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Transcript: Spielman, Stephenson and O'Neill Addressed the Media Friday

Vikings Director of College Scouting Jamaal Stephenson

Very excited to add another player to the Vikings today. Brian O'Neill, tackle from Pitt. Very good value, we feel, for where we got him. A kid who came out early as a junior, we feel that if he had stayed in, probably would have been a higher draft pick. We're very excited to add him. We took Mike Hughes yesterday in the first round, another player that we feel fits the Vikings criteria and helps round out our roster.

Q: What does his athleticism provide?

A: Very athletic kid, played basketball in high school. Was an unbelievable high school basketball player. Mom and Dad were both college athletes. He comes from an athletic family. Like you said, he started as a tight end and eventually moved to right tackle. So, he's played some right tackle, as well as left tackle where he ended his career.

Q: Will you keep him at tackle or could you move him around?

A: I'll let Coach Zimmer address where they're going to play him but he has been a tackle his entire college career.

Q: Did you feel the urgency to pull the trigger on an offensive lineman with the big run on them earlier in the round?

A: There was a big run, obviously, I've never seen that many offensive guards go this high in the draft. No, we just felt like with the value, he was up there on our board. We're never going to just draft a guy because of need. Obviously, he's a good player and we feel like he's going to help.

Q: Was there any preference of taking a guard or tackle or just best player?

A: It was really the best offensive lineman. We feel like with the guys that we have, we have some versatility to be able to just take the best guy there. That's what we did.

Q: What do you think is going on with guards, more getting paid and more getting drafted higher?

A: I'm not sure what the trend is. I know that this year it was really a strong interior offensive line class. So, we're seeing it come to fruition.

Q: How do you see O'Neill as a fit for what you want to do in the running game?

A: Brian was probably the best athlete of all the offensive lineman in this draft. You watch this guy get out and pull, it's unbelievable how fast he moves and the ability to change directions. You watch him catch passes, you may have seen the clip. He's running the ball. You do see that athleticism. I think that helps at the second level, helps Dalvin [Cook].

Q: Did O'Neill play both tackle positions while in college?

A: Yes, he did.

Q: How do you envision potentially working O'Neill into the right tackle position?

A: I really don't know, to be honest with you. I let Coach Zimmer and Coach Sparano decide where they'll start this guy out at. But he's been a tackle his whole college career.

Q: What about O'Neill's physical skills stand out, and how do they fit with what Coach Sparano wants to do with the offensive line?

A: We're a movement-based offense, we're trying to get to the second level, and this guy fits that bill. He's athletic, he's long, he's big, he has all the traits.

Q: Do you think he's a better pass or run blocker?

A: I think he's a better pass protector at this point. He's got to get stronger, that's one of his weaknesses, but we feel like we can get that corrected easily. 

Q: What did you like about Mike Hughes over some of the other corners in this draft class?

A: We spent a lot of time with Mike, and he's got the kind of feet that we look for at the corner position. He's really quick out of the break, he's a cover corner. He has some return potential as well.

Q: O'Neill had the fastest 40-yard dash among offensive lineman at the Combine. Is that a metric that you value from that position?

A: Not necessarily. It's good to see that he can run that fast, but you turn the tape on and you see that anyway.

Q: Were you making any calls today to see if you could move up at all?

A: We've been on the phones the last two days, yes. That's not going to stop.

Q: Comparing him to other early round cornerbacks, what stands out about Mike Hughes?

A: Like I said earlier his quickness and his feet. He has unbelievable feet, he's a competitive guy and he's a pesky guy. All of those traits that you want to have in a cover corner.

Q: Have you guys ever cared about offensive lineman running the 40-yard-dash and why do you think they do it?

A: I think they do it because they've always done it to be honest. A lot of times you look at the ten time as the more important time on an offensive lineman. We look at it, of course, it's all part of the puzzle but it doesn't help us decide whether we draft a guy or not.

Q: Is there any thought of using him in the passing game?

A: That's a coach Zimmer question, I can't answer that.

Q: How do you think Brian O'Neill is going to fit in with the offensive line culture here?

A: This guy is going to fit in perfectly. He comes from a great family like I talked about earlier. He's from the Bloomington, Delaware area and he fits all the traits of a Minnesota Viking. Tough, hard-working, competitive, all those things.

Q: What role did versatility play in drafting Mike Hughes?

A: It played a big part in it. You always want a guy who can do multiple jobs and he can do that.

