Irv Smith Jr. made headlines last offseason when Gary Kubiak noted the 22-year-old tight end was “swimming” with so much new information being thrown at him. He’s making headlines this offseason as a potential breakout star for the Minnesota Vikings.

While veteran Kyle Rudolph is undoubtedly still the leader among the team’s tight ends — and there won’t be a changing of the guard any time soon — Smith continues to flash his potential as a match-up nightmare with a limitless ceiling.

That’s why the Vikings took him in the second round of last year’s draft, and it’s why they put so much on his plate as a rookie.

“It definitely was a lot,” Smith said. “Coach Kubiak told me that from the get-go.”

It was a lot because Smith essentially was learning to play a couple of positions at the same exact time. As a tight end, he had to know the blocking schemes like the back of his hand, as well as all the different types of route combinations. He leaned heavily on Rudolph throughout the process.

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“He wants to be great,” Kubiak said of Smith. “That’s all we can ask for as a coach. His knowledge of running routes and doing things continues to grow, and as I’ve said many times, he is benefiting from Kyle. Not many guys get to go sit in a room with a guy like Kyle and take their baby steps, so to speak, looking at a player like that.”

Those baby steps manifested themselves on the field last season as Smith finished with 36 catches for 311 yards and a pair of touchdowns. You can bet those numbers will increase this season as the Vikings work to get Smith the ball with more regularity.

“He has a skill set that we need to be able to utilize with the offense,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “You can get linebackers in space and safeties in space and actually sometimes corners. It depends on the match-ups we get. We are always trying to look for match-ups we can exploit.”

That’s something Smith is excited about. He said he feels a lot more comfortable now that he has a year of NFL experience, and that should allow him to play faster this season.

“I’ve got a good feel of the offense and everything the coaches are asking from me,” Smith said. “Now it’s about making that big jump in Year 2. I’m going to do my role, whether I’m out wide, in the slot, or with my hand is in the dirt. Just whatever I need to do, I’m confident, and I feel like they’re definitely going to put me and our team in the right position.”

Cook's contract

If it weren’t for reporters asking him about it regularly, Kubiak claims he wouldn’t even know star running back Dalvin Cook is still searching for a new contract. That’s apparently how little it affects Cook when he’s on the practice field.

“He’s as focused a football player as I’ve ever been around,” Kubiak said. “We just got through the walk-through (practice) and we have a young back who was struggling with some protections. Who was the first person to help him? Dalvin.”

It’s unclear at this point whether Cook will garner a new contract before the Vikings’ Week 1 game against the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 13. While his agent, Zac Hiller, and the Vikings were engaged in contract negotiations over the past few weeks, things reportedly hit a stalemate Wednesday with neither side willing to budge.

“He’s getting himself ready to go,” Kubiak said of Cook. “He’s a pro. He knows what he needs to do to be at his best. We’re all counting on him doing that, and I know he is as well.”

Working together

Andre Patterson and Adam Zimmer are still figuring out some of the intricacies that come with sharing the role of defensive coordinator. That said, both have praised the other about the overall communication on the field.

That has been on display throughout training camp as the defense seems to move like a well-oiled machine regardless of who is giving direction.

“It’s gone smooth,” Adam Zimmer said. “I think we’ve done a good job of having everything organized and working on the things we need to work on.”