Daily Egyptian

SIU connection on Vikings with addition of MyCole Pruitt

Then-SIU senior tight end MyCole Pruitt runs the ball during a drill on March 17, 2015, at the NFL Pro Day at Saluki Stadium. (Daily Egyptian file photo)

By Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune

The joke Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman is telling is that after loading up on players from UCLA and Notre Dame, he finally had to land a Saluki.

Spielman, who was a linebacker at Southern Illinois and a member of the school’s 1983 NCAA Division I-AA national championship team, got his guy this year when he drafted tight end MyCole Pruitt in the fifth round.

“Just because he was from Southern Illinois and I never drafted a Southern Illinois guy,” Spielman said about the attraction to Pruitt. “There had to be one Saluki after all the UCLA and Notre Dame guys.”

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The Vikings have drafted four players from UCLA and Notre Dame since 2007 and they’ve also chosen four players from some other football factories like Florida State, Southern Cal and Oklahoma in that span.

Pruitt has exceeded expectations to this point in training camp and is already getting work with the first team in two tight end sets. He caught four passes for 51 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown, in the Hall of Fame Game against the Steelers to kick off preseason.

He could push Rhett Ellison and Chase Ford for playing time.

The Vikings were drawn to Pruitt because offensive coordinator Norv Turner was seeking an athletic H-back type to add a new dimension.

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In the scouting world, the upside for Pruitt is someone like Charles Clay, who caught 127 passes for 1,364 yards over the last two seasons with the Dolphins and moved to Buffalo this year on a $38 million, five-year contract in free agency.

Pruitt is 6-2, 258 pounds, and he’s got a thick lower half so he should prove effective as a blocker as he develops that skill, something he wasn’t called on to do much of in school.

He starred at the NFL combine when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds. He displayed good hands which was no surprise after he led all Division I tight ends in catches (81), yards (861) and touchdowns (13) last fall for the Salukis.

“I think we have four really good tight ends, but bringing Pruitt into the mix to have that guy that can potentially be a mismatch,” Spielman said. “Just some of the things he showed, worked out really well at the combine and he caught the ball extremely well when you saw him on tape. And then Norv wanted to try to get another H-back type with some playmaking ability.”

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Pruitt is going to have to remain consistent through the preseason and he knows the first way to ensure he is in uniform on Sundays is to contribute on special teams.

Right now, he’s with the second team in all phases and he didn’t do much on special teams at Southern Illinois.

“As a rookie the No. 1 thing you have to do is stand out and make the coaches mention your name a few times and that is exactly what I have tried to do,” Pruitt said. “I’m still learning at H-back. I did a little in school, very little.”

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Spielman will no doubt be carefully watching him.

“I didn’t even figure out he went to SIU until he called me on the phone that day,” Pruitt said. “We have a little connection there. I’m glad I am the Saluki he drafted.”

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