ST. PAUL — Adam Thielen will be 30 years old by the time his seventh NFL season officially kicks off. And while he still feels like only he’s on Year 2 or Year 3, there’s no denying the Vikings receiver is a veteran in this league.
One Minnesota will need to rely heavily on this season.
That’s true in a number of ways. For years, Thielen and Stefon Diggs were receivers 1A and 1B in the Vikings’ receiver room, and who was which depended on the day or matchup. That changed this offseason, when Minnesota sent a seemingly disgruntled Diggs to Buffalo in exchange for a first-round draft pick. The Vikings’ tremendous receiving tandem is no more.
“We kind of knew each other like the back of our hands,” Thielen said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “It’s definitely tough losing a teammate like that that you know so well, and the way we were able to feed off each other in games was something special.”
Thielen said he must trust that Rick Spielman and Co. are doing what is best for the team, and is excited about what the Vikings currently have on the roster. He noted there are guys in the receiving room who have talent and have had time to grow as football players. Still, what Minnesota does not have is a proven receiver to line up alongside No. 19.
Perhaps Bisi Johnson is ready to make the next step, maybe Tajae Sharpe will turn a corner in his career, and it’s possible that Justin Jefferson is indeed ready to make an instant splash in his rookie season. But that all remains to be seen.
For now, the receiving corps consists of Thielen and a number of question marks.
“For me, it just kind of provides a little bit of excitement to try to teach and help and grow some of these young guys to make some big plays,” Thielen said.
He’s already doing that during the team’s virtual meetings. Thielen’s mantra during these uncertain times is to “control what you can control,” and he sees many of his teammates taking a similar approach. Thielen doesn’t think the team is losing much by not being together on the field at the moment, because there wouldn’t be much of that taking place anyway. He thinks the virtual nature of these meetings has provided a better opportunity to share input with teammates.
“(Explaining), ‘This is why I did this’ or, ‘Maybe on this route, do this,’ or ‘This is what you’re trying to make this look like,’ things like that. It’s kind of provided a better opportunity to do that, to try to help these young guys move along,” Thielen said. “It is good to create a relationship virtually right now to the point where they feel comfortable asking questions or calling me or coming to train with me. … I’m just trying to be that resource for those guys and to know that, hey, when I’m teaching these guys and when I’m talking to them, I’m really talking to myself, because there are a lot of things that I need to get better at. And usually it’s those things I’m talking about and teaching those young guys — the things that I need to work on the most.”
Jefferson is the most likely candidate to be Minnesota’s No. 2 wideout this season. The first-round draft pick played primarily out of the slot last year at LSU, which is where Thielen usually operates. Might the addition of Jefferson signal a role change for Thielen?
“I think it’s very similar to what Diggs and I’s role was,” Thielen said. “They could kind of move us around anywhere. We felt comfortable wherever they put us, and it just provides an opportunity for them to see what we’re really good at and to be able to put us there in those situations.”
Whether on the slot or the outside, Thielen will be Kirk Cousins’ top top pass-catching option next season.
“I always like to prove that it doesn’t matter where you put me. I’m going to be ready and I’m going to be comfortable and I’m going to be excited about that role,” Thielen said. “I’m just going to continue to work on being an all-around good football player, and I would assume that these other guys are doing the same thing, and I’m excited to see what that role will be and see on this team who’s going to step up and make plays and really help get to where we want to be.”