Those close to Laquon Treadwell say he’s finally healthy.
To ensure he stays that way, they’re trying at times to save the talented Vikings receiver from himself.
Whether it’s logging late-night weight room sessions at Winter Park or calling on his personal trainer in Los Angeles to push him through consecutive days of multiple workouts, Treadwell is grinding through extensive, intense training.
That could come as a surprise for fans and analysts who already have labeled him a first-round bust.
But here’s what you need to know: The Vikings’ top 2016 draft pick is driven to live up to his own expectations after a disappointing one-catch rookie season — so driven that people around him have asked him to consider taking his foot off the accelerator.
“He’s a tireless worker to the point where you have to back him off and make sure he takes care of his body,” Vikings receivers coach Darrell Hazell said. “On the field here, he’s full speed. But when we stop practicing, he needs to make sure he doesn’t leave his body [feeling] off.”
‘He looks healthy’
Treadwell was hobbled longer than many thought he would be after the Vikings made him the 23rd overall pick. It all started with one gruesome play at Ole Miss that left him with a broken left fibula and dislocated left ankle 30 months ago. A five-star recruit out of suburban Chicago, he performed at a high level in college until the devastating injury.
Treadwell never declared himself healthy during his first Vikings training camp last summer. David Robinson, a renowned receivers trainer who connected with Treadwell at Ole Miss, said he could tell one of his most talented pupils wasn’t right before the season.
Wearing custom cleats, designed by a specialist to ease his foot pain, was one of the first signs Treadwell still needed time to recover. In November, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer publicly questioned how much the special shoes really helped Treadwell, who wore them until the middle of last season.
“When I was working him out last year, I could tell he was walking and running with a limp,” Robinson said. “After every drill, he’d be rolling his ankle around trying to work it out, because he was stiff. I kind of knew in the back of my head he wasn’t ready to play last year. You couldn’t tell him that, though, because he has that killer instinct and wants to prove everybody wrong.”
This offseason was the first time Treadwell wasn’t on the clock to quickly get back on the field. He’d pushed to return to the Ole Miss practice fields only five months after his injuries. Demands continued during his final college season and last spring’s tedious training and evaluations in preparation for the draft.
His 6-2, 220-pound frame and 33⅜-inch arms, along with a competitive edge, prompted comparisons to NFL veterans from Anquan Boldin to Dez Bryant.
But physically, Treadwell was nowhere near ready for that.
As a rookie, he appeared in only 127 snaps over nine games. A broken finger and pulled hamstring, compounded with his lingering foot pain, and an ankle injury prematurely ended his season. Treadwell took another step this spring to address his foot issues by visiting Dr. Kelly Ryder, a sports chiropractic physician in Louisiana who has also rehabbed former NFL receivers Terrell Owens and Roy Williams. Treadwell says he is now healed. After seeing him run routes during organized team activities, one of his practice rivals agreed.
“He looks healthy,” Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. “Coming out of his breaks good, moving his weight really well, turning his hips when he needs to turn his hips. Breaking down, not taking too many steps in his break. He’s turned around tremendously.”
Treadwell knows he has to make up ground.
“I’ve got to live up to my own standard,” Treadwell said after lining up as the Vikings’ starting split end throughout practice last week. “That’s the standard.”
Newly signed veteran Michael Floyd is his primary competition to start.
However, one of the top items on the Vikings’ to-do list for Treadwell can’t be fully tested until August’s training camp, when pads and live contact — such as man-to-man press coverage — are allowed.
“Be able to play through a defender with power through his hips,” Hazell said, “and him being the guy that manipulates the defender as opposed to the defender moving him around. That’s one of the biggest things.”
A ‘natural-born’ drive
Not getting on the field last year was a source of frustration for Treadwell. Jerry Butler, a family friend and Treadwell’s first youth football coach in Chicago, now says it might have been beneficial.
“I told him I thought it was a blessing in disguise he didn’t get to play last year. He got to heal properly,” Butler said. “He isn’t the type of kid to take a back seat to anything. He wants to be out front, he wants to play. He’s a natural-born leader.”
Growing up, Treadwell wasn’t one to sit out because something didn’t feel right.
Butler recalled watching Treadwell kick field goals in a lopsided high school game despite previously injuring his toe. And there was the ATV crash during a group ride that caused Treadwell to suffer deep cuts and shredded clothes. He kept the accident a secret from his mom and his high school coach. A couple of days later, Treadwell suited up and played a full game.
His toughness is admirable, but to prove himself in a critical second NFL season, the Vikings need him in peak physical condition.
“I know him, he’s relentless. He’s not going to stop,” Butler said. “You’ll burn your body out. I just told him that, we just had that conversation last week. He understands it now.
“But the drive is what makes him who he is.”