MOBILE, Ala. — The Reese's Senior Bowl has coined the slogan that "The draft starts in Mobile."
There were additional Vikings arriving at the start line Wednesday when Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell, Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips and Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores were among those observing the day's two practice sessions in person.
Minnesota already has a bit of inside access with three assistants coaching the National Team for the 75th annual game.
O'Connell spent significant time alongside General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah at midfield as the coaching staff is transitioning from season mode to processing information obtained by Minnesota's college scouts.
Between practice sessions, Adofo-Mensah chatted with Vikings.com about the role of the college scouting department in providing information to coaches and other parts of the personnel department on the way to the draft, which is now less than three months away.
"They're the ears, eyes, the personal shoppers of this organization from the collegiate standpoint. They do an incredible job of setting the table for us," Adofo-Mensah said. "They help me kind of formulate, and you talk about the trade deadline, you have to know what is coming to be able to make good decisions there. So they do a great job here. Also, trying to figure out what — we're going to watch the film, but they've got to figure out what type of person we're bringing in. 'Can they be Vikings? Can they represent us the way we want to be represented?' It's invaluable. I feel like that's the key to every great organization. We'll continue to strive to do that. They're a big part of it."
Coaches can remotely access film of every practice rep, but Minnesota placed a premium on in-person opportunities.
"Ultimately, you're trying to find information. For me, the information I'm trying to find is a little different from some of my scouts," Adofo-Mensah said. "I don't get out on the road that much, so for me, it's a chance to really get up close and personal. It's funny, in my old role, I was the data guy, so I didn't really appreciate what it meant to walk by a guy, see a guy interact with his teammates, all those things, so I'm looking for those things, and after having watched a guy on film, I'm looking for something specific, 'Hey, let me see a guy in 1-on-1s,' because sometimes these college schemes won't allow you to see certain things.
"This is a great place to really answer a lot of your questions. Other than that, it's really getting to connect with your NFL community," Adofo-Mensah added. "It's been great talking with people but always learning and trying to get to that draft day where you get all the information and you're trying to make as best of decisions as you can."
Just two years ago, Adofo-Mensah had just been hired and was immersed in the process that led to O'Connell's hire. Last year, Adofo-Mensah attended the Senior Bowl for the first time in this role. The trip involved connecting with Flores and evaluating last year's group of players, which included Vikings 2023 rookies Ivan Pace, Jr., Mekhi Blackmon, Jay Ward, Andre Carter II and Jaren Hall.
"I remember my conversation with Flo'. He's high among that list of guys that are just so passionate that this is what he wants to be doing at all times," Adofo-Mensah said. "He's just a great coach, a great evaluator. I remember a lot of stories. I remember seeing Andre Carter here and a lot of different players come to mind. You try not to overweigh the one rep versus how many games you watch of a college career, but it is great to look at specific things. We're fortunate to be down here."
Vikings Director of College Scouting Mike Sholiton said this week has become the starting point for transferring information gathered by scouts on wide sweeps last fall to coaches.
"When new information comes in, we're able to get that to the coaches and to the evaluation process and hopefully come out to a nice group consensus of how the player fits and can impact our team," Sholiton said.
The continuity of O'Connell and the offense heading into its third season and with Flores' returning for a second season is a benefit to the scouts.
"It's super helpful to know what we're looking for, what plays in our offensive and defensive scheme, so it helps to have familiarity so we understand how the coaches see the game and to try to bring in players that can have a role and understand what their role can be," Sholiton said.
Just a couple of observations from Wednesday's practices, along with a few takes that other people posted on X (formerly Twitter).
In the National Team practice, there were frequent flags thrown during receiver-cornerback drills. Corners must adjust their games from college to the NFL allowing less contact on receivers.
Defensive lineman Michael Hall (Ohio State) is one of the underclassmen who was invited to this year's game. He quickly surged through the offensive line for a sack.
Bleacher Report's Ryan Fowler noted offensive lineman Jackson Powers-Johnson (Oregon) holding his on against Hall in this rep:
The defensive linemen created multiple pressures during team drills, and then in 7-on-7 passing, QBs worked their progressions before opting for checkdowns on multiple plays.
Receiver Roman Wilson is wearing a No. 1 jersey for the National Team's offense. The Michigan product matched his jersey with this nifty sideline snag:
In the American Team's practice, defensive linemen McKinnley Jackson (Texas A&M) and Darius Robinson (Missouri) showed some effectiveness with their rush reps.
Senior Bowl Executive Director Jim Nagy and The Athletic's Dane Brugler weighed in on how they view Robinson: