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Kevin O'Connell on Vikings QB Development, Receiver Depth

EAGAN, Minn. – Wednesday had a "last day of school" feeling at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.

The Vikings held their final Organized Team Activity practice of 2024 with the players remaining in Minnesota, being that Head Coach Kevin O'Connell had allowed veterans (with four-plus accrued seasons) to start their break following last week's mandatory minicamp.

As the team heads into summer before reporting back for Vikings Training Camp, O'Connell was asked during his media session if Sam Darnold is the No. 1 quarterback.

"Yeah, we haven't had to put out a depth chart or anything like that, but yeah, I would say Sam would be the guy I would look to, based upon the spring he's had and, really, where he's at in his career, in his quarterback journey," O'Connell said of Darnold, who has taken most of the first-team reps. "What he's been able to do coming in [as a free agent] and hit the ground running, and really kind of take advantage of a competitive situation.

"But at the same time, J.J. [McCarthy] has really improved," he added. "Nick Mullens has had a great spring, and Jaren [Hall] has also improved. I've told all four of those guys, "Look, depth charts are great, and it's great to understand where [you're] at today, but that'll really mean nothing about the future."

O'Connell also remembers all too well having to start four different quarterbacks last season, so having all passers as prepared as possible has been an even stronger emphasis this spring.

"We played all four of them, including one guy (Joshua Dobbs) who was not in our building throughout the offseason or training camp and we relied on him to come in and win a game," O'Connell said. "So I have total understanding of, we only control so much in this whole thing. And that's what I've challenged the quarterbacks to do: 'Control what you can, which is your preparation, how detailed can you be, and can you stack good periods of practice together, good days together? And before you know it you're looking up and it's not about the camp you've had – it's about your readiness to help the Minnesota Vikings win.'

"It's hopefully what all of our players are going to be reporting back here with a mindset of," he added.

Below are four additional takeaways from O'Connell's session with Twin Cities media members.

1. McCarthy making strides in footwork

O'Connell expanded later on McCarthy's largest areas of growth throughout his first NFL spring program.

"Definitely footwork," the head coach said. "We talk a lot about things like base, balance, body position when you're making certain throws, how you read. You're really reading, you know, obviously with your eyes, seeing coverages and everything, but you're really reading with your feet."

O'Connell acknowledged it's difficult this time of year to replicate an NFL pocket and high-pressure situation and said it's why he challenges McCarthy and the other QBs to "read with their feet, 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 a really efficient way, still be accurate, still be showing all the arm-talent traits that J.J.'s shown?' " O'Connell continued. "He's been able to get really comfortable with certain aspects of the footwork we have the guys take – and just the continued comfort and growth that happens every snap for a player like J.J."

2. Competition at WR3

There's no qualms about Minnesota's starting two receivers being Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison.

But when the time comes to release that first Vikings depth chart for 2024, who will fall in line at WR3?

View photos from the Vikings ninth OTA practice, which took place on June 12 at the TCO Performance Center.

O'Connell was asked about competition at that position and noted several specific names in the group.

"Obviously with Jets (Jefferson) being away for the early part of OTAs, Jordan Addison had as good of an offseason program as you could ask for," he said. "Really from the standpoint of getting a little stronger, getting a little more comfortable playing through contact and still playing with that great burst and transition he has – you saw some real growth there.

"I think that third receiver spot is going to be very competitive," O'Connell added. "There's a bunch of guys who had really good springs. I mean, Jalen Nailor had another really good offseason program. He had to miss a couple days of minicamp with the flu last week. Jalen has always been a guy that, when he's healthy on the field, he shows up every single opportunity he's gotten.

"Brandon Powell had a great spring, just like he's had since he's arrived – so versatile, can do so many jobs," O'Connell continued. "And then there's a lot of young guys that we've been really coaching up either on our practice squad a year ago, or maybe bringing in a guy [in free agency] like Trent Sherfield, Sr."

O'Connell went on to mention Trishton Jackson, who can "be called up and play all three spots" as well as special teams, Lucky Jackson and Thayer Thomas as other players who have been working hard to vie for a roster spot.

3. Injury update on Nick Muse

O'Connell provided an update on tight end Nick Muse, who was a non-participant in Minnesota's spring practices.

"Nick did just have a small kind of cleanup on his knee, something that was kind of lingering and developed to a point where we wanted to make sure he was able to have the best possible training camp he can," O'Connell said. "By getting that cleaned up when we did, he'll be a full participant to start training camp."

4. O'Connell pays respects at Officer Mitchell's service

On Tuesday, O'Connell attended the memorial service for fallen Minneapolis Police Officer Jamal Mitchell, who was tragically killed when responding to a shooting call on May 30.

Mitchell had regularly worked Vikings games at U.S. Bank Stadium, where he was posted outside the Delta Club near the Vikings bench.

"He was a part of our game day, you know, the outfit that works our games. He was right [there] where I come out to the field and was there for the better part of my two [seasons]," O'Connell said. "So I felt somewhat of a connection, whether it was a high-five or a fist bump here and there, walking in and out. To put the face with the name and know that we lost a special, special human being and a father and a guy that really lived his whole life … for others."

O'Connell called the shooting death of Mitchell an "unbelievable tragedy" and emphasized his desire to attend the service.

"I wanted to be there to support the law enforcement community in a really tough time," said O'Connell, whose father worked in the FBI. "The more and more I learned about Jamal and really what he was all about, and even his intentions on joining the Minneapolis Police Department – it was something that hit a chord for me, coming from law enforcement in my family.

"It was important for no other reason than just to be able to pay my respects," he later added. "[I was] really in awe of the law enforcement community coming together in a really tough time, which was something I had never had a chance to see before in person, and it really was something that I took away from it. Incredible tragedy that, you just hope it's not something that continues to happen as much as it has."