Vikings first-round pick Laquon Treadwell is gaining confidence by the day
MANKATO One of the Vikings top reinforcements looks at the world upside down as he catches a series of mechanically-hurled footballs behind his legs, helmet nestled between them.
Vikings gofers, handlers and autograph seekers are at Laquon Treadwells whim until he finishes the lengthy ritual. Thirty-eight minutes after most teammates hit the showers, his nearly three-hour afternoon practice ends with one Vikings employee vowing to save future interviews for mornings when hes hydrated.
Another staffer gets in the first question with: Water or Gatorade?
Both, he says.
Treadwell, the Vikings top pick in this years NFL draft, has taken on a heavy workload in training camp that still doesnt include many passes from starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Treadwells second-team role, behind Charles Johnson, is one he said he is using to gain comfort with the teams route concepts and the NFLs bigger, faster and stronger opposition.
Treadwell said he has never been too good at impressing people without pads, anyway.
Never have, never have been, never made plays, Treadwell said. When I came out here [in May], it was difficult for me, because it was better guys, better competition, better footwork, better foot placement.
And now Im out here making plays in 7-on-7 [drills]. So it kind of gives me a confidence that my routes have gotten a lot better. And Im eager to put on the pads. Itll be fun. I just want to see where Im at and see what the level of competition is. Thats why I stay out there, just to give me the edge mentally.
Sunday, Treadwell finally donned pads as the armor was introduced back into Vikings football. Only then could the long-armed rookie receiver begin to show why he was worth the 23rd overall pick.
Treadwell stumbled in skivvies during the draft process with an underwhelming 40-yard dash and vertical jump. Those results likely contributed to him being the fourth and final receiver taken in the first round, despite becoming Ole Miss all-time leading receiver in only three college seasons.
There were more important measurables to the Vikings, specifically his 6-2, 220-pound frame paired with 33??-inch arms that nearly match the limbs of pesky cornerback Xavier Rhodes. His physical talents can now be put to work as NFL rules limited contact by banning pads and press coverage until six weeks before the season.
We havent had that type of size lately, receivers coach George Stewart said. You know weve had [Stefon] Diggs, we have Jarius Wright. So of course we tried to get bigger and our football team as a whole has gotten bigger.
Treadwell was one of two primary offseason acquisitions, including 6-8 guard Alex Boone, to bolster an offense that struggled in critical situations like red zone and third downs. Coach Mike Zimmer seeks a more balanced approach after the Vikings threw the fewest passes per game of any team last season.
So one of the preseasons main focuses turns to the Bridgewater and Treadwell pairing. Treadwell hasnt missed a practice open to media but declined to say if he felt fully healthy 21 months removed from a fractured fibula and dislocated ankle in November 2014.
If Treadwell is still feeling any limitations, as he admitted to during his 11-touchdown junior season, its not stopping him. During the break between June minicamp and training camp, Treadwell practiced footwork, among other areas, at the direction of the coaching staff with two-a-day practice sessions in Dallas.
My family kept telling me Take a break. Take a break, ? Treadwell said. You need to take a break. You need to relax. Because I was frustrated, things werent coming together in my footwork. Its just like Take a break. Take a break.andthinsp;
So for his first vacation, Treadwell visited the Bahamas about a week before reporting to Mankato.
Like it was something Id never experienced, Treadwell said. It was just a mind break, mental and nervous system recovered. I came back and did a little workout in my home and came out to the field and everything just came together. Im moving better, Im playing a lot faster, Im comfortable. My mind is at ease now.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner noticed an improved Treadwell during the first two camp sessions in shorts and a jersey.
Now the audition begins in earnest.
The one thing we expect him to give us is a physical presence, Turner said. You cant demonstrate that without the pads on.