Fourth-year defensive end Stephen Weatherly proved himself to Vikings coaches last season, which is expected to lead to more playing time in 2019.
Weatherly, the former seventh-round pick from Vanderbilt, was disruptive and well-rounded during five starts — the first of his career — while the Vikings were without Everson Griffen in September and October. His eight run stops tied Texans star J.J. Watt and trailed only seven other NFL edge defenders in that span. Weatherly’s 14 quarterback pressures (three sacks) put him in the league’s top 30, according to Pro Football Focus.
“He made a lot of plays,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “I anticipate that he’ll have a much larger role for us this year as we continue to go forward. He continues to get better every day. You can just see he’s much more confident in everything that he’s doing.”
Weatherly has said he learned much from retired defensive end Brian Robison, and it appears Weatherly might play a similar role as Robison once did. During practice this week, Weatherly played defensive end and stand-up interior pass rusher in varying formations.
Griffen, the three-time Pro Bowler, has retained his starting role in spring practices after taking a pay cut to stay in Minnesota. However, Weatherly — entering his contract season — is preparing to play more.
“This time of year isn’t about working on your perfect move,” Weatherly said. “It’s about taking your second and third move and getting them up on caliber with your first move.”
A simple reason
Brian O’Neill is a “good 10 pounds” heavier (now around 307) as he settles in as the starting right tackle heading into his second season. The second-round pick was on a 6,000-calories-per-day diet last summer as the former Pitt tight end tried to add weight for his rookie season. After a promising 11 starts last fall, O’Neill detailed a simple reason why he likes the Vikings’ new playbook under coordinator Kevin Stefanski and assistant head coach Gary Kubiak.
“We run the ball,” O’Neill said. “I think there’s some things hopefully we’re going to be able to do pretty well and run the ball more efficiently than we did last year.”
O’Neill and center Garrett Bradbury were two of five Vikings offensive linemen sporting Tiger Woods-like mock turtlenecks Wednesday during the team’s annual charity golf tournament in Prior Lake. The shirts were gifts from quarterback Kirk Cousins, who is building a rapport with Bradbury, the rookie center he hopes is in Minnesota for “the next decade.”
“We’re giving him a lot of different looks defensively,” Zimmer said. “So I think that’s good for him. There’s times when we can get him confused a little bit, but he’s very, very bright and is doing a good job.”
Former 2016 first-round pick Laquon Treadwell said he isn’t viewing 2019 as a “prove-it” campaign after the Vikings declined an expensive fifth-year option in his rookie contract, making him a free agent in 2020. But he said his approach is more “intentional” after a career-high 35 catches last season ended in being phased out of the offense by December.
“I’m very intentional — intentional with my communication with everyone from coaches to teammates to everyone around the building,” Treadwell said. “Making sure there’s a clear understanding of what I need to do and what I want from them.”
Receivers lead punt returner search
Receivers Chad Beebe, Jordan Taylor and Davion Davis fielded the most punt returns during Tuesday’s session open to reporters, continuing the Vikings’ search to replace Marcus Sherels. Special teams competitions can make or break a roster spot for players like Davis, an undrafted free agent who averaged 15.7 yards on 21 punt returns at Sam Houston State.