Bad News Gets Even Worse for Brian O’Neill

Significant Week 18
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The Minnesota Vikings will be without right tackle Brian O’Neill in Week 18 and for the rest of the postseason. He will not return in any form this season.

O’Neill was injured on a pick-six Sunday at the Green Bay Packers, diagnosed initially with a calf injury. Few believed O’Neill would be ready for the postseason, but bad news worsened on Wednesday.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted, “Vikings standout OT Brian O’Neill, who was placed on Injured Reserve yesterday, suffered a partially torn Achilles last week, sources say. He’s out for 2022 and the playoffs and is on the road to recovery.”

Bad News Gets Even
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So, it’s a partially torn Achilles — not just a calf injury for O’Neill. And most athletes would consider an Achilles tear of any kind one of the worst injuries in sports. In fact, when running backs are beset by an Achilles tear, they rarely return to peak form.

Bad News Gets Even Worse for Brian O’Neill

Of course, the Vikings will hope O’Neill, who is not a running back, can heal in time for the start of the 2023 regular season. Even during the dark days of Minnesota’s offensive line performance — see: 2014 to 2021 — O’Neill was often the lone bright spot. In 2022, the Vikings offensive trenches began to trend in the right direction with the tutelage of an offense-first coaching staff led by Kevin O’Connell. Heading into last weekend, the Vikings offensive line ranked 10th leaguewide per Pro Football Focus.

to Spell Absolute Doom
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But now the Vikings will encounter familiar territory — patchwork offensive line solutions. Such dealings were commonplace during the Mike Zimmer era, and fans only hope the O’Connell-led coaching staff has a better plan than yesteryear.

In O’Neill’s stead, Oli Udoh is expected to start. He’s the guy who played right guard in 2021 — with varying degrees of success — and will return to “his roots” as an offensive tackle. Udoh has performed admirably in spots as a reservist tackle but struggled on the whole as a guard.

Too, general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah signed Bobby Evans on Tuesday, a clock turnback to O’Connell’s Los Angeles days. Evans played this season for the Rams but was recently released. He now lives on the Vikings practice squad and would become the next man up if something happened to Udoh or rookie Vederian Lowe.

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O’Neill, 27, is the NFL’s second highest-paid right tackle, earning an average of $18.5 million per year. His absence from the Vikings amid a playoff push has the possibility to be crushing. The last-best hope is for O’Connell’s coaching staff to squeeze the best out of the aforementioned Udoh.

The Vikings travel to Soldier Field on Sunday for a date with the Chicago Bears, and Udoh is expected to start. He’ll prepare for the postseason, where he and the Vikings may experience a notoriously blitz-happy New York Giants pass rush.

O’Connell said Wednesday he is “hopeful” O’Neill would be ready for the start of the 2023 regular season.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).