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Monday Morning Mailbag: Nick Mullens & Jaren Hall in Vikings at Seahawks

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Every preseason has got to start somewhere, and the 2023 Vikings exhibition slate opened Thursday on a beautiful night in Seattle.

The final score, a 24-13 Seahawks win, gave some Purple faithful consternation, but winning preseason games isn't the first goal of many coaches. Sure, they never like to lose, but Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell appears disciplined in multiple aspects, including not playing most starters and not overplaying a bright talent like Jordan Addison.

O'Connell has had this week's two days of joint practices with the Titans (Aug. 16-17) and next week's sessions with the Cardinals (Aug. 23-24) circled for some of his best opportunities for evaluations. Click here for tickets to the joint practices.

View game action photos from he Vikings vs. Seahawks preseason Week 1 game at Lumen Field.

As much curiosity as O'Connell expressed about seeing Jordan Addison play a little more, he's also well-aware that we're less than a month away from Week 1, when the Vikings will host the Buccaneers and sport Classic uniforms featuring a patch in honor of Bud Grant.

Just a couple of reminders, O'Connell and the Vikings went 13-4 in the regular season after going 0-3 in the 2022 preseason. He also was the Rams offensive coordinator the previous year when a nothingburger in the 2021 preseason ended with a perfectly marbleized Super Bowl steak.

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Vikings Classic Jerseys Unveiled

The Vikings are brining back throwback jerseys from the 1960-70s. The Classic jerseys will be worn at home Week 1 against the Buccaneers.

If that doesn't help, how about the Bears defeating the Chiefs in their 2022 preseason opener? Chicago went 3-0 in exhibition contests before finishing 3-14 in the regular season while Kansas City went 14-3 on the way to winning another title. Meanwhile, the Ravens have won 24 consecutive preseason games, a streak that began in 2016.

While Baltimore winning in the preseason has been reliable, the only thing for certain is that last year's Vikings results — good, bad or vs. Dallas — will not impact this year's outcomes. Nor will the preseason scoreboards.

We'll start today's round of questions with comments about Vikings backup quarterbacks Nick Mullens and Jaren Hall.

Knowing what Nick [Mullens] can do with better protection than Jaren Hall, do you think Jaren needs a shot with the second-string team to see if he's a make-or-break player?

— Demarous Davis

Well, here we go. Preseason looked good with Mullens but not so much with Hall. I can never understand why the coaches can't mix and match players in the depth chart so that rookies can play alongside other seasoned vets. Hall may not be the future but looked terrible with no supporting cast. That's a bitter pill for a young player. Where was Kene Nwangwu? Was looking forward to watching him run.

Skol,

— Nicholas Balkou

How is Jaren Hall adapting to the fast-paced NFL QB position? Do you feel he will be able to read defenses well?

— Ted Price

I'm grouping these thoughts from Demarous, Nicholas and Ted. Demarous and Nicholas sent their thoughts in after the game; Ted's email was sent before it.

I'll preface by saying I don't know what O'Connell might be thinking for the remaining two games, with regard to starters playing or not, but I know he plans to make as complete of an evaluation as he can on every player on the roster.

Some are obviously cemented as starters, and there are others who have strong cases for important rotational or reserve roles. Still, others are vying for roster spots against anyone currently in camp or anyone else in the world that could possibly be better.

So many factors can play into evaluating quarterbacks.

Mullens, who started behind an offensive line of Vederian Lowe, Blake Brandel, Austin Schlottmann, Ed Ingram and Olisaemeka Udoh, was able to show his experience in the NFL and the system. He seemed to make good decisions with the football, had moments where the timing was clicking, spread the ball around to teammates and had a nice anticipatory throw to Jalen Reagor.

Hall entered the game to start the third quarter behind a line of Lowe, Jack Snyder, Josh Sokol, Alan Ali and Christian DiLauro. He converted a third-and-4 with a quick slant to Thayer Thomas on his third snap.

A run by DeWayne McBride gained 6 on the following play. On the next line of my notes, I wrote 16 SCR. That's my shorthand for Hall having to scramble. The Seahawks got a free runner (a blitz by backup safety Ty Okada) quickly in the backfield.

Hall showed his elusiveness in avoiding a sack, rolled out and threw the ball safely away to give the Vikings an option on third-and-4 instead of losing yardage on second-and-4. The Vikings called a timeout, but followed by springing multiple leaks when they snapped the football — 16 SCR in my notes again (and not the last time of the evening). Hall again prevented a sack (a holding penalty by Minnesota was declined).

Hall was blitzed and pressured aplenty and was unable to showcase his full talents, but he did make safe choices with the football when he had to scramble and demonstrated top-notch accuracy on a fade to the outside to recent signee N'Keal Harry. Hall showed good leadership and maturity beyond his years, opting to self-critique some things he'd like to do better in his next time out.

