EAGAN, Minn. (AP)For most of Adam Thielen’s career, he was widely viewed as the overachieving small-school wide receiver who needed a rookie tryout camp just to get an offseason roster spot with the Minnesota Vikings and worked his way up from the practice squad to become a starter.
Now, he’s by far the most experienced player in his position room, tasked with helping guide a young group past the departure of longtime pal and pass-catching partner Stefon Diggs.
”It helps me stay young, I think,” Thielen said.
Even coming off a rough 2019, when he essentially missed half of the regular season with a pulled hamstring, his first significant injury in football, the two-time Pro Bowl pick is not feeling his age.
”Maybe it’s because I’ve been trying to avoid that, being the old guy in the room,” the 30-year-old Thielen said recently. ”But I definitely don’t feel it. It feels no different than my first couple years in the league. Just trying to learn from guys and trying to help where I can.”
Some of that assistance came in the form of leading summer workouts at one of the training facilities he owns in the Twin Cities with some of his fellow Vikings wide receivers, including rookies Justin Jefferson and K.J. Osborn. The virus-forced closure of team facilities during the offseason took away valuable practice time for Thielen’s proteges.
Much of the work will have to come on the field, too, in light of the trade that sent the dissatisfied Diggs to Buffalo and foreshadowed the drafting of Jefferson in the first round out of national champion LSU. Bisi Johnson will be the primary starter next to Thielen, with Jefferson carrying a higher ceiling but further behind in his development. Tajae Sharpe signed as a free agent from Tennessee, and Chad Beebe is back his injury-wrecked 2019. Osborn was a late pick, targeted for his kickoff and punt return ability.
”I’m just going to be the same guy. That’s who I am,” Thielen said. ”I’m just going to continue to try to be the player that I think I can be and I train to be. When I’m around these guys, I want to help them out. I want to help everybody become the best player they can be, and if they want to use me as a resource, I’m here. They all know that. I love this game of football, and I love to teach it.”
New wide receivers coach Andrew Janocko couldn’t be more appreciative.
”This is your group to lead,” Janocko told Thielen, ”and the better off that everybody is around you, the more success you can have.”
A product of Minnesota State, the NCAA Division II program that only offered him a $500 scholarship, Thielen has separated himself from the competition – and the opposing cornerbacks – with a impeccable route-running skills.
”Adam is so great, man. There’s so much stuff I can say about him just in the short time I’ve got a chance to work with him,” Osborn said, adding: ”I’m a visual learner, so being out there and being able to watch him work, the type of routes that he runs, why he’s running it, I’m able to come back and talk to him, why he did this, why he did that, and Adam is great with it.”
More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP-NFL