MANKATO The play call was about as simple as it gets. Tyler Thigpen, preparing to take his first NFL snap in the fourth quarter of the Vikings' preseason opener Friday night, had his receivers set to run "go [deep] routes." Thigpen's job was to find one of them.
And then the ball was snapped. The rookie went too deep on his drop, putting pressure on the left tackle. A Rams defensive end flew into the backfield, and any thoughts Thigpen had of throwing the ball vanished. Instead, he scrambled to the vacated left side for a 12-yard gain and a first down at the Vikings 40.
To most everyone watching it looked like a pretty good beginning for Thigpen. Quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers didn't share that sentiment.
"We probably had 10 minutes to talk about that play before he went in the game," Rogers said, chuckling at the memory. "He may have ended up making a good play, but he didn't have to put himself under the duress that he did."
Consider it another moment in Thigpen's continuing football education. He has been getting a crash course in running an NFL offense since being selected by the Vikings with the first of their two seventh-round picks in April's draft. His college experience came at Division I-AA Coastal Carolina a program that focused on the running game for Thigpen's first three seasons.
Compare that to Drew Henson, the guy Thigpen is competing with for the No. 3 quarterback spot behind Tarvaris Jackson and Brooks Bollinger. Henson spent his college career playing before national television audiences and crowds of more than 100,000 fans at Michigan Stadium; Thigpen considered a good crowd at Coastal Carolina to be 10,000. National TV coverage was never a concern for the Chanticleers.
However, Thigpen appears to have a good shot at earning a roster spot. He played the final two series against the Rams Henson did not appear in the game and completed three of six passes for 29 yards, while being sacked once. He also rushed for 18 yards on two carries.
Rogers called Thigpen's performance "kind of enigmatic."I thought he handled himself pretty well as he got more used to the situation," Rogers said.
Thigpen said he continues to learn each day about how to best run the West Coast scheme.
"This offense is a lot more complex than what I was used to," he said. "As a quarterback you're accountable for a lot. The plays are really long and each and every section of the play has something to do with a section of the offense. Whether it's a protection call, what a receiver is doing, just things like that."
Rogers said the 6-1, 216-pounder has all the physical attributes to play in the NFL and makes it clear Thigpen has become a much quicker study in recent months.
"Where he has come in terms of being a quarterback and learning this offense in a relatively small amount of time is really incredible," Rogers said, noting that Thigpen didn't even play quarterback his senior year in high school. "When he first got here, it was the one-room schoolhouse. It was he and I. And it wasn't happening really quick. The verbiage and the wording is so long. After a while, he started to pick it up and get the mental picture of what he was saying. So he's coming along really good."
While Thigpen has proven to be earnest in the classroom, he also has gained points for not being anxious on the field. Childress referred to him as "kind of an unflappable kid," adding, "you take it for ... disinterested isn't the word, but he just kind of looks at you. Not a real emotional guy. [You're] not sure what's rolling around in there all the time."
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, considering Childress talks about liking his quarterbacks to be flat-line guys. Rogers agrees that Thigpen does a good job of remaining calm. At least most of the time.
"One of the neat things about him is he never seems to get flustered," Rogers said. "No matter if the head man is getting on him, I'm getting on him or what the situation is. He's one of those guys that manages to move onto the next play. Now the one problem we did have [Friday], I asked him what happened on those first couple of plays he was in and he really couldn't give me a great explanation. I think he was probably hyperventilating a little bit when he first got in the game."
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