As Adam Thielen and the Minnesota Vikings prepare for the 2020 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pro Bowl receiver has adopted a mantra that he said many times during his media availability on Tuesday afternoon: Controlling what he can control.
With the Vikings limited to virtual meetings and not able to get on the practice field as a team, Thielen has committed himself to stay ready and stated that he'd play a game tomorrow if the Vikings had one.
"I'm trying not to think about those things," Thielen said. "I'm just focusing on the things I can control as an athlete...you have to be able to adapt. This is one of those situations...and we'll be fine."
Heading into this season, there will be plenty of areas in which Thielen will need to adapt. Entering his age-30 season, Thielen will be the elder statesman in a room of receivers trying to adjust to the NFL.
While he has reached out to establish a relationship where his new teammates can ask for advice, Thielen doesn't feel like a player who is getting older.
"I don't feel like I'm going on Year 8," Thielen said. "I feel I'm going on Year 2 or [Year] 3. At the same time, it's such a cool thing to have that bank of reps and experience. It just makes this game so much more fun."
Thielen also recognizes the challenge that rookies face, breaking into the league with a slew of virtual meetings and no organized on-field reps.
"It definitely would be difficult," Thielen said of the situation. "We actually talked about during a team bible study last night and that’s what we were talking about…how difficult this would be if we could turn back…honestly, I wouldn’t be in the NFL is this happened my rookie year. It’s kind of crazy to think about those things."
Thielen talks Diggs' departure, looks forward to Jefferson
Another adjustment that Thielen will have to make is dealing with the departure of his teammate Stefon Diggs. After Diggs was traded to Buffalo earlier this offseason, Thielen said the two knew each other like the back of each other's hands and were special on the field.
However, Thielen's decision to live in the current moment has him continuing to make the best of what he has.
"At the end of the day, nothing surprises you in this business," Thielen said. "I’m going to take advantage of what we have now and I got to trust that our front office is doing what’s best for this team and I’m going to run with that and I’m excited about what this group that we have now."
The most prized addition to the receiver group is Justin Jefferson, the first-round pick who has already struck a relationship with Thielen. Thielen praised Jefferson's ability to adapt to the current life in the NFL during a pandemic.
"The best athletes, they can adapt and I think [Jefferson] is one of those guys," Thielen said. "I think he’s a guy that’s an adaptable person, that’s why he was able to be a zero star recruit and now is a first-round draft pick in the NFL."
Thielen is also confident that Jefferson, who worked primarily out of the slot at LSU, and himself, who led the Vikings with 32 percent of his snaps from the slot last season, can co-exist in Gary Kubiak's offense.
"I think it’s very similar to what Diggs and I’s role was," Thielen said. "They can kind of move us around anywhere. I felt comfortable wherever they put us and it just provides an opportunity to see what we’re really good at and put us there in those situations."
Thielen learns from an injury-riddled season
Thielen also had to step back and look at his 2019 season where a hamstring injury forced him to miss six games. Thielen called last season "a learning experience" that helped him take a step back and learn how to use what he learned to help him in the future.
"I was able to take a lot of things as far as resources on how to take care of my body, where to go, how to deal with those things, and carry that into this offseason," Thielen said. "Like everyone says, I feel better than I’ve ever felt and a lot of it has to do about what I learned last year.”
The program that Thielen has set up this offseason has helped ease his mind and he feels ready to return to form in 2020.
"When I go in day in and day out and I get with my trainer a week after the season and develop a plan, that’s my ease of mind," Thielen explained. "Because I know I did everything I could for this season and now I get to just play ball."
Continuity should be a good thing for Vikings offense
While many things around Thielen have changed, one constant is how the Vikings offense will look coming into next year. With the exception of the Diggs trade, Thielen will still be catching passes from Kirk Cousins and running an offensive system that will be similar to the one that Kevin Stefanski ran last season.
"There’s so many weapons," Thielen said. "There’s so many guys that can make plays. Again, having that continuity, having that offense for the second year in a row, having another year with Kirk...people don't realize how important it is to have the same offense."
That continuity has Thielen excited, as he's been running routes but hasn't set up a player-led minicamp thanks to social distancing and travel restrictions. While Thielen didn't rule out that the players could get together down the road, he believes they'll be ready when the time comes to play.
"Whatever they tell me we have, two weeks, a month…I’m going to be ready for that situation," Thielen said. "I’m just excited to get back out there, so if they told me we could play a game tomorrow. I’d be out there. I’m just excited to see the guys again and play ball and get back to a little bit of normalcy.”