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Bleacher Report – Vikings

How Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs make each other better

By Matthew Coller

Eagan, Minn. – Minnesota Vikings wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell has seen a lot of things.

The Vikings are his 14th coaching position in 11 different locations. Hazell traveled from running back’s coach at Oberlin College, which apparently is in Ohio, to receivers coach at Ohio State to head coach at Purdue with stops at Eastern Illinois, Penn, Army, Western Michigan, West Virginia, Rutgers and Kent State mixed in.

Along the way, he met President Obama, became friends with the animal guy Jack Hannah, hung out with Hannah’s friend Wayne Newton during a vacation in Montana and rubbed elbows with astronaut John Glenn, who went to Hazell’s alma mater Muskingum, if you ever need that information for trivia night. You won’t be surprised to hear that Hazell’s takeaway on Glenn was that he’s really freaking smart.

And in college he was a terrific receiver himself, setting school records with 132 receptions and 1,966 receiving career yards, which held up from the early-80s to 2013.

So he’s seen a lot of stuff. But along the way, Hazell has never seen a relationship like the one between Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.

“Believe me, those guys all want their share [of catches] and you wouldn’t want guys any other way in that room, but you talk about a genuine support for one another, I’ve never been around two guys like that,” Hazell said on Friday. “They are the biggest cheerleader for the other guy. It’s unique. It’s very unique.”

Through eight games, Thielen and Diggs have combined for 132 catches for 1,512 yards and 10 touchdowns. They make up 60 percent of the Vikings’ total receiving yards and quarterback Kirk Cousins has a rating of 123.9 when throwing at Thielen and 107.2 targeting Diggs.

They have also dropped a grand total of three passes between them.

There are only a few historical examples of receivers pushing each other like Thielen and Diggs that work in conjunction with each other like the Vikings’ two stars. The late-90s Jacksonville Jaguars’ pair Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith come to mind. Pittsburgh fans might point to Stallworth and Swann. Art Monk and Gary Clark. Moss and Carter. Denver’s Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey.

It doesn’t happen that often, in part because it’s hard to find that much talent on the same team in a league with 32 franchises, but also because the relationship goes well beyond game day. It’s been forged every day in practice over the last four years.

“The common denominator for both of them is that they love to practice,” Hazell said. “That’s where their energy is. That’s why they have been able to get so much better…those guys bring so much juice [to practice] that it makes you get better so much faster. It’s every single day. It’s not like every fourth Thursday I have to get them going. It’s every single day.”

Both players’ intensity carries over to meetings.

“They are constantly bouncing things off of one another,” Hazell said. “What are you seeing? How should you react? Where is the adjustment? It’s unbelievable that they can be able to do that because they see things a little bit differently when they are watching film and then they come to kind of an agreement. ‘OK, yeah, we’ll get to it this way.’ It’s a neat little deal right there.”

“We’re always talking about, ‘man, you could have done this better, you could have done this better’ and give each other a hard time,” Thielen said. That’s why I love having him on this team.”

They call each other brothers and their locker room arguments over workouts and Instagram posts might remind you of your siblings, as would the way they compete against each other.

“We want to run the better route and sometimes coach will have me run a certain route at one point and maybe he will run the same route and he wants to run it a little bit better and get a little more separation,” Thielen said. “We’re always competing, always having fun and giving each other a hard time if we’re not performing at the level we know we can.”

Sometimes that means one of them giving themselves a hard time if they let the other one down. Against the New York Jets, Thielen missed a block on a screen pass that could have opened a hole for Diggs to create a big play. Instead Diggs was tackled for a short gain. Thielen’s reaction stuck out to Hazell.

“Adam felt horrible, absolutely felt horrible,” Hazell said. “You could see it in his face. He kept apologizing and Diggs was like, ‘hey, let it go, you’ll get it next time.”

Thielen took time out of his press conference the following week to break down his missed block to the media.

Receiver Aldrick Robinson probably hasn’t met Wayne Newton or John Glenn, but he’s been around some of the elite wide receivers in the NFL having played in Washington and San Francisco with Pierre Garcon and Atlanta with Julio Jones and has never seen anything resembling the Diggs and Thielen relationship.

“Not for two main guys,” Robinson said. “I had that type of relationship with Pierre Garcon, but I wasn’t a starter. You see Sanu and Julio have that type of relationship in Atlanta but nowhere else have I seen it.”

“They even dress alike,” Robinson said. “They really care about each other. When you care about somebody, you can critique them and I see that from those two. They can talk to each other in ways you don’t see everybody talking to each other. That’s the main thing…to be able to take notes from each other and take criticism from each other, that’s why they are elite.”

