For as long as right tackle Brian O’Neill has been in the NFL, he has had a veteran offensive lineman to lean on. Namely left tackle Riley Reiff.

The two players bookended the Vikings’ offensive line in each of the past three seasons. And they might as well have been connected at the hip off the field.

What started as a mentor-mentee dynamic — O’Neill has been a sponge since coming into the NFL in 2018 out of the University of Pittsburgh, trying to soak up as much as possible from Reiff — blossomed into a close-knit friendship over time. In that sense, O’Neill is in uncharted waters this offseason with Reiff now playing for the Cincinnati Bengals.

“It’s definitely probably the biggest change since I’ve been here,” O’Neill said. “Just not having Riley around.”

This is O’Neill’s chance to put Reiff’s mentorship to the test. At age 25, O’Neill is suddenly the old guy in the offensive line room.

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There’s a good chance the 6-foot-7, 300-pound guard could line up this fall with rookie Wyatt Davis at right guard, third-year player Garrett Bradbury at center, second-year player Ezra Cleveland at left guard and rookie Christian Darrisaw at left tackle.

If that’s the case, O’Neill will have far and away the most experience among starters on the offensive line; Bradbury is the only other player with a full season NFL under his belt.

Not that O’Neill plans to change his approach.

“You might have a few more pointers for the young guys,” he said. “That said, it’s all about trying to progress myself, and have the best season I possibly can and try to help lead this group the best way I can. It’s been a good group so far and a great vibe around the building and great vibe in the room. Everybody is excited to be here.”

What are O’Neill’s goal heading into next season?

“I want to be back in the playoffs and I want to make a run at this thing,” he said. “That’s been stated pretty clearly around here. That’s the expectation. That’s the goal. We’ve got to pick up right back where we left off on offense and try to improve on a lot of things. There’s a lot of places to get better.”

It helps that the Vikings — and the rest of the NFL, for that matter — have returned to more of a sense of normalcy this offseason. With the worst parts of the pandemic in the rearview mirror, the Vikings have returned to TCO Performance Center in Eagan for organized team activities with mandatory minicamp scheduled for later this month.

“We’re excited to be back,” O’Neill said. “I think the coaches have done a great job of managing the tempo and reps for guys, and (offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak) has done an awesome job keeping us dialed in as an offense.”

That excitement extends beyond the work on the field. It’s a completely different vibe this year compared to last year at this time.

“There’s so much more happiness ,” O’Neill said. “We know football season is going to be as normal as it can be. It’s going to be back to the way it should be with being able to see people and being able to interact with fans and interact with people in the community. We’ll be able to go over to each other’s houses after practices. These are the kinds of things that we missed last year. There’s just much more excitement around the building.”

As for O’Neill personally, he’s playing in the final year of his rookie contract, and should be in line for a big pay day soon.

“I’m trying to be respectful of the process that goes on between my agent and the people here,” O’Neill said. “I want to be here long term. I love it here. Nothing would make me happier than to be here long term. We’ll see how it goes. But I’m letting them handle that. Hopefully we can work together for a long time.”


On Thursday morning, the Vikings added cornerback depth by signing Tye Smith to a contract. No terms of the deal were announced.