MANKATO – The day before the Vikings’ first preseason game, Adam Thielen was in the thick of planning his wedding.
And while taste-testing the reception food is one of the best aspects of impending nuptials, the wide receiver was too focused on making the cut to cut the cake.
“He wouldn’t try any of the cakes because he had a game,” his fiancée, Caitlin Graboski, said of their planning for next May’s wedding. “And I was over there eating, like, everything.”
Adam’s focus wasn’t just because of Friday’s game. The Detroit Lakes native and former Minnesota State Mankato standout was on the Vikings’ practice squad last year and is now in line to grab one of the last receiving spots as well as a special teams place on the final roster.
Tell any of that to Thielen, and the 23-year-old will just shake his head and look down at his feet.
“It’s not pressure to me, it’s just with my mind-set, I’m just coming out here to get better every day,” he said Sunday from the field where he also played college football. “If I’m not good enough, I’m not good enough.”
Where Thielen is reluctant to brag, his training camp and on-the-road roommate, Cordarrelle Patterson will boast for him.
“I know he’s going to make the team,” said Patterson, one of the team’s top receivers and a Pro Bowl kick returner as a rookie last year. “I don’t care what anybody else says, he’s a part of this team. … Talent like that, you cannot hide. I have defensive guys, you know, veterans, who’re saying Adam should have been a part of this team last year, and I feel that, too.”
Patterson said Thielen is a “superstar” even though the newcomer still feels a need to prove himself. Patterson takes it upon himself to boost his friend’s confidence, telling him every day, “There’s nothing you can do that you won’t be a part of this team.”
And if his performance in practice and against Oakland is anything to judge by, Thielen has every right to be assured. In Friday’s 10-6 preseason victory over Oakland at TCF Bank Stadium, he had one reception for 15 yards and returned three punts for 52 yards, subbing for injured Marcus Sherels.
Coach Mike Zimmer said he was impressed with how Thielen took coaching from practice and improved for the game. He said he planned to integrate Thielen into more scenarios this week.
“He’s a guy that has a lot of toughness, a lot of heart,” Zimmer said. “He wants to make the football team, and he’s getting his best effort to do it. … You can win a lot of football games with guys like him.”
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said Sherels has earned the punt return job as long as he’s healthy but will feel pressure from Thielen, whom he called a smart and tough leader.
“He still made a couple errors, but overall he played extremely well,” Priefer said. “The more I see from the other night, the more comfortable I’ll become. Because I expected him to play that well, and he did for the most part.”
Thielen, 6-2 and 195 pounds, played on a state championship golf team at Detroit Lakes and was also a basketball and football standout for the Lakers. He had 192 receptions during his career at Minnesota State and, after going undrafted in 2013, paid to go through a regional NFL combine. He was a tryout invitee to the Vikings rookie minicamp, and they signed him. He was impressive enough in last year’s training camp to earn the practice squad spot.
Thielen said he hasn’t had much special teams action since high school but would slot in wherever the team needed him.
Patterson said there is one aspect of being a teammate where Thielen falls short.
“I’m a late guy, and I like to stay up and talk,” Patterson said. “He likes to go to sleep at like 10 o’clock. … I need to just talk about things and talk about life, but he’ll be already asleep. I know he’s sleeping. I just go in there, open his door and just stare at him sometimes.”
Graboski isn’t concerned about her future husband winning over the Vikings and their fans over, too.
“The way he smiles, I know it sounds kind of cheesy, but his presence in a room is just like, you can’t compare it to anything,” she said. “His personality just kind of pops when he enters the room.”
Thielen has an exciting few months ahead of him if he makes the team, and he’ll share the thrill.
“It’d mean the world to me,” he said. “It’s been my goal since I was a little boy. I’m kind of carrying my community of Detroit Lakes and my school here at Mankato on my back. I want to do it for those guys. It’s not just for me at all. It’s for my family.”