There’s no more competitive position for the Vikings heading into this season than the offensive line, and former Eden Prairie tight end-turned-offensive lineman Carter Bykowski is happy to be part of such a group and believes that even the players who don’t make the Vikings will end up on NFL rosters this fall.
“Oh yeah, we’ve got a great group of guys, 16 of us, and I guess 15 are vets who have been on a roster somewhere at some point in their career,” Bykowski said. “We have almost hyper-competition going on and each day without even trying they’re getting better, because just to get on the field you’re going against guys that want it just as bad as you do.
“You’re kind of forced to play at your highest level of football, and when you’re doing that you just kind of get better each day. It’s an awesome situation to be in. Obviously, everyone wants to make the team, but you’d be surprised at how sought-after some of these guys will be at the end of August if someone doesn’t make the team. It’s fun to be a part of — everyone is working hard and the ultimate goal is making the team and having the Vikings be a very successful team going forward.”
Bykowski was a 6-7, 245-pound tight end coming out of Eden Prairie in 2008 when Iowa State signed him as a two-star recruit, according to Rivals.com. But it again shows star ratings mean little when it comes to predicting who will make it to the pros.
He was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the seventh round of the 2013 NFL draft, the 246th pick overall. But he said the low expectations of that selection actually helped his pro career.
“I spent the whole first year there on the practice squad as a lineman. It was great for me because I was with a coach who really developed me, a project guy,” Bykowski said. “I went to school as a tight end and came out a lineman. I haven’t had all the years of coaching that some other guys may have been fortunate to go through right away at college.”
Bykowski spent two years on the 49ers practice squad before he got a call from the Vikings.
“The Vikings ended up calling me, kind of out of the blue, and asked if I wanted to be activated on the team,” he recalled. “It was a dream come true, the guy from Eden Prairie going home to sleep in the bed he grew up in and drive to work five minutes down the road for the Vikings is pretty cool.”
In 2015, Bykowski missed the entire season after suffering a torn pectoral muscle in training camp, but now he has a chance to not only make the team but play.
He was asked if he’s flexible playing multiple positions or if he has a favorite.
“Right now I’m playing both right and left tackle,” he said. “I’ve played a little bit of guard in the past, that was mainly during OTAs. I didn’t mind it, and if I was thrown in a game I would know what to do, just a matter of getting reps to see how successful I would be at it, because it’s a completely different game from the inside to the outside as far as tackles and guards go. I enjoyed it. I could see myself doing that if someone needed me to do that. Obviously you don’t say no.”
Lessons from many coaches
Bykowski was asked what playing for Eden Prairie under Mike Grant did for his college and pro career.
“I think it all kind of comes back to learning how to win,” Bykowski said. “At Eden Prairie I was fortunate enough to play with some good guys during my junior and senior year and we ended up winning state titles back to back. I think just having the fundamentals that he taught guys in football, all the way back in third and fourth grade, by the time I got to high school we were kind of a finely tuned machine ready to go right away.”
In the pros, Bykowski has played for two coaches who are known to be demanding but passionate football lifers. He said that his former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, now with Michigan, and the Vikings’ Mike Zimmer have similarities.
“They’re both very blue-collar guys, which I can appreciate, I kind of came from a blue-collar program at Iowa State, and you know they both do everything they can to win and try to get the advantage,” he said. “As a guy that plays for a coach like that you appreciate the guys that can do anything they can for the team.”
While Bykowski is working hard he still knows that it won’t be easy to make this Vikings squad, but he likes what he’s seeing from the offensive line group.
“Everyone has been healthy, which is good to see, especially guys like Phil [Loadholt] and Sully [John Sullivan] coming back from injuries,” Bykowski said. “They both look great, moving really well. It’s fun to see. Everyone, as an offensive line, we all went through the offseason program together, and I think everyone was there every single day. We as a whole dropped like over 50 pounds of body fat throughout the system, which I guess is a pretty cool deal and the highest percentage of all the groups out there. So obviously we’re working hard, changing our bodies, and everyone you can see the improvement on the field. Everyone is moving quicker, stronger, so it’s kind of fun to see.”
• USA Today gave only one NBA team a draft grade of A-plus and that was the Timberwolves for their pick of Kris Dunn at No. 5. “There might not be a better fit than Dunn in Minnesota under first-year coach Tom Thibodeau,” they wrote. “Dunn is a versatile, powerful combo guard who will mesh perfectly with Andrew Wiggins on the wing.”
• An interesting article by the Sports Business Journal reported on how the NFL is changing its financial agreement with the two teams that reach the Super Bowl each season. Previously, the two teams each got 17.5 percent of the tickets available at the Super Bowl venue to sell or use. Those seats went to such people as season-ticket holders, suite owners, vendors, sponsors, players and coaches. But now the NFL is stripping away 6,000 total tickets from that allotment for each Super Bowl going forward, including the 2018 game at U.S. Bank Stadium. To help the Super Bowl teams deal with the lost revenue, the NFL will now pay them $4 million each, a number that will grow with each season.
• The NFL recently held a conference call with the league’s special teams coordinators to try to change kickoff rules that would help increase the number of kick returns while also trying to improve safety. Some of the ideas pitched were no longer allowing the kickoff team to run toward the line of scrimmage before the kick, then having at least eight return-team players line up closer to the kick to block earlier, and also outlawing wedges and attack blocks.
• It’s amazing that the Cleveland Indians are leading the American League Central and are last in the major leagues in home attendance with an average of 16,656, compared to the Twins, who are in last place and 23rd overall in attendance with an average of 24,497. And in the AL East, Baltimore entered Saturday leading the division while averaging 24,970 fans per game, ranking 21st among the 30 teams.