How can missing some preseason games be an advantage for a rookie?
Perhaps no other player on the Minnesota Vikings offense will have as versatile and varied a role as rookie MyCole Pruitt. He’s a tight end in name, but the Vikings have an interesting role cooked up for Pruitt, who can play the typical tight end position, line up outside or be motioned into the backfield.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner loves versatile athletes and Pruitt has proved to be that, even if he did miss most of the preseason after suffering an ankle injury in the second game. Pruitt got a full offseason of work prior to the injury that had him in a walking boot, but because of the injury his use wasn’t put on film much for the San Francisco 49ers to assess.
“That could definitely be an advantage,” Pruitt said. “Once I come in and I’m on the Monday night game, I’m ready to show everything I can do and maybe the 49ers might not be as prepared for that as they would have been.”
The Vikings got a long look at what their fifth-round draft pick could do during organized team activities, minicamp and training camp, but Pruitt was shelved shortly after the team broke camp from Mankato.
“It’s a slight setback. I didn’t get the chance to continue to get that rhythm with Teddy (Bridgewater) and Shaun (Hill). It was a slight setback, but I’m trying to come back a lot stronger,” Pruitt said. “I’ve got some making up to do and I’m trying to do it this week.”
In each of his first three seasons at Southern Illinois, Pruitt caught between 43 passes (in 2011) and 48 passes (in 2013) for between 562 yards as a redshirt freshman and 601 yards as a junior. But last year his production jumped significantly. As a senior, he caught 81 passes for 861 yards and had more touchdowns (13) in that season than his previous three combined (12).
With his missed time during the preseason, Turner said the Vikings are still finding out everything Pruitt can do.
“Unfortunately he missed a couple weeks, but he started fast in the offseason and training camp and the preseason. I think he’s healthy,” Turner said. “This is the first week he’s been back healthy. He played a little bit in the game the other night and, as I said, was stumbling and bumbling around a little bit. He’s going to be a good player and he’s going to add to our offense. How much we can use him, we’ll see, but he’s a big, physical player. He’s a good blocker, he’s a good receiver and we’ve got a number of good, young players and he’s one of them.”
At 23 years old, Pruitt has a lot of room to grow, but he was a two-time consensus All-America choice and three-time all-conference, and he holds the career (221) and single-season (81) catch marks in Southern Illinois history and is the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s most accomplished tight end.
Now he’s out to prove that production can transfer to the NFL.
“I feel like I proved I could be a reliable target in this offense and I was able to learn this offense. They want to move me around and put me in a couple different places and I proved that it’s not going to be too hard for me to do,” he said.
“I feel like I had some good film in the predraft process, where if any team wanted to see what I could do they could see it on film. Obviously they liked it here and it ended up being a great place for me to be.”
Playing for Turner, who proved he knows how to generate production for athletic tight ends in his numerous previous coaching stops, is a bonus for Pruitt.
“He obviously likes the tight ends and that obviously does me pretty well,” Pruitt said. “I just want to continue to build and grow in this offense.”
At this point, Turner and Pruitt are both in wait-and-see mode about how much he will be used, and how. For Pruitt, the challenge might be harder than most rookies, as he is being asked to play several positions, but it’s that versatility that the Vikings like.