To Demarous' point, the Vikings could decide to have Hall play some snaps behind a more experienced line at some point this preseason, but I would refrain from categorizing him as "make-or-break." He's a rookie adjusting to an NFL offense with a coach who knows the importance of developing the position.

I compared the nights of Mullens and Hall here after the game, but here's an excerpt from that story:

"In college, it's just get your signal on the sideline, say a word, and you're going fast," Hall said. "So, for me at least, it's just getting comfortable with being in the huddle, commanding the huddle, putting confidence in all your guys that the play you're calling is the best play you can have. I think that's where it all starts."

Hall said he wants to clean up a few operational things that can allow the group to function faster between plays and allow him more time to assess protections at the line of scrimmage.

"No doubt, especially in this league, I'm learning so quickly the importance of that, make sure you have your turns to the right way and have your back ready to go," Hall said. "It's super important to get everybody out that you can in your schemes and make sure you're picking up all the pressures that come."

To Nicholas' point, O'Connell's philosophy shown so far is to rest most starters in preseason games. After that, teams usually try to keep units together instead of mixing and matching. I personally wouldn't put the "terrible" label on how Hall looked, even if the offense wasn't able to get going.

As for Nwangwu, he's been dealing with an undisclosed injury that's sidelined him for about two weeks.

I thought the first half of Thursday's game looked good. Offense looked good and the defense looked "improved." I'm still hesitant on the D though because, more than once during the game, Seattle had receivers WIDE OPEN. Looked like last year. I know it's early and no starters were really playing, so it's just the scheme. However, anytime someone gets sooooo wide open in the NFL, someone missed an assignment. I hope Flores puts a stop to that and our defense shuts opponents down! No more one-score squeakers!

— J.B. Brunet

Reasons I tempered placing too much value on preseason results include the lack of playing time for starters and the fact that the Vikings weren't scheming for Seattle on offense or defense. It was more of line up and play to see how individuals fared on their assignments.

The touchdown to Jake Bobo in the second half occurred when Bobo created separation with his 1-on-1 route against Andrew Booth, Jr. On the scoring pass to Matt Landers, it looked like the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder slung Kalon Barnes (6-foot, 186) out of the way while the ball was en route.

The looks that the defense has been showing at practices have been much more exotic than what people saw on Thursday.

I hate to tell you, but even with the anticipated better results on defense, there's likely to be some more squeakers this season, too, because of the close nature of the NFL.

"Three things we Minnesota Viking fans are sick and tired of hearing from sports pundits":

1. "Kirk Cousins contract/extension vs. no contract/extension status." We are tired of hearing about it. We don't care! It seems the only ones who do are the pundits! Just play football!

2. "The tired old line of – 'Kirk Cousins can't win in prime time / Kirk Cousins can't win the big games,' and the total lack of respect the pundits give Kirk in their 'Predictive Rankings' (whether top QBs or Power Rankings). It seems the recent sports pundits seem to have this bias that if a player has one superlative performance (especially in Year 1 or 2) that suddenly they are 'Superstars,' which rarely actually bears out to be true (Ex: Robert Griffin, etc.). The fans are tired of hearing it! Wait for sustained performance until you start labeling superstar status.

Back to Cousins. First, football is a team sport. You win or lose based on the team performance and results. Stop using Kirk as a scapegoat. Second – actually start giving Kirk some well-earned credit for his very consistent success and durability as Minnesota's quarterback. He is consistently in the top of all quarterback performance and has hung in there as the most durable quarterback for Minnesota in recent history (Teddy Bridgewater? Christian Ponder?). Start giving him the credit he deserves.

3. "Constantly under-estimating and under-ranking the Minnesota Vikings – with total lack of respect." The Vikings have had good performing teams for many years and have historically higher win records than many teams. But more importantly here – "Hey pundits" – the Vikings currently are the NFC North Division Champions – and will be until they are not. Most pundits have already given the Division (and some it seems even the Conference and Super Bowl) to the Lions. Let's see how the season plays out. Meanwhile – give the Vikings some respect!! Fans are getting tired of all these ridiculous predictions! Predicting Super Bowl Champions before the season starts is ridiculous and annoying. Stop already!

Thanks for listening!

— Tom W. in Portland, Maine

I'm visualizing the relaxing beauty of Maine during this response. My wife and I visited on our honeymoon and 10-year anniversary. We hope to return for our 20th and every 10 after that, even if we don't hike to the top of Mount Katahdin every trip (like we did last time).

I'll go through point-by-point.

