EAGAN, Minn. — As Minnesota approaches its final 2022 preseason game at the Denver Broncos on at 8 p.m. (CT) Saturday, Head Coach Kevin O'Connell's primary focus remains on the start of the regular season.
"Obviously as we continue to work toward the Green Bay Packers on September 11th, it's in striking range of knowing by the day how we should be operating and preparing," O'Connell said before Thursday's scrimmage-like practice. "I give our coaches a lot of credit for where we're at as a team and very much look forward to that continued prep, including today."
O'Connell said the decision whether to play starters in preseason games to allow them to get more reps or sit them to keep them healthy is a matter of perspective.
"I think it depends how you look at it. If you're a team that just kind of practices in a standard way, which there's a lot that can be taken out of the traditional model of kind of preparing guys in normal practice, playing them slightly in each game building up," O'Connell said. "We choose to kind of do things a little differently, a little bit different model where if you ask our guys physically where they're at, they probably would say they're as healthy as they've been, but at the same time, I think they'd say they're feeling more and more prepared by the day."
View photos of players during 2022 Vikings Training Camp practice on August 25 at the TCO Performance Center.
O'Connell's approach to training camp included a grinding stretch of five padded practices in six days, as well as a pair of joint practices against the 49ers last week. But there were also times when he had players take their pads off and participate at jog-through speeds.
"Every single time I stand up in front of our team, there's a message," O'Connell said. "There's a message about the intent of the day, the week; I broke training camp up into five phases for a reason because I really saw it as I wanted to set goals per the week of what we need to get accomplished."
Thursday's session at TCO Stadium helped simulate more in-game scenarios for starters, including Kirk Cousins, who is making the most of his sideline view during preseason games.
The Vikings also announced some roster moves on Thursday, including re-signing cornerback Tye Smith and releasing punter Jordan Berry. The move leaves rookie Ryan Wright as the lone punter on the roster.
O'Connell said the competition between both Wright and Berry was extremely tight.
"Well, I think Ryan has had a really good camp, a consistent camp. Those guys have been neck and neck every single day," O'Connell said. "You talk about competition bringing out the best in players, and I think both of those guys, J.B. and Ryan deserve a ton of credit for pushing each other.
"We want to give Ryan the opportunity to be the sole punter this week, today and into the game, but Jordan has left a really good mark on me, having not been around him before," O'Connell added. "We're excited about where Ryan is at, but at the same time, we want to continue for Ryan to know, 'This is a continued process for you as we work as a team to start preparing for the Packers.' "
With the regular-season opener against Green Bay less than three weeks away, O'Connell said he's really pleased with the team's progress, but he knows it can't slow down.
"I told the team yesterday if you would have told me that we would be where we are as far as the volume we've installed within our offense and defense and special teams, and the amount of healthy bodies we've had out on our practice field day-in and day-out competing as hard as they have, I would have been really happy," O'Connell said. "We're going to drive this thing all the way through our preparation into that first game."