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3 Observations: Vikings Rookie Minicamp Emphasizes Development

EAGAN, Minn. — Minnesota's seven-player draft class and its group of 17 signed undrafted free agents set foot across the starting line for each player's run in the NFL on Friday.

They wore helmets with horn decals for the first time, practice jerseys without pads and shorts for the session that lasted about 90 minutes on a partly sunny and completely pleasant May afternoon.

The practice included individual position drills, as well as a couple of 7-on-7 passing periods.

Here are three observations from Friday's rookie minicamp camp practice presented by Minnesota Eye Consultants, the Proud LASIK Partner of the Minnesota Vikings:

1. A prescribed slow ramp-up

A total of 45 players took the field for the session, which Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell designed to be a throttled-down version of what players will come to expect in a couple more months at training camp.

"There's a reason why I have pretty strong feelings about [not] doing team [drills] full-speed at rookie minicamp," O'Connell said. "In many ways, it's to protect the guys from themselves, you know?

"We had kind of a golden rule of staying off the ground today, and I think we're pretty darn close to a perfect day from that standpoint," he added before quipping, "So now I'm gonna tell them tomorrow maybe we weren't practicing hard enough.

"Like I said, I'm just having a blast out here with these guys. And coaching is really fun when you're watching tape and you're in the meeting room, but there's nothing that compares to being out on the grass with the guys," O'Connell continued.

The group included all seven draft picks, including three who signed their rookie contracts Friday, plus 16 players invited to Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center on a tryout basis. Five players who were already rostered with previous non-game NFL experience also participated in the minicamp.

First-round pick Dallas Turner delivered the line of the day during a press conference after the practice, summarizing what it felt like to not be going all-out.

Nonetheless, one could hear the excitement Turner has for joining a Vikings group led by Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores, who emphasized similar points that Turner was familiar with in his time playing for Nick Saban at Alabama.

2. Competitive banter

Rather than "nervous," a word J.J. McCarthy had used to describe himself on draft day, he said "anxious" was a better self-descriptor on Friday.

"You're just waiting so long to get back to real football again and then, being in this league, it's a dream come true as a kid," McCarthy said. "Being able to just be out there with the guys and really just live your dream has been truly special."

The quarterback appreciated the opportunity to build off the private pre-draft workout he had participated in with Minnesota's coaches and continue the on-field learning he wasn't shy about expressing a desire to become a Viking.

His session included multiple completions and some incompletions, as well as an interception by undrafted rookie linebacker K.J. Cloyd, who pointed in good fun toward McCarthy on his way to the end zone.

"It's actually funny because K.J. and I were talking a little smack earlier, and I've got to stop talking smack because it always turns out they win," McCarthy laughed. "But, I'd say, the splits were a little messed up. I obviously take full credit for the outcome of the play. But just reading it outside in, felt like I could fit it in there and force it. But at this level, they're a lot faster, a lot longer. And it's great to learn now before the vets get here. And yeah, hopefully won't be in that situation anytime soon.

"We had a little competition going on with the 16 reps of [7-on-7] and it was just, if I have three or fewer balls on the ground, they're going to run gassers, four or more, I run gassers. So, you guys saw, I was out there running," he said.

3. Value of experience shows

A year's time can make an incredible difference for young players.

Receivers Thayer Thomas and Malik Knowles were two of the five players able to participate this year despite having signed as undrafted rookies in 2023.

Thomas contributed on the practice squad as a rookie, but Knowles did not because he was recovering from an injury suffered at the end of Kansas State's season that landed Knowles on Injured Reserve.

View photos of the Vikings 2024 coaching staff.

Thomas and Knowles were helpful for the rest of the offense, and Thomas was often targeted in the 7-on-7 periods, catching five passes from McCarthy.

"I was joking with [Thomas] out there because we really, we're one year to the day of the first time we got on the grass with him – just the growth and the development and the mindset that he has now and really being a calming presence out there," O'Connell said. "Malik Knowles is a guy we were really excited about and really knew kind of what we were looking at from the standpoint of a medical redshirt-type year coming off of that Bowl game injury he had – and he gets, whatever it's gonna be, 15, 20, 25 extra reps before we get out there with the main group in a few days, and I think that's exciting."