Bye weeks are a funny thing.
They are the one respite in the grind of a 16-game, l7-week marathon, and for coaching staffs that have kept their focus exclusively on the next opponent directly in their path, it is an opportunity to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of what has been accomplished to date and what needs to be done moving forward to improve the team.
For many in the front office and coaching staff, there is plenty of back-slapping that can be done because, as the rest of the league plies its craft today, the Minnesota Vikings will be spectators watching the action from a distance.
As the lone undefeated team left in the NFL, the Vikings are doing a bye-week self-assessment as to the state of the landscape around them with the benefit of having a lot of wins banked up and tie-breaker advantages in place that could come into play later in the season.
Of all the achievements the Vikings have had during the season to date, what makes it even more remarkable as that it has been done with almost no contribution for the rookie class.
In training camp and the preseason, the rookies were the talk of the town as to how the future looks bright for the Vikings. While the national media glommed onto the feel-good story of wide receiver Moritz Böhringer, the Vikings were focused more on their other draft class members who looked to make a big statement as the new kids among a young veteran group entering its third year in the Mike Zimmer system.
Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell was largely regarded as the Class of 2016 wide receiver with the greatest upside. Cornerback Mackensie Alexander was viewed as one of the top slot corners available and the guy the Vikings would be grooming to push Captain Munnerlyn for playing time.
Linebacker Kentrell Brothers, a college tackling machine, was seen at a minimum as being a core special teams player with the potential to be a sub-package defender who could make plays in a limited role. Safety Jayron Kearse was tagged as a prototype player in the morphing role of defenders who have the size and speed to be a giant safety or a speed linebacker in situational use.
Yet, five weeks into the regular season, the rookie who has made the biggest impact in terms of playing time has been sixth-round tight end David Morgan. His blocking ability was appreciated during the preseason while Rhett Ellison was in the process of returning from injury and Morgan was able to show enough to make it on the field during the early portion of the regular season. Aside from him, however, playing time has been hard to come by for the newest Vikings.
There is no questioning that Treadwell has the ability to be a big-time player, but like Alexander and Kearse and Brothers, they’re spending their rookie seasons watching and learning rather than being thrown into the fire on a full-time basis.
Some might view the lack of playing time for the Class of 2016 as an indictment of the group. However, the Vikings rookie class isn’t a collection of busts. The Vikings are treating them like old-schoolers used to treat college freshman – you may have been a big man from the school you came from, but here you have to earn your stripes before you see playing time.
It was pretty clear prior to the draft that the Vikings were going to be pretty much set at all the key positions and the rookie class would likely not make an immediate splash. The Vikings had a good thing going and were content with the group of veterans they had in place already.
As they prepare to make their return to action, don’t be surprised if you see players like Treadwell, Alexander and Kearse making more of an impact in terms of playing time. The coaching staff knows what they have in those players and are going to find ways to utilize them.
By design, the Vikings rookies have been baby-stepped into their future roles with the team. So far, the team hasn’t needed them to make big contributions. That may change as the final 11 weeks play themselves out. The rookie class has been biding its time waiting for the moment they can get on the field and contribute to the team’s success.
It hasn’t happened yet, but don’t be stunned if you see the roles of multiple members of the rookie class of 2016 start to get more opportunities to show what they can do.