have me all over the place — in-line, out wide, in the slot — so I feel like I can move around and make an impact on the field and definitely bring that to the table."

Smith was one of 37 players who reported to Verizon Vikings Training Camp on Monday, and then went through three practices over the past three days at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.

The extra sessions gave the 20-year-old time to work on his craft, while getting an early taste of what life is like at an NFL training camp.

He was also able to connect with Minnesota's group of quarterbacks — including starter Kirk Cousins — to try and continue to build rapport with that group.

All the quarterbacks were here, so me being a tight end, I need to have a great relationship with them … Kirk and the other guys," Smith said. "I'm just trying to be attentive and have a good relationship with them. Just trying to do that and then get in the playbook."

That playbook includes more than just passing plays, but Smith said he's up to the task to become the most-well-rounded player possible in his rookie season.

"Finally getting here after having the little break, I'm ready to get back to work," Smith said. "It's grind time."