With Irv Smith Jr. only days away from the start of training camp and a pro football career, he sought advice. He ended up leaning on his father for guidance — just one of the many perks of being the son of a former NFL tight end.
While Smith did get some tips, he also received an earful of stories of his dad’s training camp stories. When Irv Smith Sr. played for the Saints, he traveled to La Crosse — a thousand miles from Louisiana — in August as part of the “Cheese League” when as many as six teams had training camps in Wisconsin.
As for Senior’s advice … he didn’t really give much to his 20-year-old son.
“You don’t ask, you just go,” he said.
Naturally, Junior is grateful to be in Eagan at Vikings training camp, which starts in force Friday with the full squad reporting. The tight end from Alabama, a second-round draft pick in April, navigated the opening three days of camp mingling among 37 rookies, fringe players and quarterbacks before the 53 veterans arrived.
There was also an extra bonus to the additional practice time: reps with starting quarterback Kirk Cousins.
“Every day, I try to take one thing to work on,” Smith said. “I really try to pride myself in being a complete tight end and learning the plays. Every day, just coming in with that mind-set, and focus on one thing to get better.”
Just behind Cousins in another red, no-contact jersey was rookie quarterback Jake Browning. The Washington product went undrafted, and now is learning the life of a pro while competing for a spot on the team.
Browning said he is trying to absorb as much as he can during practice; from the playbook to meetings to recovery, the rookie is learning it all on the fly. When he has a question or needs some help, he turns to the coaching staff. For a rookie tasked with knowing the ins and outs of the playbook, the opening rookie portion of training camp is crucial so he can get a step ahead.
“They just want me to keep learning,” Browning said. “Keep learning from everybody else. Rookie year is just learn as much as you can, as quick as you can and eliminate the learning curve.”
Browning is trying to stay in the mix for a backup spot behind Cousins, competing with Sean Mannion and Kyle Sloter, and he knows his role.
“I’m a rookie third-string quarterback right now competing; I’m not going to bug Kirk about a bunch of questions,” Browning said. “Any time he says anything, I’m listening, making sure that I know what he’s talking about.”
Aside from Cousins, there were a few non-rookies mixed into the first few days of camp, second-year players such as running back Mike Boone and tight end Tyler Conklin who have spent some time on an NFL field. While they’re fighting for roster spots, even their limited experience prompts some rookies to pester them with questions.
Running back Alexander Mattison and fullback Khari Blasingame have asked about little things, such as where to sign up for massages.
“Me and Khari, we’re like little annoying brothers,” Mattison said. “Just trying to pick their brains here and there.”
Life is similar for most of the first-year players in camp. They all have the goal of making the team, practicing with the same guys they’re battling for a roster spot. The real grind begins when the veterans step on the field Friday. The first few days were nice to return to the swing of things, Mattison said, but he added it’s only the beginning.
As for the living situation, the rookies are staying in a hotel throughout camp. While they’re under the stress of learning the playbook and trying to impress the coaches, the setup isn’t too bad.
“The meals are free and I’m making more than I did in college, so that’s kind of nice,” Browning said.