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The Vikings capped an involved week with the Titans by falling 24-16 at U.S. Bank Stadium on Saturday in the second 2023 preseason game for both teams.
While the scoreboard wasn't what the home crowd was looking for, there were numerous objectives that Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell can check off from hosting the two practices with Tennessee.
View game action photos from he Vikings vs. Titans preseason Week 2 game at U.S. Bank Stadium
Minnesota's starters logged plenty of quality reps against Tennessee's first teams in those sessions in a controlled environment. Players made contact but did not tackle opponents to the ground during those sessions. The Vikings were able to face a challenge from a physical defensive front and learn more about how opponents might try to play them.
"We hit just about every situation possible in two days and had ultra competitiveness out there, almost right to that line," O'Connell said. "Give those guys a lot of credit over there for being able to have two days of work without it getting out of hand."
O'Connell opted to rest starters on offense and defense Saturday, but the Titans opted to play their starting offensive line 16 snaps over the course of three series.
Backups were able to log significant game reps as the Vikings continue to evaluate the few roster spots that are yet to be determined.
O'Connell also used the game to provide developmental opportunities for his assistant coaches.
Minnesota will look forward to logging similar good work in joint practices with Arizona this week (Wednesday and Thursday). Click here for tickets.
Who from the Vikings does the joint practice planning? Is it [O'Connell]? Is it the O & D Coordinators? Position coaches? GM? Is there a standard format that most joint practices seem to follow among all the teams doing joint practices? Is it very collaborative and organic effort, ongoing change as both coaching staff's evaluate?
— Mike Haugse via Twitter
We'll start here with this question from Mike.
I can't speak for other teams, but I'd say most agreements for joint practices begin with a preexisting relationship of some sort at the head coach or GM levels — or both.
The Vikings have been very intentional in setting up their joint practices. O'Connell collaborates with his own coaching staff and the coaching staffs of the teams they've hosted.
O'Connell mentioned he had reached out to Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel to inquire about the possibility before the preseason schedule was announced. The former Patriots teammates (2008) had a lot of common ground and believed there would be great benefits for each squad.
The coaches for both teams reached agreements for structuring practices, laying some ground rules and coming up with a schedule for what will or won't be scripted during the sessions. It can be as simple as compromising start times. The Titans, for instance, practice in the mornings when they are in Tennessee (that's changed since I was sweating through some afternoon sessions just by standing in place from 2010-13), and the Vikings have had afternoon sessions on most days long before O'Connell's arrival. So, the teams agreed to meet in the middle with noon starts.
After the initial plans are agreed, the coaches can then revisit, based on how their training camps have been going/areas that need more work.
Teams have the option of utilizing specific schemes within those joint practices that they may hold from using during preseason games, which usually feature vanilla syrup on vanilla ice cream. Coaches don't want to reveal too much on games that air live or are replayed nationally, but they want to maximize their time and effort by getting that quality work.
View pregame photos of the Vikings ahead of their preseason Week 2 game vs. the Titans at U.S. Bank Stadium
Here's my 2 cents on why [T.J.] Hockenson hasn't been signed to an extension. To me, it boils down to the Vikings haven't decided what to do about extending Kirk Cousins. They, per overthecap.com, have about $50 [million] in 2024 cap space. That's with J.J. (Justin Jefferson) and Harrison Smith both signed at over $19 M each. Targets for extension are [Danielle] Hunter, [Kirk] Cousins and Hockenson. The $50 M gets you two but not all three. There are three outcomes for the 2023 season: 1. Excellent year with a deep playoff run, maybe even a Super Bowl; 2. An average year netting a mid-first-round draft pick in 2024; 3. A terrible year netting a very high pick in 2024. I think they extend Cousins under scenarios 1 and 2 and only would move on if they stand a chance for a high first rounder. It's that uncertainty that has prevented extending Hockenson or signing any of the highly regarded free agents, since they likely wanted a multi-year deal.
On a related note, how long do you think Hockenson will wait before he decides to just see what free agency brings?
