One of the pleasant surprises of the 2016 Minnesota Vikings season has been the ascent of Adam Thielen in the Vikings offense. A player who has spent his first two seasons on the active roster largely as a core special teams player has blossomed this season with the offense.
In his first two seasons, Thielen caught 20 passes for 281 yards and one touchdown. Through nine games this season, Thielen has 32 catches for 453 yards and two touchdowns and has caught at least two passes in every game.
Viking Update had a chance to catch up with Thielen and get his take on the current state of the Vikings and his role in it.
The most obvious change on the offense this month has been the wake of Norv Turner’s resignation and Pat Shurmur being promoted to offensive coordinator.
While on the outside looking in, it might appear that there have been drastic changes to the Vikings offense, Thielen believes it is more nuanced in how Shurmur calls a game than how Turner did.
“Obviously we have the same plays, but the way (Shurmur) calls them is definitely different,” Thielen said. “It takes some getting used to because someone else is calling the plays. You get used to your coordinator calling plays a certain way and how he wants things done. You find yourself tweaking things here and there, but the changes are subtle things, not a drastic change.”
Thielen’s role in the offense has changed considerably this season. No longer a passing-down specialist, Thielen has ascended to a starting position and has become a valued member – on pace to catch 57 passes for 805 yards.
It hasn’t just been handed to him. He has spent countless hours working to improve to earn his additional offensive snaps.
“It’s not something I necessarily expected, but it was something I worked hard for,” Thielen said. “I had some goals I wanted to achieve and I worked hard in the offseason to get better and earn more opportunities. It was more of a goal thing for me, not expectations. You can’t really expect anything in this league. You have to work to get it.”
As have most of his teammates, Thielen has done his best to avoid the pitfalls of the Vikings’ current four-game losing streak after a 5-0 start. Just as the Vikings attempted to rein in the notion that they could roll over everybody in the league when they hit their bye week as the last undefeated team in the NFL, the same has applied during their current struggles.
There is a hint of anger from Vikings players that they’re not executing to the level they want to, but they’re not letting frustration get the best of them. Their focus is simply on the game in front of them, which this week is the Arizona Cardinals.
“You can’t look back because you can’t change what has happened, whether that was the good start we had or the problems we’ve had the last few weeks,” Thielen said. “You can only focus on getting better for the next game and working on the little things you need to clean up. We have a good team here and we’re going to turn it around. We don’t have time to dwell on anything other the Cardinals and work to get a win on Sunday.”
The Arizona game is the sole focus of the players, but Thielen acknowledged that the coaching staff has tweaked the practice regimen this week because there will be a quick turnover from the Cardinals game to their Thanksgiving Day game at Detroit.
The Vikings players aren’t looking beyond Arizona, but the coaches are making sure that they don’t wear out players in practice because of the reality that they have to play two games in five days.
“Coach Zimmer is changing some things up this week because we know that two games in five days is coming,” Thielen said. “It’s a tough turnaround when you go from Sunday to Thursday, but you can’t spend too much time thinking about that second game. But, in practice, he has changed some things up so we can play fast on Sunday and have ourselves prepared physically and mentally for the turnaround after that.”
The landscape of the NFC North could be drastically different a week from now than it currently stands and the Vikings know that, despite their recent struggles, they have the chance to reassert themselves as the top dog in the NFC North.
“We have a really good team here,” Thielen said. “We’ve had our share of struggles and challenges recently, but this is a team that knows how to win and how to string wins together. We’ve had some hard times here over the last few weeks, but we can turn this around. The biggest thing is that we still control where we’re going this year. We don’t need help from anyone else. We have the chance to achieve our goals on our own. That’s what you want at this time of year.”