A former Gophers tight end and one of the tallest — if not the tallest — Vikings in team history took his spot as the third-string left tackle during Sunday afternoon’s practice at TCO Performance Center.
Nate Wozniak, all 6-10 and 302 pounds of him, signed with the Vikings on Sunday. Lineman Tyler Catalina, who was claimed off waivers on Aug. 1, was released to make room for the big man, who went undrafted in before spending last season transitioning to tackle on the Saints’ practice squad.
“He’s a big guy,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “He was down in New Orleans. We know those guys pretty well. They were trying to get him back. We felt like he was a guy who could fit our system. … A big guy, a former tight end who’s athletic and kind of grown into it.
“He’s up to 300 pounds now. Talking with those guys down there, now that he’s bigger, stronger, we feel like he’s got a chance to help us at tackle.”
Wozniak had 28 catches for 314 yards during four seasons with the Gophers. Sunday, he looked capable as a blocker against fellow third-stringer Karter Schult, an undersized 6-3 defensive end with little chance of making the 53-man roster.
Lesson from Switzer
Zimmer wants — no, demands — dedication and persistence when it comes to running the ball. So much so that he invoked the words of old Oklahoma and Cowboys coach Barry Switzer on Sunday.
“I had an old coach one time who used to talk to the team — actually it was Coach Switzer,” Zimmer said. “So Coach Switzer, he ran the wishbone at Oklahoma and then he came to the NFL. He talked to them all the time, it might be 1 [yard] here or 2 here and then minus-1 here, but pretty soon it’s a 13 and then it’s a 20.
“They’re not all going to be explosive runs, but the idea of sticking with it and having that mind-set that we’re going to pop one of these in there eventually, and we popped a couple [against New Orleans on Friday]. And also it’s going to help on the play-action because the linebackers, they’re playing the run and the safeties are playing the run. That’s kind of what happened on those two plays.”
Message to tackles
Zimmer wasn’t shy in describing his unhappiness with how backup defensive tackles Jaleel Johnson and Jalyn Holmes handled their starting assignments in Friday’s preseason opener against the Saints.
“Initially, when they first went out there, they were both far off the ball, which is kind of mind-blowing,” Zimmer said. “They’ve been out here for however many practices this is. Jalyn was lining up too head-up on the guard that he was on, and Jaleel was too far back, and so it took a while to get to that.
“Once they got back in the right place and figured out where they were supposed to be — it’s not that hard, right? There’s a guard and there’s a center — but Jaleel did a couple nice things on splitting some double-teams, and I thought Jalyn had some nice rushes in the ballgame.”
Zimmer then softened a bit on the two youngsters.
“Especially Jalyn, he didn’t get as much playing time last year, so all this is a process for him as we’re moving forward,” Zimmer said. “They showed some ability, and hopefully we get the little things corrected now and they can start moving on the other things.”