The Vikings are shifting the way they use receiver Adam Thielen after he enjoyed a breakout season in 2016.
Thielen, who signed a three-year, $27 million extension this offseason, has spent more time in the slot in the Vikings’ three-receiver formations heading into this season. That has moved receiver Stefon Diggs into more of an outside role after he was the primary slot receiver last season.
“[Thielen] has been playing a little bit more in the slot, so just trying to develop that chemistry with some of those routes on the inside,” quarterback Sam Braford said. “It’s a little bit different in there, coverages are a little bit different, especially in zone coverage. It’s kind of finding voids, finding openings and having a feel for how to get open.”
Both Thielen and Diggs are still capable of playing multiple spots, but the change can give the Vikings a bigger receiver in Thielen, listed at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, on the inside. He is regarded as a strong blocker, potentially giving the shotgun offense a boost in run scenarios.
Thielen was also one of the NFL’s most sure-handed receivers last season. Bradford had a 122.9 quarterback rating when targeting Thielen, according to Pro Football Focus, leading to Thielen’s breakout campaign with 69 receptions for 967 yards and five touchdowns.
Some of that production already came from the slot, where Thielen has shown he is comfortable working with more space against defenders ranging from bigger linebackers to smaller cornerbacks.
“I think a lot of it is I think Adam has a good feel in there, and I think Sam trusts him,” coach Mike Zimmer said.
Party at Rudolph’s
Tight end Kyle Rudolph is quite the host. Aside from still housing teammate Michael Floyd in his basement, Rudolph recently hosted fellow Notre Dame grad and ex-college roommate Mike Golic Jr. for a weekend while Rudolph’s twin daughters were baptized.
That entailed Golic, Andersyn Rudolph’s godfather, playing host to his ESPN radio show from Rudolph’s house in the Twin Cities area.
“That’s actually the third time he’s hosted his Sunday morning radio show from our office there,” Rudolph said. “This time he at least stayed in the office. Last time, [Golic] came in my room and got into bed with me [while on the radio].”
The NFL regular season brings even more guests to the Rudolph household with friends and family staying for home games. Rudolph, who has been active with ESPN and other sports media outlets, said he has eyed that route as a post-playing career.
“I grew up watching ‘SportsCenter,’ the same episode three times in a row,” Rudolph said. “I want to stick around the game. I’m not necessarily sure what facet yet, but [sports media] is something I enjoy doing and enjoy being around.”
Tough D-line calls
When General Manager Rick Spielman soon trims the 90-man roster nearly in half, one of the hardest areas to thin will be the defensive line, according to Zimmer. The Vikings have had a few young standouts in two preseason games between defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson and ends Tashawn Bower and Ifeadi Odenigbo.
Since the first roster cut day was eliminated, all NFL teams get the fourth preseason game before deciding on cuts by this year’s Sept. 2 deadline.
“I think we’re going to have some tough issues [cutting defensive linemen],” Zimmer said. “That’s why it’s good to have the fourth preseason game, get a chance to see them in that game as well.”
Quarterback Taylor Heinicke returned to practice after being held out for a few days because of an undisclosed injury suffered Friday at Seattle.
Defensive end Brian Robison (leg), who said he expects to be fine for the regular season, and tight end Nick Truesdell (undisclosed) did not practice.