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman

I know Jamaal [Stephenson] came down and talked to you about Brian O'Neill. Very excited when we're able to get guys of this athletic ability and this size. I know I talked to Tony Sparano this afternoon, we went through a bunch of scenarios. Offensive line and what could potentially be there at the bottom of the second. There was a pretty good run on offensive lineman early. But, we felt very fortunate that Brian was there. He has tremendous athletic ability that you can't teach. You watch his tape, watch him get to the second level, watch him pull. All the physical and athletic traits that we look for and the scheme that we run. I know if I can get coaches this type of athlete, they can develop these guys. We think this kid has tremendous upside and can't wait until we can get him in here this weekend. As far as the third pick we ended up trading, I just feel with the way our board looked and getting that second overall pick in the fourth round, we can still get the same player we would have probably taken at the bottom of the third. We got another sixth round pick, I think we have seven going into tomorrow. Also, when you're that high in the fourth round, you have the opportunity to take the best players left for that day or you could potentially move back and even pick up more potential draft picks. We met a little bit on the potential guys, we have two names up there that we'd be happy with either one or we could potentially move down again and accumulate more picks but we'll see how it goes tomorrow.

Q: Does having the second pick tomorrow give you extra time to do research on a potential player?

A: We don't need to do research, our research is done.

Q: Last year you spoke to Dalvin Cook on the second day, correct?

A: Right, but that was all day. We're coming in tomorrow. That was just to reaffirm what we already knew with Dalvin last year. We're pretty much prepared to pick a guy tomorrow or see if a potential trade comes up that is too good to pass up and potentially move down. I don't know what will happen but we will react once we get on the clock. I'm sure that we will field a lot of calls tomorrow morning.

Q: Jamaal Stephenson noted O'Neill's athleticism, but also the work that he needs to put in to develop. Where do you see him fitting in right now?

A: We said the same thing when we took Danielle Hunter, that he had a lot of work to do. All of these guys come in, the coaches get their hands on them, and with each guy you look at how quickly he's developing. I think with this kid's athleticism, I saw on TV and Coach DeFilippo was talking about some jet sweeps in him from the tackle position – just kidding – and throwing tackle screen passes. But no, I think until we get the kids in here, we know where the ceiling is, and I've always been a big believer on taking athletes that have such a huge ceiling and having faith in what these coaches do when we bring in these type of athletes. We've had a lot of success going at it that way. I think we'll know once he gets in here and once our coaches get their hands on him how quickly he's going to be ready.

Q: Was there any potential opportunities to trade up in the third round?

A: We had a lot of people trying to trade up to get our pick. There were maybe one or two guys that we would have stayed in the third round [to get], but they were taken. At that time looking at the board I knew there were plenty of options to trade back to get an extra pick and to still get the player that we would have taken tonight.

Q: What was offensive line coach Tony Sparano like in the draft room as interior linemen were going off the board?

A: I didn't sit with Tony. Those guys kind of sit in their offices. We do a lot of talking, in fact I would go down and talk to them as we were getting close to that pick. I went down and talked through it with Tony and Flip [Coach DeFilippo] a couple of times, but for the most part we've done so many meetings, so much film study together that I think everybody knows the direction and I just go and reaffirm if we still feel as strongly. There's not much talk or discussion on it at all, but I know sitting there watching [offensive linemen] peel off at the top of the second round, they were flying off the board quicker than any time I can remember.

Q: Why do you think the offensive lineman were coming off the board so fast?

A: I think it was one of the strongest classes this year at the center/guard area. As you sit there and look across the board, those guys were rated very highly on our board as well. If you got a need, you can't have enough offensive lineman and those guys are all very talented football players that I think can come in and contribute.

Q: Does taking a tackle mean Mike Remmers will be playing right guard?

A: I think right now what we're worried about is getting all of the players in. Lets get the 90 man roster together and then I know the coached will start assessing these guys once we get them in here to rookie minicamp next week, and then we'll get into our OTA's. As we progress through that then the coaches start formulating game plan on who, what, where and why.

Q: Is it fair to say Brian O'Neill has to put on some weight and get stronger?

A: I think he's going to add strength and I think that's just part of maturing. I think his weight is fine. I talked to our strength coach Mark Uyeyama, and he looked at about 60 or 70 guys at the combine. He looked at their body types and how they moved. That was one of the guys I had the discussion with him the other day on. He feels he can definitely add some weight as well. We're excited to see what he can do once he gets in here.

Q: Do you think Brian O'Neill had the best athleticism of the remaining offensive linemen?

A: We thought he was one of the top athletes in the draft at the offensive tackle position.

Q: How do you distinguish between athletes, some of whom are raw?

A: I think just watching the tape, you see the athletic numbers when you go the combine and the guy runs this or runs that. But, I think you always have to go back to the tape, you have to see the movement skills. And we have the analytics and we have all the numbers and do this and that but you truly have to trust your eyes. Like I said when we're looking regardless of if it's offensive lineman or any position we're looking is it tailored to what we're going to ask them to do here either on the offensive or defensive scheme. And some of the guys like I stated earlier are going to be very good football players, but they wouldn't be as good with what they are going to be required to do in our scheme. If we adjusted our scheme, or if we ran a different scheme I should say, then maybe they would have more value for us.

