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Kevin O'Connell: Vikings to Start Jaren Hall vs. Packers in Week 17

EAGAN, Minn. — Vikings quarterback Jaren Hall's first start at U.S. Bank Stadium will be against the same Packers squad he faced in his NFL debut.

Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell on Thursday announced Hall will start against the Packers in Week 17 on Sunday Night Football.

The 2023 fifth-round pick out of BYU made his NFL debut at Green Bay in Week 8 after Kirk Cousins suffered a season-ending Achilles injury at Lambeau Field.

Hall was 3-of-4 passing with 23 yards and helped Minnesota close out a 24-10 win over Green Bay in Week 8. He started at Atlanta the following week and led two offensive possessions, going 5-of-6 passing with 78 yards before suffering a concussion.

Hall has not played since but has continued to put in scheduled and extra work every week after being cleared medically.

"He's had a few great weeks of preparation, and I look forward to seeing what Jaren can do," O'Connell said. "There's a lot of reasons we brought Jaren in here, having to do with his ability and what we look forward to seeing come to life on Sunday night. I also want to just say I thought Nick Mullens, as explosive as we were as an offense, helping us get 24 points in back-to-back games, he knows — I had a great conversation with both of those guys throughout the week, a lot of dialogue but — we have to maintain possession of the football, and the turnover margin has been well talked about all season long. It just felt like at this time, giving Jaren a full week of preparation and clearcut mindset on the game plan, I'm excited to see what Jaren can ultimately do."

Hall spoke with media members shortly after O'Connell's announcement. He was asked if he thought he'd get this opportunity again.

"There's a process for everybody. You've just got to take every opportunity you're given," Hall said. "For me, being on practice squad and giving our defense [looks] every day the last couple of weeks has been great. With that, you're always preparing."

Hall mentioned appreciating the opportunity to learn from the prep work he's seen exemplified this year from Cousins, Mullens and Joshua Dobbs.

Cousins, a 12-season veteran, was playing at an MVP level with an NFL-best 291.4 yards per game, 18 passing touchdowns against five interceptions and a passer rating of 103.8 when he became the second Viking in as many seasons to suffer an Achilles injury at Lambeau Field (Brian O'Neill in Week 17 of 2022).

With Mullens on Injured Reserve at the time of Cousins' injury, Minnesota acquired Dobbs from Arizona just before the trade deadline, and Dobbs was pressed into action against the Falcons. He overcame a dicey first few series and made multiple improvisations to defeat Atlanta.

Dobbs started the following week against New Orleans and helped the Vikings build a 21-point halftime lead in a 27-19 victory over the Saints.

Dobbs then started the next two games, as well, but turnovers at Denver (a fumble lost on a controversial hit and an interception) and against Chicago (four interceptions) proved costly in 21-20 and 12-10 respective losses to the Broncos and Bears.

After Minnesota's Week 13 bye and with the team at 6-6 through 12 games, O'Connell opted to have Dobbs start at Las Vegas before turning to Mullens in search of a spark in the lowest-scoring indoor NFL game of all-time.

Mullens has completed 57 of 82 passes for 797 yards with four touchdowns and six interceptions since entering the lineup in Week 14 in relief of Dobbs.

Mullens led the Vikings on a drive for a field goal in that game, which was good for a 3-0 win at Las Vegas. He completed nine of 13 passes for 83 yards against the Raiders.

The Vikings offense has moved the ball well in each of Mullens' two starts, with him throwing for 303 yards at Cincinnati and 411 against Detroit, but two interceptions against the Bengals nullified opportunities to score more points in an eventual 27-24 overtime loss.

Mullens tossed four more picks against the Lions, including his final pass attempt of the day, a deep shot toward Justin Jefferson to end the potential game-winning drive in a 30-24 home loss.

Now at 7-8 and entering the week one spot below of an NFC Wild Card spot, the Vikings are turning to Hall against the Packers (7-8) in the 127th Border Battle. The winner Sunday night will do more to hold out hope for a postseason berth, but the loser will be guaranteed of finishing 2023 below .500.

