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Monday Morning Mailbag: Resting Starters & Evaluating Backup QBs

Do you have a comment or question? Send it to the Mailbag! Every Monday we'll post several comments and/or questions as part of the Monday Morning Mailbag. Although we can't post every comment or question, we will reply to every question submitted.

Click here to submit a comment or question to the Mailbag. Remember to include your name and town on the email. If Twitter is your jam, you can send a question to me that way as well.

I understand the need to keep everyone healthy during the preseason but having our starters out there for one or two series is worth the risk in my opinion. Getting [Kirk] Cousins out there with the rest of the starting skills players gives more reps. More reps allows them to get in a rhythm. Tom Brady has played A LOT of preseason games in his career. Any wonder why he's been so good for so long? A lot of reps. Cousins has been durable throughout his career, he can handle it. More time and more reps equals better results Coach! Being overly cautious never won a Super Bowl. I'm not impressed with what I've seen so far this preseason.

— J.B. Brunet

J.B.'s email came in on the heels of Minnesota's preseason contest against San Francisco. The Vikings announced before the game a list of 27 who were not expected to play against the 49ers.

Head Coach Kevin O'Connell explained that he was pleased with the amount and quality of work the starters on offense and defense had gotten in against their counterparts from the Bay Area.

"Yeah, 80-plus plays, a little over 48 hours ago for our 1s against another team's 1s. I knew long ago we would kind of handle this week like this," O'Connell said after the game. "Our game reps took place at our facility this week. And then, that competitive environment that we were able to bring in, it was phenomenal to bring a team like the Niners in for those reps.

"I feel like our team improved. Those starters got a lot of great competitive work," O'Connell added. "I thought Kirk [Cousins] had a really good week of practice against a really good defense, a really good front that can consistently get pressure."

J.B. is correct that Tom Brady has played a significant number of reps in many preseasons, attempting at least 40 passes in 11 different years, but that has trended down sharp recently. His final preseason in New England, he attempted 12 passes. His first in Tampa Bay? Sixteen passes.

Fast-forward from a player that O'Connell was once in training camp with as a Patriot to last season when O'Connell was the Rams offensive coordinator. Matthew Stafford did not appear in the 2021 preseason, despite being in a new system and with a new team.

O'Connell has incorporated similar philosophy to Rams Head Coach Sean McVay as he's really tried to keep the focus on Week 1 against a challenging foe.

Cousins has not faced a sack or been hit this offseason, but he did get to feel the rush from a good front for two days. I asked O'Connell last week about the biggest benefit to quarterbacks in joint practices. Here's what he said:

"Different coverage structures, being able to see different ways of defending some of the core concepts. We're not doing a lot of game-planning and scheming, but it allows these guys to play in rhythm and obviously with a pass rush like the Niners have — I've experienced it five times over the last two years playing against them — they change the way you have to play the position. The discipline of rhythms and reads and understanding when you can try to hold it a little more and when you can't. They can change a game with their pass rush, especially with Nick [Bosa] on the edge."

Lastly, I definitely would not trade the 11 snaps Irv Smith, Jr., played at Kansas City in last year's third preseason game for him having to miss the entire season with a torn meniscus.

Injuries are unfortunately part of football and other sports. Resting starters in preseason games doesn't guarantee prevention in the regular season, but the Vikings are being attentive and mindful with sports science and preventing overuse under new Executive Director of Player Performance Tyler Williams, who spent the past 15 seasons with the Rams.

Editor's Note: The performances of Vikings backup quarterbacks Sean Mannion and Kellen Mond have been hot topics, burning up the inbox. Because of a unique week with Minnesota playing Sunday and Saturday, there were some emails sent in reaction to the Vikings-Raiders game that did not have a chance for publication before Saturday's contest against San Francisco. While we're not including each email sent regarding Mannion and/or Mond, we will group several and relay that public sentiment generally has expressed disappointment to consternation. I personally think the preseason is not the best time for dismay. It ideally offers opportunities to answer important questions, including what the Vikings do behind Cousins.

