“This year he’s playing a little bit more in the slot,” quarterback Sam Bradford said Wednesday. “So [we’re] trying to develop that chemistry with some of those routes on the inside, spending a little bit of extra time in OTAs just getting the feel for how he sees things from the slot.”
Undrafted out of Minnesota State in 2014, Thielen jumped from just eight catches his rookie season and 12 in 2015 to 69 receptions for a team-high 967 yards last season. He became one of the most effective targets in the NFL, averaging 14.0 yards per catch and grabbing 75 percent of passes thrown his way.
Thielen’s rise to prominence in the Vikings’ offense was tied to his route-running and ability to beat outside corners in man-to-man coverage. In the slot, he will be asked to execute a different set of tasks.
“The routes are a lot different,” Thielen said. “You have a little more time to make moves when you’re in the slot. When you’re on the outside [it’s] more just speed. It’s one of those things you have to remember where you are and how to win in that situation.”
Making the Vikings’ aerial attack more dynamic was one of the team’s biggest offseason goals after ranking 18th in total passing yards in 2016. Head coach Mike Zimmer said using Thielen in the slot gives Minnesota more options.
“He feels really comfortable about trusting where he’s going to be in a lot of the option routes,” Zimmer said of the 27-year-old. “[There are] a lot of different combinations that they have between the slot and the tight end or the slot and the X receiver. I think Adam has a good feel in there and Sam trusts him.”
Last season, fellow receivers Stefon Diggs and Cordarrelle Patterson lined up more often on the inside than Thielen. With Patterson leaving via free agency and Laquon Treadwell fitting in on the outside, the Vikings can use Diggs or Thielen in the slot, depending on the situation.
“There’s a lot of times where we are interchangeable and we line up where we fall and we have to know what to do,” Thielen said. “For me, it’s fun to be in those different positions.”
This offseason, the Vikings showed their trust in Thielen as more than a one-year wonder by signing him to a three-year contract extension. With an impressive season and a new deal under his belt, he will be on the radar for opponents no matter where he lines up.
“I don’t think a lot about it,” Thielen said. “Whatever play is called, I go run the route.”