INDIANAPOLIS — Kevin O'Connell stepped into the media spotlight Wednesday afternoon.
The new Vikings head coach held his podium session at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, chatting with reporters for roughly 15 minutes.
The biggest topic of conversation with O'Connell? Offense, of course.
The 36-year-old already said he plans on calling Minnesota's offensive plays as the head coach. On Wednesday, he was asked about what he wants the Vikings offensive philosophy to look like.
O'Connell lit up and gave a lengthy answer that included the phrase "the illusion of complexity," a point O'Connell touched upon when he was hired.
That mindset essentially means that while the Vikings offense might look confusing at times with shifts, motions and alignments, the offense is simply trying to misdirect the defense while focusing on basic principles.
He later expanded on what he wants to see from the 2022 version of the Vikings offense.
"It's important that we play with great ball security. It's important that we're able to establish the run with physicality, toughness, kind of set the tone for everything that we want to do as an offense," O'Connell said. "And then, I think you've got to be great situationally. That's not just 2-minute end of game. That's third-down, that's red zone. That's really, really important because converting in those situations normally leads to opportunities to score points or if you're down in the red zone, to actually score points.
"And when you do that, you can make it really hard on an opponent if you're consistently good in those situations. I think just using all of the tools that you have to attack a defense. Tempo variations. Like I said, personnel formations are all one thing. Cadence," O'Connell continued. "Just all of the things that I've learned over the course of being at a lot of great spots, around a lot of great coaches and teachers of this game, that you can now pull together and form an offense that fits our people, our players, to allow them to take off, ascend, and really hopefully get better every single week."
View photos at Head Coach Kevin O'Connell at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
O'Connell also noted that he sees many similarities between Minnesota's offense and the one he just came from in Los Angeles that helped the Rams win Super Bowl LVI.
But he also wants to put his own stamp on Minnesota's offense, which could include more sets with multiple tight ends and the use of fullback C.J. Ham.
"We were predominantly an 11-personnel team [in Los Angeles] – that would be with three wide receivers on the field with a [running] back and a tight end," O'Connell said. "I hope to be more multiple, just based on the fact that we have the personnel to do that – from the tight ends, to C.J.
"The different variations to how you can attack people in the run game just forces them to have to defend a lot more offense that we can then marry with play-pass keepers, drop-back pass screens, to try to generate explosives. That's really what we'll do," O'Connell added. "There will be some things that will look new, there will be some things that will carry over based on comfort levels for the players, because that's important, too, and the idea is just to build the best possible version of our offense. Not only to help our players and the guys who are going to be out there but help our entire football team to play complementary football in all three phases. It all works together. I'm really excited to put that together."
Here are four more takeaways from O'Connell's combine press conference:
1. A look at the offensive line
While O'Connell's overall scheme and approach was a key talking point, the head coach was also specifically asked about the Vikings offensive line.
While he said he wanted to keep a broader view on the roster (likely since O'Connell was hired just two weeks ago), he did offer an evaluation of what Minnesota currently has up front.
O'Connell began by saying he's liked the film he's seen of tackles Brian O'Neill and Christian Darrisaw before moving to the interior.
"You know, as I really started to study the roster – the offensive line jumped out at me. The skill sets of both of our guys on the edge. The tackle position is very strong," O'Connell said. "I think the guard position, there's a lot of depth there, there's a lot to like. And then, in my mind, obviously, Garrett Bradbury in the middle is what you look for from a core center from a standpoint of communicating.
"We do a lot of things. We ask our center to do a lot of things. I know Mason Cole did a great job last year as well. So, you look at the tape and you just study the tape. There's a lot to like there. There's a lot to build off of," O'Connell added. "A lot of people want to talk about building an offense for the quarterback position or maybe the skill players, but you do it for the offensive linemen as well and all those guys across the board. The depth that we have is exciting because you can do a lot of different things with that group, and I cannot wait to get started with those guys."
