Laquon Treadwell has stumbled upon Corey Coleman highlights. He has “been seeing Will Fuller’s name a lot.” He probably has taken note, too, of what Sterling Shepherd has been up to. If not, Treadwell will get to watch him play firsthand when the Vikings host Shepherd and the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium on Monday night.
While those three and other rookie wide receivers already are producing big plays for their teams in the first month of the season, Treadwell, the 23rd overall pick in April’s NFL draft, has played only two snaps and was a healthy scratch Sunday at Carolina.
“Everybody has their own journey and their own process,” Treadwell said Thursday. “You really can’t focus on other people. You just have to wish the best for them. They’re playing at a high level. … We’re all trying to make a name for ourselves in this league.”
Treadwell’s name has yet to show up in a boxscore. The rookie still is looking for his first NFL catch. But the guy ahead of him on the depth chart is not producing either. Charles Johnson, the team’s starting split end, has snagged only three passes for 20 yards.
Coach Mike Zimmer was asked Monday about Johnson’s lack of production.
“I don’t know. That’s a good question,” Zimmer said. “I don’t know.”
The next day, Johnson said, “I don’t really have an answer either.”
Johnson had a strong spring and caught a long touchdown pass from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the preseason opener. He was starting to resemble the playmaker he was in 2014. But then Bridgewater went down, and Johnson has not had the same chemistry with replacement quarterbacks Shaun Hill and Sam Bradford.
“It’s just kind of the flow of the game, how things come up. There’s a lot of things that go into whether or not a receiver gets the ball,” Johnson said. “So when the ball does come my way, I have to make the most of those opportunities. I had one last week [in the second quarter] and I let the guy punch it out, so I missed that one.”
Or, as wide receivers coach George Stewart put it while pointing to the hot starts for wide receiver Stefon Diggs and tight end Kyle Rudolph, “there is only one ball.”
Johnson said that with the Vikings winning games, he’s not worried about not getting the ball. But the Vikings must continue to get better as the season goes on if they want this to be a special season. Production at split end is one thing that can improve.
The Vikings used their first-round pick on Treadwell because they felt his size and ability to make contested catches would make him an ideal fit for that position in coordinator Norv Turner’s offense. And they still feel that way. But they won’t hand Treadwell a significant role until he shows them on the practice field that he is ready.
“He’s working hard in practice,” Stewart said. “He is extremely smart. He’s picking up the offense extremely well. It’s just that [General Manager] Rick Spielman has done such a great job of assembling talent. I know he’s a first-round pick, but he’s still a rookie, and he’s earning his stripes and at some point he will pay dividends for this team.”
Treadwell says he is using being inactive against the Carolina Panthers as motivation. Zimmer said his attitude has been “great.” But his head still is spinning a little bit, just as Diggs’ was last season when he sat out the first three games of his rookie year.
“I still think he’s thinking a little bit about the number of steps to take on each route and things like that, and it’s just being at the right depth and things of that sort,” Zimmer said.
Former Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss, who started 11 games as a rookie in 1998 while grabbing 17 touchdown passes and the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award, said a rookie wide receiver must “show his worth” in practice to earn a shot on Sundays.
“That’s each and every day — mainly Wednesday and Thursday. Those are the toughest days of the week,” Moss, who is now an analyst for ESPN, said on a Thursday conference call. “They’re counting on you to come in and learn whatever new plays and wrinkles they’re putting in. It’s just a learning process all rookies have to go through.”
Through the first three weeks of the season, five rookie wideouts have caught at least 10 passes, including New York’s Shepherd and Houston’s Fuller. Cleveland’s Coleman had seven catches and 173 yards before breaking his hand in practice last week.
Even though 38 rookies already have caught at least one pass, Treadwell insists he is not looking at his lack of early-season playing time as a negative. As the youngest player on the Vikings, he knows he has a lot to learn and plenty of time to make an impact.
“I’ve got a long career [ahead of me],” the 21-year-old wide receiver said.