EAGAN, Minn. – Sunshine and temps in the 70s greeted Vikings rookies Friday at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
A total of 42 players, including Minnesota's 10-member draft class, college free agents, select returnees and veterans and rookies who were invited on a tryout basis hit the field for about an hour-and-a-half in helmets, practice jerseys and shorts. No pads were required for a session that included stretching, position drills, walk-through installations, 7-on-7 passing drills and some work for special teams coverage units.
New Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell referred to it as a "pseudo passing camp" but said there were still lessons to learn about the players.
"We tried to keep the numbers [of invited players] a little bit lower than to have the traditional 70, 80 guys when we'd have some team drills and the ball's on the ground a bunch, players are on the ground a bunch," O'Connell said. "What we're doing is those competitive 7-on-7s and kind of turning it into a pseudo passing camp. Just to make sure we can get quality reps, we can install some things, and then try to really evaluate guys on both sides of the ball when the ball's in the air.
"Those big guys, we'll try to incorporate something tomorrow within the rules where we can get those guys at least lining up across from one another," O'Connell said. "Really what we're trying to do is just acclimate these guys overall — where to go in the meetings, where to go in the building, where to eat lunch. That's the one good thing about having them in this week, they stay here through the weekend, we'll take 'em to the Twins game tomorrow night, get 'em acclimated to the local sports scene here, and then they'll be ready to roll Monday morning to be right back in with the veterans."
View photos of Vikings players at practice during rookie minicamp on May 13.
Here are three observations from Friday's rookie minicamp practice presented by Minnesota Eye Consultants, the Proud Ophthalmology Partner of the Minnesota Vikings:
1. O'Connell made the rounds
O'Connell, a former QB, worked his way up the coaching ranks on the offensive side of the ball, but he made the rounds to spend time with different positions as he continues his transition from a position coach/offensive coordinator.
It made things a little different for O'Connell, but it's clear he trusts the coaches he either directly hired or chose to retain since he can't be everywhere.
"It would be really easy for me to stand over there with the quarterbacks or even the offense for the whole practice, but that's why you feel so good about the coaches you hire, because they're completely on top of everything," O'Connell said. "It is awkward when that individual period starts and you're just kind of cruising, and you're so used to having an exact place to go and an exact drill to run.
"Now you're just in observation mode, which I guess is a good thing, but it lets me spend a ton of time on the other side," he continued. "I know what those offensive individual drills look like, so I can get over there and watch [Defensive Coordinator] Ed [Donatell] and [defensive backs coach] Daronte [Jones] and those guys with the DBs and [linebackers coach Greg] Manusky. Obviously [defensive line coach Chris] Rumph with the linebackers and [outside linebackers/pass rush specialist coach] Mike Smith with the big guys up front. It allows me to see our team kind of organically coming together in a way that, quite frankly, I haven't been able to do as a coordinator or position coach. It's something I'll get more comfortable with as the time goes on."
2. On the QBs
The Vikings brought in veteran Brett Hundley and undrafted rookie Patrick O'Brien, who played collegiately at Washington, for rookie minicamp.
O'Connell said Hundley's experience in the NFL "definitely benefits" practice.
"And I thought Pat did a nice job today too, just from a standpoint of the quarterback position on weekends like this, a lot of times, from just being able to call the play in the huddle, to go execute the cadence, and then obviously make good decisions to put the ball in play and throw completions," O'Connell said. "I mean in my opinion, that position can kind of run the weekend and be either a big reason why it has a lot of success or be one of the sole reasons why it doesn't, so those guys deserve a lot of credit, both Brett and Pat today.
"As far as Brett goes, I spent a lot of time on him coming out of the draft [in 2015], I've always been intrigued by him as a quarterback in this league," O'Connell added. "He's kind of bounced around, been in some spots, been coached up well, you can tell in the meeting room. I thought [quarterbacks coach] Chris O'Hara did a great job getting those guys ready to go today, but ultimately we're just trying to see if we can make our team better in any way, shape or form, any of the positions out here. That's why the tryout guys are here. They're here for a reason, that's what I told them, 'Compete, and we'll see how everything shakes out.' "
3. Connecting with Kwesi Adofo-Mensah
Just two weeks ago, new Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was on the phone letting the drafted players they'd have an opportunity to chase their NFL dreams with the Vikings.
After Friday's practice, Adofo-Mensah was handing out hugs as players left the field.
"That's everything. It's, like, my first time ever meeting him," said linebacker Brian Asamoah, who was selected in the third round and shares Ghanaian heritage with Adofo-Mensah. "We were talking in my language a little bit, and it was just cool because you don't really see this ever happening [with] a general manager … being able to speak in a different language with him and just show my appreciation to him for even choosing me.
"I mean, the main thing he was talking about was just, 'Take advantage of the opportunity. We know what we got in you. Just do what you do best and just play football.' It's fun, and I'm happy that I'm here," Asamoah said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – to play for the GM but also to play football here at this next level. It was pretty cool."
Cornerback Andrew Booth, Jr., who did not participate on the field because the Vikings are easing him back from a surgery, also appreciated the support.
"It's beautiful because a lot of teams passed up on me," said Booth, who was selected with the 42nd pick. "They didn't believe [in me] with, you know, the whole injury thing, so I went over and embraced with him and told him, 'Thank you for taking a chance and allowing me to come here.' "