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Kevin O’Connell: Irv Smith Jr. is going to be a major part of what we do

Mike Florio and Peter King break down this year's Thanksgiving NFL schedule, which includes a stop in Minnesota when the Vikings host the Patriots on NBC.

Irv Smith Jr. was slated to be the Vikings’ starting tight end in 2021. But then he suffered a torn meniscus just before the start of the regular season and ended up missing the entire year.

Smith has been participating in Minnesota’s offseason program and was spotted by reporters running routes during an open portion of practice this week. Head coach Kevin O’Connell said in his Wednesday press conference that Smith is making steady progress by doing more and more every day.

“I think for Irv, this whole spring is a great example of a player figuring out where he is coming off of his injury,” O’Connell said. “But also understanding that he can really get a lot out of every day knowing he’s preparing himself for when he’s 100 percent and ready to go.”

O’Connell noted that he’s well aware of how Smith was perceived entering last season, while adding the club has to be responsible with how it handles Smith’s return.

“I know there were a lot of folks excited about him last fall before that injury,” O’Connell said, via Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “He’s going to be a major part of what we do.”

Playing alongside Kyle Rudolph for his first two seasons, Smith caught 36 passes for 311 yards with a pair of touchdowns as a rookie in 2019. HE then caught 30 passes for 365 yards with five TDs in 2020.