When the Vikings initially signed wide receiver Adam Thielen, some thought it was merely a gimmick. A kid who attended Minnesota State, Mankato was going to be a feel-good story when the Vikings brought their traveling circus to town for training camp.
Three years later, nobody is looking at Thielen as a promotional stunt. He has had to fight his way on the roster in each of his three seasons – 2013 on the practice squad and the last two years on the 53-man roster – but he has found a way to make an impression on the coaching staff to get on the roster.
“I knew I was a longshot my first year,” Thielen said. “All I was looking for was an opportunity and, when I got my opportunity, I had to make the most of it because I didn’t know if it would be my only chance.”
Thielen needed something to separate himself from the herd of wide receivers at training camp in each of the last three seasons and one of those differences was as a special teams player.
Many times it can be a player’s ability/willingness to play on special teams that wins him a roster spot. Some players may scoff at the idea of being a gunner on the punt team or a blocker on field goals and extra points, but Thielen knew that beggars couldn’t be choosers.
“I was willing to do whatever they wanted me to do,” Thielen said. “I still am. I’ve had to work to get my spot on the roster and I have to fight to keep it. Things can change quickly in the NFL. If you get injuries at a position and you need to bring someone in to give you depth, it can come at the expense of another position. That keeps you working hard because you don’t want that player to be you.”
Thielen has used his bottom-of-the-roster mindset as his own motivation. He has pushed himself to become a better player and the results have paid off. He has seen more action in the passing game and, when injuries hit the Vikings prior to the bye week, Thielen and Stefon Diggs stepped up and made big contributions to the offense.
“It was great getting out on the field that much on offense and being able to make a contribution,” Thielen said. “I’ve been working with Teddy in those reps we get together and have tried to make an impression on him and the coaching staff that I can handle whatever they throw at me.”
In his third NFL season, Thielen doesn’t find himself looking over his shoulder anymore, waiting to get called into Mike Zimmer’s or Rick Spielman’s office to be told he’s been cut. For a while, that was a legitimate concern of his. He felt like playing in the NFL was a dream and he feared waking up and it would all be over.
However, he is feeling more confidence in his role with the team and his value to the organization, both as a core special teams player and as a receiving option in the offense. That being said, he’s still the local kid from Mankato who has had to prove himself worthy every day in practice and in games and there isn’t any room for complacency.
“I’ve never taken anything for granted about being a Viking,” Thielen said. “I’ve had to fight to get where I am now and I’ve never forgot that being a player in the NFL isn’t handed to you. You’ve got to earn it and, once you’ve got, you have to fight to hold on to it. There’s always going to be someone new trying to win a spot on the team and you have to keep working just as hard to make sure that if he does make the team, it isn’t your spot he takes. That’s how I see things. Guys who think they’ve got their spot locked down are the guys who end up being surprised when they lose it. I just keep grinding because I don’t want to be that guy who thinks he’s safe on the roster and finds out he isn’t.”