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Sam Darnold's Learning Process Included Poker Chips & Apartment Drop-Backs

EAGAN, Minn. – Sam Darnold joined a Vikings group considered to have a full house of skill players.

It was quite fitting that he implemented poker chips as he learned more about their respective roles in the offense.

Darnold spoke with Twin Cities media members Thursday, following the Vikings final mandatory minicamp practice, and explained that he wrote respective skill position letters (H, F, X, Y and Z) on poker chips and slide them around on a tabletop as a visual aid to "see concepts come together."

At this point in the spring program, Darnold has a much stronger grasp of the system and has largely moved away from the chips – but he continues to implement varying methods of recall.

"Recording [the plays] is a big one. So I can hear it, hear it again and then say it," he said. "Draw it on the whiteboard … learning the formations and concepts together.

"Even in my apartment, you know, taking the drops and doing all the footwork and stuff that I need to do to make sure I'm prepared for practice, training camp and then go out there and play on Sundays," added Darnold, who joked he has to remind himself not to disturb his downstairs neighbors.

Heading into the summer break, Darnold feels good about where he's at and will continue to learn and prepare for Vikings Training Camp.

"One day at a time," he said. "When we install [the offense, getting down] Install 1, Install 2, and when we're at Install 8 or Install 9, being able to go back to those first couple installs and just refresh on those because they continue to come up during the season and in training camp, as well."

The Vikings coaching staff is certainly set up well for an incoming quarterback, from Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips having quarterback backgrounds, to longtime NFL QB Josh McCown now coaching the position this season and Grant Udinski serving as the team's assistant offensive coordinator/assistant quarterbacks coach.

Darnold said he's been grateful for the opportunity to pick the minds of all of the above, and he especially appreciates the extra study sessions with Udinski.

"Grant's great," he said. "Being able to study with him and hear him call the plays – that's the biggest [thing for me]. The more I can just hear the terminology and be able to call it right back to him and know my reads and go through it that way, the better off I'll be. When I get out there during the season, it's just muscle memory at that point and I can look at the defensive coverage and all the different things I have to look at.

"The coaches that are here, that was a big reason [why I wanted to be here] – just really good offensive minds," Darnold said. "And then you've got [Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores] on the defensive side of the ball, and his entire staff. It's just great to be able to come here and learn a ton of football."

As he's learned Minnesota's offense, he's become more familiar with his new teammates and surroundings.

It didn't take long upon signing for Darnold to look comfortable on and off the field with new teammates, and this week he added Justin Jefferson to that grouping.

Jefferson signed an extension through 2028 with the Vikings earlier this week and participated in all three minicamp practices, during which he was able to catch a number of passes from No. 14.

"Throwing to that guy is fun," Darnold said. "He gets open more times than not, even in zones. He has a really good feel for settling in zones and all that stuff. It's fun to be able to throw to him."

And it isn't just Jefferson, either. Looking around the Vikings offense, Darnold is excited about the number of playmakers around him, from Jefferson and Jordan Addison to Aaron Jones and T.J. Hockenson (when he returns from an ACL injury).

"We've got a really good skill group and then a great offensive line to go along with it. We're just excited to continue to put good days together, stack them, and just have a good training camp now."

Asked what he most wants to showcase for fans and the rest of the league, Darnold said he's staying focused on purely executing as best as he can.

"I think it's as simple as that – completing the football," he said. "That's really the only thing. First and second down, finding completions. Third down, handling the protection and trying to get first downs and obviously get in the end zone.

"It's just doing my job, every single play," Darnold later added. "And all the other things will kind of come with it. The accolades, that stuff. You know, that's for other people to judge for me. It's just about being able to put the ball in play – just be a point guard out there."