A Vikings Staple Made a Big Step

blake brandel
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

The Minnesota Vikings lost their first preseason contest of the 2023 season, an insignificant fact as the record means much less than the valuable experience young players receive. Some of them balled out for Kevin O’Connell’s operation, like running back Ty Chandler, rookie Jordan Addison and underdog Ivan Pace, who just keeps making plays.

A Vikings Staple Made a Big Step

The Vikings will host the Tennessee Titans on Saturday for the second outing of the preseason, and one player will not be on the field but still had a big day on Sunday.

big step
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Offensive tackle Brian O’Neill returned to a padded team practice for the first time since he partially tore his Achilles tendon in Week 17’s matchup with the Packers in Lambeau Field. A big milestone in his recovery.

Achilles injuries are feared in sports, but O’Neill’s recovery has gone as smoothly as possible. The plan for him has always been to get him ready for Week 1 on September 10th. O’Connell said about the recovery at the beginning of training camp: “We will continue kind of a pre-determined plan for him that allows him to really progress towards the ultimate goal, which has always been September 10th against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There’ll be a process throughout camp.”

Apparently, the next step of that process was the return to team practice. He had exclusively worked on his rehabilitation with trainers on the sidelines on individual drills and participated in some walk-throughs. The tackle competed with star pass rusher Danielle Hunter from the get-go, a baptism of fire.

Bad News Gets Even
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The Vikings need O’Neill back in the starting lineup as soon as possible because he and Christian Darrisaw form the elite offensive tackle duo that has to bail out the awful interior offensive line, especially in pass protection. Under O’Connell’s reign, the pass-blocking part became even more crucial than in the Mike Zimmer days because the team became a pass-heavy one.

Kirk Cousins was the most-hit quarterback in the league last season, despite having Darrisaw and O’Neill block for him. If they miss an extended period of the season, the offense would be screwed. After years of struggles and changes, the Vikings brought back all five starters for the first time in quite a while. That continuity is believed to have a significant impact on becoming a good-good offensive line instead of trying to have a not-terrible one.

Significant Week 18
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The first game is exactly four weeks away from O’Neill’s first team practice, so it might still come too early for him. In that case, it would be Oli Udoh handling the right tackle duties. Udoh subbed in after the Pro Bowl tackle went down, and he surprisingly did a solid job.

Of course, he is a downgrade from O’Neill’s borderline elite level, but the Vikings will be fine if O’Neill were to miss a game or two, although it would be good to have him in Week 2 when the Eagles and their excellent defense are the opponents.

The staple of the franchise was quoted on the team’s website: “I’m really excited. I’m just trying to follow the plan that they’ve got for me and starting to shake some rust off. We’re right on schedule, right where we want to be. They’ve done a great job. We’re not there yet but will be.”

Regardless, the return of the 28-year-old is fantastic news for the Vikings.

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