  1. I think Cousins and the Vikings are both at peace with the dialogue they've had so far, continuing to maintain communication and give the conversation more attention after the season.
  2. Cousins' consistent production is likely underrated. It seems like several are valuing unknown potential versus what they've seen and the narrative about prime time or big games that doesn't always factor the nuance of whether the team Cousins was on at the time was better or worse than the opponent. His performance against New England on Thanksgiving shortly after the entire team struggled against Dallas was a huge game at night. We don't know what Griffin's career would have looked like without his severe injury, but he was showing some dynamic ability. Cousins has been durable, but it's not without him putting forth tremendous effort every week, as chronicled in the Netflix Quarterback series. He's caught a lot of arrows over the years, including several because I think people know mentioning him will generate a response. I think viewers of that program will generally gain an appreciation for everything that Cousins puts into his game. By the way, if you missed this story last week, please step inside the Vikings quarterback meeting room on a recent day after the work was done. Vikings.com's Lindsey Young will put you in the room as Cousins and Co. play Immaculate Grid.
  3. We saw last year that there were plenty of people discrediting Minnesota's wins. The Vikings won 11 one-score games but lost a couple of high-profile matchups on the way to winning the NFC North. There's steam for the Lions because of the way they closed the 2022 season, but no one really knows how everything will unfold. Folks like to generate conversations with predictions, but one of my favorite parts of the NFL is the number of things that surprise those predictions.

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 7, 2024.

Why do NFL fans never see regular use of backup quarterbacks during the regular season? For example, a backup could be regularly used between the 30-yard lines on first downs if that backup showed a talent for also running the ball. Effectively a Wildcat formation giving the offensive an "extra" player.

— Gregory Nielsen

I guess the most recognizable example of this in my mind is the way the Saints used to bring in Taysom Hill at quarterback and move Drew Brees to receiver. While Hill has some unique abilities, the decision also involved taking the ball away from a guy who finished with 80,358 passing yards and 571 touchdown passes (second all-time in both categories). The use of Hill yielded results multiple times, but Brees probably could have yielded comparable outcomes if left at quarterback.

Since so many passers can feed off the rhythm of a game and timing of an offense, I think coaches generally prefer to keep their starter in charge unless there's an injury. Coaches also do their best to prepare backups to run as much of the offense as possible if the starter goes down.

View pregame photos of the Vikings ahead of their preseason Week 1 game vs. the Seahawks at Lumen Field.

Dalton Risner: Why didn't the Vikings sign him? Guard is the offense's weak link.

— Chery Baker

Teams are always looking for ways to improve, either by developing the players they have or adding someone who is available. They hosted Risner for a visit on Aug. 1. Vikings offensive line coach Chris Kuper and assistant offensive line coach Justin Rascati were already familiar with Risner from coaching him in Denver, but O'Connell had never met him.

There are multiple conversations about roles and potential salary that come into play when teams meet with free agents, particularly at this point of the calendar.

O'Connell spoke to media members on the day of Risner's visit.

"Both groups, we've got some guys in that second group that are really starting to mesh well together, so really I look at it as the personnel department working in conjunction with our staff, and we're always looking for ways to find good football players when they're available," O'Connell said. "We really just wanted to bring him in and get to know him a little bit better, use the process of a visit to do that and see if we could possibly take what we think is a strong group and make it even better."

View photos of players during 2023 Vikings Training Camp practice on Aug. 12 at the TCO Performance Center.

N'Keal Harry signing: Do you think this means they are having trouble signing J.J. to a long-term contract? I hope this was not a fallout plan, because they already have great depth at position. I would much rather have them address the DT area with a signing.

— W. Linhart

Harry caught two passes for 24 yards, including the 19-yard reception mentioned earlier in the section about Hall. He has shown an ability to make some nice catches in practices so far and offers the Vikings a larger target than the other Vikings receivers on the roster.

I wouldn't chalk it up to potential snags with Jefferson. I'd be more included to attribute the additions of Harry and Jacob Copeland as wanting to offset Trishton Jackson, Lucky Jackson and Jalen Nailor being sidelined. Trishton Jackson returned to the field over the weekend practices—a great sign, especially considering how rough his knee injury initially looked.

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Receivers run so much during practices and games, and the Vikings Health and Performance staff, along with the coaching staff are mindful of overusing players.

That's not to say that Harry and Copeland won't be offered a fair shot of competing for a roster spot.

Interior defensive line hasn't generated much talk at camp, but it seems like the Vikings have been pleased so far with options that include returnees Khyris Tonga, Harrison Phillips and Jonathan Bullard, as well as newcomer Dean Lowry. T.J. Smith got some work in with the 1s with Bullard not participating on Sunday. He tipped the pass at the line of scrimmage that Jaylin Williams intercepted against the Seahawks.