EAGAN — Mike Zimmer told his rookie receivers to get their act together, and they listened.
The Minnesota Vikings’ coach said July 28 his young receivers needed to “get their rear end in gear” or the team would be “looking for somebody else.”
Rookie Olabisi Johnson took notice.
“He wasn’t wrong,” said Johnson, a seventh-round pick. “We’re in the NFL. Yes, our title is a rookie, but there’s no room for error. You still got to step up to the plate, and you got to be ready to play.”
Thankfully for Johnson and the other young receivers, Zimmer said this week that they have shown much improvement.
“They’re lining up a lot better,” Zimmer said. “Very seldom now are you seeing them run from one side or the other, so they’re getting extra work in, mentally, and then they’re getting some extra work in meeting times where they just line up and make sure they know what they’re doing.”
In addition to Johnson, Minnesota’s rookie receivers are Dillon Mitchell, a seventh-round pick, and Davion Davis and Alexander Hollins, both undrafted. All had their moments in Saturday night’s practice and then came in Sunday when other players were off from training camp.
“On the day off, we all came in together and we were looking at scripts and stuff,” Davis said. “I think we’re coming along pretty well. It just takes a little time. We’ve been in our playbooks and been on top of stuff.”
Johnson agreed there has been improvement.
“It’s just about getting more comfortable, and once you get more comfortable you can just play 100 percent,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about, ‘Oh, what do I do here?’”
Plenty of improvement, though, is likely still needed for a rookie receiver to get in position to play much this season. The Vikings have released their first unofficial depth chart. Mitchell was listed No. 4 at one receiver spot, Johnson and Hollins were the two No. 5 receivers, and Davis was a No. 6.
Despite what the depth chart said, Zimmer seemed to speak more highly of Johnson than Mitchell.
“Olabisi is doing well,” Zimmer said. “He’s playing in a multiple number of spots, catches the ball well, gets in the right place most of the time. Dillon Mitchell is a very, very talented guy that needs to continue to work on (things). He’s got a lot of habits in some of his routes that he’s running that he’s working on trying to get better. But he made a nice catch the other night.”
That was a 40-yard grab from Kyle Sloter down the left sideline. Hollins also had a catch about that long, snagging one on the right side from Sean Mannion.
Zimmer said it will “be awhile” before he sorts out which young receivers could make the team. The two draft picks have a better shot than the two undrafted guys.
Johnson caught 54 passes for 796 yards last season at Colorado State, while Mitchell had 75 grabs for 1,184 yards at Oregon. Both returned punts in college.
“I think it’s good,” Johnson said of his chances to make the 53-man roster. “I have that special teams aspect. I have the blocking aspect. I have the playbook down. So it’s just a matter of time. I’m going out there with confidence and knowing my ability on the field because I’ve got it.”
Johnson was listed on the depth chart as the No. 3 kickoff returner despite having brought back only one in his college career. He returned two Saturday and looked comfortable, although there was no tackling.
Johnson is also working in practice on returning punts, but he was not listed there on the depth chart. Mitchell was listed as the No. 3 punt returner.
“Kickoff returning is maybe a little easier because you’ve got more blockers set up for you and before you can get to the defense, you can read the holes and things like that,” Johnson said.