EAGAN, Minn. — The line got one of its favorite leaders back — to a degree.
Vikings right tackle Brian O'Neill was in pads and participated in drills with the offensive line during the early part of practice.
It was a major sign of progress for O'Neill, who has been rehabbing an Achilles injury he suffered in Week 17 at Green Bay on Jan. 1. O'Neill's camp up until Thursday had involved working on a side field.
During a transition from one period to another, he was at the front of the linemen as they headed to a new part of the field.
View photos of Vikings players participating in the first night practice of 2023 Vikings Training Camp hosted at TCO Stadium.
Call it a welcome sight on an electric night at TCO Stadium.
The evening included Legends Connections interviews with Brian Robison and Chad Greenway by Vikings Entertainment Network's Tatum Everett, as well as introductions of the full team by "Voice of the Vikings" Paul Allen as players tossed footballs to the crowd.
Second-year Head Coach Kevin O'Connell thanked attendees and said he remembered the atmosphere at the night practice from last year and had been looking forward to Thursday.
"When I walked out and our team entered U.S. Bank Stadium, from the jump, we just knew it was going to be different," O'Connell said. "And you guys brought it, our opponent felt it, and away we went for the 2022 season. As I've talked to our team about establishing a championship standard with everything we do, the expectation is the same for you. Show up each and every Sunday. Every opportunity we get to make U.S. Bank Stadium the best home environment in all the National Football League, and we will provide you guys with many opportunities to do your thing by dominating on the field in all three phases.
"I appreciate everybody who came tonight, I know our team does. We hope you come out a few more times during training camp – we'll have the joint practices versus the Titans and the Cardinals – it should be very, very competitive," O'Connell added. "And as we have this mindset in camp of iron sharpening iron, these guys are working their tails off. We are off to a phenomenal start to training camp, and I cannot wait to see you on Sept. 10 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Hope you guys enjoyed it – thanks for coming!"
Not participating: Marcus Davenport, Trishton Jackson, Andrew Booth, Jr., Kene Nwangwu and Jalen Nailor did not participate. The Vikings are optimistic about Jackson, who left the field with a knee injury Tuesday. An exam revealed no structural damage. Nwangwu did not participate in Tuesday's session, either. Booth left that one early. Nailor is rehabbing a contact injury suffered earlier in camp.
Here are three observations from Thursday's session presented by Minnesota Eye Consultants, the Proud LASIK Partner of the Minnesota Vikings:
1. Newcomers delight
More fans were able to get their first in-person looks at several Vikings newcomers who arrived via the draft or free agency.
First-round pick Jordan Addison hauled in several impressive grabs, including a touchdown from Kirk Cousins in the back of the end zone, despite contact from Lewis Cine.
That was one play after Cousins had targeted Addison on a pass to the front corner that was broken up by undrafted rookie Jaylin Williams, who snagged an interception off a pass deflected by Theo Jackson during the 2-minute drill between the second teams on offense and defense.
Rookie QB Jaren Hall also targeted Addison, but the pass was broken up by a fellow draft classmate, Mekhi Blackmon.
Throw in undrafted rookie linebacker Ivan Pace, Jr., taking reps with the first-team defense alongside veteran Jordan Hicks, and it was an interesting night for newcomers.
Veteran tight end Josh Oliver, who joined in free agency, had a couple of night routes and catches, and Byron Murphy, Jr., seemed to enjoy interacting with Vikings fans before looking fast on a blitz.
2. Mattison brings extra juice
Alexander Mattison more than looked the part of a lead running back under the lights.
He kept his legs moving through contact on a lower red zone drill until after crossing the goal line. He pounded his chest in celebration.
Mattison also showed his determination when he caught a lower red zone pass from Kirk Cousins shy of the sticks and dived across the goal line for a score.
3. Kicking competition takes a turn
The Vikings had been running strong through their competition at kicker, but they experienced a mixed bag on Thursday.
Greg Joseph capped the 2-minute drill by the first team offense and defense with a 44-yard field goal.
Even though the 2-minute drill by the second team ended with the interception by Williams, the Vikings had undrafted rookie Jack Podlesny kick from 48 yards.
He made that one but missed wide left from the distance of an extra point. Podlesny bounced back with successful kicks from 45 and 50 yards.
Joseph then returned for a round of kicks. He was successful from the distance of an extra point but was wide left from 41, good from 45 and 48, wide left from 53 and 58 before drilling another 58-yarder down the middle.