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Rookie CB Akayleb Evans Learning Under Veterans; O'Connell Provides Updates on Dantzler & Tomlinson

EAGAN, Minn. — When Vikings cornerback Akayleb Evans was in college at the University of Tulsa and later the University of Missouri, he received some solid advice from his coach: Learn from the veterans.

"My college coach, I had him all five years of college when I was at Tulsa and at Mizzou. He taught me a lot, he was like, 'When you get to the league, you want to get under the wing of a veteran, whoever's on the team,' " Evans said on Monday to Twin Cities reporters. "So when I got here, it was a perfect situation with [Patrick Peterson] being my veteran corner; being able to learn from him has been great."

Evans – the 118th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft – has gravitated toward the 12th-year veteran Peterson, who joined the Vikings a season prior. Evans said he's been able to ask Peterson questions on and off the field, including at Peterson's house.

"It really started out on the field. I would ask him questions about whether it's press technique, playing off, just his history in the league, knowing what he's been able to do," Evans said. "I've been to his house a couple of times, and he's broken down some film; what to look for, whether it's splits, where the ball is at, where receivers are in relation to others. He's helped me a lot in that aspect, so I look forward to continuing that with him."

Those study sessions have paid off for Evans, especially during Sunday's 20-17 victory at Washington.

Evans replaced cornerback Cameron Dantzler, Sr., after Dantzler suffered an ankle injury in the second quarter and was declared out for the rest of the game.

Evans quickly made an impact, recording four tackles, with two going for a loss, a pass defensed and a tackle on special teams.

Evans said he felt prepared if his number was going to be called.

"I've been leaning on vets like Pat P and Cam, just to learn from them, so whenever my opportunity came I felt like I was going to be prepared. I felt like I was ready for the moment," Evans said.

Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell lauded Evans' performance after the game and his ability to step up to the challenge.

"I thought Akayleb, between the physicality that he showed on some tackles against some good backs in space and then just knowing the type of player that [Washington wide receiver] Terry McLaurin and some of their other guys are, I felt like he really had an impact in there," O'Connell said. "It seemed like he was incredibly comfortable in that moment, and I give [Defensive Coordinator] Ed [Donatell] and his staff a lot of credit for having him ready to roll like that."

O'Connell said on Monday that Dantzler is on a "week-to-week" timetable with an ankle injury.

"I think it's probably a long shot that he's available to us this week. It's kind of in that week-to-week timeline, but never say never with our sports performance staff," O'Connell said. "[Executive Director of Player Health and Performance] Tyler [Williams] and [Head Athletic Trainer] Uriah [Myrie], they're going to pour into Cam, and he'll attack this thing and see where he's at as the week goes on, but we definitely want to make sure that Cam's healthy and ready to go when he gets back out there."

View Vikings players in Big Head Mode during their comeback win over the Commanders at FedExField on Nov. 6.

If Dantzler is indeed out for this week's road game at Buffalo, Evans feels like he's ready for his first possible NFL start.

"I'd feel great about the opportunity," Evans said. "I was already talking with Pat P about watching film and being with him this week, so I feel it's a good opportunity and I'm looking forward to taking advantage of it."

Here are two additional takeaways from O'Connell's availability on Monday:

NT Dalvin Tomlinson continuing to progress

O'Connell said nose tackle Dalvin Tomlinson is progressing, but is in the same situation as Dantzler. Tomlinson suffered a calf injury on Oct. 30 against Arizona.

"I think [Tomlinson] kind of falls in that same category. We wanted to see how he progressed last week with a few more days of treatment, [and] we'll see if we can possibly have him available to us this weekend," O'Connell said. "Just want to make sure that he's healthy and ready to go when we get him back out there so that he can hit the ground running for what's going to be a pretty grueling stretch here of a lot of games in a short amount of time with us having already been through our bye week."

Fourth quarter offense showing consistency

The Vikings have scored a touchdown on their opening drive in five of their eight games. But it's been in the fourth quarter where Minnesota's offense has truly shined.

Through the first nine weeks, Minnesota has scored 70 points in the fourth quarter, which ranks fifth in the NFL. The Vikings have also averaged 8.8 points per game in the fourth, which is fourth in the league.

The Vikings offense has risen to the occasion, especially in late-game scenarios. Minnesota has trailed in the fourth quarter in five of its past six games but rallied to win in each of them.

O'Connell said the fourth-quarter success has been a result of the team's emphasis on being “situational masters” in the final two minutes of the first half and the fourth quarter, but he knows his team still has some things to clean up to avoid late rallies week after week.

"We talk about situations that may come up so that ultimately our guys have clarity and can play with quiet minds and just go execute," O'Connell said. "But there's another layer of it to where, whether we get off to a fast start in games and have to make some adjustments, the best part about our team this year is although we haven't found that four-quarter football yet, and not many teams do, we have been able to make those adjustments as a staff and a team to go be our best when it's required.

"I think our leadership, our captains, our quarterback, guys that kind of quarterback the defense and apply pressure on our defensive side to the opposing team's offense, our special teams being impactful in big moments when we've needed it, I think it's complimentary football in the critical moments of games that define good teams in this league," he continued. "You don't always win with style, but when you're able to win football games and consistently win close games by winning in the fourth quarter, that does matter.

"Ultimately, you hate to continue to put yourselves in positions where you need to come from behind and win, but at least we know we've kind of removed all doubt and have a belief in ourselves that we can go get those wins when we have to know," O'Connell added. "Like I said, can we have the type of preparation and the type of performance where we don't need to do that? That's ultimately what our job is as coaches, to keep pushing our guys. We've got great leadership that knows where we're headed, hopefully as a team. We're going to need to play a little more distant throughout games and put it all together as a football team."