Early on in Vikings Training Camp, Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak said that Minnesota's second-round draft pick Irv Smith, Jr., was "swimming" in a new offensive system.
The rookie tight end has made strides since then, however, demonstrating his ability in the passing game and "surprising" coaches towards the end of camp with his performance as a blocker.
ESPN's Courtney Cronin focused in on Smith and what Vikings fans can expect of his role in Minnesota's offense moving forward. She wrote:
Smith packs a ton of potential and is expected to have a sizeable role early in his NFL career. He's classified as an F tight end, given the way he can affect the passing game in a hybrid receiver role along with what he can do as an in-line blocker or when lined up as an H-back or fullback. The expectation is that he'll develop into the rare complete tight end who will be a "big part" of the system Kubiak and [Offensive Coordinator] Kevin Stefanski are running, according to [General Manager] Rick Spielman.
Cronin pointed out that over Kubiak's two decades as a head coach or offensive coordinator, tight ends have accounted for 23 percent of targets and that "the No. 3 receiver is actually a tight end in his offense."
She added that the Vikings "have big plans for Smith, but history suggests that it will take a year or more for him to put up big numbers." Cronin noted in the past two years that only two rookie tight ends have produced more than 600 receiving yards (Evan Engram had 722 in 2017 with the Giants and former Viking John Carson had 627 with the Seahawks in 2008.
The transition from college to the NFL poses challenges at any position, but particularly at tight end. Though the Vikings drafted Smith with the idea that he'll be a critical asset in Year 1, tight end is not considered a plug-and-play position.
Cronin shared comments from Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and ninth-year tight end Kyle Rudolph, who totaled 26 catches for 249 yards and three touchdowns in 2011 after being drafted 43rd overall by Minnesota.
Rudolph emphasized that "so many different variables" affect a tight end's production, and Zimmer added that the wide-ranging responsibilities for an NFL tight end are often "completely foreign" to college players entering the league.
Though Smith will continue to work through the inevitable growing pains of his NFL transition, having him in this offense could benefit the Vikings — and his fellow tight end teammates.
Most importantly, with the goal of being less predictable on offense, using both Rudolph and Smith (or other tight ends or fullbacks) will allow the Vikings to deploy heavier personnel groupings after Minnesota ran 55 [percent] of its plays out of 11 personnel (three wide receivers, one tight end, one running back) last season.
View exclusive images shot by Vikings team photographer Andy Kenutis as the Vikings and Cardinals competed against each other in a preseason matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Walters: Vikings fans 'pack' U.S. Bank Stadium for pair of preseason games
Considering that starters typically don't play for more than a quarter or two in NFL preseason games, it's not uncommon for the exhibition contests to draw smaller crowds.
But as Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press recently pointed out, the latter trend doesn't hold true for the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Walters pointed out that the fourth-year venue hosted a crowd of 66,636 fans for the game against the Seahawks on Aug. 18. For Saturday's noon game against the Cardinals, 66,698 fans were in attendance.
He spoke with Vikings Owner Mark Wilf, who called Vikings fans "phenomenal."
"I know our coach (and staff) wants balance, they want to take care of our players, but also want to get them ready for the season," Vikings Owner Zygi Wilf told Walters. "I can't speak for what other teams do and how their fan bases react to it, but I can tell you we have a great fan base, and they came out [for the preseason]."
The Wilf family ownership group has accomplished a number of goals they set when purchasing the team in 2005, including the construction of U.S. Bank Stadium and building a state-of-the-art practice facility in Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, which opened in March 2018.
But one specific goal still looms.
"Put it this way, in our business you need a lot of patience," Wilf told Walters. "To build a stadium, you need a lot of patience. I guess to get the Lombardi will be some more patience.
"I think we're close — we've been close for the last several years," Wilf added. "For the last four years, we've had the best record in the NFC. But close is not being there. We're going to try to be there every single year, and being a world-class organization, having the right coaches and having the right people in the organization, the right players, we'll be knocking on the door all the time."
NFL Kickoff | We Ready
The kickoff for #NFL100 is here and we only have two words - WE READY! Don't miss the season opener Green Bay Packers taking on the Chicago Bears on Thursday, September 9th at 7:20 PM CT
David Morgan pops the big question
Vikings tight end David Morgan made it a memorable weekend.
Morgan has been sidelined due to injury throughout the Vikings spring program and training camp, but he put a big question in play Sunday when he proposed to his longtime girlfriend, Langlie.
Friends and fans – and, of course, Viktor the Viking – chimed in on Twitter with notes of congratulations to the happy couple.