— Dave Sinclair in Rio Rancho, New Mexico
Without getting too far into the weeds of contract situations for everyone, I appreciate Dave's email because it outlines several of the decisions awaiting the Vikings beyond this year. Everyone's hoping for scenario 1, and I don't know anyone in the building who is planning scenario 3.
The NFL's gravitational forces pull teams toward the middle, but that can cause some gray areas for making conclusive decisions.
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Sept. 26, 2023.
The Vikings have said multiple times they envision Jefferson and Hockenson being part of the team for the long haul. They also have had dialogue with Cousins' representation. This page from overthecap.com forecasts substantial increases in salary cap over the next four years, including going from $224.8 million in 2023 to $256 million in 2024, $282 million in 2025 and $308 million in 2026, but those numbers could change since the salary cap is based on revenues.
Hockenson seems to sincerely like it here, and I expect conversations to continue. He and the team could table discussions until the offseason, similar to what it sounds like is happening with Cousins, but I'd expect a certain maintenance of relationships.
I was just wondering if you had any insight into the Vikings approach to their remaining salary cap and apparent reluctance to spend any of it. On the same day we signed what I believe is now our sixth RB to the roster, we also watched 2 CB leave practice early with injury and the most recent free agent CB to visit signed with another team. I know skill players rack up plenty of miles in the preseason, but I can't help but question building so much depth at solidified positions while not looking to add at positions of question like CB and IOL (interior offensive line). It feels like making voluntary decisions earlier on to proactively try to improve your team with quality players would be a better plan than being forced to make a reactive decision based off a late injury when the talent level to replace them has dropped.
— Todd J.
It seems this a new-look offense and defense. Why haven't we gone after some of the bigger named free agents?
— "King Crunch"
Todd is referencing the signing of running back Aaron Dykes on Thursday, which occurred before Mekhi Blackmon noticeably left the field after a 1-on-1 drill.
The Dykes signing is in the midst of Kene Nwangwu being sidelined this month with an undisclosed ailment. Dykes was the first Viking to touch the football on Saturday, returning the opening kickoff 38 yards to the Minnesota 33. He made his way into the mix on offense, as well.
So, removing Nwangwu and Alexander Mattison from the mix leaves Ty Chandler, DeWayne McBride, Abram Smith and Dykes to go through the preseason.
The Vikings pro scouting department has continued to take a look around as players become available, and the number of players who are available is poised to increase next week. Teams will be reducing their rosters from 90 (or 91 if they have an International Player Pathway participant) to 53 or 54 on Aug. 29. Players will either be exposed to waivers (teams can make claims based on draft order) or released.
Removing the IPP participants for the math (since they will remain on their teams) means there's 1,184 players across the league who will become available via waivers or releases next week.
As for the second question, it's possible the Vikings have some offensive and defensive players who are not publicly proven yet but are held in high regard by the coaches. O'Connell is laser focused on putting the team in the absolute best position to host the Buccaneers on Sept. 10 in Week 1.
"Bigger named" free agents is a bit broad, but I think there continues to be a commitment to trying to maximize value with any acquisition. Maybe it makes the most sense to see what players from other teams become available, then reassess the most efficient ways to try to fill any gaps/supplement depth.
Last season, Blake Brandel did a pretty good job coming in and playing tackle. I see Vederian Lowe is getting lots of work at tackle now and Brandel's been playing guard.
How do the two of them look so far? Is Brandel competing for a starting role at guard?
— John Fedor in Watertown, Connecticut
Brandel started at left guard in Seattle and at right guard against Tennessee when Minnesota opted to rest Ed Ingram, who had started in the preseason opener.
Brandel played 39 offensive snaps against the Seahawks and 47 against the Titans. The Vikings feel good about the versatility he can provide, which might make him an ideal reserve player.
Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips was asked about Brandel on Aug. 8, two days before the preseason opener.
"We see Blake as a versatile player. You need some guys like that on your team," Phillips said. "Obviously he played some left tackle last year, and he's gotten a lot of reps at left guard now, and he's played right tackle, as well, already in this camp. When you have a guy like that where – if you're not working with that first group, you have to have something to you. You have to be a guard/center, or you've gotta be a guard/tackle. And he's proven that he can go in games and function at all those spots – and not only function but play well."
Lowe played every offensive snap at Seattle (66) and against Tennessee (63) at left tackle. Phillips was asked about Lowe on Aug. 14.
"Vederian's worked hard. Vederian's got as good a pass set, really, as anybody in this league. His ability to get off the ball, set square," Phillips said. "He's got really long arms. He's gained a lot of strength from last year, coming in as a rookie. He's a mature guy. He's got a family, got kids. It's important to him. Just like any of our players, he's gotta keep developing, but we do feel like he's a talented guy who could be one of these swing tackle players."
I'm a big fan of the culture of love and respect that Coach O'Connell has instilled within the team. However, I'm wondering if he can show us some blatant disrespect for opposing teams this year? Sometimes you have to be kind of a jerk to dominate on the football field.
— Trevor in Salt Lake City, Utah
O'Connell doesn't seem interested in talking trash. He seems to center around trying to build up every member of his team for the greater good. He does have rules, and he sets high expectations, but he also has shown patience through teaching moments. O'Connell is cordial with media members, even if he has a disagreement in viewpoints. He may or may not like different opponents based on any variety of factors, but I don't know how showing blatant disrespect helps a team execute the correct block, make a remarkable catch or deliver a key stop.
I also believe he wanted to practice against the Titans in part because of their high physicality.
View photos of the Vikings arriving at U.S. Bank Stadium ahead of the preseason Week 2 matchup vs. the Titans.
Could you give us an update on Chris Reed?
— Thanks, Gary Gimble
Reed remains on the Active/Non-Football Injury list. He was seen doing some workouts last week, and he also took a moment during the joint practices to help the officiating crew signal whether field goals were good or not.
He has played in 68 games with 30 starts since joining the NFL with Jacksonville in 2016, so there's plenty of experience to rely on, but there also would need to be a ramp up for the former Minnesota State Maverick.
View frame-by-frame photos of Vikings WR Justin Jefferson's touchdown during 2023 Vikings Training Camp practice.
It is great to see Minnesota hasn't limited themselves when bringing in different players to look at to help improve the team. The Miami Dolphins released James Blackman, a talented quarterback who has been through many coaches (Kirk Cousins many offensive coordinators in the NFL for example) during his time in college, which I believe affected his performance. Do you think that there is any chance that Minnesota would take a look at him to see if he can be an asset to the team even if it's on the practice squad?
— Craig Goatley
Teams are always evaluating ways to improve their process or personnel.
Cousins is obviously the starter. Based on O'Connell's comments after the first two preseason games, it seems Minnesota is quite happy with where Nick Mullens is, what he adds to the team as a backup and if he were needed to play in place of Cousins.
Jaren Hall has had some nice moments and some learning opportunities, even if the offense wasn't fully firing. The team will need to decide if it keeps three quarterbacks on its 53-man roster or just two.
I love the play [Ivan Pace, Jr.] makes with about 11 minutes left in the second quarter against the Seahawks. I liked it at first just because he left his feet to completely blow up the much bigger guard, but after watching it a few times, I noticed this is actually what made the tackle! Pace knocked the guard into the path of the running back resulting in the tackle – no other player contacted the back until he was already on the ground. I think Pace is right – gonna be a lot of teams wishing they'd have made a different pick … wasn't like he wasn't available during the entire draft!
— Guy Seela, a life-long Vikings fan (since 1969) in Ridgecrest, California
Pace brought intensity and aggressiveness to his NFL debut. He played with a certain fearlessness and ability that exceeds his frame, and he also showed he was capable of wearing the green dot helmet with the communication device that allows him to hear calls from the sideline and relay them to teammates.
Causing disruptions in the run or pass game can be quite valuable, even if a player doesn't get the credit for the tackle, as long as every player is doing his 1/11th on defense.
Pace led the Vikings with six tackles on 30 snaps at Seattle and recorded two tackles and a quarterback hit on 21 snaps against Tennessee.