Q: Do you evaluate work outs in a certain way based on your scheme?

A: I would say that the athletic numbers, you know coach Zim talked a little about he thinks the short shuttles. But I think everything is tied into it, the psychological, the intelligence scores, what are those test numbers and what players have had the most success in the league. Our analytics people could come up and say this player is similar to these three players, not only from an athletic ability standpoint but from an intelligence standpoint, from a psychological standpoint. Like I said we're trying and I think each year we've evolved and especially with this coaching staff and now that we've been together that we really are honed in on the specific traits that we want. Like I said, guys that are there that fit those traits that may take time to develop or they can come in and impact right away, but they are tailored to what we are looking for.

Q: What has it been like sitting and waiting for your pick?

A: Agonizing a little bit just to sit there and wait. But like I told Coach Zim, I'd sit there and wait all day long if we can end up 32 or 30 every year because I think we still can got some very good football players that end up falling our way. Now, like I said, getting the second overall pick in the fourth round we have an opportunity to pretty much control that third day to take the best player available or move down some and continue to add picks because I think there is still a lot of value out there in the third day. I also think, at least my philosophy has been, the more you can bring in the more swings you can take for better odds on hitting on guys.

Q: Do you ever break those traits for production?

A: Traits I am talking about are things we actually see on tape. That is what it is going to come down to. Like the transition quickness when we talked about the corner. The athletic ability, the ability to pull, to move in space, to work laterally because we're not a power, go straight ahead team anymore. We are doing a lot of min and zone schemes so those guys have to be a little bit more athletic to be successful. The traits are being verified by those other tests. But the traits are being determined by what we see on tape.

Q: How much influence does John DeFilippo have with the offensive line picks knowing Tony Sparano has been here for a while?

A: Everybody has an opportunity. Everybody gets an opportunity to speak. In our meetings, I have our coordinators, our head coach, our assistant positon coaches and our assistants to the assistant position coaches and our quality control guys all get positions to analyze. Then you layer on the four or five reports we have from the scouts. My lieutenants plus myself, we've got a pretty good wide variety of opinions and we are able to come up with a consensus.

Q: Did you look much to try to move up in the second round?

A: The one thing I didn't want to do is I didn't want to tap into any picks next year. The other thing, moving up there, you are talking about a fourth-rounder which we don't have, at least we didn't' have at the time. You have to be careful on moving up to go get one of those guys but is it going to cost you more opportunities to pick up players? We feel all of those guys were all very good players, but I also felt there was an opportunity someone had to come down to us. We were very excited that Brian fell to us. After that, there were a lot more offensive linemen that started to go. I knew if we didn't take him there, there was no chance we were going to get an offensive lineman by the time we were picking in the bottom of the third.

Vikings Offensive Tackle Brian O'Neill

2nd Round (62nd overall), Pittsburgh

I just want to say it is a great night to be a Minnesota Viking. I can't thank the Wilf family enough, Mr. Spielman, Coach Zimmer and Coach Sparano for taking a chance on me. Let's get this thing started and I can't wait to be a part of the Minnesota Vikings.

Q: What were your interactions with the Minnesota Vikings up to this point?

A: It wasn't as deep as some other teams. I met with them at the Senior Bowl and was able to have contact with them at the combine. I think they were able to get a good representation of who I am as a person and a player through those interactions. It wasn't too crazy, but at the same time that was a possible landing spot.

Q: Is this about the position in the draft you were hearing you would go?

A: Yes, it's pretty accurate. We expected anywhere from the last maybe five or ten picks in the first to anywhere from the first 15 to the third. I couldn't be happier with how it panned out. It's about right where we expected. I'm elated. I'm so excited to join this organization.

Q: What do you think the first thing you have to work on is as an NFL tackle?

A: I think being consistent with my technique. I think that is the same for anybody. When your technique is never arrived, especially with me, that is going to either help me or hurt me. I think becoming more consistent on how I do things. Honing in on some little stuff with my feet will be able to help me out a bunch. Excited to get working with Coach Sparano. Work on those things that he thinks I need to develop. At this point it is up to me and him to go in the direction that he thinks I need to go in to become a better player.

Q: What would you say your strengths are?

A: I think I am able to handle speed off the edge very well. I think that is something that is one of my strong suits. Being able to protect the edge. Obviously with the new quarterback in town, Kirk Cousins, that is a big deal. Protecting him is my most important job now. It is a job I take very seriously. Being able to keep guys off the quarterback is something I do well and something I feel very confident in my abilities about.

Q: Did you see Kirk Cousins tweet at you?

