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Monday Morning Mailbag: Vikings Mourn Khyree Jackson's Tragic Passing


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There's no good way to open a Mailbag that follows such a tragic weekend.

Vikings rookie cornerback Khyree Jackson and two of his former high school teammates passed away Saturday after a vehicle they were in was struck and ran off the road in Maryland.

Three young men gone before turning 25 years old.

Jackson, 24, had so much ahead of him. He consistently greeted others in the building with a broad smile and friendly personality.

Vikings Owners Mark and Zygi Wilf, Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah described the impact Jackson made on the team in a short time.

As they said, losing the person is far more difficult than what Jackson was projected to provide as a player.

There's a true and genuine sorrow among coaches, teammates and staff members here and beyond.

My thoughts go out to all who are grieving the deaths of Jackson and his friends Isaiah Hazel and Anthony Lytton, Jr.

May you find the strength you need and may the support you need find you.

This wasn't the return I had in mind after the Mailbag took last week off. The office closure for the week of the Fourth of July is an organizational policy that is much appreciated, particularly for those of us who have wound up several hundred miles from family and some of our closest friends.

The weekend's tragic news is a reminder to cherish every moment.

Recent weeks probably haven't been what Vikings newcomer Andrew Van Ginkel had in mind. His family's home in Rock Valley, Iowa, was among those damaged by floods in the region. He and his family are rallying to help others.

Andrew Van Ginkel and his family were impacted by recent flooding in Iowa.

Lastly, I'd like to take a moment to wish a happy 70th birthday to one of our most consistent Mailbag readers. My mom is becoming a septuagenarian today. A retired elementary school librarian, Mom passed along her love for reading to me, and it was a joy to see her continue this with the next generation while our family visited her in Tennessee over the break.

The Vikings are two weeks away from reporting for 2024 Vikings Training Camp, so here is the next round of questions from fans.

I've been tuning into every moment of NFL programming I can since the NFL Draft to get a better handle on what kind of team we are going to have this year. While my confidence grows daily in the Purple & Gold, many broadcasters do not share the same sentiment. Why do you think that is, and besides from winning early, what can the Vikings do to gain more respect going into the regular season?

— Scott Nelson in Hartford, South Dakota

It's great that people care so much about football that the dialogue spans the whole offseason, but as we've come to see for several years, some preseason prognostications come true, and others wind up as "freezing cold takes."

Opinions can be formed by a variety of information, and there may be a little less complete information available about the 2024 Vikings because of the significant roster changes that occurred.

People were pretty low on the Vikings in 2022 with the unknowns of O'Connell's first season, but that was followed by 13 wins.

Last season, expectations were thereabouts, but they weren't met. Multiple reasons, led by the turnovers early in the season and mounting injuries later, contributed to the 7-10 record.

So far, teams have just been in helmets and shorts. We'll know a good bit more about the Vikings once pads go on in training camp and even more once the season starts.

The best respect is the kind that can be earned once games count in the standings.

View exclusive photos of Vikings players posing during a photoshoot in the U.S. Bank Stadium tunnel backdrop.

I don't understand how low the Vikings are viewed for 2024. I have seen predictions as low as three or five wins. A lot of that has to do with the division, and while Detroit has a good team and is favored, they have questionable CBs in a heavy passing division. I have more questions than most about the Packers and the Bears. The Bears are overrated based upon the number one overall pick, [Caleb] Williams at QB. He is a rookie, however, and it showed in the Bears offseason program during the 7-on-7s when he completed seven straight passes to the defenders. The Packers are always overrated, and [Jordan] Love is getting some of the undeserved love that [Aaron] Rodgers always got and never lived up to. Yes, he won division titles, but he failed to make it consistently to the big game.

In looking at the Vikings, I would say they have one of the best if not the best receiving corps, a good O-Line with two outstanding tackles, and they signed Aaron Jones at running back. The only question is the QB, and I have faith that with our coaches either [Sam] Darnold or [J.J.] McCarthy will do a decent job. I think that the defense will be a top 10, even with some questions about the DTs. The Vikings have good edge rushers, two good MLBs, and maybe the best safety group in the league. I think that the Vikings CBs are the best they have had in a long while.

