As the Vikings sort through candidates for their No. 3 receiver job, they can pick from a range of different skill sets: Rookie Dillon Mitchell and second-year man Jeff Badet bring more long speed to the group, while 2019 draft pick Olabisi Johnson excelled with his quickness in college. Brandon Zylstra and Chad Beebe — when they are healthy — provide a physical option and a smooth route-runner.
Before any of them makes a strong play for a bigger role in the Vikings offense, however, they will have to get a better handle on the basics. Coach Mike Zimmer said as much on Sunday, in a pointed review of how his young wideouts have looked in the first few days of training camp.
“You have to look at each player individually — like, this guy’s a speed guy so he can take the top off the defense, this guy’s more of a slot guy so he can work the middle of the field, this guy’s more of a guy that can go inside or outside — and then we just have to figure out which one of the skill sets we like the best,” Zimmer said. “But if they don’t know what to do, if they don’t know where to line up, if they run the wrong route or they’re moving their feet when the ball’s snapped, we’ll keep looking for somebody else. They have not been precise enough in these first couple days, these young receivers, and they need to get their rear end in gear.”
It remains to be seen how much the Vikings will lean on a third receiver. They could make greater use of two-tight end sets this fall, with second-round pick Irv Smith joining Kyle Rudolph, and spend less time with three receivers on the field than they did with John DeFilippo coordinating the offense last year. The Vikings will still need options beyond Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, though, and competition among their young players, as well as such veterans as Jordan Taylor and Laquon Treadwell, figures to continue through camp.
“For receivers, it’s still catching the ball and running routes the right depth and being in the right place and lining up right,” Zimmer said. “Some of our younger guys are struggling with that right now. So that’s a part of it, knowing what to do and knowing how to do it and then being able to catch the ball. And then being able to use your physical attributes.’’
Kline finding a fit
Guard Josh Kline was the Vikings’ most prominent free-agent addition of the offseason and had some strong moments in the team’s first padded practice on Sunday, opening holes against the Vikings’ young defensive tackles with Linval Joseph and Shamar Stephen out.
The Vikings have spent little time tinkering with their top offensive line group, as they try to make the most of their time getting Pat Elflein acclimated at left guard and Kline at right guard, next to rookie center Garrett Bradbury. Kline admitted he struggled in Tennessee last year in Matt LaFleur’s offense, which bears some similarities to what the Vikings installed after adding Gary Kubiak to the staff. Another year in the scheme, though, could help him get comfortable.
“He’s a battler. He’s been in some of the system before and hasn’t had any mental errors to my knowledge,” Zimmer said. “So, I think he’s doing well.”