EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings released their first unofficial depth chart of the preseason on Monday, ahead of Head Coach Kevin O'Connell's scheduled media session.
He noted the fluid nature of evaluations in early August.
"I know we unofficially released a depth chart today, the first one where we're very much into the competition, right in the meat of the competition phase of training camp," O'Connell said. "I would not over-evaluate one particular area. We've got a lot of jobs guys are still fighting for, and we're going to allow not only our practices but joint practices and preseason games to play out before we make any final determinations."
Two positions with the most intrigue are the running back spots behind starter Alexander Mattison and at cornerback. Kene Nwangwu has been dealing with an injury but was listed behind Mattison and ahead of Ty Chandler on the initial chart.
"That would be one position that the backup spot is really fully in the competition," O'Connell said. "And because Kene had a little temporary setback, we didn't want to make any [decisions]. I can tell you that [based on that] sheet of paper, we're not making any decisions at this point. And really want to see those guys get a full body of work before we determine overall what that position looks like.
"Ty has been really solid in running the football and showing those instincts that we saw last year in the preseason that we're excited about," O'Connell added. "And he continues to grow from an understanding of protection. 'What are my rules on this play pass protection versus that it's third down against this defense?' And there's a lot of stuff going on. It's been fun to see him stressed. There's been times where he's handled it really clean. And then there's been other times we've been meeting, you know, you see [running backs coach/run game coordinator] Curtis Modkins walking right up to him after that play ends. And those are all growth moments that we hope to see. Consistency is the word with a talented player like Ty."
And with Kene's skill set, it's just getting him back and getting him into a groove. So then you can start giving him the opportunity to show those things, as well."
At cornerback, the Vikings listed Byron Murphy, Jr., and Akayleb Evans as the starters. O'Connell said he looks forward to continuing to evaluate that group with Flores and Special Teams Coordinator Matt Daniels.
"For me, we'll gauge it, as far as through the joint practices and things, but I definitely want to see some guys play, as far as younger guys that are off to great starts in training camp, and that's across the board in that room and then just understanding how we can be smart and knowing part of the thing when you challenge your team to practice the way are and have two joint practices, we've got to be smart with our group, but we'll determine all of that, situation by situation and get with Flo' and 'Hat' (Daniels) and see what we need to see from the standpoint of allowing these guys to have a complete case for not only making the team but guys we're looking forward to define roles.
"As you guys know, we're playing a lot of personnel groupings, we're doing a lot of different things," O'Connell said. "We can really carve out nice roles for a lot of people. The depth chart may end up being what it is, but we're going to play a lot of people and activate a lot of guys' skill sets within the defense."
View exclusive photos from the team's first night practice of 2023 Vikings Training Camp at TCO Stadium.
Here are three other takeaways from O'Connell's media session.
1. Filling in for James Lynch
O'Connell had been scheduled to speak Sunday, but rain prompted the closure of camp and the moving of practice to Minnesota's Indoor Practice Facility as a walk-through.
So Monday was the first time the head coach had a window to comment on the season-ending knee injury to defensive lineman James Lynch that occurred at the Thursday Night Practice.
"All he does is do things the right way," O'Connell said of the 2020 fourth-round pick. "It stings whenever you lose a player anytime, but a guy you've just seen totally committed coming back from his shoulder last year, and as I told James, this is just another temporary speed bump he will work through and be right back where he belongs sooner rather than later."
O'Connell said Lynch had been showing great versatility along the defensive line and was carving out a nice role in the rotation.
"I think about Dean [Lowry] and Harrison [Phillips] and [Khyiris] Tonga in the middle there, with the way we're playing, I feel like those guys, maybe it's being in a little bit different mindset fundamentally with their techniques and being able to penetrate a little bit more and allow them to activate some things from a coaching standpoint," O'Connell said. "But also, what I love about [Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores] is he's allowing guys to activate things and fill their toolbox that they can then apply based on their film study and understanding of what we're trying to do, which is a really cool part of our defense.
"I've seen some really good depth there, improvement from a guy like Esezi [Otomewo]. J-Roy (Jaquelin Roy) comes in as a rookie and is showing what he can do," O'Connell added. "We've got a veteran in [Jonathan] Bullard who is always so rock solid for us and on and on as the depth goes. It will be tested without James. He had really started to fall into a nice little role where he could be really versatile. That's one of the best things about James Lynch: he can play all three spots if you're in a pinch or if a guy goes down, so we've got to find who is going to fill that particular role and how it fits with the other pieces once we get down to cutting down our roster."
View exclusive black-and-white photos from the first night practice of 2023 Vikings Training Camp at TCO Stadium.
2. Status updates for other injuries
O'Connell said tight end T.J. Hockenson "has battled a little bit of an illness our last time out practicing. He's working his way back from that and will take part in the early part of practice today."
Cornerback Andrew Booth, Jr., was expected to be a full participant after being sidelined for a few sessions.
"Lewis Cine, I'm sure you guys saw, got nicked up toward the end the other day in pads. He'll be a full participant. Trishton, Jalen [Nailor] and Kene are continuing to work their way back in with a timeline in mind."
3. Preseason debut expectations
While many starters are not expected to play Thursday, the whole team will be able to use the trip to Seattle for the 9 p.m. (CT) kickoff as a way to prepare for the regular season.
This will be Minnesota's lone road trip of the season and one of the longer jaunts in 2023.
O'Connell said the Vikings want to "take advantage of one of our longer trips, if not the longest we'll have all season long, 7 p.m. Pacific time, 9 p.m. local time here, the travel back and what that looks like to try to transition back."
O'Connell said he expects rookie receiver Jordan Addison will make his Vikings debut at Seattle.
"He will play," O'Connell said. "We're still determining what that looks like, timeline for some guys, but I'm looking forward to seeing him get out there."