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Minnesota Vikings cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. takes part in drills at the NFL football team's practice facility in Eagan, Minn., Saturday, July 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

As Minnesota’s training camp ramps up, we’ve zeroed in on three players entering their first year with the Vikings to gauge possible roles and types of impact they might have during the 2022 season.

Booth Jr. bringing fire to secondary

Rookie cornerback Andrew Booth Jr., the No. 42 overall draft pick, has adjusted quickly to the NFL.

Battling a top-5 receiver in Justin Jefferson each practice probably will further accelerate his transition.

“I’m seeing the best in JJ, every day, so that’s going to get me ready for Game 1,” Booth Jr. told reporters from the TCO Performance Center in Eagan, Minn., at the onset of camp.

How much we see of the 21-year-old Clemson product when Minnesota hosts Green Bay on Sept. 11 will depend on a couple factors: Will he satisfy the demands of Ed Donatell’s elaborate defensive scheme? And, can he beat out third-year corner Cameron Dantzler for the starting gig opposite Patrick Peterson?

Booth Jr.’s college experience, playing 30+ games in defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ system, an imitation of the complexities of Donatell’s defense, prepared Booth Jr. to check item No. 1 off his list.

The spring time was for teaching, communicating and connecting. Booth Jr. said Donatell stressed a defensive partnership amongst the players, a bond off the field that will strengthen chemistry on it.

Instead of just breaking film down in the offseason – during a time Booth Jr. was restricted physically due to pre-draft hernia surgery, which he’s fully recovered from now – the Vikings defense studied each other, learning about players’ backgrounds and interests outside of football. Donatell threw all the information on a screen like he was teaching a coverage. Some guys have big families, some collect cars.

Booth Jr. has an affinity for listening to music and watching movies. Two of his favorite actors, Denzel Washington and Matthew McConaughey, actually inspired the appeal to get into character after football.

We digress – the main point being there’s multiple ways to build cohesion on the football field and Booth Jr. is equipped, given his foundation of football knowledge and mental makeup, to gain Donatell’s trust.

Booth Jr.’s second objective, outperforming Dantzler, someone the organization has been high on since picking him in the third round in 2020, is trickier. The position battle is very real, but also good-natured.

“It was never personal when we drafted him,” said the 23-year-old Dantzler, addressing the elephant in the room – that Booth Jr. is coming to take his spot – after Day 2 of camp. “I was very excited.”

Dantzler insists there’s no hard feelings between the two – no matter his goal, the team comes first.

“He brings that fire, that juice to the secondary – something that we really need,” Dantzler said, lighting up when he was asked whether he’s gelled with Booth Jr. thus far. “I love him just like a little brother.”

Brainy tackle Twyman happy to be back

What does Jaylen Twyman share in common with three-time defensive player of the year Aaron Donald?

Twyman, a sixth-round pick by Minnesota in 2021, was the first defensive tackle at the University of Pittsburgh to lead the Panthers in sacks, with 10.5, since Donald paced Pitt with 11 in 2013.

This season, after spending his whole rookie year on injured reserve because of a fluke accident where he suffered four gunshot wounds riding in a car while visiting family in Washington D.C. last June, Twyman is taking his career one day at a time, working to prove he belongs on the Vikings 53 man.

“I’ve just been focused on grinding. Being where my feet are. Not trying to reflect on the past,” Twyman said. “One of the main things I’ve been working on is my stance … [and] playing the run.”

Makes sense for a guy who’s battled adversity but excelled previously at getting after the quarterback.

“I feel like I’m a cerebral pass rusher – that’s something that stands out in my game – but I gotta keep getting better all around to be a good football player in this league,” Twyman said.

Twyman acknowledged he’s learned a lot from the veteran twosome of Dalvin Tomlinson and Harrison Phillips, the latter of whom also is gearing up for his first season donning the purple and gold.

The difference between Phillips, who is entering Year 5, and a player such as Twyman may be obvious, but it’s intensified during the dog days of summer when evaluation takes precedence and roster spots are up for grabs.

On Monday, a fully-padded Phillips noted that the disparity at training camp between established players and guys on the fringe is huge – a seasoned observation that one Vikings legend doubled down on.

“The reality of it is that there are certain players on this team who have already solidified themself on this roster and in the NFL – they’re Pro Bowl type players. Their process is going to look different from a guy who already knows they’re a bubble player or the 53rd guy on the roster,” Phillips said. “Jared Allen talked to us the other day and he mentioned that young guys, you’re here and every single time you go out on that field it’s kind of life or death – you have to prove that you can play in this league.”

Phillips expanded on the progression for older guys. There’s more wiggle room, he said. You can afford to spend the first week getting your hands and stance right, work on your run reads in Week 2 and get your pass rush dialed in during week No. 3. That flexibility is a privilege that escapes a youngster like Twyman.

Like Allen mentioned, each motion on the field, each drill, each rep simulates life or death.

“You see the competition, you see the shove in the back, you see jerseys getting pulled,” said Phillips, jawing about the truths in camp for unproven players, adding that chip on your shoulder is crucial.

Twyman divides his mission to survive eventual roster cutdowns into three parts: Executing his responsibilities, being sound in his technique and, perhaps most importantly, making impact plays.

Following Phillips’ advice will be important, too.

“In terms of, can you play in the National Football League? That starts with this,” the ex-Buffalo run-stuffing aficionado said while slapping his chest plate.

Mundt’s experience in system paying off

Minnesota still expects Irv Smith Jr. to play a vital role this season even after thumb surgery Tuesday.

But with the team’s TE1 set to miss preseason action and out of commission the rest of camp, there’s increased opportunity for a collection of Vikings tight ends … including 27-year-old Johnny Mundt.

Brought over from L.A. in free agency, reunited with coach Kevin O’Connell and offensive coordinator Wes Phillips, Mundt prides himself on his multifacetedness and possesses a key intellectual advantage.

“With Johnny it’s fun because he was in this system, so there’s times where I’m leaning on him to tell me what he’s feeling or seeing because he knows it better than I do,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said Wednesday.

Mundt’s knowledge of the Rams-based offense which O’Connell has implemented in Minnesota isn’t the only thing going for Mundt, who recently received the all-clear designation from an ACL tear Oct. 17.

“He had a phenomenal catch in one of our early practices a week ago on a high ball that he came down with and showed his athleticism,” Cousins recalled.

The same catch was stuck in Phillips’ head when he spoke in-depth with the media Tuesday about the options behind Smith Jr. and the prospects of a serviceable player like Mundt getting more chances.

“We’ve got a big group of guys in there that are kind of vying for roles,” the first-year Vikings OC said. “Johnny’s physical in the run game. He’s explosive as a runner. … We started calling him the Bear killer because it just happened that [Tyler] Higbee would be out when we played Chicago and every time he got his opportunity, he just produced.”

Phillips’ memory is accurate – not to say anyone was questioning it. Mundt pulled down three receptions on three targets for 48 yards, good for career highs in each category, in a 2020 contest against the Bears.

An expanded role for a guy who’s known anything but in the NFL – in 47 career games, Mundt has 10 catches – coming off a major knee injury, isn’t what we would deem an ideal situation … but the praise for Mundt at camp has been high and it’s not the first occasion he’s made a strapping impression.

“In L.A., the defensive players started calling him strong-hands Mundt because he would throw those hands – it wasn’t a pass game comment,” Phillips said. “I’m excited about him in a different role, seeing how he flourishes with a few more [opportunities].”

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