Kevin O’Connell Acknowledges Safety Conundrum

Aug 19, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell looks on during the third quarter against the Tennessee Titans at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Roster cuts are a hard part of the NFL business, and it’s that time of the year again. By Tuesday 3 p.m., NFL teams must be under the roster limit of 53 players. The Minnesota Vikings started on Monday when they officially announced the releases of 15 players, but many more are to come, and one position could be a problem for the decision-makers.

Kevin O’Connell Acknowledges Safety Conundrum

Acknowledges Safety Conundrum
Jaylen Waddle, Harrison Smith, Jordan Hicks, and Camryn Bynum. © BILL INGRAM / THE PALM BEACH POST / USA TODAY NETWORK.

One of those guys in charge is head coach Kevin O’Connell, who was asked about the safety room after the final preseason contest.

I think we got one of the better safety rooms in the National Football League and that’s our starters, that’s these guys that have really made out the versatility for Flo (Brian Flores) to play three, four safeties in a grouping and we’ve got Lew (Lewis Cine), and we’ve got (Josh) Metellus to go along with (Camryn) Bynum and Harry (Harrison Smith) and Theo Jackson and Jay Ward probably, if you were ranking training camps that guys have had, those two guys would be on the top tier of some of those rankings because of the production.

Because when you’re building things for two, or three safeties in the first group, you end up doing the same thing for the second group. and those guys have capitalized on that. Really happy with that whole safety group, and shoot, we’ve got six of them, and we’re going to have some really hard conversations that may or may not involve keeping all six of them because that’s how strong we think that room is.

Kevin O’Connell

The depth at safety is incredible in Minnesota, especially because Jay Ward had a fantastic final preseason game in which he was used just the way Brian Flores wants to use his safeties. He was all over the field and made plays, including the strip sack.

Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) runs with the ball against Minnesota Vikings safety Camryn Bynum (24) during the fourth quarter of a wild card game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Harrison Smith and Camryn Bynum are the two starters, and anything else would be a huge surprise. Smith is a Vikings legend, and although no longer in his prime, he is still a quality player and one of the top guys on the defense.

Bynum struggled at times in 2022, but it was still his first season as a full-time starter, and he is only a couple of seasons removed from playing cornerback in college. He should receive the opportunity to show improvement.

Sophomore Lewis Cine is the wildcard. He was a first-round pick but missed most of his rookie season with an injury and hadn’t been part of the starting unit before that. He is still someone the Vikings bank on to make a difference long-term because of his upside, but for now, he is not expected to have a large role in 2023, barring injuries.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
Jan 1, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers punter Pat O’Donnell (16) has his punt blocked by Minnesota Vikings defender Josh Metellus (44) during the first quarter of their game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Metellus will play a rotational role after many coaches and teammates praised him over the summer. He is a smart and versatile football player, and Flores likes players with those strengths.

Theo Jackson is an interesting player. He was a sixth-round pick of the Titans last year, and the Vikings poached him from their practice squad, which the Titans weren’t very happy with. And the Vikes also like him.

The problem is that roster building is a numbers game, and the two starters, Metellus, Cine, and rookie Ward, should get a roster spot by default, leaving Jackson as the odd man out unless, of course, the Vikings keep six of them.

Aug 26, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Jay Ward (20) sacks Arizona Cardinals quarterback Clayton Tune (15) and causes a fumble that would be recovered by the Vikings during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

That would be highly unusual as most teams don’t even keep five and stick with a couple of starters and two backups, but O’Connell opened the door for that theory.

It remains to be seen how the Vikings handle the position. Trying to stash one on the practice squad is also possible, but other teams could interfere and steal that player. Regardless, it is a good problem and much more comfortable than other positions where the team lacks depth and talent.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt