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O'Connell: Joshua Dobbs to Start for Vikings at Raiders

EAGAN, Minn. – Head Coach Kevin O'Connell on Wednesday announced Joshua Dobbs will be the starting quarterback in Minnesota's Week 14 game against the Raiders in Las Vegas.

O'Connell and his staff spent their Week 13 bye evaluating the offense and contemplating what to do at the quarterback position.

Ultimately, the group decided on Dobbs, who joined Minnesota after a trade with Arizona on Oct. 31, and has played in the four games since, including the past three starts.

Minnesota will aim to blend the offense it's been building since O'Connell's hire in 2022 with approaches to maximize Dobbs' strengths.

"[We] feel great about our bye week process [and the] two layers to it. Evaluating where Josh has been as far as immediately providing a spark and helping us win two football games. And then transitioning to some tough outcomes where there's all kinds of things that we can do better, we can coach better," O'Connell said. "Josh has continued comfort in our offense and how we play but also our offense and our staff's ability to evolve and help Josh thrive is our plan, and we're very confident in him."

Dobbs was electric in his first two games with Minnesota. He led a game-winning drive against Atlanta and helped generate 27 points in a home victory versus the Saints. Dobbs accounted for 536 yards (passing and rushing) and four total touchdowns.

The Vikings, however, have scored just 33 points in the past 10 quarters with Dobbs. Despite seven combined turnovers in losses to the Broncos (two fumbles lost and an interception) and Bears (four interceptions), there is reason for optimism. The Vikings still rank 12th in point differential and are in top half of the league in most efficiency statistics (like DOVA and EPA).

It's been a hectic 12 weeks for both the Vikings and, Dobbs individually. Dobbs opened training camp with the Browns, started eight games for the Cardinals and has been in Minnesota since the start of Week 9. Dobbs said he used the bye week to both recharge and reflect.

"It's good to go back over my tape from my first four weeks here and the rest of the tape from the beginning of the season, see the areas I've done well at, see how I can improve and, ultimately, see how I can give us the best chance to go out and win on Sunday."

Still just entering his fourth full week with the Vikings, Dobbs entrenches himself in O'Connell's system more each day. He said the bye week allowed time for him, O'Connell and quarterbacks coach Chris O'Hara to diagnose what parts of the offense are favorable.

The group purposefully rewatched tape with an open line of communication. Dobbs said O'Connell's style made it easier to share which items and concepts that he was slightly uncomfortable with. Difficult conversations tend to be the most productive.

Star receiver Justin Jefferson is set to return this week, which should help Dobbs and the entire offense find more consistency.

"J.J. being out there, he's efficient and a dynamic playmaker, so that changes having him in the lineup. But for me, I still go through my same process and trust the plans and trust the game plan knowing that opportunities are there for him to get the ball, and he'll go out and make a play," Dobbs said. "It's great to have J.J. back, and we're getting up to speed as quickly as possible so that we can hit the ground running on Sunday."

Though Sunday will be Jefferson's first time catching passes from Dobbs in live action, the two have connected in practice over the past few weeks while Jefferson was a limited participant. Minnesota went 5-2 without the Pro Bowl receiver due to a Week 5 hamstring injury that kept Jefferson out seven weeks.

O'Connell acknowledged how impressive Dobbs has played since joining the Vikings. There is obvious intrigue for how quickly Dobbs can build chemistry with Jefferson in games.

Dobbs was forced into action just five days later after Jaren Hall suffered a concussion on his first drive during his Week 8 start at Atlanta.

Deciding on a starter entailed O'Connell reviewing every snap all three quarterbacks have played with the Vikings. O'Connell said Dobbs deserves the right to feel believed in by the coaching staff and locker room.

"I think it's important that Joshua understands that I have that belief in him," O'Connell said. "I believe that Josh deserves the right to feel that belief in myself. I know he feels it from his teammates, and that came out in that study, some real clear things that I think we can help him with fundamentally, technique wise. Based upon what I saw from him on Monday after some dialogue and some discussion, we go out to the grass and he's immediately applying those things. So my hope is we can get enough of that work in this week that he'll be able to apply it in game scenarios this Sunday."

Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson, who has caught 27 passes from Dobbs for 308 yards and two scores said the team trusts Dobbs.

"We're excited that he's in the huddle running us. We trust all our quarterbacks, but obviously he gives us a dynamic to be able to do some stuff," Hockenson said. "We're just excited to have him out there. Obviously from week to week there's some ebbs and flows. That's just life in the NFL, but he hasn't changed as a player in any sense. We're all excited to have him back out there and really just show what we can do."

O'Connell considered Nick Mullens, who has returned from Injured Reserve but hasn't played since the preseason, and rookie Jaren Hall, who started at Atlanta but left the game early with a concussion.

Mullens has played in 19 career games and has 16 starts. His 4,405 passing yards in his first 16 starts is the second-most by any quarterback in NFL history in that span, trailing only Patrick Mahomes.

O'Connell said Mullens will be the team's No. 2 quarterback on Sunday while Hall's long-term development remains "of the utmost importance."

"We'll prepare Nick, like we always do," O'Connell said. "[He's] one of the most professional guys I've been around. Always ready to roll. And our entire team knows that they can count on him when called upon him."