Kevin O’Connell Praises His Star Player but Tempers Expectations

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The Minnesota Vikings have made it clear that they want to be careful and smart with their star receiver, Justin Jefferson, and his return to game action. After winning the last four games, the franchise actually regained some margin for error. They suddenly don’t have to be close to perfect anymore to have realistic playoff chances.

Kevin O’Connell Praises His Star Player but Tempers Expectations

Praises His Star Player but Tempers Expectations
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Everything pointed at a lost season when the NFL’s reigning Offensive Player of the Year exited the game against the Kansas City Chiefs roughly a month ago. The Vikings lost and fell to a 1-4 record. There’s no way they can get out of that hole without their best player — that was the assumption of most people who follow the league. Well, they were wrong. Winning four straight games without Jefferson was unexpected, but it shows the potential of a team that lost most of the matchups earlier in the season because of self-inflicted wounds.

Once again, thought to be going nowhere without the starting quarterback Kirk Cousins, who will spend the remainder of the season rehabbing instead of throwing lasers to his top receiver, journeyman Joshua Dobbs arrived, and a heroic first performance brought the hope back to Minnesota.

Only Week 6
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To help the new guy under center, it would be beneficial to have an elite target. Jefferson is eligible to return from IR after missing the mandatory four games. On Wednesday, the Vikings opened the practice window for their team captain, but that doesn’t mean he will be back on Sunday. After opening the window, the franchise has 21 days to activate him to the 53-man roster. Head coach Kevin O’Connell praised his work ethic but didn’t sound very optimistic about returning his dynamic weapon to the field in time for Dobbs’ second game.

We have a rough timetable in our minds of what that (his return) looks like. I think we’re just going to take it a day at a time from here on out. What this does is allow him to take part in little individual [practice] here and there, a little bit of a team period here or there, just getting back acclimated to being in the huddle. He has been great in meetings and with his treatments. All those things will continue forward and now we can just build it up little by little. But I do think Justin’s on a good timeline considering the outlook on this thing when we first had this happen.

I think that would probably be a little too aggressive (Jefferson playing this week). I think he feels really good and I know we all feel good about where he’s at but we’re gonna take it a day at a time and ultimately do what’s best for Justin and his longterm future here with us in Minnesota and then clearly he wants to get back and have an impact on this team. You guys have seen him, he has been all-in right there on the sidelines with his teammates fighting it out every single week through this whole stretch and he can’t wait to get back out there.

Kevin O’Connell
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The Vikings have shown the ability to win games even without him, but the chances are certainly better when he is on the field with his teammates. On Wednesday’s walkthrough practice day, he was listed as a limited participant, likely to continue for a few days or weeks. Once he logs full practice sessions and his hamstring responds well to the workload, he is close to returning.

From everything O’Connell has said, it is unlikely for Jefferson to return against the Saints, but he is doing well and should return sooner rather than later. The coach also mentioned that Jefferson is engaged during games on the sidelines, and indeed, various clips have proven that over the last few games.

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For now, rookie Jordan Addison and tight end T.J. Hockenson will continue to be the team’s top options in the passing game, and the offense runs through them. It will be interesting to see if O’Connell and Dobbs can spread the ball around like Cousins was used to and give everyone the desired targets once the receiving core is back at full strength.

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