EAGAN, Minn. — The joint practices between the Vikings and Titans were months in the making.
Dave Campbell of The Associated Press noted that Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell called Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel before the preseason schedule was even announced looking for an "ideal fit" for joint practices.
Campbell wrote O'Connell was interested in setting up sessions with "a hard-nosed opponent with a stout front seven to test his team."
Vrabel sought a challenge for his young defensive backs against the NFL's reigning receiving leader, Justin Jefferson, after a season in which the Titans allowed the most passing yards in the league.
Interconference joint practice sessions were the right fit for these two former teammates from 2008 with the New England Patriots.
So the sessions Wednesday and Thursday were actually 15 years in the making, tracing back to O'Connell's rookie season as a third-round pick by the Patriots. What type of impression did O'Connell make on Vrabel, who was in his eighth season with New England and 12th of 14 in the NFL?
"Conscientious, obviously. A smart, smart player," Vrabel said. "I'm just happy for his success and the teammates that I've had that have gone on to success in coaching or broadcasting or anything off the field they're doing, and Kevin is another example of that."
Vrabel spoke to reporters before the two-hour session on a sun-soaked and wind-swept Wednesday at Vikings headquarters, and there's a reason he offered that from a defensive back's perspective. The Titans badly need a spike in performance from their secondary this season.
Sean Murphy-Bunting was signed as a free agent to take one cornerback spot opposite fourth-year player Kristian Fulton and flanking the formidable safety duo of two-time All-Pro Kevin Byard and Minnesota native Amani Hooker. Roger McCreary, the team's second-round draft pick in 2022, will be pushing for cornerback playing time too. He had an interception of Kirk Cousins during a two-minute drill.
"Trying to squeeze one in there into the wind," O'Connell said. "No excuses. We have to find a way to move the ball and get points right there, but that's why I love this work."
Spotlighting Return to Minnesota by 2 Titans
The Vikings and Titans are on to their second joint practice after a windy Day 1.
The Star Tribune spotlighted two Titans players with deep ties to Minnesota. Titans safety Amani Hooker and linebacker Jack Gibbens had family and friends at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center on Wednesday.
Hooker, a former Park Center star and Gibbens, a former Minnesota Gophers linebacker, each spent time on the practice field with loved ones following practice.
The Star Tribune's Mark Craig highlighted the experience:
Amani Hooker, the Minneapolis native and Park Center graduate who still carries a grudge against the Gophers for the disinterest that sent him on to success at Iowa, lined up at safety as a fifth-year veteran with 21 of his 24 starts coming the last two years, including nine in his injury-shortened 2022 season.
"Every time I come here, it's a home field," Hooker said moments before being mobbed by family and friends coming off the field.
Following Hooker off the field was big inside linebacker Jack Gibbens, who will always love the Gophers for giving the Bulverde, Texas, longshot a chance to play "big-time football" as a transfer from Abilene Christian in 2021.
"That was the opportunity that gave me the chance to make it with the Titans," said Gibbens, who as an undrafted rookie last season played five games with starts in the final two games. "I have a long way to go to win the job, but it definitely feels different than last year, more comfortable, so we'll see."
Click here to read the Star Tribune's full story.
Cousins on Cover of Sports Spectrum magazine
Cousins is featured on the cover of the fall edition of Sports Spectrum magazine.
The quarterly magazine features "faith-focused stories" that illustrate how faith in God plays a role in the lives of top athletes.
Also mentioned on the cover are 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy and former NFL tight end Benjamin Watson.