It hasn’t taken long for rookie tight end MyCole Pruitt to turn some heads.
Pruitt, a fifth-round pick out of Div. I-AA Southern Illinois, appears to have leapt ahead of Chase Ford and Rhett Ellison on the depth chart, at least when it comes to the base offense. On Tuesday, Pruitt joined Kyle Rudolph as the second tight end in the Vikings’ two-TE personnel packages.
Pruitt is not playing tight end, though. The Vikings moved him all over the field during the first day of this week’s minicamp. One minute Pruitt was in the backfield at fullback. The next he lined up at tight end or out wide.
“MyCole has done a nice job. We’ve moved him around quite a bit,” head coach Mike Zimmer said yesterday. “He runs very, very well. He makes some really, really good catches and he’s 255 pounds. We anticipate that he will be a pretty good blocker. He’s really catching our eye.”
Pruitt grabbed the attention of offensive coordinator Norv Turner leading up to the draft. Like Antonio Gates and Jordan Cameron, Pruitt is a former basketball player turned pass-catching tight end, though that’s pretty much commonplace now after all the success Gates has had in San Diego.
While Pruitt was playing a tier below the big boys in college, he led all Division I tight ends with 81 catches, 861 receiving yards and 13 receiving touchdowns. In Southern Illinois’ only game against a Div. 1-A team last season, a loss to Purdue, Pruitt caught 10 passes for 136 yards.
The Vikings were impressed enough to draft Pruitt despite having depth behind Rudolph with Ellison, Ford and former Packer Brandon Bostick.
The Vikings moved Ellison, who is a good blocker but not exactly explosive as a receiver, around last season and he was typically the other tight end in their two-TE sets. But the early indications are that Pruitt can maybe be a multi-dimensional player, giving him an edge over those other guys.
“Pruitt, he’s an athlete, I’m going to tell you that much,” quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. “We’re glad to have him. He brings something different to the table. He can catch passes out of the backfield, catch passes from the tight end position, he can block in the run game, he can line up at wide receiver, probably can return punts and kicks, also. He’s an exciting player to have and he’s just looking forward to his opportunity.”
Bridgewater was probably exaggerating when it comes to Pruitt chipping in as a returner, too. But Pruitt did do all of that other stuff Tuesday.
And if he can block, too, he might make Ellison or Ford expendable.
Anthony Barr returned to practice today for the first time since a knee injury prematurely ended his season last November. While Barr was only able to participate in individual drills, coach Mike Zimmer thinks it is important that Barr got back on the field during this week’s minicamp.
“He’s got to get back to playing,” Zimmer said. “He hasn’t really done football in a long time. So it’s good for him to get back out here and start moving around and getting with the calls. I mean, I don’t anticipate any problems. I just think it’s good for his mindset and good for ours as well.”
Barr injured his knee in the team’s win over the Panthers in late November. After sitting out three games, Barr was placed on injured reserve prior to the season finale, officially ending his promising rookie campaign.
Both Zimmer and Barr have been mum about the nature of his current injury, but Zimmer has said it’s not the same knee that had sidelined him.
While the Vikings got good news with Barr’s return, the status quo remains with offensive tackle Phil Loadholt and defensive end Brian Robison, who continue to be held out of team drills due to pectoral injuries.
Loadholt, who tore his pectoral in November, is expected to be ready to roll by training camp. But Robison, who injured his earlier this spring, said today that he isn’t sure if he will be a full-go by the start of camp.
“We’ll just see how it goes,” Robison said. “Obviously I got to be smart with it. But at the end of the day, I plan on being there, plan on getting back on the field as quick as possible. We’re just going to take it day by day and keep going as we’re going.”
Cornerbacks Captain Munnerlyn (foot) and Josh Robinson (undisclosed) did not practice today. Neither did fellow cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke and linebackers Michael Mauti and Casey Matthews (all undisclosed, too).
“We’d obviously like to have everybody out here for practice all the time but it’s really not possible with some of the guys at this point,” Zimmer said.