EAGAN, Minn. — In years past, the weekend following the draft is among the most memorable and noteworthy for a Vikings rookie.
Dozens of players, whether they were drafted or not, would arrive at the Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center in Eagan for what is likely their first-ever look at an NFL facility.
They would tour the facility, get introduced to new teammates and dive into meetings with position coaches. Their dream of making it to the NFL would be realized over three days of rookie minicamp.
The in-person experience has obviously been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as hundreds of rookies around the league are now being forced to begin their NFL careers in a virtual setting with meetings and workouts.
"I'm excited. I mean, this is my first experience, and it's going to be everybody's first," said defensive tackle David Moa, an undrafted free agent from Boise State. "I'm excited to get going, especially with these guys, and seeing and studying every little thing that [the coaches are] teaching."
The virtual meetings aren't a foreign concept to most rookies, however, including tight end Nakia Griffin-Stewart, an undrafted free agent from Pittsburgh. Most rookies are in their early 20s, and have been immersed in technology for most of their lives.
"With the new age and how things are going, since I've been in college, I've received an iPad for our playbooks," Griffin-Stewart said. "I think my first year was the only year I received a paper playbook.
"So, I'm accustomed to doing the virtual playbook learning and things of that nature," Griffin-Stewart added. "Also, for my five years in college, I had five different offensive coordinators. So learning a playbook is nothing new … around this time of year I'm learning a different playbook … so this is kind of like an annual routine for me. I'm not saying it will be easy, but it won't be something that's new."
Well, make it six different offensive coordinators in six seasons for Griffin-Stewart, who is now being taught by Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak and his staff.
"I think it helps out my football IQ tremendously," said Griffin-Stewart, who spent four seasons at Rutgers before transferring to Pittsburgh for the 2019 season. "We did pro-style my freshman year, a no-huddle, hand-signal, Air Raid-type offense my sophomore year … did a pro-style mixed with spread, went to pro-style again.
"So, I had a mix of everything, and it really helped me progress as a player mentally. I also matured as a player because every year I had a new task to do … there was never a level of comfortability knowing, 'Hey, next season I'm going to know the same terminology and it's going to be the same thing.' Every year I kind of had to bunker down and make sure I was in that playbook, and I had coaches who held me accountable to do so," Griffin-Stewart added. "Is it a leg up? I assume so. It helped out my football IQ tremendously. Talking with coaches and going over basic things and watching film, I understand what they're talking about and why things ae getting done. Obviously, nobody is a finished product, and the biggest thing I like to do is learn. I'm going in with wide eyes and big ears to listen and see anything I can possibly learn from anybody."
Griffin-Stewart may have some experience in learning on the fly, but he's one of 27 rookies (15 draft picks and a dozen UDFAs) who will now be tasked with picking up a pro playbook on an iPad.
Even coaches have had to adjust to a new learning environment, notably Kubiak, who is entering his 25th season as an NFL coach.
"I will say this, it's amazing how well the organization has done a great job of setting this up," Kubiak said. "The players have been great — the coaches I have on the offensive side of the ball, I have some great, young kids that help us with all of this technology — the veteran coaches are doing a great job of [learning].
"We're making it work," Kubiak added. "Off to a great start this week, got [four] days under our belt … it's been very positive."
Wide receiver Quartney Davis, an undrafted free agent from Texas A&M, said he's been meeting daily with Vikings assistant wide receivers coach Christian Jones.
And former Oregon offensive lineman Brady Aiello, who signed with Minnesota as an undrafted free agent after the draft, said he's spent plenty of time chatting with Vikings assistant offensive line coach Phil Rauscher.
View photos of the Vikings 2020 undrafted free agents.
It may not be the deal scenario, but the newest faces on the Vikings are making it work to help fulfill their dream of making it to the NFL.
"I've had meetings every day with coach Phil for the past [few] days, just getting information thrown at me left and right," said Aiello, who is based at his parents' home in Northern California at the moment. "But it's good, though. It's 1-on-1, a little bit more personal. We can get a lot of stuff done like that.
"I'm just learning the playbook every day now, and I should be getting my iPad soon … with the entire playbook in there," Aiello added. "It'll just jump start from there, too. But it's been good, just learning the information and attacking that stuff while I can over here."