The conversation then circled back to Bradbury, a 2019 first-round pick who has made 45 career starts in Purple but endured an up-and-down 2021 season.
"I see a guy [with] really, really good movement skills," O'Connell said. "Obviously, a guy that was drafted really high for a reason. I can remember evaluating him through the process.
"[He] did a lot of really good things in college, and it's just been a matter of finding the right fit for him and the right system, and what are you asking him to do snap in and snap out that gives him the best possible chance for success," O'Connell added. "I'm really excited about not only Garrett, but the rest of our guys up front."
View photos of current Vikings players during their time at the NFL Scouting Combine from previous years.
2. Excitement for Phillips as OC
O'Connell spent the past two seasons as the Rams offensive coordinator before landing in Minnesota.
His old role was filled Wednesday when Los Angeles announced the hiring of Liam Coen, who was on the Rams staff with O'Connell in 2020.
And while O'Connell said he believes Coen will do a great job under Sean McVay, he also took the time to express his excitement to bring in Wes Phillips, who was recently hired as the Vikings OC.
"I think his experience in the system will be key and then having the ability to connect and be right there for Sean every step of the way," O'Connell said of Coen. "It's something that I have looked for here having been in that role. Getting a guy like Wes Phillips as our offensive coordinator was huge for me.
"Because that role, when you are the head coach you are the play caller, it's very, very important to have someone who is the extension of you, that can answer a lot of questions in your absence and be the guy leading from the front with that unit when the head coach can't be around if he gets pulled in different directions," O'Connell added. "I know Sean is real excited about having Liam and I'm really, really excited about having Wes Phillips here as well."
Phillips was the Rams tight ends coach from 2019-21, adding the role of passing game coordinator to his title this past season.
3. Donatell's early impact
While the majority of O'Connell's podium session naturally centered around offense, he did get asked about Minnesota's defense, too.
O'Connell heaped credit on Vikings Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell, who is new to Minnesota but spent the past three seasons as Denver's DC.
"I'm really excited to have Ed — the scheme, the person, the teacher. I talked a lot about that through the whole process of really getting started," O'Connell said. "Through these first 10-12 days, whatever it's been, connecting with Ed has been awesome because he has been every bit of what I've hoped from a standpoint of a teacher and that schematical advantage we hope to have.
"Then you meet the person and get in the room with the person and you really start to connect with an incredible human being. I think our defensive players will love Ed," O'Connell added. "He's absolutely submerged in learning our roster right now, learning what we have, how these positions fit with a slight adjustment to the scheme."
And speaking of scheme, O'Connell once again downplayed the notion that the Vikings will make a drastic shift from a 4-3 system to a 3-4 alignment.
"I think sometimes when you're calling things from a standpoint of 3-4 to 4-3 that can be a little overblown with how much nickel defense you actually have to play in this league," O'Connell said. "But I know Ed is excited about a lot of our players we have here returning and the idea of adding some pieces that may fit exactly how we want to play."
4. Teaming with Kwesi
O'Connell was at the podium a day after Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah made his combine debut with media members.
Adofo-Mensah had plenty of praise for the new head coach, and O'Connell reciprocated the love when it was his turn.
O'Connell said being around Adofo-Mensah and building an early bond "confirmed everything I had hoped."
He also expanded on what their relationship has been like in the early stages.
"When I learned he had become the general manager of the Minnesota Vikings and I still had an opportunity to become the head coach, he was a huge reason I wanted to be a part of this," O'Connell said. "I knew our shared vision was a big reason why, but actually getting to experience that on a minute-to-minute basis sharing the halls with him, getting our staffs together and really starting to build that collaboration has been really special early on.
"I think our new coaches have felt it," O'Connell added. "I think his staff has obviously felt it, and it's something we'll continue to do as we build the 2022 version of the Minnesota Vikings through the draft, free agency and all of the great aspects of getting to put a football team together."