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Vikings waste no time letting tight end Johnny Mundt show his receiving skills

Entering the season, Vikings coaches talked a lot about turning the tight end into more of a receiving threat

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Minnesota Vikings tight end Johnny Mundt during training camp at TCO Performance Center in Eagan on July 30, 2022.
John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press
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Entering the season, Vikings coaches talked a lot about turning tight end Johnny Mundt into more of a receiving threat. And they didn’t waste any time making that happen.

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Johnny Mundt

On the first play of Minnesota’s 23-7 victory over Green Bay in Sunday’s season opener, quarterback Kirk Cousins hit Mundt for a 12-yard gain on a pass to the left side. Not a bad start for a guy who caught all of 10 passes the past five seasons for the Los Angeles Rams.

“I got a little heads-up probably about 20 minutes before that we were going to run that play,” said Mundt, who signed as a free agent with the Vikings in March. “It’s a great way to start off the game and get a little confidence and just get your feet wet under you.”

By the end of the game, Mundt matched his career high with three receptions for 17 yards. It was just the third time in 49 career NFL games that he caught two or more passes.

Mundt was used mostly as a blocking tight end with the Rams. But head coach Kevin O’Connell previously was the Rams’ offensive coordinator and offensive coordinator Wes Phillips previously was their tight ends coach, so they had seen him catch plenty of balls in practice.

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Mundt, listed as the second-string tight end, started Sunday’s game and was in for 40 plays to just 19 for first-stringer Irv Smith Jr. and 17 for third-stringer Ben Ellefson. Smith was coming off an Aug. 1 right thumb injury, which required surgery the next day, so there was initial speculation that was a reason for his reduced snap count.

But O’Connell said after the game that the limited usage was not because of the injury to Smith, who was targeted twice without a catch. He said it was due to matchups and wanting to use Mundt more as a tight end along with three wide receivers.

“Irv’s gonna have a major role for us … and he will continue to show up throughout the season,” O’Connell said Monday. “I’ve got so much confidence in him. … We’re a game-to-game, week-to-week operation.”

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O’Connell didn’t deny that perhaps the depth chart for tight end is actually a 1a and 1b situation. Mundt said he knew coming into Sunday he would play a significant role, and exactly how much depended on how the Packers adjusted to “11 personnel,” which is a Vikings lineup with one running back, one tight end and three receivers.

“I knew I was going to play a large amount,” Mundt said. “I wasn’t worried about playing more than anybody, just playing the best football I could.”

Among the top two tight ends, Mundt is considered the better blocker and Smith the better receiver. But if Mundt continues to show he can catch balls when needed, that will help him get on the field more.

“It starts with the run and having a good marriage with the run and the pass and just being a viable option for Kirk and just playing fast,” Mundt said of his role. “I’m just going to try to build on (Sunday’s game).”

O’Connell liked what he saw Sunday from Mundt, calling him “incredibly reliable and really a focal point in the run and pass game.”

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Pro Bowl tackle Brian O’Neill also was impressed with Mundt’s first game with the Vikings.

“He did a great job not only in the pass game but communicating with us on the offensive line,” said O’Neil, a tight end when he began his college career at the University of Pittsburgh. “I have been really impressed with Johnny, just his work ethic and helping us build a positive culture.”

Mundt made an immediate impact against the Packers. With the Vikings at their 22, he blocked edge rusher Rashan Gary, then went out into the flat for his first catch. Mundt barreled down the left sideline for a first down before he was knocked out of bounds by cornerback Jaire Alexander.

As it turned out, Mundt had just one regret about the play.

“I thought about hurdling that guy,” he said. “But there’s always next week.”

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Related Topics: MINNESOTA VIKINGS
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