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4 Takeaways: O'Connell Confirms Dalton Risner Visit, Explains Plan for Danielle Hunter

EAGAN, Minn. — NFL teams are always trying to get better.

The never-ending exercise can involve evaluating scheme, on-field decisions, scheduling, teaching in meeting rooms and continuously assessing personnel.

The pro scouting departments conduct evaluations of available free agents. The current group includes former Denver guard Dalton Risner.

Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell spoke with media members Tuesday and confirmed the Vikings are hosting Risner for a visit.

O'Connell said he thought the current offensive line group is off to a "really good start in training camp."

"Both groups, we've got some guys in that second group that are really starting to mesh well together, so really I look at it as the personnel department working in conjunction with our staff, and we're always looking for ways to find good football players when they're available," O'Connell said. "We really just wanted to bring him in and get to know him a little bit better, use the process of a visit to do that and see if we could possibly take what we think is a strong group and make it even better.

"It's going to be a process that starts with that visit, and I think it's gone really well so far, and we'll just continue to see if that's something that makes sense for ourselves and Dalton," O'Connell added.

The second-year head coach had never met the 2019 second-round pick who has started all 62 games he's played, but Risner previously played for Vikings offensive line coach Chris Kuper and assistant offensive line coach Justin Rascati.

"One thing I will say is we want this to be as competitive at all positions we possibly can, hoping to put the best 11 guys out there at each phase, whether it be offense, defense or special teams," O'Connell said. "Competition tends to make everybody better. We've got great competition already at that particular position and still are seeing daily growth and, really, the offseason's worth of work for everybody along that offensive line has really shown early on, so it's purely about taking something that we feel is pretty strong and then investigating the possibility of making it even better."

Here are three other takeaways from O'Connell's session:

1. Plan for Danielle Hunter focuses on joint practices

Speaking of really strong, Vikings outside linebacker Danielle Hunter's frame still looked sculpted — the way that he's sometimes been compared to an artist's statue — Monday when he took the practice fields for the first time this training camp. Hunter and the team reached a new, one-year contract Sunday.

He pointed out that he had not needed to spend an offseason rehabbing a significant injury for the first time since before the 2020 campaign.

O'Connell said Tuesday the Vikings want to be strategic with the way they ramp up the elite edge rusher but have a focus on Aug. 16-17 when Minnesota will host Tennessee for joint practices and Aug. 23-24 when Arizona will visit for practices.

"I see [the progression plan] in blocks that really lead into making sure the joint practices are a priority, maximizing his reps there," O'Connell said. "We kind of worked backward from there, and then having the daily dialogue of, 'How do you feel?' Coming back, even in as great of shape he's in, that was our first padded practice yesterday, and today is the second one.

"It would have been a really tall ask, and quite honestly, irresponsible to ask him to take full part, but he's been great throughout the process, even before signing, and now he's just in a mode where minute to minute, day to day, we know exactly where he is and what he's doing in regards to preparing for those moments," O'Connell added. "You'll see him ever so subtly do a little bit more and a little bit more. Eventually it will be team drills and should be full go. As I said, he came in in great shape as Danielle Hunter always does, and the expectation is when the time is right, he'll be out there."

2. Scramble drill savvy

One of the most beautiful throws and catches from Monday's practice was from Kirk Cousins to rookie Jordan Addison.

Cousins didn't like the openness of his options on his right and worked back to the left. He lofted the ball, and Addison glided up to get it.

O'Connell was asked about the play Tuesday.

"He's off to a really good start, completely put his [injury] issue from the spring behind him, put in the work throughout the summer, so that was really not something I was concerned about, but what he's done on the grass so far is confirm a lot of the things we expected from Jordan," O'Connell said. "He's also done some things instinctively, just playing football within the confines of our scheme, whether it's a scramble drill.

"You probably saw that catch in the corner of the end zone," O'Connell added. "That's him improvising with a 12-year NFL quarterback to be in the right place at the right time, and he's done that on little things. He's shown a willingness to be a blocker. He's shown an understanding of how he fits within the scheme and the rhythm and timing of the quarterback in the pass game, so I'm really excited about him. It's incredibly early in his process of making sure he knows the daily goal of having the best possible Tuesday practice he can have, and then we roll right into the next day, and before you know it, that compound of gains starts to look like something not only he can be excited about but the confidence level his teammates and coaches will have and will be something he's really earned."

3. Injury updates

O'Connell said receiver Jalen Nailor is still working his way back from an injury suffered last week, and quarterback Nick Mullens returned to the team after an excused personal absence.

Veteran offensive lineman Chris Reed remains on the Active/Non-Football Injury list. O'Connell was asked about Reed's potential return.

"If I had the date, if I had the date of exactly what that looked like, I would for sure let you guys know," O'Connell said. "He's working every single day to do what we need him to do to get back on the field. We're hoping it is at some point during the future, some point during camp, but definitely don't want to put a timeline on it, put any kind of pressure on him. Have him just focus on today, take it a day at a time, and we're doing everything we can so he's 100 percent when he comes back."