Irv Smith Jr. wants to make the “big jump” often noted with second-year NFL tight ends, and the Vikings offense needs it, according to head coach Mike Zimmer.
Smith’s role steadily grew as a rookie, and expectations are rising for the 2019 second-round pick out of Alabama. Throws are available in the offense after the Stefon Diggs trade, and the Vikings have visions for how Smith — a nimble 6 feet 2 and 242 pounds — can get open downfield.
“Irv has done a really nice job,” Zimmer said. “He has a skill set that we need to be able to utilize with the offense. You can get linebackers in space, and safeties in space, and actually sometimes corners.”
Only the Eagles, with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, deployed two-tight end formations at a higher percentage than the Vikings last season, and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak isn’t expected to deviate with Kyle Rudolph and Smith, who had 36 catches for 311 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie.
“I kind of got a good feel of the offense, everything the coaches are asking from me,” Smith said. “Now it’s just making that big jump in year two.”
Smith may be less green in Year 2, but he only turned 22 years old this month, fitting him into a Vikings youth movement that recently added the largest draft class in the seven-round era.
“I’m still the same age as a lot of those guys,” Smith said. “Some of them are even older than me. For me, it’s cool that I’ve played that extra year and kind of know what to expect, and I’m still learning.”
Another move for Elflein?
Another year, another position change for guard Pat Elflein? At least during Friday’s practice, the first open to reporters, Elflein lined up at right guard with the first-team offense. He has started at center and left guard but has now returned to the right side, where he last started as a junior at Ohio State.
That moves the Vikings’ O-line competition to left guard, where veterans Dakota Dozier and Aviante Collins rotated on Friday. With only 14 padded practices (starting Monday), the Vikings will move quickly on a starting combination, per Zimmer.
“We’re going to try to make a quick decision with some of these offensive linemen,” Zimmer said. “Probably after three days in pads or something like that.”
The Vikings’ first full practice of training camp included every player on the active roster except for defensive tackle Shamar Stephen, cornerback Jeff Gladney and linebacker Ben Gedeon.
Stephen and Gladney could play significant roles Sept. 13 against Green Bay, making their absences noteworthy as nose tackle Armon Watts and cornerback Cameron Dantzler got a lot of run in their places.
Gedeon, the fourth-year linebacker whose 2019 season ended after two concussions, has been on the Physically Unable to Perform list throughout camp.
Seeking safety options
Safety depth was addressed when the Vikings were awarded ex-Dolphins safety Steven Parker, who went undrafted in 2018 out of Oklahoma. Parker had two interceptions in four starts last season before Miami released him this week.
The Vikings also plan to work out free-agent safety Jahleel Addae, according to NFL Media. Addae, the 30-year-old former L.A. Chargers safety, started three games for the Houston Texans last season. The Vikings currently have four young safeties, including three rookies, behind starters Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris.
‘Happy for him’
Zimmer was asked about losing longtime defensive end Everson Griffen, whom the Vikings wanted to re-sign but he instead chose a one-year, $6 million deal this week with the Cowboys.
“I’m happy for him,” Zimmer said. “I hope it works out.”