I see the Vikings going 10-7 if injuries and other factors don't get in the way, and if that happens, they could fall as low as 7-10. This is a good club, and their star is rising. They will be better appreciated in next year's projections.

What do you think?

— Jerry Carrier in Lakeville, Minnesota

Every NFC North team has at least one quarterback who was selected in the first round of an NFL Draft. The Vikings have two, with Sam Darnold (2018 by the Jets) and rookie J.J. McCarthy.

Both players are in the first year with this system, but Darnold has a breadth of experience he can build upon with a great skills group, as well as the best tackles combo he's had during his career as a starter. All communication from O'Connell so far is the plan is to start Darnold, who turned in a very strong showing in spring practices.

I read a few things on how Williams' spring was going as the unquestioned starter in Chicago. I didn't see a report of seven consecutive interceptions, but multiple outlets noted growing pains, including The Athletic's Jon Greenberg, who included the following explanation as part of his coverage from an OTA practice.

When we watched the red zone drills, Williams was constantly under pressure while his receivers (which didn't include Rome Odunze or Keenan Allen) tried to get open. There were a few just-missed interceptions. Sometimes, Williams couldn't even get passes off as the secondary used its space advantage in the red zone to shut down receivers. We saw a lot of screen passes, many of which turned into scores. Occasionally, the offense struggled to line up or get a play off.

That's only one practice, and the Bears are projected to have a feisty defense that was playing some tough football by the end of last season.

All rookies encounter adjustment periods. McCarthy will be no exception during any of his opportunities.

Love was able to learn behind the scenes for multiple seasons before becoming Green Bay's starter; Jared Goff has applied lessons and lumps from earlier in his career to thrive in Detroit.

The Vikings believe they made multiple moves to strengthen the roster.

Free agency was incredibly active, with Minnesota bringing in multiple veterans who had been targeted with input from Flores. His successes with the defense in 2023 should be promising for 2024. He should have multiple ways to attack opponents this season.

Are the Vikings in a rebuild? If so, how can we know if the players' hearts are in it? To even get close to a Super Bowl, the team needs magic in people chemistry and a longing in the heart. Do we play to win, or do we play in protection mode, so as not to get hurt? SKOL.

— Gordon B.

Gordon's subject line was "the 'R' word" in reference to rebuild. The Vikings are entering their third season during the tenures of Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell, and the roster looks much different than it did two years or even 365 days ago.

Some of that is becoming more targeted with system fits, and some of it is the fact that players move on during free agency.

Adofo-Mensah used the term "competitive rebuild" in his first season. I understood that to mean try to win as much as possible while implementing long-term plans to allow consistent pursuit of championships. It seems like some didn't understand that phrase, and it's one that he's moving past because of it. He and O'Connell thought the 2021 roster was one that could be modified a bit to win games in 2022. It worked.

While they have been changing the roster, they've also tried to lay cultural and philosophical foundations. Within those are competition and a burning desire for continuous improvement.

I'm not going to be rolling in worried that people aren't giving their all.

I can't wait to see who the starting offensive line will be and how they hold up in preseason and first few games of new season.

— John M.

Well, we know Christian Darrisaw at left tackle, Brian O'Neill at right tackle and Garrett Bradbury at center can be written in Sharpie. Those are three tremendously important positions when a team has a new quarterback.

The Vikings also returned Ed Ingram, the team's starter at right guard the past two seasons. Versatile backup Blake Brandel opened the offseason program with the first team at left guard. Veteran Dalton Risner re-signed with Minnesota after the spring program began.

O'Connell has talked about those three players competing for the two guard spots.

Why not go get No. 19 Adam Thielen back from Carolina?

— Michael Dawkins

I understand why there is continued interest in the native son and one of the best receivers to ever play for the Vikings. He also posted video clips of him catching passes from McCarthy during recent independent workouts.

