Vikings receiver K.J. Osborn spent one season at the University of Miami and quickly learned to never run out of bounds after making a catch. Like ever.
The coaching staff used called it “Poodle” if someone did so without being hit, Osborn explained, and it carried a consequence of having to push a weighted plate at practice the following day. This encouraged players to fight for extra yards no matter where they are on the field.
“We always stayed in bounds or took the hit,” said Osborn, who played three years of college ball at Buffalo before transferring for a final season at Miami. “It was just practicing good habits and being able to break a tackle and get a first down.”
And that lesson learned paid off for Osborn in the Vikings season opener Sunday in Cincinnati.
With the Vikings struggling to get anything going on offense — penalties were largely responsible for the lack of firepower — Osborn, 24, a fifth-round draft pick in 2020, sparked the team with an incredible effort midway through the second quarter.
After catching a pass from quarterback Kirk Cousins on third-and-long, Osborn broke a tackle, tiptoed along the sideline, then hurdled all-pro safety Jessie Bates to pick up the first down. On third-and-24, Osborn picked up 25 yards to keep the drive alive. A few plays later, Cousins found fellow receiver Adam Thielen for the first touchdown of the game.
“It felt amazing,” Osborn said. “I was able to make a good play for our team, so that was exciting, and it led to a touchdown.”
That was the start of an impressive day for Osborn. He finished the day with seven catches for 76 yards, which included a big conversion on third down early, and more importantly for the Vikings, a big conversion on fourth down late.
While the play along the sideline was probably more worthy of a highlight-reel, Osborn’s catch on the final drive of regulation was far more clutch. He lined up in the slot on fourth-and-4, got open across the middle and gobbled up a bullet pass from Cousins to move the chains. A few plays later, kicker Greg Joseph nailed a 53-yard field goal as time expired to force overtime.
“I thought his catch on fourth down was elite,” Cousins said. “The ball was thrown hard, and he’s in a lot of traffic, and he made a tremendous catch. Those are the kinds of plays as a quarterback when we see them made, it gives us a lot of confidence that we can throw the ball in there. That’s just one example that comes to mind. He’s going to help us all season.”
Asked about the play, Osborn said he recognized he had man-to-man coverage against cornerback Mike Hilton, and felt confident having beaten him a few times earlier the game.
“The safety came down to (Jefferson), so was my turn to make a play,” Osborn said. “It was good that I was able to execute it at a really critical time.”
Osborn’s emergence could make the Vikings a lot more explosive this season. Though Osborn showed flashes of such play throughout training camp, coach Mike Zimmer noted that it carries a lot more weight in an actual game.
“I think he played well,” Zimmer said. “He’ll keep improving. I think he’s done a good job. But getting some game action, and making some plays in a game, I think that will help him.”
As for Osborn, his performance was especially rewarding considering how hard he worked this offseason.
“I started training back in February,” he said. “I knew I just wanted to help the team win in any way I could. I knew I wanted to step my role up on offense, so all offseason I was just trying to get better at my craft, working out with guys, asking questions, watching film. It’s good that some of that is starting to pay off. Hopefully it keeps going.”