I hope the team will give serious thought about Kellen for the QB2 spot. He did have to find his footing a little bit, still he did quite well [against Las Vegas].

— Sandy Hawkins (sent between Minnesota's first and second preseason games)

I am not a sports professional nor a coach, just a fan of the game. From the outside looking in, I do not see either of these backups with an ability to carry this team in the event Cousins goes down. Nothing personal, mind you, I just don't see it. [Sean] Mannion started a game had last year, and we had zero offense that game — just watched the defense get gassed. That's what I saw [Saturday] night. Hope the coaches know more than I do.

— Franklin Doherty (sent after Minnesota's game against San Francisco)

As a Vikings fan, I cringe every time I read "You know what you get with Sean Mannion!" That is nowhere near acceptable. If the Vikings want to be a playoff team, they need to find and have quality depth at every position, especially quarterback. In all honesty, Sean Mannion doesn't cut it.

I also thought it was premature to roll out the red carpet for Kellen Mond. He is still a rookie and learning a new system. He is going to have his ups and downs.

I am wondering why the Vikings didn't make an offer for Baker Mayfield? The Browns gave him up for virtually nothing. He would have solved our quarterback dilemma.

— Nick in Northglenn

Cousins has been durable, but that only lasts so long. Mannion is so predictable and slow. By now, as a veteran backup, he should be better. Mond is a deer in the headlights. He can be mobile, and he can produce the occasional good throw. [Raiders backup QB Nick] Mullens looked better than both of them. Should we think about an upgrade at No. 2?

— Mark Carter in Illinois

Do you think we'll bring in another QB?

— Demarous Davis

Oh, the life of a backup quarterback! During a season, he can be the most popular person in a city. During a preseason? Seen as carrying the franchise's hopes and dreams. OK, maybe that's a bit dramatic, but in a Vikings camp with few other major position battles, there has been quite a bit of handwringing in between keystrokes from fans.

This assortment of emails encompasses the emotions of Vikings fans after seeing Mannion start and struggle in Las Vegas, where Mond rallied after a pass on fourth down, to seeing Mond start and finish with a worse night against the Niners.

It's worth noting, however, there were some key drops that could have changed the box scores for each QB against San Francisco.

A slight tip of the hat is due toward the 49ers for being able to play the second half of the preseason game the way they want to in the regular season: winning with a physical and methodical approach that controls the clock and keeps opposing offenses from the field.

I'm not going to speculate on any of the factors that have resulted in Mayfield going from Cleveland to Carolina for what was reported to be just one conditional pick (fourth or fifth, based on Mayfield's playing time). I do remember him playing through an injury last season against the Vikings and finishing 15-of-33 passing for 155 yards and a rating of 59.5.

Cousins does extensive work behind the scenes to be available each week. If he's able to continue that, then all of the debate over backups might be moot.

I don't think people went into the 2017 regular season feeling completely confident Case Keenum was going to be able to do what he did when pressed into action for Sam Bradford.

As for the related questions from Mark and Demarous, I remember covering Matt Hasselbeck in Tennessee. Hasselbeck was signed in 2011, the same year the Titans drafted Jake Locker in the first round.

Tennessee rolled with Hasselbeck that first year and went 9-7, narrowly missing the playoffs. When the Titans opened the competition the following season, Hasselbeck calmly explained he realized he was competing not just with Locker but with anyone else in the world the scouting department could find who could play better.

O'Connell was asked Saturday night about the possibility of bringing in a backup from another roster. He said:

"Ultimately, you would love to have come out of tonight feeling like, 'Shoot, they both moved the team and scored a lot of points, and we've got a heck of a hard discussion and conversation ahead as a staff and as an organization.' Although we didn't do that, I still think there's some real teachable moments, and then some real moments where we're able to evaluate and really look at where we are at that position, as we re-stack everything to go into this week, to see how we need to allow those guys to compete."

Editor's Update: _The Vikings announced Monday after the initial publication of this Mailbag that they haveacquired QB Nick Mullensfrom Las Vegas for a conditional 2024 pick. Here are5 Things to Know about Mullens._

Will the offense be prepared for the regular season?

