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5 Takeaways: O'Connell & Adofo-Mensah on Roster Decisions, Injury Updates

EAGAN, Minn. – NFL rosters are always evolving, but Minnesota reduced its roster to 53 players Tuesday, then made additional moves Wednesday to add running back Myles Gaskin and tackle David Quessenberry. 

Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Head Coach Kevin O'Connell spoke with media members Thursday morning and acknowledged the difficult decisions that had to be made.

"These last couple of days, there are some hard conversations," Adofo-Mensah said. "But I can say that, given Kevin's culture and the way he is as a leader, in those rooms I think we were honest with the players, and it always ends in a place where they love being in Minnesota, and that's a credit to what he's building here.

"This roster's a result of a really spirited training camp where we competed out there every day, and we feel like the result is a team – not just the 53 but also the practice squad – built to sustain the season for the long haul, and we're excited about that," Adofo-Mensah added.

Among those tough roster decisions were parting ways with Jalen Reagor and Ross Blacklock, both of whom the Vikings acquired via trade last year.

Adofo-Mensah said he'd appreciated the opportunity to build relationships with both players and it was difficult to see them go.

"Those conversations are hard because when they do everything you ask of them and it might not work out for them, it's a tough outcome," Adofo-Mensah said. "But ultimately, we're gonna keep taking risks in this organization. Every pick you make is a decision that has [potential outcomes]. It's a portfolio, in a sense, and you've gotta measure the portfolio in the end.

"When we go into these decisions, we know that – we don't think we have every answer figured out, but we're aligned in what we think the player can do. And we're gonna see how that's going to work out over the long haul," he continued. "But you can't ever sweat one decision because it doesn't work, because you have to look at it in a portfolio sense. And we like a lot of the moves we've made, and ultimately, not every one is going to work out perfect."

Here are four other takeaways from Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell:

1. Keeping all 6 safeties | By Lindsey Young

Six of the 53 players on Minnesota's active roster are safeties.

Combined with cornerbacks, that makes 11 defensive backs on the Vikings roster – a number they haven't kept since 2018. And even then, it's almost unheard of for Minnesota to retain six safeties heading into the 2023 campaign.

But when the team's safeties are as talented, dynamic and versatile as the Vikings are, leadership doesn't mind departing from recent history.

O'Connell said he and Adofo-Mensah had "daily dialogue" with Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores around the Vikings defensive system and players who would be the best fit in Flores' system.

"From the interview process all the way through sitting down with Flo' as he's built this defense, you talk about the versatility and the multiple personnel groupings a lot," O'Connell explained. "But then as we talked about, when you start to see it – and see what it looks like to have three safeties in the game, being able to play multiple versions of five DBs on the field, based upon what we think is best to not only apply what we're doing schematically but what those players' skill sets are."

"And then how carrying six safeties benefits our special teams, as well as the corners we do have in the game. I think it's an all-encompassing approach that's been really thought out," O'Connell added. "And then quite frankly, we do have a very strong belief in trying to keep the best 53 guys we can, and we feel like we did that with the training camps all six of those guys had."

Adofo-Mensah also noted that Vikings safeties Camryn Bynum and Jay Ward had ample experience at cornerback during their collegiate careers at Cal and LSU, respectively. Additionally, Josh Metellus lined up at nickel corner, safety and linebacker throughout training camp.

"You think about how two of those safeties have college experience at cornerback at a really high level. So their ability to also influence the cornerback room, but also then in that dime rollout, that linebacker room," Adofo-Mensah said. "So for a GM, planning-wise, getting through the season, having players who are able to play multiple spots helps you throughout the long haul."

2. Injury updates: Nwangwu to IR, Hockenson progressing | By Ellis Williams

The Vikings decided to carry Kene Nwangwu on the initial 53-man roster before placing the third-year running back on Injured Reserve, meaning he'll miss at least the first four games of the season. O'Connell said Nwangwu is dealing with a lower back injury.

"[This gives] him the opportunity at some point to work through his injury and ultimately maybe return to help us at some point. [I] don't want to put a timeline on that," O'Connell said. "[After having] conversations with Kene, He's feeling better and better. And we'll continue to work through that and try to get him back with us at some point this year."

Following Thursday morning's news of T.J. Hockenson's agreement on a contract extension, O'Connell said he is optimistic the Pro Bowl tight end will be available for Week 1. Hockenson has been dealing with some ailments during camp, which has kept him from consistently being a full participant.

That changed on Thursday. Hockenson was "pretty close to full" during a closed practice session and is expected to keep ramping up in anticipation for the Vikings home opener versus Tampa Bay.

"That'll be the plan … moving forward. He's been working his way back slowly, and [he] has a great plan, "O'Connell said. "I feel like he's in great shape. He looked really good yesterday. And we'll just continue to progress him on a timeline leading into next Sunday so that he feels ready to go. But as of right now, I feel very good about T.J.'s chances of being available."

O'Connell added that linebacker Brian Asamoah II should have a "full week, plus" of preparation ahead of Week 1. He's been dealing with a shoulder injury.

3) Options at LB | By Ellis Williams

Undrafted free agent Ivan Pace, Jr., was one of three UDFAs to make the Vikings initial 53-man roster. O'Connell said he's excited to see how Flores deploys a versatile linebacker room.

"IP (Ivan Pace) stepped in and handled some things. And even in the games, the way he handled the green dot and communication. That group of backers that we do have, it's a versatile group," O'Connell said. "I think they all bring certain aspects that help our overall defensive plan."

O'Connell teased packages featuring Pace, Asamoah, and team captain Jordan Hicks on the field together.

"That's just the versatile approach we want to take to play the game a lot of different ways," O'Connell said.

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 7, 2024.

4) Opening at kick returner | By Ellis Williams

With Nwangwu out for at least four games, O'Connell said running back Ty Chandler is likely to get the first opportunities to return kickoffs.

"I feel comfortable with Ty [Chandler] back there. I think he's earned the right to get those first opportunities. Knowing Ty, I'm sure he's gonna take it and run with it," O'Connell said. "Ty [Chandler] did some really good things in training camp anytime he really had the ball in his hand. And I know he's comfortable back there."

Chandler has dynamic shoes to fill. Over his first two seasons, Nwangwu has only played 47 offensive snaps but flashed as a dynamic returner. He returned 35 kicks last season for the Vikings and was named a Second-Team All-Pro. Nwangwu posted his third-career return touchdown this past season, a 99-yarder against the New England Patriots on Thanksgiving night. Chandler's next kickoff return will be his first in the NFL.

A new NFL rule change that allows fair catches inside the 25-yard line to be deemed touchbacks could offset missing Nwangwu.