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News From Vikings’ OTAs

What’s been going on over at the Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center?

NFL: Minnesota Vikings-OTA David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings have five OTAs in the books now - halfway through- and there has been some news coming out in recent press conferences. Here are some of the more notable tidbits:

Hercules Mata’afa the Early Star

One of the Vikings more noteworthy UDFA signings last year, but who suffered an ACL tear around this time last year, is back and playing the 3-technique defensive tackle spot.

Mata’afa was noteworthy as a UDFA in part because he had an excellent career at Washington State and was #63 on PFFs draft board - a late second-round value. The reason he went undrafted was because he was a tweener - too small at 250 lbs to play defensive tackle (where he played mostly in college), not long enough to play defensive end, and not experienced in coverage to play linebacker. The Vikings had tried him at linebacker last year before he suffered his ACL.

Returning this year after recovering from his ACL tear, Mata’afa is now 275 lbs., having added 25 lbs. of muscle as he rehabbed - apparently without losing any quickness according to Mike Zimmer. He went on to say that Mata’afa was impressing early with his quickness, staying low off the snap, and against the run in OTAs. Zimmer compared him to Geno Atkins, his All-Pro 3-tech in Cincinnati, in his first OTAs as a rookie, saying if he could do what he did in OTAs in real games, he could be good.

As it stands, Mata’afa is still a little light for 3-tech, but could still be a viable starting option with his quickness if his technique is solid. Aaron Donald is only 285 lbs., and so was John Randle, so there’s precedent for an under-sized 3-tech to make it if he can make up for it in other ways - as Randle and Donald have done.

If he doesn’t make it as a starter this year, Mata’afa could still make the roster as a backup and core special teamer, given his skill set.

Jordan Taylor - Inside Track For #3 Wide Receiver ?

Jordan Taylor has also got a few mentions since OTAs began, and Kevin Stefanski mentioned him as something of a veteran mentor to the rookie wide receivers in OTAs, who he could “show rather than tell” them what to do as they practiced. Zimmer has mentioned him before positively as well.

Taylor was a free agent pickup from Denver, who learned Kubiak's scheme when he coached there in 2015-16, and was acquired on Kubiak's recommendation. He underwent hip surgery last year, leading to his release, but apparently has recovered from it well based on comments from Zimmer and Kevin Stefanski so far.

Taylor is 6’5”, 210 lbs., ran a 4.5” 40, so he could be a good complement to Diggs and Thielen as a bigger body receiver outside. My guess, based on what we’ve heard so far, is he’s got the inside track for the #3 WR spot at this point. He’s been getting some of the first team reps as well in Stefon Diggs’ absence.

Taylor spent 2015 on the practice squad before making the roster in Denver the following year. He had a total of 29 receptions for 351 yards and two TDs between 2016 and 2017, before having hip surgery prior to the 2018 season.

Kirk Cousins also seems to like the newcomer, calling him a ‘diamond in the rough’ and praising his route running ability while also saying he has some ‘juice.’

It looks like both Taylor and Chad Beebe have surpassed Laquon Treadwell on the depth chart, making Treadwell’s roster spot less and less certain. I suspect the Vikings would love to trade Treadwell for a six-pack of Milwaukee’s Best, so they could save $1.8 million in cap space. Otherwise they’re on the hook for $3.162 million, whether they release him or not. The problem is finding another team to take on his salary in hope of turning his career around.

Linval Joseph Surgery

One injury surprise was that Linval Joseph had surgery during the off-season, which limited him in OTAs so far. It’s unclear what type of surgery he had, but he had been dealing with shoulder, ankle, and knee issues last season.

The good news is that he had it done and it doesn’t appear, at this point, that it will limit him much by the time training camp rolls around. Stay tuned.

Joseph’s injuries last year may help explain a down year for him, and hopefully he is healthy enough this season to regain his 2017 form.

Punt Returner Competition

Apparently there is a long list of competitors for punt return duties - and I imagine kick returner as well. One that was mentioned specifically in response to a question was Ameer Abdullah as a possible punt returner. He hasn’t done it previously, new Special Teams coach Marwan Maalouf said, but perhaps is a leading candidate if he can prove himself. He has the explosiveness and running ability to be more of a threat in that capacity, so we’ll see how things develop. Most of the non-starting receivers and defensive backs are likely in the mix for returner duties as well.

Coaching Staff Mentions

Rather than make a big deal about other comments that aren’t terribly insightful beyond, ‘he looked good,’ I’ll just lost some other positive mentions (negative mentions are rare), as a rolling gauge that over time could be more insightful.

  • Mike Zimmer had good things to say about Cam Smith, and told him in so many words to work on special teams. That is likely his best route to make the team, and reminds me of a similar conversation Zimmer had with Brandon Zylstra this time last year.
  • Zimmer also said safety Marcus Epps looked good, as well as corner Kris Boyd
  • Both Zimmer and Kevin Stefanski were asked about Irv Smith Jr. - Cousins was too - and they all had positive things to say. Stefanski went into the most detail, citing his maturity and serious demeanor as he learns his assignments and technique.
  • Zimmer and Cousins also had good things to say about Tyler Conklin and Sean Mannion
  • Lots of positive comments about Garrett Bradbury

Overall

Overall I suspect the most significant news is Hercules Mata’afa at 3-tech and probably Jordan Taylor getting the opportunity to be the #3 wide receiver so far in OTAs. Neither have won a job at this point, but those two spots were probably the most in question going into OTAs, so Mata’afa making waves at 3-tech and Taylor seemingly going to the head of the non-starter class at wide receiver is instructive as position battles play out and pecking order is determined heading into training camp.