This week, the Vikings begin Organized Team Activities to kickstart the home stretch of the NFL offseason.
Easing into the organization, eight drafted rookies and more undrafted rookies spent the past couple weeks assimilating into the meeting rooms, on-field drills and strength programs. Competition will ramp up starting with the month-long ‘phase three’ of the offseason, which allows full team drills, but no live contact. Wednesday’s practice is the first open to the media.
Before that, let’s set the stage for some of the rookies with what we knew, what we’ve learned so far and what we’re watching for this summer.
DE Stephen Weatherly
Weight: 267 pounds
Position: Defensive end
Hometown: Snellville, Ga.
Drafted: 227th overall, becoming the first Vanderbilt defensive lineman or linebacker drafted since 2012
What we’ve learned
Stephen Weatherly’s college bio says he’s a sociology major with a passion for chess and math, but his distance from any jock stereotype only begins there. The 22-year-old’s Vanderbilt bio also notes he plays six instruments. Though even that is selling him short.
“It came from my elementary school. It was mandatory for people to play in the band or orchestra and I chose the band,” Weatherly said. “From there, I just started in the front with flute and moved back. I played flute, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, baritone, tuba, tenor saxophone and then in college I took up steel drums and piano.”
He come across as a renaissance man, perhaps from his lineage. Weatherly’s grandmother was a graduate from MIT and Harvard. He can solve a Rubik’s cube and also enjoys puzzles and skateboarding. At Shiloh High School in Snellville, Ga., Weatherly said he also led a robotics team to the world championships.
“We built a refrigerator-sized robot that took inflatable tubes and put them on rings that were three, six and nine feet off the ground,” Weatherly said. “At the end of the competition, we put a mini robot that climbed a 12-foot pole. I was the leader on that team and we designed it, built it and programmed it and went to regionals in Georgia. We were the best rookie team in Georgia and went to the world championships in St. Louis that year and competed against other teams around the world.”
Fitting the mold
The Vikings’ draft haul leaned offense with four of the first six picks on that side of the football. The first two defensive selections for Mike Zimmer and George Edwards weren’t the biggest guys in 5-foot-10-inch cornerback Mackensie Alexander and 6-foot linebacker Kentrell Brothers.
“As we got in the seventh round, coach Zimmer started getting on me about getting some bigger guys,” Spielman said. “So, I said, ‘Okay coach we will find some guys that have some athletic skill set that are bigger’ and so that was Stephen Weatherly.”
Weatherly, a seventh-round pick, may not reach the height of the 6-foot-5-inch Danielle Hunter, but he fits the mold in what the Vikings like on defense — length. Weatherly actually has longer arms (34 1/2″) than Hunter (34 1/4″), who was taken in 2015’s third round. He’s also listed 15 pounds heavier.
Weatherly has played both 3-4 and 4-3 defensive schemes throughout his young playing career. In high school and in the final two seasons at Vanderbilt under coach Derek Mason, Weatherly played outside linebacker in a 3-4 front. Weatherly started his Vanderbilt career as a 4-3 defensive end under former coach James Franklin.
The Vikings felt confident in Weatherly’s ability to move back to defensive end.
“We’re projecting him as a defensive end,” Spielman said. “[Defensive line coach] Andre Patterson went all the way back to his freshman year in 2013 and pulled all his plays as a defensive end…We will need some refinement from a technical standpoint, but he has a lot of upside as a pass rusher in a 4-3 defense.”
What we’re watching for
Weatherly fits the mold and has experience as a 4-3 defensive end, though perhaps not the way the Vikings do it under Zimmer and Patterson. Defensive linemen joining the Vikings have commonly noted a difference in the way they teach footwork and rush techniques.
Hunter went through multiple changes to how he plays, eventually quadrupling his sack total from his final year in college. Weatherly may not be ready or may not need to make an immediate impact, but by first impression he seems like a quick study.
A crowded room
Much like linebacker, the Vikings’ defensive line room will be crowded after they brought back every contributor from a season ago along with a few additions. Weatherly joins a defensive end group led by Everson Griffen, Brian Robison and Hunter. The trio combined for 21.5 sacks last season.
Behind those three, Weatherly will compete for a roster spot with Scott Crichton, Justin Trattou, Zach Moore, Denzell Perine and Theiren Cockran. One likely area for him to earn an edge will be on special teams.