Mike Zimmer was named the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings prior to the start of the 2014 season. Since then, the Vikings have brought in a number of athletes that are either native Minnesotans, or played college football in the state.
One of those players that they brought in this offseason was tight end Brian Leonhardt, who is from Blaine and played college football in the northern part of the state at Bemidji State University.
“It’s nice to be home,” Leonhardt said. “(The Vikings are) a team I grew up watching play and I’ve always cheered for them. I’ve always had a lot of respect for them, so it’s really fun to be back home, playing for the home team.”
The Vikings are nearing the end of their training camp and have been practicing on the campus of Minnesota State University, Mankato. Both MSU and BSU are a part of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, a Division II conference in the Midwest, so Leaonhardt has some history of playing in Mankato.
BSU did not travel to Mankato during his senior season, so he only had the opportunity to play at Blakeslee Stadium once during his career. It was during his sophomore season and was actually just the second game of his collegiate career.
“It’s a little different coming back. It’s been awhile - almost eight years,” he began. “That’s a long time to come back and play, but it’s been fun.
“I’ve got a few memories. We ended up losing in double overtime, or something like that. It was a tough game. It was a fun crowd and a fun place to play.”
Leonhardt originally signed with the Oakland Raiders as an undrafted free agent in 2013, following his senior year. He stayed with them for two years and then signed with the Cleveland Browns in 2015. The San Francisco 49ers then signed Leonhardt off the Browns’ practice squad to their own, but placed him on their active roster toward the end of the season.
Tony Sparano joined the Vikings coaching staff this offseason as their offensive line coach, but spent the 2015 season with the 49ers as their tight ends coach. He had the chance to work with Leonhardt during their time together and the tight end was happy to follow his coach to the Vikings.
“It’s nice knowing a lot of his run-blocking schemes and being able to know one of the coaches, and for them to know my personality and my character,” Leonhardt said. “I think it helps out a lot and it’s nice to see a familiar face.”
[FOR RECENT VIDEOS, CLICK HERE]
The two do not work together throughout practice like they did in San Francisco, but the tight ends often get some work in with the offensive line, so there is still interaction between the two. A big part of a tight end’s job is to work as a blocker lined up right next to one of the offensive tackles, so it’s important that there is comfort between the two players.
That’s why the tight ends will often come over and join the offensive line for blocking drills during a portion of the positional drills at the start of practice.
Leonhardt currently appears to be the fourth tight end on the depth chart, with Rhett Ellison still out recovering from a torn patellar tendon. It may be hard for him to earn a spot on the Vikings’ 53-man roster, but he certainly appears to be one of the better blockers in the tight end group.