MBT ‘jumped’ at chance to rejoin Vikings

New Vikings quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson returns to a familiar place but is learning a whole new system and embracing the challenge.

A familiar face was back at Winter Park Wednesday, as the Vikings signed quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson – who spent 2012 and part of the 2013 season with the Vikings – to the practice squad.

Minnesota is the latest stop on MBT’s journey that has seen him play in the Arena Football League, the United Football League and NFL stints with the 49ers, Dolphins, Vikings and Patriots.

It’s been a long and winding road for the nomadic Bethel-Thompson, who has learned one of the most valuable lessons to continuing an NFL career – know how much to pack.

“You have to pack your bags so you have the right amount of stuff so you have enough clothes, but not too much so you have too many bags,” Bethel-Thompson said. “It’s an art. I’m learning it.”

Although Bethel-Thompson was able to keep his NFL dream alive, he didn’t think he was going to be making a return to Minnesota. But, thanks to the season-ending foot injury to Matt Cassel, the Vikings and MBT were reunited.

“Once I was gone, I thought I was gone forever,” Bethel-Thompson said. “That’s what’s so great about coming back is because I know a lot of the guys. The city is familiar. I have friends here. It feels like home.”

This is his second go-round with the Vikings. He was signed in January 2012 to a futures contract. That season, he beat out Sage Rosenfels for the No. 3 QB spot on the roster behind Christian Ponder and Joe Webb. He made the roster last season behind Ponder and Cassel but was released by the Vikings last October when the team made the ill-fated signing of Josh Freeman. He was claimed off waivers by the 49ers and spent the rest of the season with them – both on the 53-man roster and the practice squad. He was signed to the Patriots practice squad Aug. 31 and his odyssey continued.

In a 2½ -week stretch this month, he was signed, cut and re-signed by New England three times. While he was given a small level of assurance that he would be brought back, there were no guarantees and the way the Patriots massage their practice squad from one week to the next to bring in players to fill in for injured players on the 53-man roster, practice squad life expectancy isn’t very long.

“They do a week-on, week-off with their practice squad and I was on the week off,” Bethel-Thompson said. “I was on the week off and they couldn’t sign me. (The Vikings) said, ‘here’ and I jumped at the opportunity to get a full-time job.”

Despite having no job security, being able to learn under Bill Belichick and alongside Tom Brady was a valuable teaching experience that Bethel-Thompson valued.

“That was a great opportunity as well,” Bethel-Thompson said. “To learn behind 12 (Brady’s number), he’s an amazing player and a really good dude too. I was able to pick his brain for those couple of weeks and then move on. I’m just trying to find a home and throw the ball as long as they let me. They’ll let me here, so I’m going to sling it as much as I can.”

Job security isn’t something Bethel-Thompson has experienced in his professional career, but it’s all part of the job. When he arrived, Ponder was being anointed as the golden boy of the franchise. For the first three games of the regular season this year, he was the inactive No. 3 QB. Bethel-Thompson can sympathize with the position Ponder finds himself in.

“The NFL stands for Not For Long,” Bethel-Thompson said. “No matter where you’re at, you have to prove yourself on a daily basis. You kind of roll with the punches. Christian seems to be handling his situation great. He’s still the same player he was. I don’t think he’s changed. It’s a good and a bad thing. It keeps you on your toes. You have to prove yourself on a daily basis, but it’s also a hard league. There are no easy jobs to have.”

After a while, the uncertainties of whether he will remain with an organization or not can get to a player. When the Vikings came calling, he saw a more long-term opportunity and, as he has done so many times before, he packed his bags, he got on a plane and flew to a new town – this time looking to put down some roots.

“It’s not a fun lifestyle,” Bethel-Thompson said. “You kind of have the feeling that you’re off-balance all the time. That’s why I jumped at the opportunity to come here. I felt it was an opportunity to have a job each week and stick and be somewhere. And it’s a great opportunity to work with Coach Turner and learn his system.”

While Bethel-Thompson has experienced several different coaching approaches, he is new to the digit system offensive coordinator Norv Turner uses. The digit system is a play-calling structure in which numbers are used in calling plays and assign a value to the routes for the appropriate receivers in the passing game. Credited to offensive innovator Don Coryell back in the 1970s, it is a system favored by Turner and something MBT will have to adjust to.

It’s still extremely early in MBT’s latest stint, but head coach Mike Zimmer knows a few things he likes about Bethel-Thompson.

“He’s got a big arm. I think he’s a smart guy and has good quickness getting back, set up and making quick decisions,” Zimer said. “Another guy to look at.”

There is no plan for Bethel-Thompson to get thrown into the fray any time soon, but he’s looking forward to the opportunity to add a new system to his growing file of experience and continue his NFL career.

“It’s fun,” Bethel-Thompson said. “You get to pick up a new offense. You challenge yourself to see how fast you can pick it. Day One, I’m kind of swimming a little bit, but hopefully it will come quick. My job is just to learn it as fast as possible, take as many reps as I can and make the most out of them.”

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