EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Scott Crichton's scratchy beard appeared to soften as sweat seeped through.
The second-year pro and teammates had just completed their third of 10 scheduled organized team activity practices on Thursday, and Crichton had been quite active in leading the charge to fill in for defensive ends Everson Griffen and Brian Robison.
Crichton, who was selected in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft was busy fulfilling academic requirements at this point a year ago because of the quarter system used at Oregon State instead of semesters. This year, however, he can benefit from total immersion into the progressive voluntary workout program that wraps with a mandatory minicamp June 16-18.
"It's great. Last year I kind of felt like I was trying to catch up," Crichton said. "Now, I'm with the guys and learning, but the key thing is I'm getting a lot of reps, and that's the most important thing."
After recording 165 tackles (100 solo), 22.5 sacks and 51 tackles for loss in three seasons at Oregon State, Crichton played in the season opener and recorded two quarterback hits at St. Louis, but was inactive in eight games as he dealt with "knickknacks" last season.
Crichton said he wants to see Griffen and Robison return, but also looks forward to providing their relief in the rotation at left or right defensive end. Griffen and Robison each logged more than 900 snaps last season.
"They're great mentors and great people," Crichton said. "It sucks that they can't be out on the field with us, but they're always mentoring us, they're always teaching us when we're on the sidelines, when we're getting rest, they're always coaching us up."
Robison said he and Griffen want to be involved in every play because they love the game so much, but also understand how they can benefit from staying fresher over the grind of a season.
"He's done a lot of work during the offseason, working on different things with pass rush, run steps and things like that," Robison said. "We're hoping he can really be a depth player for us that can really come in and kind of give me and Everson a rest. With both of us having over 900 snaps last year, you never want that out of your ends, even though we'd like to be on the field every play, but at the end of the day, I think he's doing a lot of things this offseason that's going to help our depth, and really being able to come in and have a good rotation for us."
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman told "Voice of the Vikings" Paul Allen and Vikings analyst Ben Leber on the 9 to Noon show that was broadcast on KFAN from Winter Park that he's liking what he's seeing from Crichton.
"One guy that's starting to pop out right now is Scott Crichton," Spielman said. "The difference in what we've seen so far in year one to year two is tremendous. We're very excited about all these young guys, but we think Scott is going to have a very productive year for us too, with the way he's shown so far."
Spielman has repeatedly stressed the talents that Head Coach Mike Zimmer and his staff have as teachers and said he thinks that will continue to help the Vikings in 2015 and beyond as players continue to develop.
"It's the speed of the game and the technique because most people, if they're going to be in this league and make an NFL roster, you're going to have the physical skill set for the most part, but then it's the technical part of it," Spielman said. "How quickly do you read and react to things? How quick is your hand placement? All those things are coachable, but they take time to develop.
"That's why you see Xavier Rhodes from year one to how he was able to progress in year two," Spielman continued. "They start to understand the game more, they start to understand the personnel matchups and the technique that's being taught to them to give them the best chance of being successful."
Rules that govern OTA practices prevent live contact and pads. Defenders also avoid contact with quarterbacks year round, so full-contact practices when training camp opens at the end of July will likely provide better evaluation metrics at the line of scrimmage. Until then, the Vikings will keep working toward goals for the fall.
"The key thing is we've got to stop the run," Crichton said. "We've got to keep the middle of our defense sacred. That's what we're trying to do, but we're going to improve in everything. I think we're going to turn a lot of heads this year."
'NOT DIFFICULT': Allen asked Spielman about the status of Adrian Peterson, who was not at Winter Park this week. Zimmer had spoken of the options awaiting Peterson during a media session Wednesday, and the talented running back issued a statement* *that night.
"It's not difficult (to talk about)," Spielman said. "It's not uncomfortable. It is what it is. Adrian Peterson is under contract. We've said we're not going to trade him. We're looking forward to having Adrian Peterson be part of this football team in 2015."
Spielman said Peterson's experience and the position he plays should make it "pretty easy to get caught up on" the offense.
View images from the second of ten OTA's.
SAMPLING SAFETIES: Harrison Smith's status as one starting safety might as well be set in stone, but the player that will be paired with him was one of Vikings.com's questions* *for OTAs. Spielman said this time of year is ideal for creating competition for starting jobs and roster spots, and the Vikings
"Harrison is our guy back there and the quarterback of our defense, but it's going to be great competition (for the other spot)," Spielman said. "Robert Blanton going into his second year (in the system), he's looked very good so far. I'm very excited about (Antone Exum, Jr.) because now is his second year to line up at safety. He's only played safety for two years and he's shown up.
"Andrew Sendejo, when he came in, he did a great job last year," Spielman continued. "You want to create as much competition as you can because if you can create competition and guys fighting not only for 53-man roster spots but for starting jobs, that's just going to elevate everybody's game and the cream is going to rise to the top."
UP NEXT: The Vikings are scheduled to resume their OTAs next Tuesday-Thursday.