A Different Kind of Homecoming
Jul 31, 2008, 6:06:47 AM by Bob Gretz - FAQ
RIVER FALLS, WI – No, this isn’t about Jared Allen.
It’s about Tyler Thigpen.
All the attention today here in the northwoods will be centered on Allen coming to UW-River Falls with his new Vikings teammates to practice against his old teammates on the Chiefs. That’s understandable; Allen played four seasons in Kansas City and was the team’s best player last season.
But Thigpen will be celebrating a much quieter reunion, drawing little attention from the media.
Last year, Thigpen was in the Vikings training camp, as Minnesota’s seventh-round draft choice. He was with the purple when they worked out last year against the Chiefs in both River Falls and Mankato, MN.
How Thigpen came to be in the Chiefs training camp this year and not with the Vikings is a good story of how the personnel process never ends.
Going into the 2007 NFL Draft, the Chiefs had Thigpen on their list of players that they’d considering selecting in the later rounds. He was coming out of Coastal Carolina in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where he displayed great mobility and a strong arm. But as the draft played out, the Chiefs went in a different direction and it was the Vikings that grabbed Thigpen with the 217th choice.
Minnesota’s first pre-season game last year was on a Friday night in the Metrodome against St. Louis. River Falls is less than an hour’s drive from the dome, so V.P. of Player Personnel Bill Kuharich went over to watch the game before he headed to Cleveland to see the Chiefs against the Browns the next night. The Chiefs personnel department tries to see every other NFL team at least once in the pre-season and when their scouts go out, they have a preliminary list of players to keep their eye on.
Thigpen was on Kuharich’s list thanks to their evaluations of him from the draft. But the young quarterback didn’t get on the field until the fourth quarter. In two possessions with the Vikings offense, Thigpen hit three of six passes for 29 yards and picked up 18 yards on two scrambles. In the box score the next day, it was hardly a performance anybody would notice.
But Kuharich did.
“You see guys like him on tape as you prepare for the draft and you get an idea of what they might be able to do,” said Kuharich. “But put them on an NFL field and that changes things. He came from a small college background and he stepped on the field that night and looked very at home. ”
Kuharich filed that performance away, especially when the next week the Vikings only put Thigpen on the field for five plays.
“That told me something right there,” said Kuharich. “That told me the Vikings liked him and they were hoping to make sure nobody noticed. ”
That was even more evident the next week when Thigpen didn’t even play. In the final pre-season game, against Dallas, Thigpen got a pair of fourth quarter possessions that were dominated by the running game.
“Pretty much all I did was handoff,” Thigpen said. “I didn’t know what was going on. Hey, I was a rookie. I’ve never been through a camp and a pre-season. I wasn’t sure how it worked. I didn’t know they were trying to keep me under wraps. I can see that now, but I had no idea while it was going on.”
On NFL cutdown day, the Vikings released Thigpen, but told him to find a place to live in the Twin Cities because they were going to add him to their practice squad. That was Saturday. On Sunday, the Chiefs claimed him on waivers. They had seen enough of Casey Printers in the pre-season to question his ability to handle the NFL game. Thigpen’s performance in that first pre-season game convinced Kuharich he was worth bringing in for a long look.
The Chiefs had not done a lot of waiver wire transactions under former head coach Dick Vermeil; generally when they added a player to the roster, he had been with the team before and been released. Herm Edwards feels differently. “The question is always this: is the guy on the wire better than the last guy you have on your roster,” said Kuharich. “We felt Thigpen was better. We felt the same with Johnny Baldwin and Rashard Barksdale.”
Thigpen, Baldwin and Barksdale were all added to the Chiefs roster that weekend, claimed off the waiver wire. All remain with the team, although Baldwin is not in camp as he recovers from the knee injury and surgery he went through last year. Barksdale is competing for a roster spot at cornerback.
And now a year later, with the whole NFL world wondering if Green Bay’s No. 4 might soon end up in a Vikings uniform, the Chiefs are watching their own No. 4 develop before their eyes.
“You can see his growth,” said Edwards. “He’s got a real belief in his arm. He’ll throw it anywhere.”
While Croyle has a gun for a right arm, Thigpen has a cannon and that belief in his arm can get him in trouble at times. He always seems to believe he can fit a pass between two defenders even if they are 20 yards down the field. He’s quickly learning that will also get him in trouble.
“I’ve got to be careful,” Thigpen said. “I think every quarterback thinks he can throw the ball wherever he wants. But that isn’t always the smartest move.”
Vikings coach Brad Childress was not happy when his team lost Thigpen last year. He won’t be any happier after he sees him practice Thursday night. With his strong arm and his mobility, Thigpen looks very at home in Chan Gailey’s offense. The quarterback boot legs they are running seem right up his alley.
“I like it,” said Thigpen. “I like to throw and move on the run. I think it fits Brodie and his style as well. There are chances to make plays.”
Thigpen will get those chances in the pre-season. Make no mistake, Croyle is the starter. There was some off-season scuttlebutt that Thigpen could win the starting job. But baring a complete collapse, that’s not going to happen; Croyle is the man.
But the NFL is all about being ready, and Thigpen feels he’s definitely ready.
“I’m just trying to get better, trying to make this team better in whatever way I can,” he said. “Right now, my future is the next practice.”
And that just happens to be against the Vikings.
“That will be neat, to see some of those guys and see some of the coaches,” Thigpen said. “But I’m sure everybody will be watching Jared and his coming back here.”
Chiefs fans however, need to keep their eye on Thigpen.
“He’s not shown us any reason why he couldn’t be successful,” said Kuharich. “Like all young players, he needs to play.”
You can read more about Tyler Thigpen and how the Chiefs scout in the pre-season on bobgretz.com.