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Vikings value return of rejuvenated tight end Irv Smith Jr.

EAGAN, Minn. (AP) The data of Irv Smith Jr.s rejuvenated outlook jumps from underneath his chinstrap, an ink outline of a butterfly on the left side of his neck that signifies a brand new start.

Following a freak knee injury that occurred while creating a pedestrian weakside block in a preseason game, knocking him out from the 2021 season, Smith has returned his enviable tight end skills and up-for-anything personality to a Minnesota Vikings offense that badly missed him. Fully recovered from surgery to repair a torn meniscus, Smith has been cleared to apply without limitation.

Its just like a new beginning. Everything Ive done in my own past, I still think about, but Im excited for what the near future holds for myself, the team, the offense, Smith said.

For further motivation, the third-year player and son of former NFL tight end Irv Smith added a straight larger tattoo on the other hand of his neck depicting his mother, Rose Matamoros. Then theres another superhero inked on his right hand: The Incredible Hulk.

Were going to smash some people, Smith said with a broad grin.

The 2020 second-round draft choose of Alabama, who turns 24 on Aug. 9, rarely goes long without smiling. His confident and upbeat demeanor certainly came in handy through the double-whammy slog of knee rehab, a grueling process made potentially more frustrating by the powerless feeling to be sidelined and struggling to contribute.

Thats sort of life. Things get thrown at you that youre not expecting, but its the method that you bounce back, Smith said. You need to keep excited. You cant look back.

Taking into consideration the quantity of attention Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and Dalvin Cook have commanded from opposing defenses, a technique thats unlikely to avoid, theres an obvious opening for Smith to seize an essential role for the Vikings. Thats what individuals were anticipating last season, after a lot of Smiths playing time was chewed up by veteran Kyle Rudolph in 2019 and 2020.

I felt he was among our most impactful players in training camp this past year, quarterback Kirk Cousins said.

The athleticism and versatility Smith possesses in order to fall into line at the original end spot in a three-point stance, in the backfield, the slot as well as split wide makes him an audio fit with the brand new offense under head coach Kevin OConnell.

OConnell and offensive coordinator Wes Phillips, who built their philosophy with Super Bowl champion LA, have quickly pointed to Rams tight end Tyler Higbee as their preferred prototype for the positioning as a good blocker with downfield speed to burn. Phillips was the tight ends coach for the Rams.

When Irv really opens it up, theres a whole lot in the tank there, OConnell said on Saturday, prior to the Vikings staged their first full-team practice of training camp that has been available to fans.

The truth that the workout included Smith was a substantial win for the Vikings.

Personally i think like I acquired faster, honestly, through this technique, just giving my body a reset, Smith said. Ive never had this sort of break before. Ive been playing sports my very existence. Reflecting and focusing on things that I needed to focus on that I wouldnt have enough time to focus on, its been excellent.

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More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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