Is Yankey ready to be a starting contender?

As a rookie, David Yankey never saw the field, but he learned a lot about the NFL and being a professional. Will that put him in a position to compete for a starting job?

One of the names being thrown around by draft analysts as a potential selection with the No. 11 pick is Iowa offensive lineman Brandon Scherff. Many envision him as a guard to start out, as well as insurance if the Vikings move on without left tackle Matt Kalil after this season.

But a year ago at this time there was a lot of buzz around offensive lineman David Yankey out of Stanford. Viewed by many draft analysts in the media as a second- or third-round prospect, Yankey lasted all the way until the fifth round and, of the nine rookies that made the 53-man roster, Yankey was the only one who didn’t see any playing time.

Considering that injuries resulted in the loss of both starting guards last year, Yankey not seeing the light of day was significant and it taught the rookie two-time All-Pac 12 selection some humility.

“I definitely was a learning experience all year,” Yankey said. “You have to learn a lot about the NFL and how it works.”

Because of NFL rules and Stanford’s class schedule, Yankey couldn’t join his new Vikings teammates in offseason workouts last year until after he graduated in June. When he showed up, he wasn’t in top condition and always seemed to be a step behind in his progress.

Asked if that was a source of frustration, Yankey didn’t mince words.

“Definitely,” he said. “As a competitor, as a player, you’re always going to want to play and get on the field. (Last) year was a great lesson in patience – understanding where you need to get to in order to achieve that goal and get on the field.”

Despite being bypassed throughout the season, even when starters Brandon Fusco and Charlie Johnson went down to injuries, Yankey couldn’t pinpoint the moment in which he started to get the impression he wasn’t going to play because, like most players, you live in a vacuum with the focus being strictly on the next opponent and the next game – preparing for the call that may or may not come.

“I wouldn’t say there was a particular point, but every week you never know what’s going to happen and you have to prepare as if you’re going to play,” Yankey said. “You’ve just got to continue to get stronger and work on technique. The O-line is – I don’t want to beat a dead horse – but it’s all about technique and strength and being able to protect and move another man. As long as you keep getting better at that, you’ll be fine.”

For a lot of young players who have been stars their entire football career, such a demotion to the bottom of the depth chart can be a difficult thing to handle. Some players get moody. Some players lash out in anger. Others simply become sullen and withdrawn.

Yankey’s focus remained on trying to think positively because, as he saw it, it would be easy to get salty about being passed over for playing time, but that wouldn’t do anyone any good and the day might come when he would be needed, so keeping a positive attitude was important.

“It’s easier to channel it negatively, but you have to come in with the mindset that you have to work, you can contribute and that there’s a possibility of you doing a lot of good things for the team – even the very next week,” Yankey said. “Crazy things happen in the NFL. You’ve always got to be ready. You can’t let yourself just slide off and say, ‘I quit. I just don’t care.’”

One thing Yankey did take away from his anonymous rookie season was earning the respect of his teammates, many of whom are no strangers to the NFL wars. He felt it was important to learn from them and, in the process, earn their respect that he belongs.

“You’ve really just got to earn your stripes,” Yankey said. “I think I did that with a lot of these older guys here. There are some really good guys to learn from – guys who have been in the league a long time. They just have so much knowledge playing football in the NFL, as long as I’ve been playing football period.”

When the Vikings make their pick at No. 11 (if they stay there), if Scherff is still on the board, he may get a lot of consideration. But the Vikings may know more about the progress Yankey has made than they’re letting on. The heir to Johnson’s starting spot may not have to come in the draft. He may already be in the Vikings locker room.

2014 was a year Yankey might want to forget, but he has vowed to keep his head held high and continue to work hard because the day may come soon when he gets his opportunity to show what he can do and fight for the vacant left guard job.

“It’s tough not playing,” Yankey said. “That’s what we’re here for, to help the team. When you feel like you’re not doing that, you’re not doing your job. It’s definitely been frustrating times, but you continue to work through it and get to the point that you can contribute.”


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