A star wide receiver for Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks, Thielen has been getting a ton of praise this spring and summer from head coach Mike Zimmer to offensive coordinator Norv Turner to wide receivers coach George Stewart. Stewart doesn’t hand out false praise and he has been effusive in talking up Thielen and the improvement he has made over the last year, after spending 2013 on the Vikings practice squad.
As much as he has tried to avoid getting caught up in the hype that has surrounded him, Thielen said he’s heard the talk and is happy to see that those in charge think so highly of him.
“I try to stay out of it and not put too much into it, but I definitely have heard it,” Thielen said. “I’m just out here trying to get better and there are a lot of things I need to work on to make myself better and hopefully help make this team better.”
Thielen admits that he feels light years ahead of where he was at this point in 2013, when he was a long shot to make the team in any capacity. He credits the time he has spent with veteran wide receivers on the team to learn the little things that they do to separate themselves from aspiring wide receivers and Thielen has enjoyed picking their brains to improve his own game.
“It’s been a group effort,” Thielen said. “I’ve worked hard to improve my game, but I’ve learned so much from the veterans in our room – Greg (Jennings), Jarius (Wright), Jerome (Simpson). That was huge for me because they helped teach me a lot about what it takes to be a receiver in this league. Coach Stewart is an unbelievable teacher and he always seems to get the most out of his players. All those factors combined have helped me a lot.”
When the Vikings announced last year that Thielen was among the undrafted free agents signed by the team, many dismissed the decision as merely publicity – signing a local Mankato kid. Just as he has heard the praise this year, he heard the dismissive talk about his chances last year. He hasn’t let all the positive talk distract him this year and he didn’t let the negative connotations to his signing get to him last year.
“That didn’t bother me. It just fueled my fire if they thought I didn’t deserve to be here,” Thielen said. “I’m a confident guy. I’m confident in my game and I know I can play at this level. Now it’s just a matter of going out there every day and proving it – showing it in the preseason and hopefully being able to contribute when the regular season comes around.”
While Thielen has plenty of supporters among the fans, this time around the nighttime practice at Blakeslee wasn’t just a homecoming to play on the field one more time. This time around, he has a far more legitimate shot of making the team. The Vikings are going to keep at least five wide receivers and, while four of them would appear to be locked up with Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Wright and Simpson, the fifth spot is wide open and Thielen in realistic competition for that one remaining spot, maybe even the leader.
However, just as he turned a deaf ear to those who said he had no shot of sticking around last year, he’s trying to do the same this year – just with a polar opposite sentiment that he has a better than 50/50 chance of being that fifth receiver.
“I’m trying not to think about that,” Thielen said. “My focus is just on trying to do everything I can so that, when the day comes that they’re cutting down the roster, they will feel like they have to keep me because I can help this team win. I’m just focusing on those things that I can control – the amount of work I put in, the preparation I give, those kinds of things. I’m just coming out every day giving the best I can because I know that, when the day comes, it won’t be my decision whether I make the team or not. It will be somebody else’s. We’ll see what happens.”
SATURDAY NIGHT LIGHTS HIGHLIGHTS
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.