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J.J. McCarthy to Keep Feet Moving While Settling in for 1st Minnesota Summer

EAGAN, Minn. — J.J. McCarthy plans to settle in the Twin Cities during the Vikings summer break, but his feet will keep moving.

He and Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell both cited footwork as the aspect where McCarthy's game grew the most during Minnesota's offseason workout program.

The 2024 first-round pick plans to continue refining his footwork, whether at the facility on a voluntary basis or at his house, before players report back for training camp next month.

Sometimes overshadowed by arm talent, instincts or moxie, it turns out a quarterback's footwork is quite important toward the success of a play and can change depending on the concept the team is running.

I mean, this is foot-ball after all, right?

"It's the foundation to every single play," McCarthy said Wednesday.

O'Connell knows not executing the footwork can adversely affect the other aspects of playing the position.

"We talk a lot about things like base, balance, body position when you're making certain throws, how you read. You're reading obviously with your eyes, seeing coverage and everything, but you're really reading with your feet, understanding that this time of year it's hard to replicate an NFL time clock or NFL pocket," O'Connell said. "We try to really challenge the guys to read with their feet and the timing of plays and tying their feet and eyes together. A bunch of nerdy football talk to say, 'How comfortable can you be playing in an efficient way, still be accurate, still be showing all the arm talent traits that J.J. [McCarthy] has shown over his career?'

"He's been able to get comfortable with certain aspects of the footwork we have the guys take, and there's continued comfort and growth that happens every snap for a player like J.J. when he can walk into a huddle, call the play correctly, make sure 10 other guys are lined up correctly, and then execute his job first and foremost to allow the other 10 guys to have a chance to have success," O'Connell added. "I thought his growth from day one to today was really evident."

Similar to veteran Sam Darnold, Minnesota’s starter who was added in free agency, McCarthy will keep connecting the dots with a mindset attentive to the bigger picture. Darnold worked on his footwork in his Twin Cities apartment this spring and used poker chips to identify skill players' placement in the offense.

"It's different," McCarthy said when asked to compare the footwork he's learned here with what he implemented at Michigan. "I wouldn't say it's very different. But when you tie up all the individual footwork to all the individual concepts, obviously this playbook is a lot bigger than ours back in college. Every single day just keeps getting better and better, and things start becoming more instinctual, and it's just the reps that are helping me progress the fastest along that path."

There will be times in a young quarterback's growth and development when it's one step forward, two steps back, and other times when it's two steps forward and one step back.

McCarthy is well aware that growth is "not a straight line" but added he's trying to maintain a "trajectory of going up." It can of course be easier said than done if a rough patch hits.

"I definitely get down on myself just being the perfectionist that I am," McCarthy said. "Failure is inevitable in sports, and you've just got to learn from those little dips and not be attached to them emotionally, so that's what I've been working on."

McCarthy said he considers himself blessed to be able to learn from Darnold, veteran Nick Mullens and second-year pro Jaren Hall, as well as quarterbacks coach Josh McCown, while learning the verbiage of the offense and spitting it back out coherently.

"Coach McCown sometimes will go through the script and say it in his phone and then send it to us, and that's always great to do, but I'll have my fiancée just read it back to me and then I'll go through it the whole play," McCarthy said. "And we'll do that almost every night, and that helps out a lot. Plus, you know, writing down the plays every single time we get the script and having that you know, you read it, you read it, you write it, you see it and then you start hearing it and then all that stuff.

"Once you really dive into it and start compartmentalizing some of the concepts and the formations and the verbiage of the play calls and regurgitated in the huddle, then it becomes smooth because everything makes sense," McCarthy added. "There's always a why behind everything. And that's something that I really appreciate because you play that much faster when, 'OK, say the whys.' I'm not going to say the whys and all the things that I've compartmentalized, but you know, a lot of things that led up to just play more instinctual, and it is difficult, but you know, everything's difficult. If it was easy, everyone would do it."