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O'Connell & Vikings Wrap Preseason, Transition Toward Roster Decisions

MINNEAPOLIS — Decisions, decisions, decisions.

That's essentially what being a head coach in the NFL boils down to.

Some decisions are with a game on the line and have to be made quickly with the clock ticking down.

Others are more deliberate, offering the opportunity for building out a long-term plan and executing it or modifying parts as information changes.

Now, it's time for some of the toughest decisions Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell will have to make all year.

Roster reductions across the NFL have a 3 p.m. (CT) deadline on Tuesday, forcing all teams to make cuts to get to the 53-player maximum. Teams can claim players who were waived by other teams on Wednesday and sign up to 16 players for their practice squads.

"Now we've transitioned to really the toughest part of this job, the next 72 hours or so for me, not only from personal experience and being on the other end of those conversations, but just the way training camp has gone," O'Connell said. "From the work against each other to the joint practices, a lot of guys have really laid it on the line and done everything they could to become Minnesota Vikings, but we've got a really competitive roster.

"I feel really good about our depth, and a lot of young guys that have shown well in different areas will give us a lot to think about," O'Connell added. "We'll start that process here tomorrow with the coaching staff and personnel, and then as we roll through the early part of the week getting down to the 53-man roster and trying to get our 16-man practice squad set."

Wrapping Preseason

The Vikings second preseason under O'Connell concluded Saturday with an 18-17 loss to the Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Minnesota finished its exhibition slate with an 0-3 mark that mirrored the team's 2022 showing.

While O'Connell wanted his team to win Saturday, he continued to keep a disciplined focus on Sept. 10, when the Vikings will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to open the 2023 regular season.

This was evident in the number of players he rested completely or played on a limited basis throughout the preseason.

First teamers on the unofficial depth chart did not play Saturday.

Beyond those players, Minnesota also rested backup quarterback Nick Mullens; running backs Kene Nwangwu (who is on the mend) and Ty Chandler; receivers Jordan Addison, Brandon Powell and Jalen Nailor; tight ends Josh Oliver and Johnny Mundt; and guard Blake Brandel on offense.

Outside linebackers D.J. Wonnum and Pat Jones II, defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard, safeties Josh Metellus and Lewis Cine (who is on the mend) also were rested, along with rookie linebacker Ivan Pace, Jr., and third-round pick Mekhi Blackmon.

O'Connell said cornerbacks Joejuan Williams and NaJee Thompson, defensive lineman Esezi Otomewo and linebacker Abraham Beauplan were unable to play because of injuries.

"[They] really were right up against it, and we just wanted to be smart with them, knowing that as much as we would have loved to see them out there, we wanted to make sure we were taking care of those guys from a health standpoint, not asking them to do too much being banged up like they were," O'Connell said. "All of them tried like crazy to make it."

O'Connell felt good about resting starters in preseason games because of how well two full days of joint practices against the Titans (Aug. 16-17) and two more against the Cardinals (Aug. 23-24) turned out.

"Those are so critical for us. We have such an unbelievable facility to host another team here," O'Connell said. "I feel like the first groups on both sides, offense and defense, they could not be more prepared based upon our philosophy of getting guys ready.

"We got a little help from that 97 degrees last Wednesday just to truly force some of our guys to dig deep and work through that. It was a grind of a day. It was probably the most reps they've had all training camp, and it happened to be the hottest day of training camp. Secretly, I was enjoying that quite a bit," O'Connell added. "Then we came back and had one of our better days overall on Thursday in the joint work, which I thought was really big for our team. Both weeks I felt like had different challenges, different types of groups on the other side, but I felt our team grow.

"Whether it was that Friday walk-through after the joint practices, and you can just feel it in the huddle when you call the team up and talk to them," O'Connell continued. "And then talking to a lot of our veteran guys, they feel very happy about where they're at, and they know exactly what it looks like the next 15 days or so before we're back here trying to win our home opener."

O'Connell also maintained a consistent belief in developing people — from players to coaches — through opportunities during the offseason program, training camp and the preseason contests.

Vikings Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips called plays instead of O'Connell when Minnesota had the ball Saturday, and Minnesota Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores extended the opportunity to defensive backs coach Daronte Jones and inside linebackers coach Mike Siravo.

Just before sharing Saturday's play callers, O'Connell was asked if it was difficult for Flores to limit what he called during the preseason to avoid showing something he'll use in the regular season.

"It's one of those things where I find myself calling for things now, and the response even today was, 'Are you sure you want to show that?' I did want to win the football game today, so there was maybe a little bit more in there on some of those situational downs.

"As everybody knows, to every single one of those calls, there's an equal counter punch to those calls, so I don't really mind showing some things. I do think our opponents probably had some things left to their imagination, which is a good thing," O'Connell said. "But it's one of those things where probably he's more patient than I am knowing certain situations in the game. Wes was calling it today, so that allowed me to float around the headsets. I'm sure everybody's probably ready for me to get back to calling plays so I stay out of everybody's business."

View pregame photos of the Vikings ahead of their preseason Week 3 game vs. the Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium

O'Connell appreciated the different situations that rookie quarterback Jaren Hall was able to work through in Saturday's game. It included starting fast and getting points out of a 2-minute drill to end the first half, plus multiple displays of athleticism and an increased comfort with the offense.

"Development is a huge word, but I love the fact that we got him as many reps as we did this camp, not only just in the preseason games, but [quarterbacks coach] Chris [O'Hara] and [assistant quarterbacks coach] Grant [Udinski] did a good job working him in when they could, even with the second offense throughout the early part of camp," O'Connell said. "We did a lot of developmental periods, 3s-on-3s throughout the training camp. I feel like Jaren has a really, really good understanding of our offense, where he can grow, where his comfort level can grow, and hopefully hit the ground running the next opportunity that he gets."