EAGAN, Minn. – After a tough ending to the 2022 season, Brian O'Neill has plenty to be optimistic about entering the 2023 campaign.
The Vikings right tackle spoke to Twin Cities media members Wednesday and said everything's gone "really smooth" with recovery from the Achilles injury he suffered Jan. 1.
The partial tear occurred at Lambeau Field in Week 17, sidelining O'Neill for the team's regular-season finale and the Wild Card game against the Giants.
He acknowledged the emotional pain of missing the playoff game but said he's feeling positive about the progress he's made.
"Since the diagnosis, there's been no surprises – from the morning we took the MRI to going into the surgery and coming out of the surgery, and then everything since then, there's been no surprises," O'Neill said. "They've done a really good job diagnosing what it was, how to treat it and [identifying] what the steps are going to be to get me back full-strength."
O'Neill knows there's plenty of time between now and the season – or even Vikings Training Camp, for that matter – and he's been intentional about not pushing his body too far.
"I've taken the approach of, 'Let's get this right. And let's do it right each step of the way.' There will be enough time. … In terms of in like two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, five weeks – I'm not really getting into all that with [the trainers right now]," he said. "It's more of, 'Is this stage we're at right now, are we doing this right?' And so far, we have. Every step's been really good, really smooth, and I'm happy with where I'm at."
View photos of Vikings players during offseason workouts at the TCO Performance Center.
O'Neill added it's been helpful that Vikings Executive Director of Player Health and Performance Tyler Williams, Head Athletic Trainer Uriah Myrie and Twin Cities Orthopedics' Dr. Chris Coetzee, who performed O'Neill's surgery, all agreed on the diagnosis and rehab plan.
"Everything's been really aligned and clearly communicated to me," O'Neill said. "So then it was more like, 'All right, so what? What's next?' Nothing you can do except get it fixed and come back as well as you can."
Having already made tremendous strides toward a full return, O'Neill has a lot to be excited about heading into the 2023 season.
In addition to the recovery, he's thankful for continuity on the offensive line and for the opportunity to reunite with longtime friend, linebacker Troy Reeder. O'Neill and Reeder were high school teammates in Delaware.
View black-and-white photos from the Vikings 2023 offseason workouts at the TCO Performance Center.
The Vikings returned 11 of 12 offensive linemen who were on last year's team, with the exception of Kyle Hinton, who joined the Falcons this offseason. That includes center Garrett Bradbury, whom Minnesota re-signed last month.
"It's huge for me personally. He's somebody I've leaned on for four years. The last four years, I've basically asked him what to do every play, anyway," O'Neill quipped with a smile. "But he's our communicator up front, he's the guy who puts everybody in the right places, and I think he's played at a high level for a long time.
"I was really happy that the team awarded him in the way they did, because he certainly earned it and certainly deserves it – every penny," O'Neill added. "It's really good for our group, it's really good for our team, and I think he'll step up as a leader not only in our o-line room this year but for our whole team, as well."
Having continuity on the offensive line isn't a luxury the Vikings have experienced much over the past several seasons. But this year, they'll once again have last year's starting lineup of O'Neill, right guard Ed Ingram, Bradbury, left guard Ezra Cleveland and left tackle Christian Darrisaw.
View home and away photos of the Vikings 2023 schedule.
O'Neill especially is looking forward to watching Ingram move forward with his first pro season under his belt.
"Everybody says taking the Year 1 to Year 2 leap, the jump from Year 1 to Year 2, is the biggest. It certainly was for me my rookie year, and I felt like it was for C.D. (Darrisaw). So we're hoping that's the same for [Ingram]," O'Neill said. "Even in meetings now, in the film room when we're sitting next to each other, we're starting to think the same way about blocks. Last year it was, 'Hey, this is how I see this,' and he says, 'OK.' And we try to meet in the middle somewhere. And now we're starting to see things the same way and really understand the deeper levels of the different blocks and schemes we're running."
It isn't only Ingram and O'Neill who have learned to speak the same language.
Minnesota's entire offensive line will benefit from having the same play-caller, Head Coach Kevin O'Connell, for the second consecutive season and first time in O'Neill's pro career. So instead of using this spring to learn new plays, the linemen are diving deeper on existing ones.
View photos of the Vikings 2023 coaching staff.
"The next step is, 'OK, what does the defense see? How is this different from the other scheme that we run that looks similar, and how does it look different to them? How are they going to react? And what's the next understanding for us?' There's a deeper understanding of the intricacies [of the offense] on our end," O'Neill explained.
"By the end of last year, we had so many made-up words that we were calling for stuff, that now they've stuck and become part of the language we use," he continued. "The quarterbacks know, and the running backs – everybody's tied into our stupid little code words that we come up with on the line. Everybody's starting to know them, and Coach is starting to know them, so they're really starting to become part of the process and our system.
"I'm really excited," O'Neill added of the upcoming season. "I think we're going to have a really good group."