Vikings’ Thielen ignored early criticism

Adam Thielen saw the criticisms of him as a local undrafted kid two years ago and overcame it all to earn a roster spot.

At Saturday’s night practice at Blakeslee Stadium on the Minnesota State, Mankato campus, some of the loudest cheers came for wide receiver Adam Thielen. A local product who played his college home games at “The Blake,” he was viewed by most as little more than a camp body who would compete for a roster spot, but most likely be a cut-down casualty.

Instead, Thielen made the practice squad as a rookie in 2013 and made the 53-man roster last year. He became a special teams ace and provided some punch to the Vikings offense in limited duty.

As he enters his third season, Thielen’s confidence level of making the roster is at its highest, but he isn’t allowing his past accomplishments to cloud his vision that a roster spot is assured. When he made the roster last season, there were a couple of players who were convinced they had done enough to make the team only to have the rug pulled out from under them.

“I still take the same approach that nothing is certain,” Thielen said. “The difference now is that I have bigger goals. Every year I come in here I want to improve on the year before and make bigger strides for myself and the team. I’m going to do whatever it takes to help this team win football games.”

There were some who dismissed Thielen as being little more than a publicity stunt by the Vikings – bringing in a local kid from the town where the Vikings hold training camp. There was some eye-rolling and head shaking over the decision among those outside the organization.

But the Vikings aren’t in the habit of granting Make-A-Wish requests to healthy adults in their early 20s. The trolling he took from the media – professional and social alike – got under his skin, but he found a way to channel that as motivation to shut up the skeptics and his detractors who dismissed his chances of being a NFL player.

“It did bother me a little bit,” Thielen said of being dismissed as a gimmick signing. “That taught me that you have to stay out of the media and not get too caught up in what other people are saying and do your job. Little things that were said made me angry, but it also made me come out here and work harder to prove those people wrong.”

Despite making the 2013 roster on the practice squad, when Mike Zimmer and his staff came in last year, any goodwill Thielen had engendered with the previous coaching staff was gone. He had to prove himself all over again. While the Vikings had depth at wide receiver, he was still steadfast on making the roster.

He figured out early on that he had to make the most out of his offensive reps – many of which he took with Teddy Bridgewater during training camp and the preseason – but that his ticket to making the roster would likely hinge on him being able to excel on special teams. He did just that and his special teams ability helped grease the wheels to realizing his dream.

“It was critical,” Thielen said. “I wouldn’t have been able to make the team if it wasn’t for special teams. As a young player in the league, it doesn’t matter who you are. You’re going to have to play special teams and play it at a high level or you won’t be on the team. That was important for me. It was something I really worked on and one of the things I’m hoping to improve on from last year.”

Thielen has become the poster boy for those who are viewed as camp bodies, roster fillers and long shots with one opportunity to make an impression. He has become a success story and now has evolved into a player that other undrafted free agent types approach to get advice and some tips on how to make that positive impression.

It’s a new role for Thielen, but, like so many others he has taken on over the last two years, he is embracing it and trying to give out the best advice he can dispense and be a team player at that level too.

“I’m always open to talking to new guys to let them know what I went through and what I had to do to win a spot on the roster,” Thielen said. “I’ve had a few guys talk to me about my journey and ask me questions. I’m here to help and want to make this team the best team possible. That includes helping out guys who are viewed as long shots. I had guys help me and teach me the little things. There are always going to be guys gunning for your job and, as I see it, you help him out and hopefully you both make the team.”

Thielen will likely find himself sweating out the Vikings’ final cut-down announcement early next month. That’s just part and parcel of being a guy at the lower end of the 53-man roster. He didn’t have any guarantees of hooking on with the practice squad in 2013 or the 53-man roster in 2014. He will likely be a bubble player again this year, but, unlike the past seasons, if he ends up on the 53-man roster again, it won’t be seen as a surprise and certainly won’t be viewed as the Vikings doing a favor for a local kid.

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