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Sam Darnold Excited to Begin Work with Vikings

EAGAN, Minn. — Sam Darnold had a sideline view at Super Bowl LVIII.

He was prepared to play if needed, but ultimately wasn't called upon by the 49ers in their overtime loss to the Chiefs.

Beyond the sport's biggest stage, another game-day experience resonated with him from 2023.

Vikings-49ers, Week 7 U.S. Bank Stadium on Monday Night Football.

The memory from the atmosphere was among the factors Darnold listed among his excitement for joining the Vikings this week.

"I've gotta mention the fan base — very excited to be able to come in here with that fan base," Darnold said. "Being on the Niners last year, coming in here, Monday Night Football, just seeing how electric that stadium was, was pretty exciting and you know, that's just another reason why I'm very pumped to be here."

The Southern California native's path to this place and this moment has had almost as many twists as the Pacific Coast Highway.

Darnold sat at a table with a microphone alongside Minnesota's newest running back Aaron Jones Thursday and couldn't help but smile. Jones answered a question about if it was weird to be a Viking after seven seasons with the Packers and if he was surprised Green Bay released him amidst a streak of five consecutive games with 100-plus rushing yards to close 2023.

"I'm never surprised by what goes on in the league," Jones said. "The longer you stay, the more crazy stuff you'll see, or things you think shouldn't happen, happen."

A few moments later, Darnold was asked the biggest thing he's learned about himself.

"Kind of like Aaron said in the beginning, this business gets pretty crazy and hectic fast," Darnold said. "And if you're not consistent with your attitude day in and day out, you can get chewed up and spit out quick. The biggest thing that I've learned is to stay consistent every single day, and that's really all I'm looking to bring here."

While Darnold's road through his first six NFL seasons (three with the Jets, two with the Panthers and one with the Niners) is probably not what he envisioned, it's led him to a spot that is designed by Head Coach Kevin O'Connell to be quarterback friendly from an Xs and Os design, to an on-field cast that features receiver Justin Jefferson and assistant coaches who do more of their work behind the scenes.

O'Connell was asked about his evaluation of Darnold's earlier career stops in which he started 38 games for the Jets, 17 for the Panthers and one for the Niners.

"I think there's always things as coaches, that that's our job to try to identify ways to help a player," O'Connell said. "For every time you might sit there and say, 'Oh, we need to work on this,' or you know, 'We can enhance this part of Sam's game,' there's some other things where you look at and say, 'There it is. That's why.'

"He's always shown those things, whether it was the end of [2022] with Carolina that he can go in and play winning football, you know, tough circumstances sometimes find all quarterbacks in this league," O'Connell added. "I think that's just the life of an NFL quarterback and you know, then he gets a chance to go to San Francisco with Kyle [Shanahan] and Brian [Griese], and I thought they did a great job with him because his tape from one year to the next, you see some things that translate. High level, you can tell he was really working on things, my conversations with him about his feet and eyes and reading with his feet and playing in rhythm and being able to make great decisions with a football all leads you to, and he's making, you know, those comments are being made out of experience of not only things he's done well, but we all sometimes have our greatest growth in moments of failure.

"The level of that failure at this position tends to be magnified because it's for all to see. Wins or losses tend to get put on that player regardless of circumstance around them or the voice in the headset or all the things that goes into it," O'Connell continued. "And I'd like to think, I'm confident in the combination of all those things for us here in Minnesota and where Sam's at in his career, that this makes this a great opportunity for both the Vikings and Sam."

Darnold first crossed paths with O'Connell when the QB was still in high school and the fellow former Jets player was a coach for a 7-on-7 team at an Elite 11 camp.

Darnold progressed through college at USC on the way to becoming the No. 3 overall pick by the Jets in 2018 when O'Connell was coaching quarterbacks in Washington.

That same season, the Jets signed veteran Josh McCown, who was hired as Minnesota’s quarterbacks coach at the end of February.

After enjoying the view of Jones rocking Oakley sunglasses during the presser and quipping he "forgot my shades today," Darnold described the opportunity to reconnect with McCown.

"Josh man, Josh is amazing," Darnold said. "It's gonna be fun to be able to work with him and kind of talk about, you know, even today, just talking about, what we want to do fundamentally in this offense and kind of build off of what I've been doing you know, the last couple years with my [footwork] and just continue to work, all the things that make me a better quarterback."

View photos of QB Sam Darnold who joined the Vikings during free agency.

Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was asked if the Vikings feel they must also draft a quarterback in the first round. Adofo-Mensah said he considers Minnesota's options open. So are the Vikings minds as they begin working with Darnold.

"I'm not gonna call him a bridge quarterback," Adofo-Mensah said. "But he's a quarterback that's on our roster, under contract for a year. You know, ultimately, at the end of the day, that position is about, 'How do you how do you run Kevin's offense? How do you overcome context when the play is not there?' There's different skill sets that go into the position. That's how we evaluate it."

Darnold is also joining the Vikings with an open mind and emphasized how ready he is to get to work.

"Before we say anything about winning a lot of games or making it to the playoffs and winning a championship, you know, there's a lot of work that needs to be put in before that in OTAs (Organized Team Activity practices)," Darnold said. "And obviously, in training camp, and even the start of the season, there's a lot of work. I'm very willing to be able to put in that work … just hearing everyone talk around this building, everyone is bought in and willing to work that hard for it."