Vikings

Duke Shelley Embodies Minnesota's Relentless Spirit

Photo Credit: Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports

Patrick Peterson may have become clairvoyant as he enters his 30s. The veteran cornerback, who the Arizona Cardinals dismissed as washed up, has become a veteran leader for the Minnesota Vikings and might be seeing events before they happen.

Peterson, 32, says he knew Daniel Jones would throw him a ball he could intercept in Minnesota’s regular-season game against the New York Giants in Week 16. He envisioned the Vikings’ historic comeback over the Indianapolis Colts the week before. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised when he had a hunch that Duke Shelley would get a pick against his former team, the Chicago Bears, in Week 18.

“Man, I was so happy for Duke,” he said after Shelley picked off Tim Boyle in Chicago. “I know you guys are probably tired of me saying this, but I told him he was gonna get a pick today. I said, man, this is the last game of the season; it’s only right. The story is written for you, man. Go get your first pick against your old team.

“He got it, and what a great feeling I know that was for him. The confidence that he’s been playing with over the last six, seven weeks. He’s definitely made us that much more prepared on the back end, for sure.”

The Bears took Shelley out of Kansas State in the sixth round of the 2019 draft, and he made six starts in the past two years. Shelly made Chicago’s 53-man roster out of camp this year, but they surprised him 24 hours later with news no player wants to hear. They were cutting him.

“It was shocking for me,” Shelley admits. “Because the day before, I actually made the 53-man roster, and the next day is when they cut me after the roster came out.

“So I went around my normal routine. Went to work the next day, coming in, it wasn’t until later on that day. I was getting ready for practice, and I was in the hot tub, and then they just came and got me.”

The hot tub?

“Yeah,” he said after the Bears game. “I was in the hot tub getting ready for practice, and they came and got me.”

“Worked out for us,” said Peterson, whose locker was next to Shelley’s in Chicago.

“I’ll never forget that,” says Shelley. “It definitely added a little extra chip on my shoulder. I won’t forget that.”

To recap: Shelley felt the euphoria of making the Bears out of camp a day before they released him. Then they told Shelley they had released him while he was loosening up in the hot tub before practice.

“It’s tough, man, because you just don’t know,” Shelley admits. “You’re walking in the front of the building, then when you leave, they escort you out the back.”

“Damn,” said Peterson in response.

“It’s kinda different, you know what I’m sayin’?” Shelley asked rhetorically. “I couldn’t even leave out the front door, Pat, man. It’s crazy, man. So I don’t know, it just kept a little fire in me. You know what I’m sayin’? It just kinda woke me up, man.”

The Vikings signed Shelley in Week 1, and he played eight special teams snaps in Weeks 2 and 3. However, he didn’t play again until Week 10 in Buffalo. Akayleb Evans started that game in place of Cameron Dantzler but suffered a concussion in the first half, so Minnesota turned to Shelley.

Minnesota entered overtime tied 30-30 behind Justin Jefferson’s miracle catch and the Josh Allen fumble they recovered in the end zone. The Vikings took a 33-30 lead with under four minutes to go into OT, and Buffalo responded by testing Shelley. Allen saw Dawson Knox, his 6’4” tight end, isolated in the end zone against Shelley, 5’9”. Didn’t matter. Shelley broke up the pass, and Peterson picked Allen in the end zone a play later to seal the game.

“I love it,” said defensive coordinator Ed Donatell the week after the game. “I was asked a question like that yesterday. When guys make plays in those moments, there’s things that happen before that. He’s met extra with coaches because he hasn’t been up on the roster every week, and his preparation.

“To see a guy be calm and come down with that play, that’s a credit to the culture that Kevin [O’Connell]‘s built here.”

Donatell, 65, has coached in the NFL since 1990 and raves about Shelley.

“That’s another guy that, if you look at him, his coaches in high school told him, ‘Hey, you gotta write some letters to Division III schools because you can’t play. You’re too little,’” Donatell said.

“And he didn’t believe them. Hung around, finally got a Division I offer, and they said no NFL. And then him and a couple of buddies, after three years, they made it. So you can’t measure what’s inside that guy. You see him come up big in moments for his team, and his contributions will be needed down the line.”

“I was a four-star recruit coming out of high school,” clarifies Shelley, who went to Tucker high school outside Atlanta. “I’ve been a baller.”

“So yeah, I would say, though, early on in my high school career, like, ninth and 10th grade, I was a smaller guy. I didn’t start getting offers until after my sophomore season, so that’s probably what he’s (Donatell) referring to, I guess.

“I remember ninth grade, going down to Middle Tennessee, taking visits there before I actually got a Clemson offer, and then that’s when everything picked up for me.”

Shelley played a crucial role in Minnesota’s most dramatic one-score game this year, and they’ve continued to lean on him since then. He only played eight snaps a week later when the Dallas Cowboys blew out the Vikings 40-3. But Shelley played 100 percent of the snaps four days after that against the New England Patriots.

He’s been on the field for every snap in three of Minnesota’s past four games and played 97% of the snaps in Green Bay. Shelley says he feels good and that the game is slowing down for him. He’s a full-time starter now, a gift from the division-rival Bears, who will play opposite Peterson against the Giants in the playoffs.

“All that guy’s done since he got to Minnesota is be a great teammate, work incredibly hard, be as reliable as any player I’ve been around,” said O’Connell after the Bears game. “He’s as competitive as any player I’ve been around. And he’s been an absolute joy to have on our football team.”

Like the team he plays for, Shelley has often been counted out, but he’s come up clutch when it matters. He has a chip on his shoulder, something to prove. Most of all, he’s become a vital player on a team that needed cornerback help. The Bears may have escorted him out of the back the day they cut him, but little did Shelley know that he was opening the door to a better opportunity.

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