Thank you.

— Dave White

Is what we're seeing in the preseason a very simple version of the Vikings' actual offense? I'm underwhelmed so far and hoping for more from our first offensive head coach in a while!

— Max Olsen

Some have worried that not playing the starters in the preseason will leave Minnesota unready to face Green Bay in Week 1, but it is also worth pointing out that the Vikings are not implementing much of their offense at all.

Asked about the game plan before facing the Raiders, Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips simply said, "It will be very basic, so don't evaluate us off this one."

Having had the benefit of seeing every training camp practice, including some really good highlights against San Francisco last Wednesday and Thursday, I'd think the surface hasn't been scratched in preseason games.

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 14, 2023.

The stat that I like the least so far is Minnesota's struggles on third downs (1-for-7 at Las Vegas and 2-for-11). Are those showings because the biggest playmakers haven't played, because the offense has been "very basic," or because Minnesota isn't scheming opponents? Perhaps all of the above.

How has D.J. Wonnum been? Seemed really promising last year. What will his role be in this new defensive scheme?

— Coltin Cox

Wonnum led the Vikings with 8.0 sacks in 2021, thanks in part to monster games against the Bears in which he totaled 5.0 of those. His 11 sacks so far are actually the most of any NFL player selected in 2020.

Wonnum has been working with the second unit as an outside linebacker, usually with Pat Jones II. That duo started in place of Danielle Hunter and Za'Darius Smith in each preseason game but played sparingly.

Wonnum and Jones also have logged reps against Minnesota's first-team when reducing practice reps for Hunter and Smith.

It seems like Wonnum is positioned to contribute in that rotational role as an edge defender, and there might be a situation where he'd join Hunter and Smith in a special rush package.

View Polaroid photos of players showcasing vintage Vikings gear from throughout the years.

If Ed Ingram is solid to start, why not have Davis try center?

— Al Squires

Ingram has been battling with Jesse Davis for the starting right guard spot. Wyatt Davis has been farther down the depth chart.

Ingram started against San Francisco and has seen his reps with the first-team increase recently.

The Vikings have said they have liked the way Garrett Bradbury has taken command of the offense and appreciate his ability to communicate. He gets some tough matchups on the interior, but maybe Minnesota's ability to solidify each side of the pivot (Ezra Cleveland has had a strong camp at left guard) will help Bradbury reach another level. He's still so great at getting ahead of running backs on screens, by the way.

Austin Schlottmann started in place of Bradbury and earned high marks from analytics site Pro Football Focus.

Unable to watch or listen to the [Vikings-Raiders] game. Just looked at the stats. The defensive positives are the pressures, hits and sacks. Negatives are the rushing yards at 140. Cause(s)? Also, the obvious big stinker? The PENALTIES!!!!! Just a preseason game one quirks, I hope.


— Noel Hong

Overall, I'm pleased with the team. But, in my untrained eye, it looked like they had a hard time stopping the run in the fourth quarter [against the Raiders].

Should we be concerned?

— Shirley Bowden

The Vikings were glad to see the style of running game the Raiders implement in a preseason game.

Las Vegas did finish the game with 140 rushing yards, but that was on 39 carries, so their average was 3.6.

That rushing output included a 4-yard touchdown run by QB Jarrett Stidham that likely offered a teachable moment on tape for Minnesota's defenders.

Las Vegas possessed the football for 34 minutes, including more than 12 in the third quarter. San Francisco held the ball for more than 13 minutes of the third quarter.

I think the drive that is particularly pesky in the fourth quarter was the one to close out the final 3:44 and keep Minnesota from having a chance at a comeback.

The Raiders gained 8 on a second-and-7 and benefited with an extra 3 yards after recovering a fumble to set up a third-and-2. Las Vegas gained 4 on the play.

It appeared multiple penalties that hit the Vikings in their first game had been cleaned up against the 49ers. Minnesota went from eight penalties for 71 yards in Las Vegas to two for 13 yards against San Francisco.