But Thielen signed a three-year contract with the Panthers in 2023. He recorded 103 receptions for 1,014 yards and four scores last season, so I'd imagine Carolina would be interested in having him back to help its young quarterback.

The Vikings have Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison at the position. After that, there are opportunities for familiar faces and some newcomers to see who will log the most snaps and garner the most targets.

Josh Metellus and Jim Kleinsasser play/played opposite sides of the line of scrimmage, but they have a lot in common. They both have a blue-collar work ethic. They are both very versatile in that they play/played multiple positions. The best trait they share is their team-first mentality. They both do/did whatever they could to help their team win. This type of player is very valuable but often overlooked. Josh Metellus is a very important member of our team.


Will N'Keal Harry realize his potential? He is a strong, tall, long-armed receiver. Coming out of the draft, he was rated as "will eventually be a plus-starter." Is this his year to shine? We can really use him as a red zone threat. What do you see?

— Gerald Goblirsch

The more people see Metellus, the more they like him. The qualities Gerald mentioned are apt descriptions of both of those players. We had a little bit of a hunch at this point a year ago that the Vikings were about to untap quite a bit of Metellus' game (based on what we observed during the 2023 offseason practices).

This year's sessions were nearing their conclusion when Harry began his full shift from receiver to tight end.

O'Connell, Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips and passing game coordinator/tight ends coach Brian Angelichio have a plan for Harry, who could potentially create matchup problems in the red zone if matched against a linebacker or size problems for a defensive back. He has shown the ability to make contested catches, which is also helpful.

I don't have a formal ranking, but Harry is one of the most intriguing players to watch during camp and this preseason.

What are your thoughts on the Vikings Week 6 bye? Given the fact that the Vikings are playing in England in Week 5, will the bye be a welcome thing, or is it too soon, too late or just about right for the season?

— Ed Helinski in Auburn, New York

Last year's Week 13 bye was sooooo late. In fact, it was the latest in a calendar year (Dec. 3) a Vikings bye had ever fallen. (In 1991, Minnesota had a Week 14 bye, but that week's Sunday was Dec. 1).

Prior to last season, the Vikings had their bye in Week 7 from 2020-22. It seems to be a fairly good point in the season.

Minnesota in 2022 played in London in Week 4 and opted to decline its bye in Week 5. The move worked as the health and performance staff and O'Connell kept players fresh so that the Vikings could topple the Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium amidst a seven-game win streak.

I was slightly surprised that the bye was placed so closely to Minnesota traveling to face the Los Angeles Rams for Week 8's Thursday Night Football game.

Teams likely would prefer a larger gap between a bye and a "mini bye."

With a few veterans on the team saying the Vikings can go to the Super Bowl this year, let's say that happens.

Do you think the Vikings will then offer Sam Darnold a multiyear contract or let him walk and let J.J. McCarthy take over?

Would they sign Sam and then trade him so they can get draft pick(s). I'm getting way ahead but curious what you think management might do. Old management signed QB's after a flashy year. Would this management do the same?

— Steve from Arizona

That would be the ultimate "good problem to have."

The Vikings will be trying to simultaneously advance both players this season.

Darnold's play and McCarthy's development are important for the Vikings in the near and far future.

The Vikings defensive line should be a high priority this offseason, and they definitely need to do a better job of stopping the run, which was a liability last season!

Do you believe the Vikings have done enough to address this issue, and do you expect the DL to play at a higher level under a Brian Flores-led defense this year?


— Larry V. in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

The Vikings are bringing back interior defensive linemen Harrison Phillips and Jonathan Bullard, who started 17 and 14 games last season.

Jaquelin Roy is back for his second pro season, and James Lynch re-signed after missing all of 2023 with a training camp injury. Minnesota brought in Jerry Tillery, Jihad Ward and Jonah Williams during the early days of free agency and drafted Levi Drake Rodriguez with a seventh-round pick.

The defensive linemen are being coached by newcomer Marcus Dixon, who previously overlapped with O'Connell as coaches with the Rams and as teammates with the Jets.

The group did fare better against the run under Flores in 2023 than it did in 2022.

