MANKATO, Minn. (AP) — One catch.
That was the jarringly limited extent of Laquon Treadwell’s production on the field last season for the Minnesota Vikings. Even with the rookie learning curve factored in, and his struggle to stay healthy, this was hardly an outcome befitting a first-round draft pick.
Treadwell’s nonexistence in the passing attack was minimized by the excellence of Stefon Diggs, the emergence of Adam Thielen and the steadiness of tight end Kyle Rudolph.
After such a significant investment by the Vikings in Treadwell, there was no way to escape the bust label no matter how early he was into his career. The critical voices were loudest inside his helmet.
“The injury, plus the playbook and just not being comfortable with everything going on around me,” Treadwell said. “I was used to my expectations and my standards, and I was falling short, so it was bothering me.”
The Vikings noticed. One of their goals for Treadwell’s second season, then, was “not being quite so hard on himself” in the words of coach Mike Zimmer.
“The biggest thing with Laquon is he needs to continue to build the confidence in himself,” Zimmer said. “If he drops a ball, he needs to forget it. Go on to the next play, and go make a play.”
He’s been listening.
After dropping a pass in practice on Friday, Treadwell hit the deck for a round of self-punishing push-ups. Then he bounced back with a difficult sliding catch.
“I know I’m ready. I don’t have to doubt it. I don’t have to question it. I’m just ready to play,” Treadwell said.
Taken with the 23rd overall selection out of Mississippi, Treadwell was still recovering from the gruesome injury to his lower left leg , a broken fibula and a dislocated ankle, he suffered in a game on Nov. 1, 2014, for the Rebels. He still led the SEC with 1,153 yards receiving in 2015, but his hard push to return to the field as quickly as possible didn’t allow for a complete rehabilitation.
Bothered by lingering pain in his foot last year, Treadwell also broke a finger and hurt his hamstring and ankle. Each time he made gains in practice, an injury thwarted his progress. Thus, the playing time that was limited to 127 snaps, including 47 on special teams. That’s an average of five plays with the offense per game over a full season. No wonder he was so hard on himself.
“I think we all have an issue with that. I think that’s just the competitive spirit,” Thielen said. “Especially when you’re used to starting every single game and getting the ball a ton, and then you go to not playing a whole lot, it’s tough.”
The biggest difference for Treadwell now?
“My health,” he said, without hesitation.
He added: “You add all those factors, and it’s hard to really get up on your feet and play as you want to.”
So far Treadwell has been making a much stronger impression, running routes and picking up the playbook in practices this spring and summer. With long arms and strong hands, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound has a prototypical body for an NFL wide receiver even if he doesn’t have blazing speed.
He’ll be given every opportunity to join Diggs and Thielen in the three-wide receiver sets the Vikings will likely use frequently, particularly with recent signee Michael Floyd facing a four-game suspension to start the season. Playing with more physicality and demonstrating a better blocking ability will be important steps in his progress. Effort level isn’t the problem.
“Maybe he works too hard. He’ll come in the evenings and work,” Zimmer said.
The key, then, will be channeling that into actual results.
“He’s always been a good football player, obviously. You get drafted in the first round, you’re a heck of a football player, a heck of an athlete,” Thielen said. “Now it’s just getting that year under his belt.”
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