EAGAN, Minn. — Brian O’Neill walked off the practice field Monday afternoon with his helmet in hand, and some purple stains on the upper part of his white jersey.
The Vikings were in full pads for the first time of training camp, and O’Neill reveled in the fact that there was a little extra contact than there had been in days past.
“It’s always good to get hittin’. You go through all these things over the past couple months, but it’s good to finally play some real football,” O’Neill said with a smile. “Being able to establish the run game and get hittin’, it was a lot of fun out there today.
“Anytime you can double team guys or get movement in the run game, you start to put the pieces together,” O’Neill added. “We’ve kind of been trying to put the [training] wheels on the first few days, but now is really where you have to put your foot on the gas and start, as a team, collectively putting this together.”
O’Neill was a second-round pick in April’s draft out of the University of Pittsburgh. He has been running with the second-team offense of late, but spent all of Monday’s session with the first team when right tackle Rashod Hill did not practice.
That gave O’Neill a chance to go against the league’s best defense from a year ago, including defensive end Danielle Hunter, who has leads all 2015 draft picks with 25.5 sacks over the past three seasons.
“Anytime you’re able to get against a guy like Danielle … it’s a great opportunity,” O’Neill said. “There’s going to be a little bit of ups and downs, especially on the first day against somebody like that.
“But I’m just so happy that I’m able to see those looks day-in and day-out. It doesn’t get better than that,” O’Neill said. “Being able to have that level of competition in practice can only help in the long run.”
O’Neill and Hunter lined up across from each other most of the time in team drills, and also had two reps against one another in 1-on-1 pass rush drills. The rookie stymied Hunter on the first try, but the defensive end showed off a dazzling spin move to get the better of him the second time around.
“The first rep I had against him, he tried to go inside and I was able to wall him off,” O’Neill said. “But the second one, I was thinking that he tried to go inside last time and was guessing a little bit, and he caught me with a spin and had me all turned around.
“Definitely the best pass rusher I’ve ever seen in my life, so it was a good learning experience,” O’Neill added. “It’s not OK, but it’s OK if you learn from it and get better from it. Being able to see that and then make adjustments for tomorrow, that’s what training camp is all about. Take something that happened one day and make it better the next.”
Cook reaches ‘milestone’ by practicing in pads
Dalvin Cook keeps checking off the accomplishments.
The Vikings second-year running back is coming off an ACL injury suffered in Week 4 of the 2017 season, but Cook recently shed his knee brace to participate at training camp.
The 2017 second-round pick was elated after Monday’s practice that he was a full-go on the day the pads came on.
“This was definitely a milestone for me, getting back in pads,” Cook said. “Getting out of the knee brace was a milestone, but this definitely was the point that I needed, right here.
“So I’m happy I got it over with, and now we just can coast from here and keep getting better,” Cook added.
Cook went toe-to-toe with linebackers in pass protection drills, and had a solid block on a blitz by Eric Wilson during the session.
“We did pads with the linebackers, so you get good licks in there,” Cook said. “You [have to have a] good knee bend, you gotta get down. Our linebackers are good, so you have to be lateral with those guys, so I got some good licks in.”
Cook noted that while some people think of the defensive players welcoming the pads, there are those on the other side of the ball who relish the contact as well.
“We got pads, too. We like it, too,” Cook said. “But no, going against our defense is always good for me and whoever else trying to get better. That defense is always going to get us better, and I’m just glad I’m competing against them every day.”
Play of the day
Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell was the star of Monday’s practice, hauling in three touchdowns from quarterback Kirk Cousins in a red-zone drill.
Treadwell’s best catch, and the top play of practice, was his second score.
The 2016 first-round pick accelerated up the field before breaking toward the left edge of the end zone where he leapt and snagged Cousins’ pass with All-Pro cornerback Xavier Rhodes draped on him.
Treadwell’s acrobatic catch can be seen below: