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5 Takeaways: O'Connell on Kareem Hunt Visit, RB Status, Injury Updates

EAGAN, Minn. – Running backs were a hot topic of conversation on a pleasant, sunny Saturday at Vikings Training Camp presented by Omni Viking Lakes Hotel.

Head Coach Kevin O'Connell spoke with Twin Cities media members following Saturday's practice session – done in helmets and shells, no pads – and confirmed the team had free agent running back Kareem Hunt out for a visit Friday.

O'Connell noted that Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has some familiarity with Hunt from their time together in Cleveland. Adofo-Mensah overlapped with Hunt from 2020-21 when he was the Browns Vice President of Football Operations.

View photos of players during 2023 Vikings Training Camp practice on Aug. 12 at the TCO Performance Center.

"It was – much like we've done in other scenarios – just trying to build a relationship, gain a little bit more information about that particular player and maybe a potential fit on our football team. But we're always just trying to explore every avenue," O'Connell said. "Not only to have the best training camp possible but looking forward to what certain position units look like.

"With Kene [Nwangwu] kind of working through what he's been working through, I think Ty [Chandler] – you can't say enough about taking advantage of his opportunity in Seattle. [Alexander Mattison] is having a great camp," O'Connell continued. "Alex is doing everything and more as far as being our lead back, and that will not change. And we like our two young guys we now have, with our new addition (Abram Smith), and [DeWayne McBride] is coming along.

"There's a learning curve and a process there that is a daily, minute-to-minute thing," O'Connell added. "We really feel good about the group, and like we do with all aspects of our team, we're always looking to explore whatever avenue we can to improve our team if we feel that's the way to go."

O'Connell had mentioned Thursday that the next step for Chandler – who showcased his versatility in the Vikings preseason opener – is consistency. He noted, however, that it's not a slight against the 25-year-old.

"He's just in his second year, and we're asking a lot of him. And he's getting reps with our first group where we're moving pretty quick, we're getting the full 'Brian Flores experience' on a daily basis, so there's a lot of moving parts to that," O'Connell explained. "And the consistency factor, it's one of those things that, that's how you ultimately prove that last phase. It's clear Ty has unbelievable physical talent with his speed, his vision and his burst, and his ability to make defenders miss – which he's proven time and time again in those competitive situations."

Here are four other takeaways from O'Connell's session with media.

1. Injury updates on Asamoah, Hockenson & others

O'Connell provided updates on players continuing to rehab injuries, including receiver Jalen Nailor. He acknowledged that Nailor has been out a little bit longer than expected but said he isn't concerned.

"It's been a little tricky, but I've been getting some really positive news as of late. Hopefully he's turning the corner," O'Connell said. "But it's one of those things, a lower-leg thing, where on initial diagnosis versus what it actually is, the most important thing is a guy like that who's a tough guy that does everything you ask him to do, he'd probably go back on the field the day after if we gave him that opportunity.

"But we want him to be healthy, we want him to feel good," O'Connell added. "He had such a good spring … and no doubt, whenever we can get him back out here, hopefully soon, he'll pick up right where he left off. He's been great – staying dialed in, walk-through reps, whatever he's been able to get, so the hope is, like any of our guys who aren't at full strength right now, at full capacity, that we can get them there when they're physically ready to go."

O'Connell expressed similar sentiments about tight end T.J. Hockenson, whom the Vikings hope to get back at some point during upcoming joint practices with the Titans and Cardinals.

"The hope is we can start working him back in repetition-wise, hopefully. I know T.J.'s been so engaged and dialed in," he said. "We'll work through that with [Executive Director of Player Health and Performance] Tyler [Williams] and [Head Athletic Trainer] Uriah [Myrie], because really, I mean it when I say, this is a pretty critical part of our preparation for the season, especially with our plan for some of our starters. I know T.J. will be out there when he's ready to go."

Nwangwu has still been sidelined, and O'Connell also complimented the way he's stayed keyed-in while recovering.

"He's doing everything we're asking of him," O'Connell said. "Just kind of working through the last bit of discomfort there and hoping we get him back on the grass sooner rather than later."

And though the Vikings initially planned to give Brian Asamoah II some snaps in Thursday's game at Seattle, they ended up resting the linebacker.

"Through travel and kind of the game-day feel – had it been a regular-season game, he's probably playing – but we just determined that we wanted to be smart with him," O'Connell said. "He was just going to get very similar to some of our other second-year guys like an Ed [Ingram], or some of those other guys. He was going to get minimal work, but he was still feeling some discomfort. Didn't want to aggravate it knowing how big this next week was, but he was definitely advocating to play all the way up until kickoff."

2. Don't sleep on Johnny Mundt

Vikings fans got their first looks at Josh Oliver in action Thursday, though he played just 11 snaps early on.

Most of the snaps for tight ends went to Nick Muse (33) and Johnny Mundt (18), the latter of whom has been an under-the-radar, reliable presence for Minnesota.

O'Connell was asked about Mundt and waxed poetically about the player he first had in Los Angeles before bringing him to the Vikings last year.

"I don't want to cause any major headlines, but I believe Johnny Mundt's the best third tight end in the National Football League. If there was a category for that, Johnny would certainly get that, in my opinion," O'Connell said. "So reliable, so trusted by not only myself but everybody in that huddle with him. The variety of jobs he can do on all three downs. Doesn't get enough credit for how well he runs – or blocks, for that matter. Then when you get a chance to pair him with Josh and some of those looks you probably saw a few times where it probably felt a little different at times last year, just because of Josh's ability in the run game.

"And then Johnny's now doing the complementary roles of that F position, that other tight end position – because that Y position can be a whole different ball game sometimes," O'Connell continued. "But what Johnny gives us is just so much versatility, depth, to pair him with a premier player like T.J., and then we brought Josh here for a reason. But we really see all those guys having a major role for our team and could not feel better about our tight ends group."

3. Seeing flashes from Thompson

NaJee Thompson has made the most of opportunities given to him, especially on the Vikings special teams unit.

The cornerback whom Minnesota signed as an undrafted rookie made an impressive tackle Thursday night against Seahawks punt returner Easop Winston, Jr., stopping Winston for zero gain.

O'Connell said Thompson has "flashed" throughout training camp and the team's first preseason outing.

"We knew his ability as a special teams player in that Matthew Slater-esque quality of speed, power, smarts, toughness, all those things," he said. "We are trying to figure out if a player like NaJee can fit in a really competitive room and ultimately how he shows his best effort, not only as a defensive back, but what he did the other night. I mean flash on special teams — you constantly see him around the football.

"We talk a lot about getting 11 purple hats to the ball in that phase. I thought our special teams unit … they were kind of able to sustain and steal us some yards here and there by execution. Ryan Wright hitting a good backed-up punt, and our ability, NaJee on that one to cover down and make that play was a big deal, whether it was a preseason game or not," O'Connell continued. "I'm always watching how our team is handling complementary phases of football. Whether it's our starters out there or not, that's our team collectively trying to manage that together, pick each other up when we need to."

4. Jordan Addison is as advertised

Vikings first-round draft pick Jordan Addison has impressed throughout training camp, and things didn't change under the lights Thursday.

O'Connell addressed Addison's grab that was ruled out of bounds but, upon further review, should have been deemed a catch as he dragged both toes on the turf.

"It's really special, and it's almost to the point where he's able to make those plays in real time, it happens so fast, I wish some of our eyeballs could maybe move as slow as his body movements can when things speed up that quickly," O'Connell said, smiling. "I would have loved to give him credit for that, but I can promise you I showed that play in the team meeting this morning and made sure to highlight it in slow motion so I could fully grasp what happened in the moment. But, yeah, he showed up like he has all training camp."

The head coach was asked if Addison is "as advertised" in his route-running abilities as well as knack for catching the ball. O'Connell highlighted the rookie's body control and "subtle nuances" while running routes.

"His attention to detail of how we're coaching, and he watches very closely when he's not taking reps. He watches J.J. (Justin Jefferson) and K.J. [Osborn] and some of our other guys and understanding what tools he can add because he's capable, and it's something that's exciting to see," O'Connell said. "Ultimately, Jordan is going to have a big impact on our team this year, and we don't want to by any stretch put pressure on him before he's ready to do certain things, but he's proving time and time again when we give him opportunities, he's not only making plays, but he's consistently demonstrating he can do his job and then some – right along with our other guys in our first group."