A: That is pretty cool. That is pretty surreal to be honest. Coming from a player like him, I know how much he means to the organization now. Can't wait to get working with him and have him earn my trust and vice versa. I think that is something that is earned and something I am going to try to show up day one and work as hard as I can to protect him because he's the guy. I think I understand that very well.

Q: The Vikings touted your athleticism pretty highly. Where does that come from? Did you start in basketball or football and when did you first notice that elite level of speed for your size?

A: I don't know. Maybe I noticed it when I made the transition from tight end to tackle going into the 2015 college season. I realized that is something that could be something that could really help me. At the end of the day football is football and being able to change positions. Putting on the weight the right way and put on good weight, added weight that still allowed me to be athletic would be something that will help serve me well down the road. Hopefully it will continue to do so. That is just one of the many components that makes up a good football player. Thankful for that but going to do everything in my power to keep that and bring up all the other aspects of a good offensive lineman.

Q: What are the differences on playing tackle and tight end?

A: I think at offensive tackle if you don't do your job the play is busted. Where as a tight end you could run a route and not be open and you could get the ball out somewhere else. So, the technical things that require you to do your job and do your job every play and do it well. At offensive tackle that is the biggest difference, if you don't do your job the play is over. And especially left tackle and even right tackle protecting the quarterback is the number one priority, at least for an offensive lineman. Being able to do your techniques consistently every time that's kind of the biggest difference because you might be able to get away with some stuff at tight end, at least I did when I played. At tackle you're out there on an island.

Q: What was the primary factor for coming out as a junior?

A: I think I was ready for a new challenge. I felt like I had a pretty good grasp of the college game, I had played under four offensive coordinators in four years and I was ready to put one hundred percent of my life into football and that's the biggest thing. I love this game and have put so much of myself into it over the past 15 years that I was ready to make it my entire life. That's something I think is going to really help me in terms of actually playing the game is devoting my entire life to it. Not focusing on school and other things that I did in college. It should be fun, I love the game and can't think of anything else I would want to do for a living.

Q: Who first approached you with the idea of switching positions?

A: My head coach Pat Narduzzi. He was kind of instrumental in that change. He came to me after we had an injury in 2015 and said, "Brian we have a need and we think you're probably going to be the third tight end in the rotation and probably get in on some special teams." But a guy went down and he was like, "Hey look we have a need, we're scrambling right now and we think this would be a great move." He didn't force me to do it, he kind of asked my opinion and we had a long conversation. He was like, "I'll give you a week or two to decide, there's no pressure but I would talk to your parents and see what you think." Made a couple phone calls that night and called him the next morning said I was on board and we've been going even since. So, I just talked to him on the phone just before I got on with you guys. Really thankful for him because he's the catalyst that got that change going.

Q: What was more fun, scoring a touchdown or getting a pancake block?

A: Getting a pancake block for sure. There's no better feeling playing offensive line than doing that. The touchdown was fun, but that was a thing for our whole entire offense and our whole entire offensive line. That's kind of a group thing that was fun, but I get way more enjoyment taking a guy for a ride.

Q: How long does it take to gain weight properly and how did that go?

A: I think it's really following the team I had around me. Everybody asks how hard is it to put on that much weight in in that short of amount of time. To be honest I had such a good staff in terms of our strength coach Dave Andrews and Freddie Walker and Austin Addington-Strapp and our nutritionist and our training staff who basically outlined everything for me that all I had to do was everything they said. There was nothing left up to me to decide really, and then my offensive line coach at the time, John Peterson, took care of all the technical stuff. So, for me it was just more about a mentality and that if you're going to make a change like that you're going to jump two feet in and you're going to give it one hundred percent. Just following the people who I had around me, great support staff. It's worked out well so far. 

Q: In this pre-draft process, were there any teams talking to you potentially about guard?

A: Some teams talked to me about it for sure. That is something I am definitely open to. To me, playing football is playing football. Whatever the team is going to ask me to do, I am going to do it and hopefully I am going to do it at a very high level. I feel comfortable playing either side at tackle because that is what I've been asked to do. At the same time, there's been a couple spring practices here and there where they bumped me down to guard just for the heck of it and I loved it down there. I am open to whatever. Whatever Coach wants me to play I'll do it and give him everything I've got.    

Q: Would you be up to playing tight end if they needed you to?

A: Whatever they need. Whatever we need to do to win a Super Bowl is what I am going to do because that is the goal. I know where the organization is at. We now are in a great place. That is awesome to say and how close we were last year. If that is what it is going to take to help us get there and help our fans get there, then let's do it. I am one hundred percent in and that is how I've always been, at least at Pitt and high school. Whatever is needed, I will do it. If they need me to run down on kickoffs I will do it. If I have to play center I will do it. I know Pat Elflein will have something to say about that but whatever is asked of me I am going to do to the best of my ability.

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