Kevin O’Connell starting slowly with Vikings, but he vows: ‘When we’re going, we’ve got to go’
The Vikings will have 11 padded practices in training camp, according to O’Connell, which is noticeably fewer than the maximum of 16 padded practices allowed by the NFL.
EAGAN, Minn. -- Kevin O’Connell spent most of the Vikings’ spring workouts hammering home the minor details on both offense and defense, trying to teach the basics of the new schemes without taxing his players too much. It’s a new-school approach that featured more walkthroughs than practices, with a goal of keeping Vikings as fresh as possible.
While former coach Mike Zimmer seemed to live for internal competition, and the live sessions that came along with that, O’Connell has found more value in challenging his players “above the neck” before launching into full contact.
That said, O’Connell acknowledged that “the learning stage” can only take the Vikings so far as they prepare for the fast-approaching 2022 season. The shift already has started with training camp underway at TCO Performance Center in Eagan.
“Now we move into the competition phase,” O’Connell said. “We’re building what we’re going to become, and I think that’s going to be a thing that plays out over a lot of different positions over the entire month.”
Asked about the new coaching staff’s approach so far, veteran defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson voiced his appreciation on the first day of training camp.
“There’s a big emphasis on taking care of our bodies,” he said. “We want to be able to perform in January as good as we are right now.”
The Vikings will have 11 padded practices in training camp, according to O’Connell, which is noticeably fewer than the maximum of 16 padded practices allowed by the NFL. As much as it’s something of an incentive for his players, O’Connell has high expectations on the days the Vikings are wearing pads.
“You guys will hear me say this phrase a couple of times: ‘When we’re going, we’ve got to go,’ ” O’Connell said. “There’s no other way than to go full-compete.”
On the flip side, the Vikings still have to get things done on the days they aren’t wearing pads. The hope is that players are still learning in real time even if they aren’t hitting each other.
“We’ve got to find a way to replicate that,” O’Connell said. “Every time we step out on the grass from here on out, in my opinion, we’ve got to have a plan to accomplish real, tangible things.”
That’s on the players more than anyone else, which is something veteran safety Harrison Smith acknowledged in the buildup to training camp. He candidly noted how the setup only works if the Vikings are able to be productive on days they aren’t wearing pads.
“We have to learn in walkthroughs, and be present there, and be locked in, and get the same production out of that as we would out of going full speed in pads,” Smith said. “That’s up to us to lock in in those moments and not goof off and stuff like that. I think we have a good group of guys that will do that. You know, over the length of such a long season, and into the playoffs, there’s a lot of reps that add up, so it makes a lot of sense to not beat ourselves up too much.”
In the end, though, O’Connell made it clear that the Vikings will still host some physical practice throughout training camp.
“We will do plenty of that work,” he said. “It’s all built on making sure by the time we cut our roster down to 53 players, we’re ready to get in preparation mode for our first opponent.”
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