Gray returns to Minnesota, this time as a member of the Vikings

MarQueis Gray, 24, has gone from quarterback and receiver with the Gophers to a tight end with Cleveland, which resulted in his eventual landing with the Vikings.

Andrew Weber/Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –€“ When he left the University of Minnesota, MarQueis Gray never believed he’d step foot into the home locker room at TCF Bank Stadium again.

The former Gophers quarterback, now a tight end, will get the chance to return to campus and TCF Bank Stadium with the Minnesota Vikings, who claimed him on waivers from the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

Gray has lived in the Twin Cities with his family since he finished his senior season with the university in 2012. His nomadic NFL journey after going undrafted in 2013 has included stops in San Francisco and Cleveland, but he hopes to settle in back in Minnesota.

"My family been living here and they just came up last season for Cleveland, but they’ve been living here ever since," Gray said Monday. "Now we finally only got one house to worry about. So that’s good."

Gray, 24, has gone from quarterback and receiver with the Gophers to a tight end with Cleveland, which resulted in his eventual landing with the Vikings. Minnesota was looking for a third tight end on the roster and offensive coordinator Norv Turner had worked with Gray last season as the Browns’ offensive coordinator.

"I believe that he’s trusting me a lot to be here, obviously, because he wants me to be here," Gray said. "So I just got to make sure I do my part and uphold all the great things he’s said about me."

Gray saw action in 12 games last season as a rookie for Cleveland. He had two catches for eight yards, and he also added six rushing attempts for 43 yards as Gray said he played some "wildcat" quarterback last season for the Browns.

Turner’s influence played a role in both of the Vikings’ waiver claims Sunday. Offensive tackle Mike Harris (6-foot-5, 318 pounds) was with Turner in San Diego.

"He had a good feeling about both of them," coach Mike Zimmer said of Turner. "We played against MarQueis last year a couple of times (when Zimmer was Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator) and he’s a good athlete. He has some position flexibility and runs well. Harris is a big tackle that has a chance to help us right away."

Gray had last spoken with Turner earlier this season during the Gophers Pro Day. Turner was part of a Vikings’ contingent at the University of Minnesota, where Gray had shown up. Little did Gray know that he would be joining Turner again.

He said he’s heard from many fans and friends since the news broke Sunday.

"Everyone from here that says TCF is going to be rocking again, and I just can’t wait to get back on that field because it’s going to be a college atmosphere but I’m going to be playing professional level," Gray said. "So I get the best of both worlds."

Gray is still making the adjustment from college quarterback to NFL tight end. He’s changed his diet to add more muscle, but says he still weighs close to his college weight. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 242 pounds by the Vikings, Gray has the size of an NFL tight end.

"You never take a day off there at tight end," Gray said. "It’s a lot more physical stress on the body. That’s why I mainly trying to bulk up my strength-wise because I’m doing a lot of blocking. That’s the main focus I’ve been working on ever since I switched to tight end. I’ve been able to catch, it’s just the blocking aspect of it. So, just getting used to that."

It shouldn’t take long to get used to playing in Minnesota again.

The cuts: Monday was Zimmer’s first opportunity to talk about some of the final cuts the Vikings made over the weekend. In particular, releasing defensive tackle Fred Evans and safeties Chris Crocker and Kurt Coleman were the most surprising.

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"Chris and I had talked a long, long time ago about his situation and where it was," Zimmer said. "Nothing is set in gold. I’ve kind of told him the situation all along. We felt like (defensive tackle Shamar Stephen) was playing better, with him. The safety position, we’ve felt like we had a lot of the same guys, special teams had a lot of influence on it."

Minnesota ended up keeping Harrison Smith, Robert Blanton, Andrew Sendejo and rookie draft pick Antone Exum at safety. Sendejo is a core special teams player and Zimmer credited Exum for his improvement on special teams.

Zimmer also said last week that Shaun Prater could see some time at safety and Prater spent part of practice with the safety group on Monday.

"He’s playing corner and nickel like he’s always played, but I told you awhile back that I might even look at him some at safety and he’s been playing safety on the scout team so I thought I’d just give him some drills there," Zimmer said. "Honestly, we’re trying to see what guys can do and how many guys you might need at emergency safety and he’s got to know what to do when you go in there. That’s no different than teaching other guys on the defensive line to play linebacker."

Zimmer holding his cards: With the initial roster set, Zimmer was asked about the final starting positions which were up for grabs. He said he has an idea who will start at middle linebacker and which player would be the third cornerback, but he wouldn’t reveal the names.

Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole were competing for the starting middle linebacker spot. Zimmer said he’s "decided" on the third cornerback between Josh Robinson and Marcus Sherels.

In regard to the second starting safety, Zimmer said, "I don’t know yet, we will see, we’ll see. We’ll see how it goes in practice this week."

Getting healthy: As Minnesota prepares for the regular-season opener on Sunday at St. Louis, several injured players were getting back to practice, including starters Phil Loadholt, Linval Joseph and Anthony Barr.

Zimmer said he felt comfortable that Joseph, Loadholt and Barr will be ready to play on Sunday.

"He’s been working real hard," Zimmer said of Joseph. "I didn’t see anything conditioning-wise, I didn’t see anything technique-wise, he looked really good yesterday."

Receiver Rodney Smith returned to practice, as well. Linebacker Gerald Hodges and cornerback Jabari Price were practicing again after returning last week from injuries.

Linebackers Michael Mauti and Brandon Watts appeared to be held out on Monday. Zimmer said Mauti might practice on Wednesday. Mauti (ankle) was working on the side with a trainer and doing some light running. Watts (leg) could be held out of Sunday’s game, Zimmer said.

Fullback Zach Line wasn’t at the portion of practice open to the media.

One more addition: The Vikings rounded out their practice squad Monday by adding second-year cornerback Chris Greenwood. Greenwood, 25, played last season with the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions after being a 2012 fifth-round draft pick out of Albion College.

Greenwood (6-foot-1, 193 pounds) played in three games, all for Detroit, and had six tackles.

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