The crazy thing about Thielen and Diggs is that they have been at this for years and nobody can stop them. While the 2016 season was put in a paper shredder because of injuries, the Vikings’ two star receivers caught 75 percent of passes thrown in their direction for a total of 153 catches for 1,870 yards.

How have opponents not figured out a way to slow them down? It’s not for lack of trying.

The challenge for the Vikings is to figure out — and adapt to — which of the two players opponents will be paying more attention on a particular week.

“Every defense is different,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “Sometimes we don’t really know. We anticipate certain things that we are going to get. Just like I think teams anticipate some of the things they might get from us. It’s all part of the cat and mouse game. Typically, every team has, like us, if the slot guys are hurting us, we have these calls to take care of it or if the outside guy is in. So they are going to have that in their game plan. Whether or not they decide to use it, when to use it, all of those things. Most of the time it is not every single play.”

Hazell said he has seen defenses attempt to show certain looks and then make changes at the snap.

“What’s happening now is they are showing us two high safeties a lot of times but on the snap they are rotating down and doubling one of those guys with one of the safeties, then it’s single high,” Hazell said. “Which safety is lowering? Where are they doubling?”

But just like everything else with Thielen and Diggs, it’s become a competition between them.

“They know one is not as good without the other one,” Hazell said. “They wonder who’s going to get doubled this week, which guy are they going to point out to double. They know they play off of each other. That’s another strength of their game.”

Opponents have handled it different ways. On third-and-long, the Jets doubled both of them and dared the Vikings to win by throwing to someone else. The Vikings went 2-for-15 on third down that day. Arizona sent star corner Patrick Peterson after Diggs and Thielen lit them up like a jack-o-lantern. New Orleans didn’t cover either one effectively and they put up 17 catches on 18 targets for 222 yards and two touchdowns.

While they get put under the same umbrella as wonderful all-around receivers who can succeed on short, intermediate and deep routes, Hazell said they are not quite the same.

“They are different kinds of guys on game day,” Hazell said. “One guy runs on dragster fuel, one guy runs on diesel fuel. If you watch them play, one guy is coming out every few plays, the other guy stays in the whole time because that’s the fuel they are working on. One burns it up real fast and burns it up real fast, the other guy’s tank is loaded. Yet both play at a high performance.”

If you are wondering, Thielen is diesel and Diggs is dragster.

The Vikings also use Thielen in the slot a lot more often than Diggs — that was a Pat Shurmur invention. Thielen has taken 61 percent of his snaps inside while Diggs splits up his snaps on both sides and occasionally as a slot receiver.

“If you saw our call sheets and the amount of personnel groupings, the amounts of formations we have, shifts and motions, and those things I think it’s more than a lot of people,” offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said. “I think [Diggs’] ability to line up inside, outside, run the first level, your route, the slant for example, and then Green Bay take the post over the top and be able to track the football and catch it with his finger tips and those things. I think the variety of routes he can run and the ability for him to line up anywhere that we need him to line up at makes him who is.”

Hazell likes to point out that there is a ton of hidden value with both receivers because of their effort when nobody is looking.

“Energy and effort without the ball,” he said. “Everyone is oooh and ahhh with all the catches, but watch how they work in the run game. Watch how they work when someone else catches the ball. That’s the thing people miss. That’s what makes them complete guys.”

This week as the Vikings face off with the Detroit Lions, Thielen may have to go to battle without Diggs, who is questionable a rib injury.

Ironically Thielen got his big chance in ’16 because of a Diggs injury. He stepped in against the Houston Texans and caught seven passes for 127 yards. His previous career high had been six grabs 70 yards.

But after that game, Thielen’s numbers without Diggs weren’t as impressive. Against Detroit on November 24, 2016, he picked up on 53 yards in a 16-13 loss and made one catch for seven yards in the Diggs-less season finale against Chicago. In a run-driven victory over Baltimore last year with Diggs absent, Thielen caught just five passes on 12 targets for 41 yards.

Hazell said they won’t know how Detroit’s defense will handle Thielen until game day.

“As a staff we’re always trying to figure out where they are going to put the double team and where they are going to put their best cover guy because that helps us develop the gameplan,” Hazell said. “We don’t know until the first series of the game where the double is coming to and where the matchups are coming from. That’s a unique challenge for us.”

Even without Diggs on the field drawing attention away from Thielen, you can bet he will be in Thielen’s ear on the sideline working on every possible solution.

“That’s the thing with them: One guy knows he’s going to fight as hard as he can for the other guy,” Hazell said.

The post How Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs make each other better appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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