EAGAN, Minn. -- Rookie Irv Smith Jr. came to the Minnesota Vikings with the reputation as a pass-catching tight end. He’s showing he can block, too.
“I think Irv has surprised us,” offensive adviser Gary Kubiak said Thursday, Aug. 15, at training camp. “We saw a smaller, athletic player, but he’s really on the line of scrimmage surprised some people.”
The 6-foot-2, 242-pound Smith isn’t surprised. He caught 44 passes for 710 yards last season at Alabama but believed he also was a good blocker.
“If you watched my film at Alabama, I feel like I definitely can block as well,” Smith said. “But, you know, I’m a little undersized, so that’s kind of what they say (about being more of a pass catcher). But I feel like I’m quicker than most tight ends, so I can get under guys faster and just get movement.”
Smith, who caught three passes for 21 yards in last week’s preseason opener at New Orleans, said blocking has been a point of emphasis since he arrived in Minnesota after being taken in the second round of April’s draft.
Smith’s work has been helpful since David Morgan, Minnesota’s best blocking tight end, is in on the physically unable to perform list with a knee issue, and it’s uncertain when he will be able to play.
Kubiak said two weeks ago that Smith, 21, was “swimming” a bit because the Vikings were giving him so much information as a rookie. Overall, Kubiak likes the progress he has made.
“He’s a smart young man,” Kubiak said. “He’s very young. I see a guy that, to me, he’s even gotten bigger and stronger since he’s gotten here and got in our program. So Irv has a bright future. We’re going to ask a lot of him. He’s very fortunate, in my opinion, that he sits there and stands by (starting tight end Kyle Rudolph) every day and watches him in practice, watches him work, watches him in meetings.”
NFL officials visit
An NFL officiating crew arrived Thursday at training camp, and will remain in the Twin Cities throughout the weekend.
The crew led by referee Jerome Boger worked Thursday’s practice and will do so again Friday. The crew will then work Sunday’s preseason game against Seattle at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Boger’s crew includes field judge David Meslow of Mahtomedi, one of four NFL officials this season from the Twin Cities. The others are umpire Fred Bryan of Bloomington, line judge Jeff Seeman of Chaska and down judge Mike Spanier of Sartell.
The officials talked to Vikings players and showed a video on rule changes and points of emphasis for this season.
Cornerback Kris Boyd and running back De’Angelo Henderson both returned to practice Thursday.
Boyd sat out the preseason opener with an undisclosed injury. Henderson carried seven times for 42 yards against the Saints but suffered a sprained ankle, which led to missing three practices.
Eligible players sitting out were tackles Brian O’Neill and Aviante Collins and defensive end Ade Aruna. Collins, who suffered a left knee injury in practice on Aug. 11, was able to do running drills Thursday on a side field.
Also, punter Matt Wile was a full participant after suffering a cut left thumb during the preseason opener. He did some work as a holder after not doing so in the previous three practices.
With Holton Hill suspended for the first eight games and Mike Hughes on the physically unable to perform list with a knee issues, depth at cornerback is a concern. Head coach Mike Zimmer is hopeful of some young players stepping up.
“We need to find who’s going to be the fourth or fifth or sixth guy,” Zimmer said.
One candidate is Boyd, a rookie.
“The biggest thing is he’s got to try, obviously, try to use the techniques we use,” Zimmer said. “He’s missed some time. (Let’s) see how he reacts to bad situations.”