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Fourth Vikings player identified from football brain injury study

Ross “Rip” Hawkins, the Vikings’ leading tackler in each of their first four seasons, was one of the four former Vikings among the 111 deceased NFL players whose brains were studied by researchers from Boston University and the VA Boston Healthcare System as part of the report published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The other three, whose names were released on Wednesday, were Wally Hilgenberg, who played linebacker for the Vikings from 1968-79; Gerry Huth, who played guard from 1961-63; and Grant Feasel, a center from 1984-86.

The study included 202 former football players at the high school, college, semi-professional and professional levels. Of those 202, 177 were found to have the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which can cause a wide range of neurocognitive problems. Among the 111 NFL players, CTE was discovered in all but one.

The study also noted that 93 percent of the 177 players with CTE had donated their brains to the study because they had shown cognitive trouble before their deaths.

Hawkins died July 28, 2015. He was 76 and had been diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, which is considered the second most progressive form of dementia behind Alzheimer’s disease.

Hawkins, a middle linebacker from North Carolina, was the 15th overall draft pick by the 1961 expansion Vikings. Running back Tommy Mason, the No. 1 overall pick that year, was the Vikings’ top pick.

Hawkins played five seasons for the Vikings. He was the only rookie to lead them in tackles until Eric Kendricks matched that in 2015. Hawkins also is the only Viking to lead the team in tackles in his first four seasons. Kendricks has done it in each of his first two seasons.

Heinicke wants to be 'Most Careful Viking' after last year's 'stupid injury'

If there’s an offseason award for Most Careful Viking, backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke probably raised the trophy this offseason.

As for last offseason, well, let’s just say Taylor has gone from worst to first in the Most Careful Viking category. But, hey, at least he learned something from last offseason. Primarily don’t try to kick in the front door when you’re locked out and don’t have a key. Especially when said door has a glass window that can break and sever ligaments in a man’s left ankle, causing pain, surgery and an embarrassing phone call to Vikings head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman.

“When it first happened, I thought, ‘I was always kind of told myself I wasn’t going to be that guy,’” said Heinicke, an undrafted rookie a year ago. “And, sure enough, I’m that guy who does something stupid and gets hurt. It was hard. It’s tough being injured, let alone having it be a stupid injury that I did to myself.

“I beat myself up about it for a week or so, but then got positive and tried to get something out of it. Last year, I came out here with the boot and still got some mental reps out of it. I’m just happy to be out here this year.”

With Teddy Bridgewater on the physically unable to perform list to start training camp, Heinicke is battling Case Keenum for the top backup spot behind Sam Bradford. Heinicke has yet to play in a regular-season NFL game, while Keenum has four seasons and 24 starts on his resume.

Keenum and Heinicke reported to camp with the rookies on Sunday. They’ll drift into the background a bit today as the Vikings’ full roster goes through a morning walkthrough and an afternoon practice without pads.

“Every rep counts, so it was good to be down here early,” Heinicke said. “You can learn something about what the defense is doing on every rep. It makes you better. It’s been good work.”

Heinicke said he studies the guys up the depth chart to see how they got there.

“Same is one of the most accurate quarterbacks ever,” Heinicke said. “It’s kind of unbelievable how he does it. I learn a lot from him. I also was fortunate to learn from Shaun Hill, who was in the league for 15 years. And Teddy has played well. And Case has been a starter, too. So I’ve got four starters that I can pick their brains.”

Of course, he also learned from himself. Maybe call a locksmith the next time, eh?

“I called Sug and it was kind of like, ‘Sug, you’re not going to believe this,’” Heinicke said. “I flew up here the next day and had surgery. And it was successful, obviously.”

So were you more careful this summer?

“Absolutely,” Heinicke said. “It was an accident, but at the same time, you have to remember that you got a job to do and can’t do things to let the team down.

“This year, when my friends did things that could cause you to get hurt, they didn’t even ask me. The most dangerous thing I probably did was go to the beach.”

But he did use sunscreen.

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