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Monday Morning Mailbag: McCarthy's Hockey Background, Running Back Depth

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The Vikings 2024 schedule was unveiled last week.

Minnesota has a tough stretch to start, facing five postseason teams from a year ago in its first seven games, and will open at the New York Giants before returning to host the San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans in Weeks 2-3.

There's a three-game road swing in Weeks 10-12 that will be followed by a three-game homestand from Weeks 13-15.

But, in the spirit of being where our feet are, the Vikings are starting Phase 3 of their offseason workout program today. That means Organized Team Activity practices are firing up. We'll cover the sessions that are open to the media over the next couple of weeks, as well as the mandatory minicamp in early June.

I did a quick search on NFL quarterbacks who had a background in hockey because of J.J. talking about his. The only one I found was his coach at Michigan — Jim Harbaugh. Any thoughts about how that background affects J.J.'s abilities as a QB?

— Craig in Boston, Massachusetts

Here's a fun one to start with, even if I'll issue a couple of disclaimers. The first is that I'm by no means a hockey expert. I still follow the Nashville Predators from my time in Tennessee and learned a few things about hockey near the honkytonks on Broadway, but I'll never pretend to be an expert in something I'm not. Secondly, I was honestly relieved to complete college kinesiology and anatomy & physiology courses with the grades I earned more than 20 years ago (I think I got Bs in those).

But, when Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah hosted media members for a film review of this year's draft picks, there were a couple of plays in which McCarthy's movement around the pocket really stood out.

He showed short-area quickness and powerful change of direction. It was almost like watching one of those drop-down prize machines with a joystick that moves the claw. Instead of the claw coming up empty-handed, a teammate caught the passes after McCarthy bought extra time.

I've mentioned to a couple of people with more football smarts than me that it seemed like he was on skates instead of cleats.

There's also the aspect of toughness that is requisite of playing football and hockey that McCarthy was credited for showing in college. The Detroit Free Press' Tony Garcia pointed to hockey, which McCarthy played from about age 5 until his freshman year, as helping instill toughness in the QB.

There's quite a bit of discussion between playing multiple sports at an early age (Chad Greenway and Adam Thielen are among strong proponents of that approach) or focusing on specialization. McCarthy's football goals and the time commitment required to play football and hockey led to his decision to focus on football early in his prep career.

Last year in an interview, Hitman Harry (Harrison Smith) told us to watch out for undrafted free agent Ivan Pace, Jr., and he seemed to be right about him. So my question is how important or involved are the veteran players' [thoughts] on the starting roster or even making the team? One more question, sorry it just came to me, which undrafted free agent or agents are the Vikings the most excited to see at camp?

— Tony H. in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin

The Hitman is usually a man of few words, but they always carry credence.

Veterans who have had a successful career like Smith are keen in their observations. He knows when a teammate has command of a concept or when one might still be swimming through defensive principles. Smith could see Pace become a quick study and impactful player and gave credit where it was due.

I'd imagine most coaches would tend to welcome thoughts from such veterans regarding how younger players are learning and processing and could be further helped in that effort.

It just so happens Smith, quarterback Sam Darnold, Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips and Special Teams Coordinator Matt Daniels are scheduled to participate in media interviews Tuesday after the first OTA practice that is open to media members (and second session this spring).

The rookie minicamp was limited by O'Connell to position drills and a couple of handfuls of 7-on-7 reps, so we got a glimpse but will get a little better understanding in the coming weeks.

View home and away photos of the Vikings 2024 regular season opponents.

I am super pumped about the selection of J.J. McCarthy and how the rest of the draft turned out. Time will tell, but I had J.J. McCarthy on my radar from the very beginning. Realistically the price for a trade with the Patriots for QB Drake Maye would have been too steep. I think fans were shocked when Atlanta picked QB Michael Penix, Jr., at No. 8, and to tell the truth I thought some teams would jump ahead of us at that point and nab J.J. I was glad the Vikings did not take any chances and moved up to No. 10. Defensively, I believe the Vikings hit on OLB Dallas Turner, and CB Khyree Jackson might be the steal of the draft.

SKOL Vikings Fans,

— David Bond in Rochester, Minnesota


Solid draft. Quantity may increase the chances of improving the overall quality of a team. Emphasis on chance. Will take quality over quantity any day. One or more significant impact players over bench depth or OK starters. The current coaching staff seems to be able to bring out the best of what they have on the roster. Add the impact player or players. Solid team. Too many unknowns such as injuries to predict win/loss. Maybe not yet championship level. But very competitive. The first step toward a Super Bowl.

