Irv Smith Jr. returned to his hometown of New Orleans this offseason knowing he was destined for a larger role in the Vikings offense moving forward. That much was assured when the Vikings released veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph after 10 seasons in Minnesota.

As if the 22-year-old tight end wasn’t already motivated enough heading into Year 3 in the NFL, the official announcement about Rudolph added another layer to his motivation. And the hard work has very clearly paid off.

Just watching Smith run around the field Wednesday morning at TCO Performance Center in Eagan, it’s clear he’s added some mass to his 6-foot-2, 240-pound frame. Asked how he did it, Smith talked at length about the importance of his diet this offseason.

“I think it’s very key,” he said. “Just being home in New Orleans this offseason, my cousin, she’s about to graduate from Tulane as a registered dietician, so she calculated all of my meals exactly, like, ‘OK, you need this much protein. You need this many calories. You need this, this, this.’ Just having that is awesome so I don’t have to worry about, ‘OK, what am I going to eat today?’ ”

A little more than a week into organized team activities, Smith said he already has noticed a huge difference in his performance because of his diet. He feels leaner when running his routes and no longer feels sluggish toward the middle of practice.

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“When you’re eating healthy, and eating the proper things, it’s like fuel for your car,” Smith said. “It’s like you’re putting the best gas in.”

That’s good news for the Vikings because they need Smith to be a driving force for the foreseeable future.

Though he has been brought along slowly since being picked second in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, now is the Smith’s chance to prove himself as an impact player.

“I feel like my role is definitely going to increase,” he said. “I just want to help this team make plays in any way possible.”

That starts with his ability to catch the ball. While he developed into solid blocker early in his career, Smith’s impact on the passing game will be his greatest asset. His combination of size and speed make him a potential matchup nightmare all over the field.

He started to show that late last season. In the final month alone, Smith had 15 catches for 183 yards and three touchdowns, looking very much like the X factor many thought he could be coming out of college.

“I’m always hard on myself in terms of production and in terms of making the most out of my opportunities,” he said. “I know my opportunities are going to go up. Just take it day by day, really. And every time the ball is up in the air, or every route I’m running, or every block I need to make, I’m going to do my best to make the most of it.”

As for his diet, Smith joked that being from New Orleans can make that difficult.

“You’ve got to have your cheat meals here and there,” he said with a smile. “Get some crawfish. Maybe a shrimp po’ boy or something.”

“My family eats pretty healthy, so that helps,” Smith added. “It’s not like I’m eating the healthy, healthy food and my family is over here eating fried shrimp and all this and making me feel bad. It’s cool having their support in terms of a healthy lifestyle, as well.”