At first mention of his name, a rookie free agent could have simply had a good day at practice. But for more than a week now, one sleeper name that keeps coming up is safety Kyries Hebert.
Head coach Mike Tice has mentioned Hebert often this week in interviews, and Hebert didn't disappoint on Friday morning at the first practice of the Vikings' official June minicamp. But it isn't just one practice. Hebert has been moving up the ranks quickly, from an unknown to many observers to a must-know name of the hard-core Vikings fan.
"He's had a great week's worth of work at camp so far. He's a young guy, eager," said defensive backfield coach Chuck Knox, Jr. "He runs to the ball well and has a great motor. He's really making a lot of strides."
Hebert did run to the ball well Friday morning as well. Working mainly with the second-team defense, he caused a fumble and knocked down at least two passes while diving for the interception.
He started his progression up the depth chart almost immediately after he signed his free agent contract with the team shortly after going undrafted in April.
"We figured he'd be a late [pick]," Knox said. "He came from a small school [Lousiana-Lafeyette], so we figured he'd be a sixth-, seventh-round pick possibly. When he didn't get picked, we jumped on the phones. I called him a number of times and some of the scouts. He's got excellent size, range. So we thought he was a great free agent acquisition for us."
The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder's dedication showed early. His wife was graduating from college two days into what were scheduled to be his first practices with the team. But after explaining his situation to Knox and getting an excused absence from the coach, Hebert attended the practices anyway.
"He said, ‘It's much too important for me. I don't want to blow this excellent opportunity, it's too important for me to miss those extra couple days,'" Knox said. "He came up anyway. He's very eager, very hungry. He stays late, asks questions in meetings."
Originally the Vikings were looking at him at free safety but have since moved him to strong safety and are giving third-round draft pick Willie Offord at look at free safety. That could all change again by training camp, but it appears the coaching staff is fairly satisfied with the potential of their young talent in the defensive backfield.
Despite being from a smaller program in college, Hebert is definitely included in a group of guys who team personnel think will make a difference.
"Sometimes you get smaller school guys that aren't as technique-sound, but my father told me this a long time ago: Football players make football plays,'" Knox said. "What [Hebert] might lack in some things next to the big-school kid, he more than makes up for it in his hussle and work ethic."
* The Vikings debuted their more open approach to sponsors Friday morning, as a large piece of artificial turf outside normally used for the kickers was used for additional parking, a corporate tent, a large umbrella and bleachers to view practice. In year's past, that wouldn't have happened, but Friday Vikings employees were estimating about 130 people associated with sponsors would attend this weekend's practices. The threat of bad weather this weekend probably lured a larger crowd for Friday morning's outdoor practice. KFAN radio also broadcast live from the Winter Park grounds in the morning.
* Tice talked Monday about the necessity of getting plays into the offense quicker. Similar to his style in dealing with free agents, Tice acted quickly. Friday morning a play clock was attached to a goal post on the practice field, and the offense was usually getting to the line of scrimmage with between 10 and 20 seconds left, giving the quarterback time to read the defense and audible without a real threat of taking a delay-of-game penalty.
* Another new feature to the Winter Park grounds is the royal treatment now being bestowed upon players who earn it. The five parking spots closest to the locker room entrance are now reserved for the offensive, defensive and special teams players of the week and the offensive and defensive practice players of the week. Production yields benefits.
* The McCombs family attended practice Friday.
* NFL Films was following Tice closely at practice, and Tice was open as ever, mixing it up between giving his players a hard time and working seriously on technique and execution.
* Defensive end Lorenzo Bromell, coming off his honeymoon, and fullback Harold Morrow attended the mandatory minicamp after missing the last two weeks of developmental camp.
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