Kevin O’Connell Provides Update on CB Competition

Minnesota Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell addressed the media from the TCO Performance Center on Tuesday., July 25th, 2023. The Vikings won the NFC North in Kevin O'Connell's first year, thanks to a 13-4 record. O'Connell's is the league's second-youngest coach as of 2023.

After a horrendous defensive year for the Minnesota Vikings — some would say the third consecutive bad one — the Vikings made many changes, including the departure of most cornerbacks from the organization. The remaining players and the new additions are competing for the starting jobs and roles within the cornerback room.

Kevin O’Connell Provides Update on CB Competition

The Vikings have a few interesting position battles in training camp, although many players are penciled in as the starters. New defensive coordinator Brian Flores must find the right CB group for the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on September 10th.

Update on Cornerback Competition
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Because of the departure of Patrick Peterson and Duke Shelley — the two starting CBs at the end of the season — and slot cornerback Chandon Sullivan, the position is a total mystery. The two 2022 draft picks, Akayleb Evans and Andrew Booth, are still on the team, just like practice squad players Tay Gowan and Kalon Barnes. All others are new. The new guys include the expected top cornerback Byron Murphy, free agent addition Joejuan Williams, and rookie third-round pick Mekhi Blackmon. In addition to them, the Vikings signed a trio of undrafted rookies — C.J. Colden, Jaylin Williams, and Najee Thompson.

Flores must find the right combination of two outside cornerbacks and a slot option. Packages can vary, and a player like safety Josh Metellus can take over the slot duties at times. Kevin O’Connell spoke about the cornerback group during his media availability on Saturday:

We’re asking them to play with different keys and principles and being physical at the line of scrimmage. All guys, from guys we’ve brought in post-draft to the guys that are out there with the first group, it’s been really cool to see them – as with every player in this acclimation phase as we shift to the full-speed mindset — you can see growth on a play-to-play basis early on.

And then what happens is once you’ve had that early growth, then hopefully you get the consistency that goes alongside with it. So that they can build over the next month going into the season with the ultra mindset that I can go out there and do my job every single Sunday.

Kevin O’Connell

Just one year after the Vikings named him head coach, O’Connell has already mastered coach speak — saying many words without really saying much — but we’ll try to gain some information from his statement nevertheless.

Who Is the Best Vikings Addition?
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The Vikings are still not going full-speed in practices. Of course, not wearing pads limits the aggressiveness, but the players are slowly improving, likely at getting more comfortable with the new scheme but also individually. Players learn by having reps against each other as they can adjust and spot their own mistakes. It is quite possible that the coaches are not making any significant in the lineups before the pads come on, and they can fully evaluate the players. O’Connell mentioned that he is looking forward to Monday when the pads come on, and he can dive into the ‘evaluation competition phase of training camp.

The status quo is Murphy playing alongside Evans and Williams with the first team in nickel packages. O’Connell was also asked about Williams.

First and foremost, his size [sticks out]. As an offensive guy, I’ve always known those bigger corners just because they are long they can play physical. I think he’s done a really really good job since he’s gotten here physically preparing himself as a bigger corner. He’s a very strong player, he’ll cause a lot of problems for around the line of scrimmage with re-routes and the rhythm and timing of passing games and then he’s savvy, he’s a smart player, very instinctive. The idea of making the offense uncomfortable, the corners play a strong role in that both in the run and pass game and he’s shown some really good ownership of that early on.

Kevin O’Connell
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A lot of praise for a player who was a second-round pick from the Patriots but hasn’t done much for them. He started one game for Bill Belichick in New England and appeared in 36 contests. Five hundred and five snaps were all he had in four seasons with the team while spending the fourth season on IR.

The Vikings are his second chance to live up to the second-round pedigree, and the defense certainly needs someone to live up to his potential. Not many teams can offer a player like Williams a starting job, but the wide-open competition in Minnesota could make it possible. His familiarity with a scheme similar to Flores’ certainly helps him in the competition against the younger guys who are learning a totally new defense.

The Vikings will certainly test their cornerbacks in the upcoming weeks. Lining someone up across from Justin Jefferson is the hardest battle they will see all year.

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