The depth of the close end has been the strength of the Vikings in recent years, but it quickly disappeared.
In March, the Vikings released Kyle Rudolph in a salary-related move. Then at the weekend, they learned that Irv Smith Jr. Jr. will succeed Rudolph as the starter. He will at least miss the start of the regular season due to surgery to repair the torn meniscus.
Currently, the Vikings are left with only Tyler Conklin. He has 32 catches in three NFL seasons. As a starter for substitute Brandon Dillon, he has a career, as well as rookies Zach Davidson and Shane Zeist. pull. So how does head coach Mike Zimmer feel about the depth of this position now?
“Well, it’s not great,” Zimmer said Monday.
With this in mind, after the NFL team must reach the regular season roster limit of 53 players by 3 pm on Tuesday, the Vikings will search for the exemption line. They will also study possible trade options.
Zimmer said Smith will undergo knee surgery on Vikings home team doctor Chris Larson later this week, and many expect him to have a breakthrough season in his third year. Although Smith will definitely miss the opener in Cincinnati on September 12, Zimmer said how long he will be out will not be known until after surgery.
“We will see where he is,” Zimmer said. “Many times, you can’t say anything before you enter there.”
Zimmer wasn’t sure how Smith’s injury happened. In the first half only, he passed the ball twice for 39 yards in a 28-25 loss to Kansas City in Friday’s preseason final, and showed no signs of discomfort. Smith accepted a three-minute TV interview in the fourth quarter, with a big smile on his face, and did not say any injuries.
“This happened during a game… It’s hard to know exactly what happened,” Zimmer said.
Currently, Conklin will take over as the starter. He suffered a hamstring injury during training on August 16 and did not participate in the Vikings’ three preseason games. But he resumed training on Monday.
“I feel good,” Conklin said. “It is more important to ease it. I am trying to deal with it in the right way, so I have been fine all year.”
Conklin has only started 6 of the 47 NFL games he has played, and only one start is his only tense end on the court. But because Rudolph missed the last four games of 2020 due to a foot injury, he did catch 15 passes during that time, passing 168 yards.
“It’s a mentality of the next person, obviously it’s difficult for (Smith),” Conklin said. “Irv is a good friend of mine, so I have a good impression of him. …I am fully prepared for this opportunity and I am very happy to start.”
The Vikings are expected to leave Smith on the 53-man roster when it is confirmed on Tuesday, because if he enters the injury reserve team before then, he will be absent for the entire season. After the list is determined, if the Vikings believe that Smith will miss at least three games, Smith may be included in the injury reserve team, which is the minimum allowed to stay on the list.
Taking into account Smith’s injury and the condition of other injured players, Zimmer said it would be a “difficult problem” to decide which players to give up on Tuesday.
Dillon and Davidson have been fighting for the third near-end position after Smith and Conklin, but they may now be fighting for a substitute role. Dillon has spent most of the past two seasons training the team and has participated in four NFL games. Davidson was selected from the fifth round of the draft in the second district of Central Missouri. He is athletic but very blunt. His preseason performance was mediocre and he lost a few passes.
Zylstra is an undrafted rookie who has served as a wide receiver at Minnesota State University Mankato and may be a candidate for the practice team.
“I have confidence in these people,” Conklin said of the other healthy tight ends on the roster.
He may believe them more than Zimmer. The head coach is already considering the adjustments they might make if the Vikings are very thin in a tight game.
“For some of the players we have, we may end up with more three-pointers,” he said of using the extra wide receiver. “All of these will be shaken after the layoffs. We can’t go beyond anything now.”