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Monday Morning Mailbag: Preseason Wraps; Vikings Take Extended Look at Jaren Hall

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Vikings Training Camp and the 2023 preseason are in the rearview mirror.

The roadside sign every football fan looks forward to seeing — Week 1 — is visible from the windshield.

But first, teams must reduce their rosters to 53 players by Tuesday. They can claim players who are waived by other teams and establish their 16-player practice squads on Wednesday.

We will bring you news of roster moves as soon as we can, but it's a very fluid situation across the NFL.

After preseason 2023, it is obvious to see the team has no depth. I will be the first to admit that preseason usually means nothing, but losing to what appears to be the worst team in the NFL after having a 17-3 halftime lead shows me many things, mainly our second and third stringers can't compete and don't have the desire to win. That falls squarely on the GM's shoulders. It is mainly all his players here now. Secondly, why didn't he go and get Trey Lance? He is worth the gamble and a third rounder would have done it. We have no plan in place to groom the next Viking QB, and that should have been his No. 1 priority when he took over two years ago. Again, Viking fans, and I have been since the '60s, we are headed in the wrong direction here.

— Jim Cragie

I think we benefit if we differentiate between wanting to win and trying to win by pulling out all the stops (scheming an opponent, utilizing a game plan element that would be better to withhold or risking a player's health for the regular season).

The Cardinals took the lead after getting an interception deep in Minnesota territory. The turnover occurred after rookies Jaren Hall and Ben Sims were not on the same page. Mistakes happen, particularly when developing young players.

The Vikings later had a shot for a go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter, but the 54-yarder was wide right.

With the Vikings resting every starter and several backups, including multiple players at skill positions, I don't think that game is the best indicator of the depth the team plans on having in the regular season.

I also think a blanket statement about the team's depth might not accommodate nuance. There are a couple of positions where the team has shown great depth. Tight end and safety particularly come to the forefront based on everything we've seen since the offseason program began.

I think anyone playing in the game wanted to win and put their best feet forward as they challenged for roster spots on the 53 or the practice squad (or with another team), but the victory didn't happen.

As for the Lance question, the Vikings are set at least for 2023 with Kirk Cousins — and could still extend Cousins. They also clearly like what Nick Mullens provides behind Cousins. That's why they didn't play him against the Cardinals. The bonus was getting an extended look at Hall in multiple scenarios. It was cool to see how much growth has occurred for Hall in the past month, comparing the debut in Seattle to Saturday's showing against Arizona.

O'Connell has hinted that the Vikings might keep three quarterbacks on the 53, and he said Hall is a player he'd like to continue to develop.

"I definitely would like to keep him around," O'Connell said Saturday. "I think my philosophy, when you're going to draft a quarterback, I think you pour into him on a daily basis. 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 QBs coach] Grant [Udinski] did a good job working him in when they could, even with the second offense throughout the early part of camp. 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."

With Cousins and Mullens in place, and the prospect of developing Hall, I don't know that it makes the most sense for General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah to try to add Lance and reduce some draft capital he's worked to build.

People have spoken highly of the Marshall product, but it was kind of unprecedented for the 49ers to trade a player they drafted No. 3 overall in 2021 after four starts. The Niners are going with Brock Purdy first, and 2023 acquisition Sam Darnold, who was picked No. 3 overall by the Jets in 2018.

Is there reasonable explanation you can provide on why Kwesi hasn't brought in help on the interior of our o-line? We all watched the documentary on Netflix and saw the trials [Kirk] Cousins had to go through just to stay on the field. I gained a TON of respect for him after seeing that. It's a miracle he hasn't ended up on IR (Injured Reserve).

Please, please, please tell us it's going to be OK and there's a legit plan into improve the pass blocking???

Concerned fan,

— Rich Cherkas in Sioux City, Iowa


The Vikings have built quite an offensive passing machine as a key identity.

You would think to support this they would search & invest in a top caliber Center as an "anchor" for the offensive line to support this.

They need a center that can dominate the "bull rusher" nose tackles, which is [Garrett] Bradbury's key weakness. What are your thoughts on this?

Thank you!

— Rick Gigante

Combining these thoughts from Rich and Rick here on the interior offensive line.

It seems the Vikings have emphasized continuity of the group. Much has been made here and other places about how this year will be Cousins' first time to start consecutive seasons with the same play caller (O'Connell) in Minnesota.

But this also could be the first time that Bradbury has the same guard combo flanking him in consecutive seasons with left guard Ezra Cleveland and right guard Ed Ingram taking the overwhelming majority of first-team reps.

Will the added continuity help that group? It could. The whole team could do itself a couple of favors in pass protection, as well, including by reducing the number of negative runs to better stay ahead of the chains. O'Connell has talked about how different a second-and-5 is compared to second-and-8 or worse. The team also worked a considerable amount on second-and-10 last week when hosting the Cardinals in joint practices.

I think there are many like Rich who gained an increased respect for Cousins' commitments to playing the position and his toughness that might be a bit understated.

I also think, among multiple benefits of two days of practicing against a chippy Tennessee team, the offensive line got tested on the first day and did better on the second day. There's a good read here on that by the Star Tribune's Andrew Krammer. Bradbury didn't back down, but he also kept his cool in the moment.

While it's true that Bradbury's mobility was one of the most alluring (and rare) traits when the Vikings selected him in 2019, the system has changed quite a bit. Coaches spoke well of his mastery of it last year, and he's continued to work hard.

There are some absolute freaks that play on the interior of the defensive line that would be hard assignments for anyone, but the coaching staff and offense can continue to evolve to try to give itself the best chance on every play.

