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Takeaways: O'Connell on Start of Offseason, QB Evaluations & Final Draft Prep

EAGAN, Minn. — We're 10 days from the opening night of the 2024 NFL Draft, but Monday also marked the return of Vikings players to Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center to open the voluntary offseason program.

Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell spoke with Twin Cities media members midday to explain his excitement at welcoming back players he's coached and greeting the new additions made this offseason.

"This building is always at its best when it's full of Minnesota Vikings players, and the energy and everything has been awesome this morning," O'Connell said. "You can tell guys — new players coming in for the first time and guys that have been here — have really good energy in the building. We're off and rolling.

"[Vice President of Player Health and Performance] Tyler [Williams] and [Director of Player Performance] Josh Hingst have put together a really good plan, as far as the early part of the program, Phase 1 where we're just meeting and are going through lifting and some stuff on the field with the strength staff, getting them ready to go for Phase 2 when we can start getting on the grass and coaching them a little bit," O'Connell added. "We press onward here with the offseason."

  1. A 'head start' at QB

A consistent storyline that began last month and will continue to be central regarding the 2024 Vikings is the team's status at QB.

When Kirk Cousins departed for Atlanta in free agency, Minnesota quickly moved to add Sam Darnold on a one-year deal. Darnold joined veteran Nick Mullens and second-year pro Jaren Hall in Minnesota's quarterbacks room.

The Vikings are projected by many to add a signal caller with a high pick in this year's draft.

O'Connell said the Vikings got a "head start" on moving on from Cousins last fall once he suffered a season-ending Achilles injury at Green Bay in Week 8. Numerous transitions, from week to week or within games, offered real-time lessons that will be incorporated into shaping the team's future approach.

"I think we also learned just how we go about training the position, how we go about building our offensive system," O'Connell said. "This system is very adaptable, and I think the layers we can add to it and refine throughout the offseason for this year's version of our team will be the critical part."

  1. Draft Prep recap

The Vikings and 31 other teams are in their final days of preparing for the three-day player selection meeting.

The process the Vikings have implemented has been comprehensive, ranging from observations at college all-star games and the NFL Scouting Combine to Top 30 visits and private workouts.

O'Connell said he's appreciated forming relationships with prospects during the visits and getting on the grass to see "how they respond to my coaching style, see how they respond to critical coaching points in our offense."

"It's been a really enjoyable one. Every single time you get a chance to be around some of these guys, you get excited about possibilities and potential, but it is the draft, and we're not the only team that may want to select one of these guys," O'Connell said. "We're making sure we know the landscape of the whole class at that position, as we are at many positions throughout the draft that we think can help our team win."

O'Connell said 10 different "really smart coaches or personnel folks" can watch the same film and develop 10 different opinions on a player.

"That's why we have to spend a lot of time together," O'Connell said. "That's why we spend a lot of time with the players themselves and really envision what they're going to be like not only as an NFL quarterback but, 'What are they going to be like as a quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings if we're able to get one of these guys?' "

  1. It is a voluntary program

O'Connell was asked if Justin Jefferson attended the opening day of the voluntary program. The star receiver did not, which is similar to last year. Jefferson participated on a limited basis in the 2023 mandatory minicamp but was good-to-go at training camp.

"I know I've had a lot of great dialogue with Justin, throughout even the early part of this offseason and leading up, so my hope is we can get him around the team," O'Connell said. "He's obviously such a special player, but it goes beyond that, especially at this time of year because of the energy and the flat-out way he comes in this building and goes to work and how his teammates respond to him. I want him here as much as we can have him, but I also understand there's a lot of factors involved.

"There's nobody I love having more around on a daily basis because of how he elevates others, truly — a special, special player," O'Connell added.

The third-year head coach said the Vikings had a "really good turnout" on Monday.

"I'm just excited to get in front of them and get back to some foundational things that are really important to us from a culture standpoint and football philosophy standpoint, really start building this thing for the 2024 version of this team," O'Connell added.

View photos of Vikings players arriving for offseason workouts at the TCO Performance Center.

  1. Veteran additions

Two of the new Vikings are running back Aaron Jones and cornerback Shaq Griffin, who bring gobs of experience from Green Bay and Seattle, respectively.

"I'm pretty darn excited to have Aaron as part of our team," O'Connell said. "We've felt, from the opposite sideline, his impact on games, and I just know what he's been a part of as an offensive weapon in the run game and pass game is something that has always drawn me to him."

The cornerbacks room includes several young players along with Griffin and 2023 free agent addition Byron Murphy, Jr.

"We've got some young players that we are still constantly coaching, and those guys are working like crazy to continue their development and growth," O'Connell said. "I think we've got a lot of guys with their arrows up, continuing to grow, whether it's in year two or three, whatever it is, and then you go get a guy like Shaq Griffin to pair with Byron, kind of as the veteran presence in that room.

"What we're trying to find, whether you're in base defense, in nickel, whether you have two or three corners on the field, we want guys who can flat-out cover," O'Connell added.

  1. Kicking competition likely

The Vikings opened their offseason program with one kicker after signing free agent John Parker Romo (and after the departure of Greg Joseph to Green Bay in free agency).

Romo led the XFL in 2023 with 51 points on a 17-fo-19 showing on field goals.

O'Connell said he plans for there to be a kicking competition at some point this offseason, with the Vikings adding to the position during or after the draft.

"It's a pretty easy evaluation when you put one or two guys competing against each other, possibly more, where you can put them in tougher situations, high-pressure situations, even in front of a training camp crowd or their teammates in the spring with some circumstances on making a kick or missing a kick and you can really start to see how guys respond," O'Connell said. "I do want to have a competitive situation. I just think with how close games are in this league, and I know everybody loves going for fourth-down conversions as much as possible, but points are still a very, very important metric in a league as competitive as ours, and any time you can feel confident putting someone out there and knowing they're going to ring the bell and get you three points that could be the difference in the game, I think it's critical."