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5 Takeaways: Vikings Work with Cardinals, Brian O'Neill's Full Return & New QB Rule

EAGAN, Minn. – It was a productive – albeit sweltering – first day of joint practices between the Vikings and Cardinals.

The pair of NFC teams have another session scheduled for Thursday before facing off for their third and final preseason game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Kickoff is set for noon (CT).

Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell thanked Cardinals Head Coach Jonathan Gannon, who helped coached defensives backs in Minnesota from 2014-17, for helping collaborate on a constructive session despite temps that reached nearly 100.

"A little bit more volume, even in the heat today. We tried to start an hour earlier, and I don't know how much that helped us when we got into the team periods, but I liked the way our guys tried to work through it, battle through it, with the amount of repetition and volumes," O'Connell told media members. "So these two weeks are kind of right on schedule. No issues today as far as the extracurricular stuff, so excited to finish off these joint practices tomorrow."

View photos of players during 2023 Vikings Training Camp joint practice with the Arizona Cardinals on Aug. 23 at the TCO Performance Center.

O'Connell noted that in a perfect world, it would be helpful to practice against a team with a 3-4 base defense, as well as one with a 4-3. A benefit of sharing joint practices with the Titans (last week) and Cardinals, though, is that they each "play multiple fronts" in a similar way to Minnesota, even if Tennessee and Arizona are both 3-4 base groups

"We've gotten a lot of really good work," he said. "I liked the run game today. Hit some explosives in the play-pass game. And ultimately, today was about reps – in, by far, our toughest environment in camp with it being as warm as it was – and I thought our guys responded."

Here are four other takeaways from O'Connell's press conference.

1. O'Neill & Addison return & other injury updates

Right tackle Brian O'Neill had his first full practice since suffering an Achilles injury Week 17 last season. O'Neill had previously been participating in individual drills but not in the team portions.

"This was his first planned, full workload, and there were no issues," O'Connell said. "I'm really proud of Brian and everything he's done – his whole progression, his patience, his professionalism – and making sure we're right where we want to be."

Rookie receiver Jordan Addison also returned as a full participant; Mekhi Blackmon, Jaquelin Roy and Garett Maag all were "phased back in" Wednesday, and the team hopes to get cornerback C.J. Coldon back for Saturday's game.

According to O'Connell, Kene Nwangwu continues to rehab an injury – "no real change" – and N'Keal Harry is sidelined due to a lower-body/soft-tissue injury sustained during pregame of the Titans game Saturday.

"Hoping to try to see if he can work through it, but it might be tough to get him for the game," O'Connell said of Harry. "We have a couple guys in the concussion protocol – Esezi [Otomewo] and NaJee Thompson. NaJee, obviously, has flashed for us on teams and had that kind of freak thing happen. But both of those guys are progressing through the protocol.

"Lewis Cine kind of suffered a little bit of a low-grade, soft-tissue thing," he added. "It will not be something we're too concerned about moving forward, but we want to make sure we allow that to heal."

O'Connell also told reporters that T.J. Hockenson has recovered from an inner ear infection but recently approached coaches and the training staff with lower back stiffness.

"He was off to the side today. Whether he could have gone or not if it was a game week is a different story, but with joint practices, we wanted to make sure we just kept his conditioning going," O'Connell said. "That's something that he'll work through, and we'll possibly have him tomorrow or be ready to roll as we start our Tampa prep next week."

2. Byron Murphy, Jr., facing former team

This week could hold mixed emotions for Vikings cornerback Byron Murphy, Jr., who spent his first four NFL seasons in Arizona before joining Minnesota as a free agent this spring.

O'Connell's respect for Murphy goes back long before he ever joined the Vikings roster, though.

"Guys who I coached in L.A., like Cooper Kupp – he always talked about Byron: 'Hey, he's tough. He's got savvy instincts. Quick. Understands kind of what you're trying to do as a route runner.' And that's shown up from day one," O'Connell said. "What I did not know is he's really assumed the leadership role; every single day, we get the same guy. He's excited to be in this organization.

"I'll have to go watch the tape, how he did over there [with the defense] today, but I did see him pick the ball off in 1-on-1s," O'Connell added. "So that was a real positive, especially since his former team is the one he's playing against."

3. Lucky number 3 (QBs)

NFL teams don't have to reduce their active rosters to 53 until 3 p.m. (CT) Tuesday.

But O'Connell already expressed confidence in the Vikings quarterback situation, thanks to a revised rule around third QBs that was approved by the league this spring.

The 2023 season will mark the first that teams will be allowed to designate a third "emergency quarterback" 90 minutes prior to kickoff.

"I spent a lot of time really diving into that the other day, because there are some really unique rules to that. But our particular setup is exactly the setup it benefits, because Jaren [Hall] can be on our roster, but more importantly be in uniform as that emergency third quarterback on game day," O'Connell explained. "It really gives us, if we're suiting up eight linemen, that gives us 49 potential players on game day. So just the sheer fact that you can rest easy knowing that, if a catastrophe happened, an emergency as they call it, Jaren can go in the game and function.

"Not that I wouldn't love to see Jaren get some live snaps, but we feel really good about our starting quarterback, so hopefully we don't have to have any of those experiences," O'Connell added. "But it is nice for Jaren to be a part of these trips, be on the field, be in those sideline huddles and hear the dialogue. It's all part of his growth."

4. Update on Hockenson

O'Connell was asked during his press conference if Hockenson's limited participation in recent practices has been "a hundred percent due to his health and not contract [related]."

"My dialogue with T.J. in regards to his training camp or whatever that's looked like has really been about the ear infection first, and working through that, and some of his side-field work kind of popped up to cause some lower-back stiffness. But he has not indicated to me one time that it is about that," O'Connell responded. "Look, I know we would love to have him in every drill – just like Brian O'Neill from the start of training camp – but we've gotta have a process where we get these guys healthy, feeling really good, to go compete as we head toward the season.

"But I'll say this – T.J.'s been phenomenal in the meeting room, really leading that tight end room. The side work he's done, individual work, the work staying in shape – his lifts and conditioning and everything," O'Connell continued. "I don't have any reservations about him being ready to roll for Tampa Bay. And like I said, hopefully, this is a day-to-day thing, that we can get him back here tomorrow."