O'Connell said he evaluated the "inventory of each individual play on its own."

"The comfort [Mullens] has in our offense came to life in a lot of different ways, being able to beat a lot of different coverage variations, especially last week with how [Justin Jefferson] was defended, and Nick had a big-time part of that and being able to deliver the football and give us a chance to compete to keep that thing close and try to win it in the end," O'Connell said. "[The decision] was difficult from a standpoint of knowing that our execution level, especially in the pass game, with Nick in there has been really, really good.

"It's just we've had some really critical, weighty downs, third down, red zone third downs, type of turnovers that's made it really hard to overcome to win football games," O'Connell continued. "Jaren, it's really going to be his second start. What made me feel comfortable with this was knowing how Jaren has put in the work throughout this time, even the past couple of weeks with being the No. 2 and how he's really taken advantage of that and the comfort he feels in the game plan, and then really getting the game plan put together in a way where no matter who plays quarterback we can really talk about what it's going to take to win the game and that position clearly having a big part of it, but it's about the other 10 guys in the huddle and how we play in all three phases as a team.

"You go back to our game at Lambeau, I thought we did that," O'Connell added. "I thought we did a lot of really good things as a team, from the standpoint of complementing one another, the Metellus interception and the next play to Jordan Addison. Things that made a lot of our football philosophy and how we intended to play this year really come to life. I think that should give our guys a lot of confidence, and I know the guys on the team have a lot of confidence in Jaren because of how he works and what he's been like every single day."

Vikings Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips spoke to media members Wednesday before the announcement and was asked about Hall's growth and development. Phillips began his answer by talking about Hall's demeanor.

"Jaren's a cool customer. I was impressed, even from the first preseason game, his first action going in, changing protection calls," Phillips said. "He has a calmness and coolness about him. He doesn't get rattled and it doesn't ever feel like it's too big of a moment for him. Maybe that's his maturity, maybe he's a little bit older than most rookies, maybe that's how he's always been. You definitely don't get any type of sense this would be something he couldn't handle."

Phillips said the Vikings "liked a lot of the things we saw in a very small sample size" at Atlanta, but added there is a little bit of projecting with such limited in-game action.

"The thing with Jaren I think everyone would agree with, and fans look at the positive side most of the time, like, 'Put the backup in there,' but there is an unknown factor for a guy who just hasn't played a lot of NFL football," Phillips said. "Whatever those things will be, how he will respond, but you feel like you know the person. You know his day-to-day work ethic, you know his preparation, so you feel like those traits, you're betting on traits when you're putting him in the game."

Vikings left guard Dalton Risner, who joined Minnesota earlier this season, began his career with Denver in 2019. The Broncos started three quarterbacks that season, three in 2020, two in 2021 and two in 2022. Minnesota has started four in one season for the first time in franchise history.

Risner emphasized Hall's even-keel demeanor.

"I talked to you guys leading up to the week in Atlanta after he played in Green Bay, for being a young guy in this league, he stayed very cool, calm and collected," Risner said. "You guys saw it. The kid can ball. Let's go out there, do what we do as an offensive line, protect him, try to establish the run game, help him out, and I think he's going to make plays for us."

Hall said while the number of reps he had in games was limited they provided valuable learning opportunities. Asked about limiting turnovers, he said, "just play within yourself."

"There's lots of different reasons why turnovers happen, fumbles, interceptions, whatever it is," Hall said. "Everyone who has played the game has succumbed to that at one point or another, and you just focus on it all week and try to be better at it.

"I think everything is still a work in progress. I'm still in my first season. I can't say I've got a great handle on anything yet because I've got to go play a game and see what happens, but I'm always confident in what I'm able to do and the coaching, they've developed me at this point," Hall added. "I understand the offense more, learning behind Kirk and Nick and Josh when he joined us. It's been great, so I think I've gotten better in every area since I first got here, but there's obviously a lot to still prove."