Sometimes the perception can get ridiculous.
The perception from some: Laquon Treadwell doesn’t have good hands. The reality: He has sure hands and continues to work like none other in getting better.
For whatever reason, whether it’s a lowlight video from college or blogosphere interpretations, there has been a perception of poor hands for the Minnesota Vikings’ first-round pick. I’ve seen it from bloggers before they ever saw Treadwell in person and heard from neighbors.
Treadwell didn’t help that perception early in spring drills, but his training camp practices and post-practice work has shown a more refined receiver that is only getting better by the week. Simply put, Treadwell is the anti-Troy Williamson.
The introverted but self-motivated Treadwell himself laughed at the notion on Saturday that dropped balls are a concern, and to get Treadwell to laugh about anything takes some work.
“If you watch tape, I’m not worried about my hands,” he said. “I don’t drop many passes. That’s definitely not a worry of mine.”
He should laugh at that notion. All evidence from those paying attention at training camp rides contrary to that sentiment. Yes, he dropped a pass – one pass – during individual drills in Saturday’s night practice before 10,000 fans, but responded with two catches – contested and in traffic – during the more difficult full-team work.
For Treadwell, however, that may not be the more difficult period. Put him in more of a game environment and he thrives.
“Once you go live you get that good feel about the game again. I’ve never been a 7-on-7 type of guy. I’ve got to get that vibe and that feel of the game and I’ll play a lot better,” he said after Saturday’s performance.
“I just think it’s just an instinct that I get to get open. When I’m not live, I kind of think a lot instead of just playing.”
Treadwell’s reaction after Saturday’s practice showed a looser side of him. It was a chance to show fans what he can do, just as he did at Ole Miss when he led the SEC with 11 touchdown catches and 1,153 yards in 2015.
But his college success hasn’t stopped him from working. Perhaps harder than any other Viking.
After every Vikings practice this training camp, Treadwell is regularly the last player left on the field. By a long shot. Others are done signing autographs and some already out of pads and on their way back to the dorm while Treadwell is catching ball after ball after ball shot through the JUGS machine. Anywhere from a half hour to 45 minutes after the morning practices are spent catching hundreds of extra passes each day.
Two-handed. One-handed. Facing the machine. Sideways to the machine. Even, for fun, facing away from the machine, bending over with head between his legs and hands behind his calves. Yes, he is making many of those circus catches, too.
“I don’t know if it’s an Ole Miss thing because Mike Wallace was like that as well. But all of our receivers are out catching. He’s one that’s a young guy and, of course, eyes are in him because he’s a first-round pick, but he’s a different first-round pick,” receivers coach George Stewart said. “He’s humble. He’s a worker. He’s not mouthy. He listens. He goes from coach to coach. He goes from player to player. He wants to learn. He’s a sponge in that respect. He’s a worker. That’s Coach Zim’s DNA in terms of getting guys that are workers and he’s that guy. Talented, tough, a worker. He’s that guy. We’re very fortunate Rick Spielman drafted him.”
Treadwell is far from mouthy. At least at this stage of his Vikings career, he appears to be a bit of an introvert. Quiet, perhaps shy, and preferring to stay away from the spotlight and interviews.
“I talk a little bit, but I just play and just take whatever comes your way and take it for what is,” he said. “I don’t want to be a guy that’s just out there that everybody knows is just going to come talk. I just go and play.”
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After a strong performance Saturday night, there was even a smile.
He seemed to feel a relief to get back to just playing instead of agonizing over a bigger playbook or the new techniques that are being instilled in him. But as he signed dozens of autographs for kids in the stands – again, out there longer than many teammates – he seemed to get a kick out of one boy that asked him if he could bring Stefon Diggs over after the boy received Treadwell’s autograph.
The spotlight will shine brighter as the days progress, as practices turn to scrimmages, scrimmages turn to preseason games, and eventually preseason games evolve into primetime games.
He doesn’t possess blazing speed. He isn’t as shifty as Diggs. And he isn’t even a regular starter … yet. But he should be productive, perhaps very productive, in his rookie season.
One thing he won’t do, if the offseason and a week-plus of training camp are a good measure, is sell the Vikings short on work ethic.
“That’s his makeup. He’s always been that way. That’s what got him to this level,” Stewart said. “That’s what got him from a horrible injury as a sophomore to being a first-round pick a year later was the work ethic. I don’t know if he really spent the amount of time (on rehab) that he was supposed to. I think he came back early because of the work in him. He’s not a guy that’s going to be idle.”
The former high school defensive end has big hands. He has good size. Both of those traits mean he could be a good red zone target, and that’s where the Vikings seem to use him most at this point of development with the first-team offense.
For now, he remains a work in progress and it’s hard to say where it will all end, even for the coach that has spent the most time with him over the last three months.
“That’s on him. For me to say he can be this, he can be that, I hate to pigeonhole because I had Terrell Owens as a rookie, a gazillion years ago from Tennessee-Chattanooga,” Stewart said, recalling his days coaching receivers with the San Francisco 49ers. “I didn’t have a clue he would turn out the way he did. I knew he would be a good player, but I didn’t have a clue he would Terrell Owens, the second-highest touchdowns in the history of the league, maybe the second-best receiver in history. Didn’t know that. Same thing with this young man. It’s like planting a flower. You put enough water and fertilize. Some will grow and some won’t. We’re going to work with him – Norv (Turner) and myself. We’re going to work with him to give him a chance to be as great as he can be.”
From this view, it’s still too early to say Treadwell will be great. But he should be very good and clearly has no issues with hard work. He doesn’t believe his work ethic is a product of being raised by a single mother as one of six children. Instead, it’s an inner drive to maximize his potential.
There have been comparisons to Michael Irvin, Cris Carter and Anquan Boldin as people try to figure out what he could be if all goes well. He admitted he doesn’t know what to think of the comparisons to Irvin.
“If my career is as great as his and I get to play a long time and play at a high level and compete for Super Bowls, that’s really awesome and that’s a blessing,” he said. “I try not to get into all that. I just try to stay focused on the task at hand right now.”