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Vikings choose rookie Chisena for speed on special teams

The 6-foot-3, 202-pound Chisena was deemed worthy of a spot because of the impact he can make on special teams coverage units with his speed, toughness and instinct.
Credit: AP
FILE - Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Dan Chisena (85) jogs during the NFL football team's training camp Monday Aug. 24, 2020, in Eagan, Minn. The Minnesota Vikings kept one undrafted rookie on their initial regular season roster, Dan Chisena, a former track star at Penn State who gave up his scholarship to walk on for the football team and showed enough special teams ability for the Vikings to keep him. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

MINNEAPOLIS — Dan Chisena was the only undrafted rookie the Minnesota Vikings kept on their initial active roster for the regular season.

The former Penn State track star was simply too fast to let slip away.

The Vikings have six other wide receivers in front of Chisena on their depth chart, so he's unlikely to see much if any time with the offense this year. There's no guarantee how long he'll stay with the team, either, particularly in this pandemic-altered season.

The 6-foot-3, 202-pound Chisena was deemed worthy of a spot for now, though, because of the impact he can make on special teams coverage units with his speed, toughness and instinct.

“I just tried to embrace that and put as much into that as I was into offense,” said Chisena, who even spent a few days last week practicing at cornerback so the coaches could gauge his potential there in the attempt to find a place for him on the roster.

“We feel like he’s got a chance to be a premier special teams player," coach Mike Zimmer said. "So hopefully he can get 20 or 25 plays a game.”

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Chisena came to Penn State with the plan to be a two-sport athlete, but the NCAA doesn't allow football participation as a walk-on while also receiving a scholarship in another sport. So he hung up the helmet for two years to focus on track and help his family financially.

He missed football too much, though, having started in the sport in third grade. His parents unhesitatingly agreed to help pay for school after giving up his scholarship, a decision to return to his first love for the 2018 and 2019 seasons triggered in part by a junior-year injury in track.

Chisena was clocked in the 40-yard dash at 4.32 seconds during the pre-draft preparation process, a not insignificant reason why the Vikings signed him this spring.

“God opens up some amazing doors,” Chisena said on Monday in a video conference with reporters.

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One reason why Chisena was given a look as a defensive back was a lack of depth at safety, but Zimmer downplayed that on Monday and said more roster shuffling this week was likely in advance of the season opener on Sunday against Green Bay. He also noted that a safety on the practice squad could be promoted for the game, or that a cornerback could play there in a pinch, like Terence Newman did for the Vikings a few years ago.

The Vikings claimed linebacker Ryan Connelly off waivers from the New York Giants, who drafted the native of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, and product of Wisconsin in the fifth round in 2019. They began the week with three empty spots on their practice squad.

Connelly started three games for the Giants last year before a season-ending knee injury. He had 20 tackles, one sack and two interceptions in four games.