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Difficult Cuts Offset by Confidence Adofo-Mensah & O'Connell Share in Vikings Roster

EAGAN, Minn. — Turns out the other side of the table isn't that comfortable, either.

Years before evolving to a goal of becoming an NFL head coach Kevin O'Connell was vying for a 53-man roster spot as a backup quarterback.

Hard Knocks even chronicled one of those times O'Connell found out he had not made the Jets roster.

The first-year head coach was the bearer of that news to roughly two dozen players this week when Minnesota reduced its roster from 80 players after the Vikings preseason finale to 53 by 3 p.m. Tuesday.

More moves — and conversations — followed that deadline, and some might still be forthcoming.

"It's been really hard for a lot of reasons," O'Connell said. "I previously thought since I had quite a bit of experience at being on the other side of those conversations throughout my career that maybe it would make it easier, maybe it would make it less of an impact personally on myself, selfishly, but it did not.

"I think it's because of the players, and I think it's because from day one … the hope is you have a culture built around the principles of what you believe are very, very important, and the best part was knowing that these guys, to a man, time and time again were telling [General Manager] Kwesi [Adofo-Mensah] and myself that that exists here and that's why they want to be here," O'Connell added. "Although it was unfortunate, they were appreciative of how we operate, how we're trying to build our team and ultimately what's to come.

"A tough week for sure, but I'll tell you I'm very excited, as I told our team yesterday, about all of those guys sitting in the room and all the guys we were able to get back on our practice squad," O'Connell continued. "Our coaching staff is just so fired up and ready to go to start putting this thing together one week at a time and trying to be the best version of this year's team we can be."

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 14, 2023.

As fall approaches, Adofo-Mensah revisited spring (or was it still winter here?) when he was on one end of the phone "starting NFL dreams" before saying this week involved "delaying people's NFL dreams, which isn't a great feeling for them, or myself or Kevin."

"If something like that gets easier over the years, it will mean that I've lost the respect and admiration I have for these great players who give us everything, so I don't necessarily want them to ever start being hard conversations," Adofo-Mensah said. "As our team takes shape, we're excited about where we are, but we know the challenges are ahead, and we're excited to take them on."

A common goal in NFL offseasons — after filling immediate voids among starters — is to build depth through competition.

The Vikings believe they were able to do so through free agency and this year's draft on the way to their offseason program and training camp.

The offensive line was a high priority for Minnesota this offseason, even though it planned to return its starting left tackle, left guard, center and right tackle.

The Vikings opened the competition at right guard between veterans Jesse Davis, Chris Reed and Austin Schlottmann, before adding Ed Ingram in the second round of the NFL Draft.

When Ingram emerged as the starter, Minnesota worked out a trade with Pittsburgh to send Davis to the Steelers and provide him an opportunity to continue to be a starter. Reed and Schlottmann are positioned to add depth to Minnesota's interior. The other linemen who made the roster are Olisaemeka Udoh, Blake Brandel and Vederian Lowe.

Beyond the 53-man roster, all teams now can have up to 16 players on their practice squads. The Vikings signed Kyle Hinton, a 2020 seventh-rounder, and undrafted rookie Josh Sokol to their practice squad.

Players can now move between the practice squad and active roster with rules that were relaxed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and have remained in place.

O'Connell was asked if he thinks the Vikings have enough depth.

"Are we talking about offensive line, defensive line, are we talking about DBs and receivers that have roles on special teams and may be where other guys have not been able to define those roles for themselves? We've really got to think about the 53," O'Connell said. "I told a lot of the players, the way the rules are now, with the ability to activate individual players off the practice squad for four games and still protect them for a certain amount of time, we can really piece together a larger roster than just the 53 guys.

"That's what went into a lot of the conversations about the practice squad, but ultimately how we're going to use our personnel, how we're going to try to attack our opponents and play great in all three phases," O'Connell added.