Some people seem to be concerned with the lack of picks next draft. The Vikings needed to address the current and near future serious needs. They did in selecting McCarthy and Dallas Turner. Plus Will Reichard, the kicker. Kickers, always in the shadow until they miss a kick. Someone who could be the difference in a few games. We do have a third-round pick. The compensatory for the net loss of one FA. Assuming the Falcons will lose a pick or more to the Vikings for the tampering issue?

It's the early-in-the-year optimism time. I'm expecting the coaching staff to bring out the best in Sam Darnold. Not to be disrespectful to J.J. McCarthy, but it is rare for a rookie QB to play championship-level football in their first season. Bottomline, the QB room is solid, players and coaching staff. Just don't expect the same statistical output that Kirk Cousins delivered. Maybe a more balanced and multifaceted attacking offense? Then there is the D. Expectations are another creative and flexible defense designed around the strengths of the roster and the opponents' offensive strengths.

The dufus side of me is making a predication. Aaron Jones, +2,000 all-purpose yards. Remember Brett Favre's first year as a Viking? It was a good regular season. Packers vs. Vikings: 0-2!!!! Lions vs. Vikings: 0-2!! Bears vs. Vikings: 1-1. Not quite perfect, but good enough to be NFC North Champions!!!!!!!


— Noel in Bayfield, Wisconsin

Wanted to combine these reflections on Minnesota's 2024 draft class.

There's plenty to be excited about regarding the Vikings landing McCarthy and Turner in the first round and then adding Jackson, a 6-foot-3-plus cornerback.

The quantity vs. quality argument is an interesting one, and the best answer (amid many variables) could depend on the team's needs and the talent pool from year to year.

There's nothing quite like early-in-the-year optimism. It's a big part of why the draft and schedule release events receive the attention they've come to enjoy.

There's no updates on the NFL's investigation into Atlanta's communications with Cousins. There's also no guarantee that if the NFL determines a penalty should be levied on the Falcons that there also would be a reward for the Vikings.

Jones totaling 2,000-plus scrimmage yards would be a high number and exceed his previous single-season best of 1,558 in 2019 by more than 400 yards. He is likely to have a measurable impact in many aspects of the offense.

I really love [Khyree Jackson's] length. He is a tall and long-armed corner. How soon before we see him coming on a corner blitz and tipping a ball that is intercepted by Dallas Turner and taken to the house? It could happen.

— Gerald Goblirsch

I knew a basketball coach who used to say he couldn't coach length, referring to the readiness to coach up other aspects of a physically talented player. That said, sometimes players who are that tall struggle with change-of-direction.

The Vikings like Jackson's length that is accompanied by a less common agility — "little man" footwork.

He has long arms and has shown solid use of technique in pass coverage, as well as consistently showing production in run support.

It's quite certain Vikings Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores will cook up plans to maximize each player's talent with the goal of negatively affecting other teams' quarterbacks.

What is the foreseeable solution to the guard position?

— Charles McCourt in San Antonio, Texas

The Vikings are returning Ed Ingram, who has started all 32 games he's played in the past two seasons.

Dalton Risner, who joined Minnesota during the season and wound up taking over the starting left guard spot for Ezra Cleveland, remains a free agent.

The Vikings added veteran interior offensive lineman Dan Feeney during free agency and reached a deal to bring back Blake Brandel, who started two games at right guard last season (at Las Vegas and at Detroit) and is likely to get a look on the left side.

Henry Byrd and Tyrese Robinson spent time on Minnesota's practice squad last season.

Seventh-round draft pick Michael Jurgens logged experience at guard in his final season at Wake Forest after opening his Deamon Deacons career at center.

Additionally, Minnesota signed undrafted free agents Matt Cindric, Jeremy Flax, Doug Nester and Spencer Rolland.

While the options aren't yet as known as Risner, the Vikings evaluators will be able to assess their options as the action intensifies a little this spring. Training camp and the preseason are when the best evaluations of offensive and defensive linemen can occur.

I guess I am one of the few people worried about our RB situation.

Aaron Jones (oft-injured) and Ty Chandler (has been injured & struggles pick up the blitz) are pretty much it. When/if they go down, who is there?

I read before that DeWayne McBride was a boy among men as a rookie and may never be an NFL back. Is this true?

All that being said, would a reunion with Dalvin Cook or Jerick McKinnon be off the table?

Hopefully, we address RB3 (as well as LG, DT and CB) before the season starts.

Do you think we will? After June 1 cuts?

My wish list:

G Dalton Risner or Connor Williams
DT Calais Campbell
CB Xavien Howard
RB Dalvin Cook


— Jeff S. in Costa Mesa, California

Since 2019, Jones has played 73 of a possible 83 games and had at least 223 touches in four of those five seasons. Sure, he did miss six games last season, but returned with vengeance and was critical in helping Green Bay's late-season surge.

