CINCINNATI — Midway through a sweaty, soupy joint practice between the Minnesota Vikings and the Cincinnati Bengals, Vikings rookie receiver Laquon Treadwell got some work with the first-team offense. Opposite him: Bengals cornerback Adam Jones, who for all his faults might still be one of the better cover guys in the league.
The soft-spoken Treadwell had a brief message for the 10-year vet best known as Pacman.
“I went up to Pacman and said, ‘Don’t take it easy on me.’ I need it. I need the reps,” Treadwell said. “He said, ‘Straight up.’”
So straight up it was. That seems to be the only way Treadwell knows how.
He didn’t catch a pass in his few chances against Jones but had some highlights in Wednesday’s practice. The 2016 first-round pick and the most physically gifted receiver the Vikings have had since Sidney Rice made a nice double move for a long gain in 7-on-7 drills, hauled in a nice juggling catch against Bengals rookie corner Darius Hillary and then beat Dre Kirkpatrick on a comeback route for a touchdown in full-team red-zone work.
The heat and humidity drove most players from both teams off the field quickly following the 90-minute session, but the rookie kept his daily practice routine despite this and the fact that the team bus likely was going to be held up because of him. That means extra work on the JUGS machine. Like, extra extra work.
Save for a quick visit with former Ole Miss teammate Cody Core, a fellow rookie trying to make a good impression at receiver with the Begnals, Treadwell spent 24 minutes catching passes on the machine. Different distances, two-handed catches, one-handed, body turned, even sitting down and catching them — every way he could think up.
This was going on every day back in Mankato, Minn. for training camp, too, including one session where he caught 30 passes during practice and 277 passes after practice. He did so the entire time on Wednesday with his helmet on in the 90-degree heat, just as he was still wearing his helmet during an installation session earlier in the day in which the other 10 Vikings players on the field had theirs off.
Treadwell bearing the heat. Extra Jugs work. pic.twitter.com/oYVdUt0432
— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) August 10, 2016
Why so much additional work and such a spartan approach on a day when everyone else was already mid-shower by the time he finally walked off the field?
“It’s fun,” Treadwell told Shutdown Corner.
“Repetition is the mother of learning,” the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Treadwell said, and that comes from an ancient Latin proverb, folks — Repetitio mater studiorum est, for those studious types.
That effort and comments such as those are pretty good indications that this might not be your typical rookie. Treadwell’s camp roommate, rookie linebacker Kentrell Brothers, agrees. At Mizzou, he faced the former five-star recruit in Treadwell’s true freshman season in 2013 and was surprised at how even-keeled he was then and still appears to be now.
“I feel like in terms of how he acts he’s the same person,” Brothers told SDC. “When we played him at Ole Miss, he wasn’t one of those showboating, get-up-and-celebrate kind of guys. I haven’t seen that much from him here either.
“He’s a quiet guy. He reads his bible every night, prays every night. Then he gets up in the morning, reads his bible, prays more, calls his 2-year-old daughter, prays with her. When I see him doing that, it reminds me what I need to be doing more of.”
But Treadwell’s toughness and physicality belie his quiet, pensive nature. After all, this is a player who as a sophomore in high school was asked midseason to double down as a receiver and — for real — as a defensive end. All he did his first game at the position was gather two sacks, a forced fumble and a free lunch. That’s right: Treadwell was so good in that game (he also had 10 catches for 186 yards) that the referee came on the team bus and handed Treadwell his brown-bag lunch.
And he’s been brown-bagging it ever since, from guarding 6-11 NBA lottery pick Jahlil Okafor — giving up nine inches — in high-school hoops to taking pride in his blocking in college as much as anything else he did in a thrilling three years for the Rebels.
“My competitive nature, if anything, is what drives me,” Treadwell said. “That’s the minimum to play this sport. I just look at everybody as just another person. It doesn’t matter who they are. It’s about winning and doing what has to be done to win. That’s where my heart is.”
Of course, that competitive nature also included rehabbing from a gruesome leg injury, suffering a broken leg and a dislocated ankle, on Nov. 1, 2014 that ended his season. But back he was the next fall, starting in the season opener. Treadwell estimates he was 80 percent healthy in 2015 for the Rebels, and after a slow start he caught 10 touchdown passes and averaged 97.4 yards per game in his final eight college contests.
He also completed all three of his pass attempts as a trick-play artist for 134 yards and a touchdown. After all, Treadwell also was a former high-school QB. But that also means that he has only been playing receiver for six years now. Vikings receivers coach George Stewart appreciates Treadwell’s work ethic to be great but notes that there’s work to be done — and that at some point the law of diminishing returns can kick in with too much extra work.
“Laquon had a chance to make some plays down there at Ole Miss,” Stewart told SDC. “But right now, he’s still in his learning curve with us. He’s a rookie. We’re throwing a lot at him. He’s trying hard to get it done.”
“He’s definitely putting in the time. But I have to pull back the reins. Days like today can take away from what you do on Friday [in the preseason game between the two teams]. We’ve got 20 games, and hopefully playoffs too. It’s good to get the work — I’ll never fault a man for putting in his work — but let’s be smart.”
The Vikings envision a big role for Treadwell as a rookie, but he has to earn it. Right now, he’s running behind Stefon Diggs and Charles Johnson and will have to beat them out for a starting spot.
Patience might be required. After all, Diggs — who clearly looked like the best Vikings receiver on Wednesday — was inactive the first three weeks of the season in 2015 before leading the Vikings in receiving (by 225 yards) as a rookie. Just like his long road back from the injury, Treadwell knows that the Diggs example last year is a sign he can’t get ahead of himself too soon.
“I had to have patience [with the rehab] and I can easily have it now,” he said. “That I can deal with.”
Stewart said Diggs eventually was “tearing us up” in practice a year ago, and it might take that kind of daily assault for Treadwell to vault Johnson into a starting role opposite Diggs. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner hasn’t had the right guy with the Vikings to run Michael Irvin’s favorite route, the “Bang-8” from the Dallas Cowboys glory days, but he might have it with Treadwell, who is quick in his break and fearless over the middle and in the red zone, which are the ideal requisites for running the skinny post.
That’s an area where the Vikings struggled to throw the ball last season. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was a mere 20-of-49 passing in the red zone and ranked 28th with 9 TD passes (same as part-time starters Josh McCown and Matt Hasselbeck) down there. The Vikings ran for four more scores than they threw for last season, and Adrian Peterson is a big reason for that. But getting Treadwell to help in that area and on third downs (the Vikings were tied for 19th in completion percentage on third downs) could be a huge boost.
Stewart has coached Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens, Roddy White, Percy Harvin and Rice, among others, and he noted that they all had older, veteran receivers to learn from by watching on a daily basis. Treadwell, however, doesn’t have that luxury; Johnson, 27, is the oldest wideout on the roster, followed by Jarius Wright at 26. None of them entered the league before 2012.
But Treadwell has the look of a mature-beyond-his-years rookie — one who has some refinement needed in his game but the kind of temperament to serve him well as he tries to carve out a significant role. Right now, he’s keying in on the little things to make the jump to the NFL level.
“Learning how to attack the defender, and learning some different coverages. Playing fast, doing everything on the move,” Treadwell said. “In college you can get away with a lot of little things. Here it’s big-boy ball. You have to stay on the attack and be sharp when you do it.
“Hopefully, I’ll have a great year this year. I feel like I’m getting better. Just trying to make a living … play the game I love.”
If that means not taking it easy on himself, or having others take it easy on him, Treadwell is willing to put in the work to do just that.
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