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Bleacher Report – Vikings

The odyssey of Vikings receiver Laquon Treadwell

By Matthew Coller

On Friday afternoon, the last time he would talk to the media before Sunday night’s matchup with the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said there was a possibility Laquon Treadwell would make his NFL debut.

“I had a talk with him today,” Zimmer said.

As the Vikings walked off the practice field on Thursday, grey puffy clouds overhead hinted that rain could be on its way soon in Eden Prairie. Within 10 minutes of the final horn, all the players were cleared out, save for Danielle Hunter, who was doing a 1-on-1 for TV and a few special teams guys. Far away from media bounds, in the end zone of one of the practice fields, there were about a half dozen six-inch traffic cones set up two or three feet apart to form a rectangle. Treadwell was tip-toeing in between them.

Two hours before, Zimmer had wandered over to watch quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Shaun Hill throw warm-up passes to the receivers. Treadwell went hard into a break and slipped on the turf. He was slapping his hands in frustration before the ball even made a thud on the ground behind him. Receivers coach George Stewart, who you could easily mistake for offensive line coach or linebackers coach, made some stern suggestions. Treadwell listened, but kept slinking back toward the other receivers as Stewart talked, like when your mom telling you again where she’d pick you up as you are trying to leave for school.

On Wednesday, the rookie wide receiver could only mutter answers to a few reporters gathered at his locker.

“Just be me and continue to compete and get better,” Treadwell said. “That’s all I can do. My role will come whenever they give it to me so I’ve just got to keep getting better.”

Inside his locker that day was a picture of Jacob Wetterling, a boy whose story gripped Minnesotans in 1989 after he disappeared. His remains were recently found, bringing the story closure and heartbreak for an entire state. Treadwell, or someone, had written a note about the boy underneath his picture. Whether you’re from Minnesota or not, the story cracked the foundation of your sense of security and belief in the human race. Nobody asked about the picture. They didn’t have to.

Instead he faced questions about Sunday’s game against the Titans. Why didn’t you play? Was this discipline? What can you do better? Treadwell didn’t have many answers.

“He still has work to do,” Zimmer had said Monday.

It was evident from Treadwell’s responses that the Vikings 2016 first-round pick had gone through training camp and preseason under the presumption that he did not have “work to do” to be considered some part of their offense – maybe even a big part in the Red Zone where they struggled to score touchdowns last season.

“We had a brief conversation but you know it’s part of the game,” Treadwell said, visibly upset. “It’s his call, gotta go with it and keep getting better week to week.”

He sat and watched all 63 offensive snaps (and zero touchdowns) on the bench. He was not listed as inactive for the game, so he probably spent every one of them with a lump in his throat, wondering if there was any chance he would get in if someone got hurt. Nobody got hurt.

One week prior to his painful back-and-forth with reporters, Treadwell had a different air.

“I’m not worried about that, I’m just focused man,” he said confidently with no expression after being asked about how it would feel to make his NFL debut.

The cross around his neck dangled against his tattooed chest as he multi-tasked between the Q+A and getting ready for practice.

“I’ve made it this far by just working, so that’s what I have to do, stay positive, stay in it,” he said.

How about the injury?

“I’m getting better,” he said. “Still not where I want to be.”

That same day, maybe an hour before Treadwell talked in the locker room, his former wide receivers coach Grant Heard was sounding pretty excited on the other end of the phone. Despite a demoralizing loss by Ole Miss to Florida State two nights earlier, Heard’s voice bounced when discussing Treadwell’s potential NFL debut.

“As much as I hated to see a kid get hurt, I think it helped him more than anyone I’ve ever seen,” Heard said. “It made him realize that this game is precious. It can be taken away from you. And his mindset after that was that he was going to work his butt off. He became such a different person…I don’t know if I’ve ever even told him that…I don’t know how good a player he would be if that didn’t happen.”

At the time of the interview, Heard didn’t know that his former understudy would sit out Week 1, but was prescient in breaking down the gap between being a good college receiver and an every-Sunday NFL’er.

“The biggest thing is, if you’re supposed to be at 14 yards, that quarterback is expecting you to be at 14 yards every time,” Heard said. “That ball is coming out in the NFL in a hurry. It’s those little things where you can’t be at 12 and you can’t be at 16, you have to be right at 14 and you have to be there when you’re supposed to be there.”

Grading a team’s draft immediately after the pick is one of the most ludicrous things in professional sports coverage, but the Vikings had to be pleased to see they were getting A’s across the board from the guys on TV who said Blaine Gabbert would be better than Cam Newton and JaMarcus Russell would be a superstar. By a simple comparison of where he was projected to where he was picked, GM Rick Spielman appeared to have grabbed a potential top 10 receiver in Treadwell with the 23rd selection. A dude from CBS called him “the next Dez Bryant.”

Treadwell seemed pleased with his new location, walking around the media areas saying, “Skol Vikings” over and over.

“I never thought it would happen,” he told the media.

After GM Rick Spielman told Treadwell he’d been picked by Minnesota, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer had taken the phone and asked Treadwell if he liked purple.

“Yes sir, I’ve got it on right now,” Treadwell replied.