Minnesota's allowance of 3.8 yards per carry for the season ranked fourth in the NFL, compared to the previous season when foes averaged 4.5 yards per carry (22nd in NFL).

But there were a couple of key games (losses at Philadelphia and at home against Detroit and Green Bay) where opponents racked up the rushing totals against Minnesota. The Eagles piled up 259 in Week 2. The Lions ran for 143, and the Packers followed with 177 in Weeks 16 and 17. Those totals in must-win home games for Minnesota definitely left a bad memory.

Are we going to have the right combination of a punter and field goal specialist?

— Jim. L.

The Vikings have two punters and two kickers, with only one among the four who has returned to Minnesota.

Punter Ryan Wright is back for his third pro season, but the Vikings also brought in Seth Vernon.

At kicker, Minnesota signed free agent John Parker Romo and drafted Will Reichard.

Wright and Vernon also are serving as the holders for kicks.

Special Teams Coordinator Matt Daniels will structure the competitions to get the best evaluations this preseason.

Is Justin Jefferson the best?

— Camden H.

I'm not going to argue with people who think so.

Does this mean right now? All time?

It's hard to think of many current players who are better at their position. Time will tell where Jefferson cements himself among the all-time ranks, but he's joined elite company through his first four seasons.

I haven't seen much ink on Jaren Hall. How did he look in OTAs and minicamp, and what are his chances of making the team?

— Jimmy S. in Hudson, Wisconsin

Hall is back for a second pro season. Coaches remain excited to continue working with him and what he adds to the quarterbacks room.

Darnold and McCarthy have understandably generated the most attention and commanded the most eyeballs.

Hall's reps were lower in numbers.

The Vikings opted to utilize two practice fields for much of the offseason program with Darnold and Nick Mullens on one and McCarthy and Hall working with the developmental squad.

The Vikings rostered three quarterbacks at the start of the 2023 season because of a rule change that allowed teams to dress their third quarterback and play him if injuries occurred to the first two QBs within a game. That option has been extended to practice squad quarterbacks this season (although a QB on a practice squad could be signed by another team to its active roster).

We all saw the importance of quarterback health and depth last season in Minnesota and across the NFL, but rostering four quarterbacks to open a season seems improbable for any team.

The Vikings will continue to evaluate their options at the position and use that information to decide whether to roster two or three quarterbacks on the 53. If two, then there's a high probability of also having a practice squad QB. If three, then the team may or may not also keep a practice squad QB.

As the offseason program was wrapping up, O'Connell was asked if he'd list Darnold as the No. 1 QB heading into training camp.

"We haven't had to put out a depth chart or anything like that, but, yeah, I would say Sam would be the guy I would look to," O'Connell said. "Based upon the spring he's had and really where he's at in his career and his quarterback journey and what he's been able to do coming in and really hit the ground running and really kind of take advantage of a competitive situation.

"But at the same time, J.J.'s really improved, Nick Mullens has had a great spring, and Jaren (Hall) has also improved," O'Connell continued. "So, I've told all four of those guys, 'Look, depth charts are great and it's great to understand where I'm at currently today, but that'll mean really nothing about the future. That'll be nothing, about a week or two out.'

"And most importantly, we played four of them last year, including one guy who was not in our building throughout the offseason or training camp and relied on him to come in and win a game and then try to play it out from there," O'Connell added. "So, I have a total understanding of we only control so much in this whole thing, and that's what I've challenged the quarterbacks to do, is control what you can, which is your preparation, 'How detailed can you be and can you stack good periods of practice together, good days together?' Before you know it, you're looking up, and it's not about the camp you've had, it's about your readiness to help the Minnesota Vikings win."

Can Vikings fans put a new meaning to the word SKOL? My idea.





Let's get completely behind this coach, and he will lead us for years.


— Ricky Brune in Omaha, Nebraska

This past weekend's tragic news will be another test of O'Connell's leadership.

The Vikings have resources available for people struggling, but people are sure to look to a head coach during tough times.

I'm sure he and the other coaches and players (and staff) appreciate support during this difficult time.