He'll open this season with a five-game streak of 100-plus rushing yards (three regular-season and two playoff games included).

Chandler is poised to take another step forward in his third season and will be able to learn several keys from the completeness in Jones' game.

I'm not sure where that was written about McBride. It wasn't in this space. The Vikings drafted him in the seventh round in 2023, so there probably was a bit of development they had in mind for him.

After that, the Vikings also have Kene Nwangwu and Myles Gaskin on the roster.

Cook and McKinnon are free agents at this point.

Teams are always keeping an eye on ways to add talent and depth while adhering to the strategic financial plan.

It is past the deadline for free agent signings to affect the compensatory picks formula, so teams may continue to look at available players throughout the offseason and training camp.

View photos from every regular season game the Vikings have played in London over the years.

First, I want to congratulate Kwesi and the staff for getting us out of salary cap purgatory. I hope they continue this trend so we have more flexibility during free agency and throughout the season. I would hate to see them repeat what got us there in the past (overpaying players). While there is no denying Jefferson is one of the best if not the best receivers in the league, I think it would be a mistake to keep him at the reported $32-$35 million/year contract. There are plenty of quality receivers available in the draft and free agency every year. While they may not be as talented as Jefferson, they would be less expensive and allow us to add quality players at other positions. Football is the ultimate team sport, and other than a franchise QB, most positions are replaceable. It's the collective and the culture that produces championships. The Vikings seem to have a great culture in place and moving on from Jefferson now (if his reported demands to stay are accurate) would allow us to increase our potential to improve as a team.


— Jeff from Soldotna, Alaska (age 62 and a lifetime Vikings fan)

The Vikings have remained encouraged and patient in working out a deal for the star receiver and have consistently said they envision him in the team's long-term plans.

I take that to mean they're aware of the potential impact toward other parts of the roster as they try to make it as complete and sustainable as possible.

While production can be offset to some extent, as evidenced by Minnesota winning five consecutive games without Jefferson last season, the way Jefferson plays the game and positively affects teammates is also important to the culture.

I would like to know what the DL would be looking like this year, but I do love the Levi Drake Rodriguez pick. I feel like this guy has potential. Hope he makes the team and becomes a rotational player. Skol.

— Christopher Velez

Rodriguez is a person everyone should be pulling for, regardless of whether they like the Vikings or not. His personality is infectious in a good way, and his enthusiasm and motor are requisite for what some consider a longshot to make it at the highest level.

He got to rookie minicamp at 4 a.m. for the Friday session and a little after that on Saturday, with McCarthy joining him that second day for the early arrival.

Maybe the best way I heard it said, was his ceiling is undetermined, but there's an absolute belief that Rodriguez will do everything within his power to reach that mark.

The Vikings are returning Harrison Phillips and Jonathan Bullard, who played 839 and 644 defensive snaps in 2023.

That's a lot at such a grueling position and something Minnesota likely wants to keep from being the case this season. The Vikings added veteran newcomers Jerry Tillery and Jonah Williams during free agency and last week signed James Lynch, who was looking ready for a solid fourth season in 2023 before suffering a torn ACL.

Minnesota is returning Jaquelin Roy for his second season, drafted Rodriguez and brought in undrafted free agents Tyler Manoa and Taki Taimani.

That group will all be better assessed by coaches during training camp and the preseason.

I was watching the film clip of the rookie minicamp practice, and something caught my eye that I had to repeat watching several times. It was the fingertip catch that Thayer Thomas made. The ball came in at the 10-foot ceiling mark. I had to watch this several times. Thomas was two feet off the ground and had at least a 30-inch arm reach above his head to grab the ball. What I thought was most impressive was his ability to turn in midair to be facing downfield before his feet touched the ground. He also kept eye contact on the ball until his feet touched down. Thayer Thomas could be a "gem in the rough" and possibly the team's third-string WR.


— Jerry B. in Ohio

Thomas, who was an undrafted free agent in 2023, was among the group of already rostered players who was permitted to participate in rookie minicamp.

He looked crisp and comfortable in his tasks, building off some nice days from a year ago.

The Vikings obviously have Jefferson and second-year pro Jordan Addison leading the group.

It will be fun to watch the remainder of players put their best feet forward.

Brandon Powell has been underestimated by many for most of his career. Jalen Nailor, Trishton Jackson and N'Keal Harry all had some nice moments at training camp last year. Lucky Jackson worked his way up to appearing in games late last season.

Minnesota also brought in veteran Trent Sherfield, Sr., during free agency.

Like Thomas, Malik Knowles (Injured Reserve last season) was able to participate in rookie minicamp.

Undrafted rookies Devron Harper, Ty James and Jeshaun Jones (why not another J.J. on the roster?) will also get plenty of looks in the coming weeks and at camp.