Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Mike Boone brings his 'smooth' personality to the Vikings’ backfield

Mike Boone is making a strong impression in Vikings training camp as he fights for the team's No. 3 running back role. Find out why Boone brings a 'smooth' personality to Minnesota's backfield. 

Updated: August 7, 2018, 1:35 p.m.
By: Daniel House

If you spend a few hours with Vikings running back Mike Boone, you’ll likely hear the smooth tones of a saxophone blasting through a speaker.

Boone, an undrafted free agent out of Cincinnati, often spends free time listening to his favorite artist, “Kenny G.” The relaxing tones of jazz music are something you wouldn’t expect a muscular, 5-foot-10, 205-pound running back to enjoy. For Boone, it’s one of his deep secrets.

“I like to listen to jazz music, a lot of people don’t know that,” Boone said. “[Kenny G] plays the saxophone – he’s pretty smooth.”

Boone translates the smooth persona of jazz music to the football field when he cuts back and explodes through an open rushing lane. Early in training camp, the young running back is making a strong impression as he fights for the No. 3 running back position.

Following Jerick McKinnon’s departure in free agency, the door is open for Boone to claim a roster spot. In terms of athletic testing, the undrafted rookie has very similar metrics to McKinnon. A track star who finished third in the state of Florida in the triple jump, Boone’s athleticism jumps off the charts. It’s something that likely drew the Vikings’ scouting staff toward the Cincinnati running back.

Not only that, but Boone's versatility has separated him from many other running backs. Before arriving to training camp, Boone said he focused on maximizing his value on the field. Boone spent time studying the likes of David Johnson, LeSean McCoy and Devonta Freeman to learn tools of the trade he can apply to his own skill-set.

“Of course, you’ve got to be in the film room,” Boone said. “Pass protection – you always have to find a time to work on that. Just being explosive in-and-out of cuts and between the tackles being able to explode and stay vertical between the tackles. Catching passes, I always work on that.”

Being a strong pass catcher is something Boone made a specialty during his college career at Cincinnati. He was used in the screen game, lined up in the slot or targeted via swing passes. He snatched 65 career receptions for 596 yards through the air. Boone also played receiver at Baker County High School in Florida, which helped him become more natural as a pass catcher.

“[Being a receiver] helped me out a lot,” he said. “It made it way easier to be able to line up in the slot, catch the ball, running swing routes and all of the designed routes to the running back out of the backfield. It just makes me that much more comfortable doing it.”

Boone also spent extensive time improving in pass protection to keep the quarterback upright. It’s something Boone understands will be important when teams send pressure in third-and-long situations.

“Out here, if you can’t protect the quarterback, you can’t play, so that’s the No. 1 emphasis,” Boone said. “Protect the ball and protect the quarterback, so that’s what I try to focus on day in and day out.”

Throughout spring practices and training camp, it’s clear Boone has the potential to carve out a role because of his pure explosiveness and overall versatility. During Vikings training camp, offensive coordinator John DeFilippo and running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu are trying to unlock all of the potential within Mike Boone’s skill-set. Throughout the past few months, Boone is noticing how DeFilippo has placed players like him in favorable situations.

“Coach Flip is a great coach,” he said. “He’s dedicated and makes sure we know the offense and puts us in the best situation to showcase what we can do. I’m extremely grateful to be coached by him and Kennedy Polamalu.”

Boone is also taking advantage of the opportunity to work alongside high-caliber running back Dalvin Cook and veteran Latavius Murray. The duo has helped Boone adjust to the rigors associated with being an NFL running back. It’s helped the trio create a bond which extends beyond the playing field.

“[They tell me], just be you, be calm, you’ve been playing this game for as long as we can remember. It’s all we know,” Boone said. “Those guys taught me so many little hacks and tricks as far as from my footwork, pass protection, hitting the gaps. I’m extremely thankful for those guys -- they’re like big brothers to me.”

During the draft process, Boone slid off draft boards due to a lingering foot injury, which impacted his production. After posting 18 total touchdowns and 1,399 yards over his first two seasons, Boone’s statistical output was nearly cut in half. The early stages of his career were a small glimpse into the potential Boone can provide if he develops correctly and stays healthy. Now, the injuries are in the past as the running back transitions to the professional ranks.

“I did everything I can to recover my body and make sure those injuries don’t happen again,” he said. “It’s uphill from here.”

Boone’s focus has transitioned to chasing the No. 3 running back by putting together a strong training camp and preseason. His sights are set on claiming one of the final roster spots.

“[Earning a roster spot] is the goal,” Boone said. “It’s exactly what I thought it would be, a great competition and I’m just excited and blessed to be here.”

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