View game action photos from he Vikings vs. Cardinals preseason Week 3 game at U.S. Bank Stadium

Is it possible that this team looks even worse on defense than previous years? Also, after seeing a couple games now, I would say it's safe to say that we don't have a true nose tackle. And teams will literally run it up the middle all day long!! Why we didn't try and sign Dalvin Tomlinson and instead fill that gap with a bunch of "has-been or mediocre talent" is beyond me.

Also noticing the trend of this team drafting a QB in the 3rd-5th rounds of the draft. And yet again — falling flat. Jaren Hall is not the answer; neither was Kellen Mond. At what point do we stop wasting these all-important picks (that we could have really used on defense)? Like, pay Kirk, or move on with another vet. But unless you take the first-round dive into a QB, please stop wasting these picks!

SKOL I guess,

— Cyrus Sutherland

For what it's worth, Cyrus' email hit the inbox before Minnesota's third preseason game that offered the prolonged look at Hall, who opened the game against Arizona with a crisp 75-yard touchdown drive while working with Minnesota's second-team offensive line and some more experienced skill players than Hall had worked with at Seattle or against Tennessee.

Hall showed some athleticism, as well as an ability to make off-platform throws with accuracy. It also seemed like the offense had a bit smoother operation. That doesn't mean anyone is going to crown him quarterback of the future, but it means that he showed improvement through development.

This preseason only included 15 snaps for Khyris Tonga, who showed some impressive play strength at nose tackle last season in relief of Tomlinson. For the three drives Tonga was in the game, the Seahawks netted 26 yards.

I'm not drawing a direct correlation or trying to oversell Tonga. I'm just saying there might be a better evaluation available with more plays.

The Vikings definitely liked Tomlinson and were interested in talks, but the Cleveland Browns dealt out enormous money. It reminded me of the scene from the original Vacation when Eddie is hitting up Clark Griswold for money. Clark is ready to gladly hand over something from his wallet until Eddie's request far exceeds that amount. Clark pushes the bills back into his wallet. Re-signing Tomlinson simply was not feasible for the Vikings.

It was kind of funny to me how far we got into training camp before new Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores was asked much about the team's interior defensive linemen. The unofficial depth chart has Tonga, Harrison Phillips and Dean Lowry in those roles, but Phillips and Lowry didn't play in the preseason games, so it's way too early to judge that group.

The Mond pick in 2021 didn't work out for Minnesota, which has since changed leadership, offensive and defensive systems — and plenty of other things.

While there may be some defensive players picked after Hall who play more for their teams, quarterback is a position unlike any other.

Hi, I am a long-time Vikings fan. I don't understand why our running backs continue to run into a pile in the middle of the line and not kick it out to the outside. I know sometimes they have to assume the hole is going to open, but there are a lot of times where it is obvious there is no chance of that happening and they still run into the back end of a lineman. Is this being coached into them, or do they just lack the vision?

— Carl Jarvis

Vision is such an understated ability in a running back, but it's also key to try to get whatever is available on a play.

If the hole isn't created where it's supposed to exist, I'd say that's not really the running back's fault. But some of the most amazing runs over the years have occurred when a back had enough to make a wrong look right.

It's so hard to evaluate the running game in the preseason and even during joint practices, but I did see several runs against Arizona on the perimeter that were welcome sights.

Hi, I'm a life-long Vikings fan of 50+ years who grew up in South Dakota and now lives in Seattle.

My question follows the criticism of Lewis Cine — and by extension Kwesi Adofo-Mensah — about whether Cine's a bust or not. Aside from his horrific injury and the difficulty recovering from that to play at a high level (in the preseason, no less!), I'm excited about Cine for a few reasons.

His instincts, range and size seem a great match for the onslaught of talented TEs in the league. More importantly, most fans view the position from the perspective of yesteryear's big hitters. Everything is different from the days of Ronnie Lott and Joey Browner.

Doesn't Cine fit the bill better (in terms of speed and flexibility) in today's NFL?

— Brian Johnson in Seattle, Washington

I feel like all the hype around the draft every year is good to get people excited about football each spring, but I also feel like it can create unrealistic expectations of picks providing eye-popping help to a team immediately.

Cine's recovery from the injury in London, and the way teammates rallied around him, was great. I think there have been a few people who have rushed to judge him without shaking the Polaroid.

I'd lean more toward your assessment of what we've seen so far with his instincts, range and size helping with the pass coverage required of safeties in today's era. I also think Minnesota's safeties are going to have a considerable amount of fun in Flores' system, especially since the group is one of the deeper positions for the Vikings.

I watched the Netflix special on Kirk Cousins. [Brian O'Neill] was out for last year's playoff loss to the Giants. I feel he is the rock on our offensive line. What do you think?

And …

How can we keep [NaJee Thompson]? Special teams are a bigger part than people give them credit for. He is making plays. He is the real deal.

— Gerald Goblirsch

Even with the Vikings finishing 13-4 and hosting a playoff game at home, I knew the absence of O'Neill was probably going to be felt among the offensive line and team.

That's not a slight on anyone else. It's a testament to the player he is and what he provides for the group.

It's been awesome to see O'Neill's planned progression through recovery with an eye all along on Sept. 10. That journey has included him suiting up at Minnesota's first night practice — even if he was only participating on a limited basis. He was at the front of the group as the offensive line moved down the field between practice periods. O'Neill has continued to progress well, rekindling a great practice matchup with Danielle Hunter, and then giving it a go in joint practices with the Cardinals.

I've had a slight soft spot for Thompson since he signed as an undrafted free agent and walked through the door for rookie minicamp. He hails from Boiling Springs High School in Spartanburg County, South Carolina, where I used to cover high school games as a freelancer (among other jobs) about 15 years ago.

There's been quite a few displays in practices and preseason games that lead me to believe he has potential to be a difference maker on special teams. We will find out soon if the coaching staff envisions that and opts to place him on the 53.