MANKATO – Jabari Price is a physical cornerback who claims to respect the mental aspect of the NFL. To prove it, the Vikings seventh-round draft pick carries a rapidly expanding notebook filled with helpful coaching tips, lessons learned and, yes, rookie mistakes made.
“You don’t want to be a repeat offender in this league,” Price said. “That’s a quick way out.”
So Price scribbles notes to himself. Constantly. To a point that pleases a demanding coaching staff and maybe an even more demanding grandmother named Ernestine Price of Pompano Beach, Fla.
“Everybody in Pompano Beach knows Miss Price,” said former Gophers and Vikings defensive back Tyrone Carter, who went to the same high school, Ely, as Jabari. “Miss Price is a leader in the community, fought for civil rights back in the day and always made Jabari maintain a 3.2 grade-point average to play football. The kid’s smart, and I know he’s used to studying hard.”
Price isn’t guaranteed a roster spot. Three of the Vikings’ four seventh-round picks the past two years didn’t make the final roster as rookies. But so far, no one other than receiver Adam Thielen has turned more heads among the lesser-known players than the 5-11, 200-pound Price has through the first eight days of training camp.
When coach Mike Zimmer was asked to name the under-the-radar guys who have impressed him most, the first player he mentioned was Price.
On Thursday, the day veteran starter Captain Munnerlyn returned from a hamstring injury to participate in team drills for the first time this training camp, wave after wave of reporters wanted to get Munnerlyn’s take on the rookie from North Carolina who had been filling in for him as the nickel slot corner.
“Man, seems like everybody is talking about Jabari Price,” said Munnerlyn, feigning hurt feelings. “Y’all want to talk about me?”
Even with Munnerlyn back, Josh Robinson’s hamstring injury kept Price with the first-team nickel defense at right corner. In the base defense, Price is running with the second team at right corner.
Multiple attributes have stood out for Price so far. No. 1 probably is his toughness and willingness to be physical with veteran receivers while fighting for the ball.
“A lot of times, young guys, they come in and play a little tentative,” Zimmer said. “He is not playing tentative at all. He has a little stuff inside him.”
Or, as Carter put it, “He’s got that dog in him. The Vikings got a dog, man. He’s not afraid of anyone.”
Carter was a two-time All-America and drafted by the Vikings in the fourth round in 2000. An 11-year NFL career that ended in 2010 included two Super Bowl rings with the Steelers.
“I haven’t seen his rings yet, but he and I do talk probably every week,” Price said. “He’s back living in Minnesota now, just down the street from Eden Prairie. It’s a blessing that I’m here.”
Carter watched practice from behind the end zone Wednesday. Afterward, he pulled Price aside to give him some instruction on how to execute Zimmer’s techniques.
Later that night, Price was back in his notebook scribbling away.
“There isn’t a day I don’t wake up and [remember] I was the [Vikings’] last pick,” Price said. “I can’t just rely on the things I did in college. There’s a lot to learn.
‘‘I go back [to the dorm] at night, study and come back and ask the coach questions the next day. And then I go write down the answers.”