Sunday slant: Coaching conundrum with Minnesota Vikings WRs

Vikings coaches are still trying to figure out their receivers, leaving plenty of uncertainty how it will pan out.

Minnesota Vikings fans are yearning for a breakout receiver. It’s been too long since the team had a 1,000-yard receiver, dating back to 2009. As we referenced last week, that’s the second-longest streak in the NFL without a 1,000-yard catcher.

The wait may continue.

Based on conversations with offensive coaches over the last week, even they aren’t sure who will be their go-to guy, with the company line “it’s still early” a familiar refrain. Laquon Treadwell is a rookie, 20 years old and receivers coach George Stewart doesn’t know what to expect yet from the receiver Scout Fantasy likes to call “Megaquon.” Even we would say “it’s too early” to consider that a nickname worthy pinning to his back. For now, he’s Moldaquon, the piece of clay for Stewart to shape.

“Once we get to training camp, once we get to preseason games because college is totally different than pro football obviously,” Stewart said of Treadwell, “with young players I don’t really say too much about them until I get a better feel for them because right now it’s kind of like the combine – they’re in shorts, they’re running around and it’s not really football yet. Once we get to training camp and preseason games and see where he fits with other professional athletes, we’ll go from there.”

So far, Treadwell hasn’t stood out in two practices viewed by the media, and he hasn’t been used with the first-team offense. Charles Johnson and Stefon Diggs have been the starters, with Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright and Adam Thielen getting limited run there. Treadwell has been a steady second-team resident.

It’s still too early.

Stewart likes Treadwell’s hands, believes he is smart enough to pick up the offense in good time and is getting assistance from the veterans. Yet, so far, Treadwell looks like he is settling in, getting used to his surroundings and finding out this this isn’t Ole Miss anymore.  Sure, he was one of the most productive receivers in college football and playing in the powerful Southeastern Conference, but, as one coach put it, he’s never seen anything close to Xavier Rhodes’ talent and physicality pushing on him on a day-to-day basis. So, perhaps, if Treadwell isn’t able to assert himself above the D.J. (Diggs-Johnson) fray, he could become a dominant red zone guy since Teddy Bridgewater only threw 14 touchdown passes in 16 regular-season starts last year.

“Hopefully, at some point,” Stewart said.

In other words, it’s still too early.

But Stewart pointed out that the Vikings already had similar height among their red zone receiving options last year with Johnson, Thielen and Patterson all in Treadwell’s 6-foot-2 neighborhood. However, Johnson was dealing with a painful broken rib, Patterson wasn’t really a receiver and Thielen wasn’t a priority insertion into the offense.

If the Vikings bring Treadwell along slowly, much like they did last year’s first-round pick, cornerback Trae Waynes, they could find a specialized role for him and rely mainly on Johnson and Diggs with supporting-actor roles from the remaining cast.

The hope with Johnson is that he returns to what he was two years ago B.B.R. – before broken rib – and that was a productive, consistent receiver. Diggs was the one that showed explosive elements in his repertoire, but he also disappeared for stretches.

Diggs was inactive for the first three games of his rookie season, then had 87 or more yards in each of his first four games – including 129- and 108-yard games in back-to-back October outings – then didn’t touch even a 70-yard performance the rest of the season.

How could that be? Some speculated that Diggs was receiving extra defensive attention. Nonsense, says Stewart.  “I think that’s something our media fabricated for him – They started to roll the coverage – no, I don’t think so. I just think Adrian (Peterson) was in a good groove,” Stewart said. “He was 150, 175 yards in those times so it gave him an opportunity to get the ball (more). Stefon is going to be a good player for us. Obviously he played well as a rookie. Hopefully he can have a sophomore year very similar to his rookie year. As he said, he wants to get better.”

Peterson did have five 100-yard games in the final 10 of the season, but the only 100-yard receiving game after Diggs’ early streak came from tight end Kyle Rudolph. Someone has to embrace the long-vacated role of No. 1 receiver for the Vikings.

Stewart says there isn’t much Diggs has to work on from a physical standpoint, but he’s working to understand NFL defensive nuances that could help him, and the coaches plan to move him around in hopes of freeing him up more. Johnson says every other receiver on the roster is in competition with him because he sets his own standards. Treadwell hasn’t even reached his NFL baptism yet, and Stewart compared Patterson to a man who has been shipwrecked for years and is just learning to read and write in NFL parlance because he was never asked to be a true receiver, only a “gadget guy.”

So who will emerge as the “go-to” receiver? The Vikings might have to settle for another season of shared duty and no truly dominant receiver. Perhaps one will emerge, but to predict who that might be, well, “it’s still too early.”



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