EAGAN, Minn. – A warm but wildly windy day at Vikings Training Camp presented by Omni Viking Lakes Hotel set the stage Wednesday for the first of two joint practices between the Vikings and Titans.
After going through team-specific position drills, Minnesota's offense met Tennessee's defense on one practice field, while Tennessee's offense and Minnesota's defense gathered on the adjacent grid.
Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell spoke with media members following Wednesday's practice, the first of two before the teams meet Saturday night at U.S. Bank Stadium for their second preseason game of 2023.
"I appreciate [Titans Head Coach Mike] Vrabel, their staff, their entire organization, for helping it be extremely organized, getting a lot of good work in," O'Connell said. "We worked some first and second down, kind of move-the-ball drives today. Then a good period of 7-on-7, a good period of special teams, kind of a punt emphasis, and then the 2-minute [situation]."
O'Connell noted a tipped ball interception to end a drive for the second-team offense led by Nick Mullens and an interception after Kirk Cousins "tried to squeeze one in" on the second play of the 2-minute drive by the first team.
"Into the wind, [but] no excuses. We've gotta find a way to move the ball and get points right there," O'Connell said. "That's why I love this work. Different looks than we get every day from our defense, the ability to compete up front.
"It got pushed right up to that line today," he added of a minor near-skirmish that cropped up near the end of practice. "But I thought it was really professional work across the board, and I'm really looking forward to tomorrow."
Here are four other takeaways from O'Connell's podium session.
1. Injury updates on Addison, O'Neill & more
The Vikings were without rookie receiver Jordan Addison, who O'Connell said went to the ground after making a catch in a 2-minute drill earlier in the week.
"Just had some very, very light symptoms that we deemed it worthy, just to be smart with him, and he's currently in the [concussion] protocol – working his way through that right now and expecting to have him as early as potentially Monday," O'Connell said.
He noted there was "no change" to the statuses of running back Kene Nwangwu, receiver Jalen Nailor, defensive lineman Jaquelin Roy or receiver Garett Maag.
"Brian [Asamoah II] is working his way back and hoping to maybe get him going here in the next week or so," O'Connell said.
Receiver Lucky Jackson returned to practice in a limited role, and defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard also returned.
"And then Brian O'Neill, just from a standpoint of where he's at right now, he'll get a ton of work in individual, 1-on-1s, but more than likely his next full competitive reps will be next week against Arizona," O'Connell said. "We almost had to hold Brian back today a little bit."
Tight end T.J. Hockenson also is continuing to work his way back from an ear infection that affected his equilibrium.
"It would be nice to get him out there and get some reps, but he really hasn't had that opportunity for team, 7-on-7, in a few days," O'Connell said. "We've got our eyes on getting him back out there, and I'll keep you guys posted on his status."
2. Good test from Titans defense
O'Connell emphasized the benefit of going against a talented Tennessee defense that ranked No. 1 against the run last season, allowing opponents an average of just 76.9 rushing yards per game.
"Strong defensive interior front. A really well-coached team. So you know, not only just from my previous relationship with [Vrabel] as a former teammate, but I just know the stuff he talks about. I know situational work. I know we're going to be able to put together some really good practices," O'Connell said. "Ultimately when you do this, it's not just, 'Hey, we're just gonna joint practice and worry about all that stuff later.'
"It goes into the first phone call I make, long before the preseason schedule comes out and trying to see what's a fit based on stadium availability for the preseason games, but the most important thing is the fit of getting good work in and being able to have a good gauge as a group of where we're at as a team and where we need to go as a team to be where we want to be Sept. 10," he added.
3. A look at Jefferson against an opposing secondary
Throughout the entirety of camp, Justin Jefferson has been going against a Vikings defense that is quite familiar with the star receiver.
Wednesday offered the opportunity to see how defenses may approach Jefferson this season, coming off yet another record-breaking campaign and with the departure of Adam Thielen in free agency.
O'Connell said there were a few things to note during the practice but that Thursday's session, in which the teams plan to work on red zone and third-down drills, will likely provide better insight.
"I think we can try some things that maybe allow him to have some post-snap decisions to make, based on the coverage. He's doing really well with some of those things," O'Connell said. "And then just different guys covering. Different techniques, different body types, length, shorter [guys], faster guys. We're moving around, and he's handling it, like he did a year ago, the same thing.
"The only thing I feel is, the ownership he has – he's not one of those guys I worry about, as far as calling things off the top of the dome and you're worried about guys lining up," O'Connell continued. "He knows a lot of times when I'm doing those things, it's for good reason: 1-on-1 work, 7-on-7, team – where we're in all three, first, second and third downs – and then it'll be great to see him in the red zone. Because really, that's truly the dynamic part of the field. Third downs and red zone are where we tend to see some things we haven't seen before in regard to how people want to defend him."
4. Benefit for coaches
As much as joint practices can help players, they also provide unique challenges for both teams' coaches.
O'Connell acknowledged he and his coaching staff "put things together so our players have a menu of plays," but he also reserves the right to make changes if needed.
"As I tell the guys, 'In the moment, do not hold me to this sheet of paper because I might decide to call something out of a different formation,' " O'Connell said. "Sometimes I'm doing it to see if guys are memorizing the lists, and sometimes I'm doing it because truly, in the moment I feel like there might be a better way based upon how I'm seeing the coverage or the defense.
"So in a lot of ways, that's reps for me, as well," he continued. "I try to find the perfect balance of not taxing our guys by making stuff up on the fly, but at the same time, they know that we ask them to learn concepts so where you are in the formation, you could be at any one of five spots as an eligible [receiver], and I need you to know them all."