Four years removed from an Achilles injury that ended his Vikings career, former tackle Phil Loadholt knows two things — his life's next phase will be in football and he's keeping his options open.

Loadholt, 33, has returned to the Vikings for a few weeks on the Nunn-Wooten Scouting Fellowship program through training camp. In Eagan, he's taking a break from his day job helping coach the University of Central Florida's offensive line under head coach Josh Heupel, who coached Loadholt at Oklahoma.

"I've been learning the routines of an area scout, pro scout," Loadholt said Friday. "I talked with [VP of Football Operations] Rob Brzezinski yesterday, learned about some salary cap things. Just really getting a snapshot of the entire personnel side and what all these guys do on a yearly basis."

Former Vikings linebacker Jasper Brinkley is expected to be the next scouting intern, according to General Manager Rick Spielman. Former players start by relearning how to watch game film. Loadholt, how started 89 games for the Vikings from 2009-2014, said "it's a lot different" as he now studies for body types and scheme fits as opposed to just his opponent on Sunday.

Loadholt is young enough to still be playing, but he said he "couldn't do it" when Spielman joked about getting him back onto the field.

"I'm keeping all my options open right now," Loadholt said. "I'm really enjoying what I'm doing down there right now at Central Florida. I'm not in a rush. I'm really enjoying this, too."

Smith Jr. 'swimming' early

Assistant head coach Gary Kubiak said the Vikings' tight ends have a chance to "be the strength" of the offense, given the depth from veteran Kyle Rudolph to rookie Irv Smith Jr., a second-round pick in April. Second-year tight end Tyler Conklin has been featured often in the starting offense during camp while David Morgan remains on the PUP list.

Before the Vikings can count on Smith Jr., they'll need him to get a better grip on the playbook. Coaches are putting a lot on his plate, according to Kubiak, which has created a steep learning curve for the rookie.

Tom Baker for Star Tribune
Video (02:21) Assistant head coach Gary Kubiak has been impressed with the versatility of the tight end group at training camp so far.

"Irv is extremely talented. He's swimming right now, but we'll catch him up," Kubiak said. "Obviously you all see how he can stretch the field."

Stephen activated

Defensive tackle Shamar Stephen took part in his first padded practice Friday since rejoining the Vikings in free agency. Stephen, the 2014 seventh-round pick, passed his physical and was activated off the non-football injury list, where he was held out of the first six full-squad practices of training camp.

Stephen, who dealt with an undisclosed injury, was given a light load during his first practice, as he did not participate in 11-on-11 team sessions.

"Just easing him in," coach Mike Zimmer said. "He didn't do too much, but we're glad to have him back. He'll help us in a lot of the things we're trying to do."

'Just needs reps'

Holding is still a work in progress for punter Matt Wile, according to special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf. As the Vikings search for a stability in the field goal operation, Wile has been at the center of a revolving door. Between rotating long snappers, Wile has ceded some holds in practice to receivers Adam Thielen and Chad Beebe.

They're just backup holders, per Maalouf, but Beebe held for another three field goals Friday with kicker Dan Bailey making 2 of 3 attempts, missing from 39 yards. Bailey converted on four of five attempts held by Wile, missing from 50 yards.

"As time goes on, he gets better and better," Maalouf said of Wile. "He just needs reps."