EAGAN, Minn. — It was a simple alignment error by a rookie, which was expected in the first full-team practice on Friday, but Stefon Diggs was quick to pull Bisi Johnson aside.
Diggs didn’t do it in a way that made Johnson feel embarrassed or singled out. It was just another way No. 14 has grown into one of the leaders in Minnesota.
“Diggs even told me [Friday] that I made a mistake,” Johnson said. “He was like, ‘You have to go out there and make every rep count.’
“[He has] a bunch of leadership, and I’m just getting the start of it,” Johnson added. “He wasn’t yelling at me or anything. He was just telling me straight up that if I want to play on this team, I can’t make mistakes. There’s no room for that.”
A rookie back in 2015, Diggs now finds himself as a player who is among the best at his position across the league. And someone that young players turn to when they have a question or need advice.
“Going on my fifth year, I’m not saying I’m old, but I’ve got some experience, and I know what it’s like going through camp,” Diggs said. “I know what it’s like being the young guy, so as far as leading by example, being there for them, they can lean on you for information, for guidance.
“Just more so outside of football, keeping them level-headed, keeping them in the right place, and letting them come along,” Diggs added.
Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen explained how he has seen Diggs grow on and off the field in recent years.
“I think he’s the type of leader who just goes out and shows it on the field,” Thielen said. “He’s the type of guy who’s not going to take reps off, he’s going to be going full-speed, every play. Even in walk-throughs, he’s going faster than everybody else because that’s just the type of guy he is.
“He’s a hard worker, he has a mindset to be great, he wants to be great, and he’s going to do the little things to get there. So I think when you have guys like that, they don’t need to be verbal,” Thielen added. “They don’t need to go and talk to the team, talk to the offense; they just lead by example, and hopefully the young guys are seeing what it takes to play in this league and play at a high level.”
But while Diggs is looked at as a leader of the wide receivers, he also has a clear partner in that role in Thielen.
Whether it’s in a drill on the field in practice, or speaking up to help a teammate in a meeting, young players know they can turn to the duo if needed.
“They’re people who lead by example,” Johnson said. “They know what they’re doing on the field and run their routes at 100 percent. Coaches definitely see that and they tell us rookies to look at the effort they’re giving on the field or when we watch the tape.”
Of the 11 wide receivers on Minnesota’s roster, Thielen is the veteran in the room. He’s 28 and entering his sixth season (not including 2013 when he was on the practice squad). Diggs, 25, has the second-most seniority and is entering his fifth season.
But the rest of the group is mostly young and inexperienced, as seven players are either rookies and are just coming off their first season in the NFL.
That group studies Thielen and Diggs on a daily basis. Just ask Chad Beebe, who is entering his second season in Purple.
Beebe began the 2018 season the practice squad but was added to the active roster midway through the season. He had four catches for 39 yards in three games, which was certainly invaluable experience.
But he said he also learned just by watching Thielen and Diggs in the locker room, in warm ups and during live action.
“I go back and think about the games last year that I was able to be a part of … watching those guys come out on game day, just completely different guys as far as confidence is something I want to mimic,” Beebe said. “I love that about them. Just to be able to watch them day-in and day-out and see what they do, I’d be crazy not to do the same.”
View photos of the Vikings during walk through and training camp practice at TCO Performance Center on July 26.
And likewise, Thielen said it’s a no brainer for him to not give tips and advice to younger receivers, especially when a host of players did the same for him in his first few seasons in the league.
While Thielen and Diggs may have that surefire confidence now, it was something they had to mold and develop over the years. Now that they have it, they’re more than happy to pass it along.
“I think it comes from, No. 1, just showing them how we work, whether it be individual [drills], or 1-on-1s or 7-on-7,” Thielen said. “Then in the film room, it’s talking about why we did something. It’s hard to be like, ‘Hey, do this, without telling them why we’re doing it or how you got there.’ A lot of times, it’s a quick five seconds of why I did this or what I could have done better to help me be successful on that play.
“Just trying to share knowledge and help those guys out, because I’ve had a lot of guys in front of me over the years who have shed a lot of light on me and helped me with my game,” Thielen added. “A lot of things I use today are a mixture of guys where I saw them use those techniques and things to get them open.”
Thielen and Diggs have established themselves as one of the best wide receiver tandems in the league, as evident by their 215 combined catches for 2,394 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2018.
But over the years, they have also grown as leaders for the Vikings, which is a testament to their humility and team-first attitude.
Johnson was a seventh-round pick by Minnesota at No. 247 overall, just eight spots from the final pick of the 2019 NFL Draft.
When Johnson was selected by the Vikings, he said one of the first thoughts he had was that he was excited to get the chance to be on the same team as Diggs and Thielen.
Johnson’s reasoning was spot-on, as there might not be a better wide receiver duo to learn from than them.