The draft was held in Treadwell’s hometown of a Chicago. He wore a suit jacket that you’d have to be more qualified in fashion to accurately describe. A crowd of fans screamed, “Let’s go Vikings” despite it being Bears territory. As the 23rd pick came in, guru Mel Kiper said, “the last high quality wide receiver (available) in the draft is Laquon Treadwell.” NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said the Vikings believed Treadwell could improve his mediocre 4.65 40-yard-dash time as he continued to recover from his injury.

When it was was announced, Zimmer laughed at a TV showing Minnesota’s new mascot hyping the crowd. Treadwell picked up his daughter, who had white beads in her hair that bounced off his chest, and walked up to the stage with her alongside to bro hug Roger Goodell. Deion Sanders interviewed her, to which she responded, “yeah” to all of his questions. Elite cuteness.

Through mock draft and workout season, Treadwell had listened to experts debate his speed and make comparisons to DeAndre Hopkins. He couldn’t have done much more in his comeback season to convince NFL teams he was worthy of a first-round selection. In his final game, Treadwell caught three touchdowns against Oklahoma State.

He was one of the top receivers in the nation, catching 82 passes for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns. At one point, Treadwell strung together six straight 100 yard games.

His “I’m back” moment was much earlier in the season against Alabama. The Rebels beat Alabama on the road 43-37 on ESPN. The Biletnikoff Award Finalist had five catches for 80 yards and a touchdown that turned out to be the game winner. It was his first game on national TV since his injury.

When he first returned to the field against Tennessee-Martin, it didn’t matter how hard he had worked or how many hits in practice he’d taken, there was still hesitation going against a real live opponent. If you’ve ever been in a car crash, you understand. If you get rear ended, you flinch for weeks at every red light.

His wide receivers coach would later say that the first game was not only Treadwell’s biggest hurdle, but that getting over it was proof he could have a huge year.

Treadwell worked so hard during the rehab process that he lost 20 pounds and trimmed his body fat to 7%. When he went on the field to run routes for the first time, he discovered his leg didn’t remember all the cuts and intricate movements. It would be like having a finger cut off, sewing it back on and trying to play piano just the same.

A few months earlier, Treadwell posted a short video on Instagram of him jogging. It was a sign to Ole Miss fans – and NFL teams – that he would be back soon.

The young receiver said he didn’t like taking pain pills right after surgery because he wanted to feel the pain. He told Andy Staples that it was like his foot was on fire, that recovering from surgery was the worst pain he had ever felt. It ached constantly, he couldn’t sleep, so he scrolled through texts on his phone all night. Sometimes he would scream into a pillow.

On Nov. 1, 2014, Laquon cried and put his right hand over his face as he sat stretched out in the metal bed of a golf cart. If you were watching or at the game, you were probably crying too. Or vomiting.

ESPN showed the play over and over and over and over and oh-my-god-make-them-stop-showing-it over and over. They probably would have limited it to only a few angles, but the play was under review. Touchdown or fumble? Even Auburn fans were hoping Treadwell’s pain wasn’t for nothing. They ruled it a fumble, solidifying the Rebels would not be going to the NCAA’s first ever playoff game.

“That didn’t look good at the end of the play,” ESPN’s Todd Blackledge said, changing his tone immediately from excited color analyst to concerned ex player.

He reached the goal line at 1:32 remaining in the fourth quarter, appearing to put the Rebels up 37-35 with Ole Miss ranking No. 4 and Auburn third in the country. A score would have put this game into Instant Classic territory but linebacker Kris Frost pulled him down from behind landing on his leg, breaking his fibula and dislocating his ankle.

As the ball came toward Treadwell on his final play of the season, announcer Brad Nessler said, “Guess who? Treadwell again.” It was his 10th catch and should have been his second touchdown.

This was the game he was supposed to have. As a former five-star recruit, Treadwell probably expected more out of himself than a handful of four and five-catch games and only two 100-yard performances prior to the matchup with Auburn. On the biggest stage against the best team, he had risen above defenders to rip balls out of the air and shrugged off Tigers tacklers for four straight quarters. He needed no other tape to prove he was first-round pick worthy.

That’s where Treadwell has been. Nobody knows where he’ll go. Receivers are hard to project. Sometimes a first-round pick turns into Cordarrelle Patterson, basically a kick returner, and sometimes sixth-round picks end up as the best receiver in the league like Antonio Brown.

Mike Zimmer isn’t telling the national media who is starting at quarterback against the Green Bay Packers, so he won’t reveal just how much playing time Treadwell will see or how his role might progress as the season goes on. He will only say that his rookie is talented.

Heard expects that Zimmer and the rest of the league will learn that his mental toughness will push him through any setback.

“He’s tough,” Heard said. “He has a mindset that he is the best thing out there. His mindset is that there is no one who can cover him and if the ball is in the air, he is going to get it. That’s the best part of his game.”

In the locker room Friday, Treadwell as smiling at his locker and yelling, “Heyyyyooo” as he went to the lunch table. Maybe he got good news? Or maybe he knows he has gone through much worse than sitting one game.

The post The odyssey of Vikings receiver Laquon Treadwell appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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