A lot of notes could be taken from the Vikings first preseason game.
Minnesota fell 24-13 to Seattle on the road, but multiple positives could be gleaned from the contest in which Jordan Addison and Ivan Pace, Jr., started in their NFL debuts.
Young players also experienced growing pains throughout the game, and Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell will focus on teaching moments.
O'Connell spoke to media members following the game that wrapped up just after midnight (CT) and emphasized the "good opportunity" Thursday presented for many of Minnesota's reserves.
View game action photos from he Vikings vs. Seahawks preseason Week 1 game at Lumen Field.
"We clearly did not play a good number of guys – I think the number got up to 17 or 18 of our starters – guys who are having great starts to their training camps and doing a lot of great things," O'Connell said. "But what I wanted to see was our execution across the board."
He especially praised the first-half performance, noting "big-time decisions" made by quarterback Nick Mullens and defenders "winning at the line of scrimmage" early in the evening.
"In the second half, we've just gotta continue to coach those guys up, and they may not get a lot of reps, but I just firmly believe – maybe it's my own personal experience – I want those guys to feel like they're getting every opportunity to try to make our team and really make an impact for the future," O'Connell said. "Would have loved to have won the game, but we've got a lot of things to correct, a lot of things to really build upon, and hopefully have some great joint practices [on Aug. 16-17 with the Titans]."
Below are four other takeaways from O'Connell's first postgame press conference of the 2023 season.
1. Thoughts on the QBs
Mullens was the Vikings first-half quarterback, and the second half went to rookie Jaren Hall.
Mullens ended his evening 14-of-20 passing for 139 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions with a 106.0 passer rating. Hall met some challenges, finishing 6-of-14 for 37 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating was 50.3, and he was sacked twice for a total loss of 11 yards.
"I thought Nick played well. Really managed it well," O'Connell said. "And what the challenge is for him – and really a lot of quarterbacks when they get their opportunities – is not trying to do too much. I thought he just continued to execute play after play. And really made some things right for us.
"He had his plate full tonight and handled it really well, which is what I expected," O'Connell added. "Nick's had a great camp and continues to grow every single day and [is] really gaining the confidence of our team. If something were to happen to Kirk, you know, the guys have a lot of confidence in Nick."
O'Connell said Hall didn't face "the easiest of circumstances" for his first pro game and that his teammates could have done more to set him up for success.
"But what did flash to me was his athleticism," O'Connell said of Hall. "Conflict resolution. There was plenty of it, and he was able to kind of – at least, sometimes not extend plays for big gains but sack-saving plays. Getting out, spinning out when we missed a couple protection assignments. The big key there is, when you're in those situations, can you find a way to not make a bad play worse? I speak from direct experience on that.
"I was proud to see him do that, and we'll continue to just get the operation a little cleaner with those 3s and 4s in there – and that's on us as coaches to do," he continued. "I think we'll see a progression throughout the next two weeks because those guys are going to get a lot of reps."
2. Chandler rose to challenge
O'Connell gave second-year running back Ty Chandler a heavy workload Thursday, and he answered the call.
Chandler led the way with 11 carries for 41 yards (3.7 average), while Abram Smith and rookie DeWayne McBride combined for 13 carries and 33 yards.
"With Kene [Nwangwu] being down, kind of still working through what he's working through, I really wanted to see Ty and see what he can handle as far as all the phases of our offense," O'Connell said. "Calling plays there for him here and there in the first half, I found myself wanting to get him touches – and that's always a good thing."
O'Connell commended Chandler's vision, burst and finish in live-game action.
"And then his ability out of the backfield, either on a screen – even getting 4 or 5 on a screen that really wasn't well executed – he's making things happen," O'Connell said. "So when we can clean up our execution around him, you can start to project his impact. So, a really positive night for him."
3. Pat on the back for Pace
Pace, an undrafted rookie, started at one of the inside linebacker spots and led the team with six total tackles.
O'Connell said the youngster "keeps flashing" throughout training camp and did again in his pro debut.
"You just see him around the ball a lot. He got a lot of green-dot work calling the defense, which I know he was looking forward to," O'Connell said of the helmet installed with a communication system to the sidelines. "All that guy does is continue to do what he's done his whole career. Which is make a lot of plays, be around the football, savvy instincts, and then when he sees it, he's downhill making plays.
"Really excited about where he's at right now," he added. "Now it's the same thing with a lot of the players that are off to a really good start: Can you consistently sustain it through training camp and through the joint-practice work when we're really in a controlled setting, it's for real, and we're trying to see where we're at as a football team?"
4. Addison's non-catch catch
During the first half, Addison laid out to grab a tight-window pass from Mullens along the sideline.
Officials ruled Addison out of bounds, deeming it an incomplete pass, though later replay clearly showed the rookie dragging the toes of both feet in-bounds. Addison transferred the toe drag swag he's repeatedly shown in training camp to the preseason game.
It should have been a catch.
O'Connell cut the officiating some slack, reminding, "we're all working through our reps of the preseason," and didn't seem too bothered – considering it wasn't a game that counted.
"It was not something that I could see directly, and then didn't really think there was enough of an opinion upstairs or from anybody on the sideline," he said. "But Ben Leber let me know it was a catch. He couldn't wait to tell me that."
Should a similar situation happen during the regular season, it's more probable for O'Connell to weigh challenging a similar call.
"In-season, I'll try to make sure I personally get a better look at it and then would always love to get a challenge right there," he said. "Because it was a heck of a play, and if he did in fact get his feet in, that's what he's been doing all training camp. So, it would have been great for his first career catch.
"Doesn't take away the route or the execution, but I'm sure I would have loved to get a chance to throw that flag right there," O'Connell added.