A Vikings Stalwart Is on His Way Back

Salesianum School alumni and Minnesota lineman Brian O'Neil, left, in action Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. Sports Eagles Vikings. © Jerry Habraken, The News Journal.

The Minnesota Vikings suffered various season-changing injuries in 2022 despite a 13-4 record and NFC North crown for the first time in five years. Rookies Lewis Cine and Andrew Booth missed considerable portions of the season. Another rookie, Akayleb Evans, was beset by multiple concussions. And former tight end Irv Smith missed 53% of the season.

Additionally, stalwart right tackle Brian O’Neill partially tore his Achilles’ down the stretch of 2022, missing the postseason and casting his future into doubt.

A Vikings Stalwart Is on His Way Back

Fast forward four months and the O’Neill news is overwhelmingly positive, as the 27-year-old is trending in the right direction and may even be back sooner than expected.

A Vikings Stalwart
Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports.

KSTP‘s Darren Wolfson said this week that O’Neill’s injury recovery is “ahead of schedule” and that the offensive lineman is “out of his boot, trending to be ready for start of camp.”

O’Neill was one of the Vikings lone bright spots during a pitiful offensive line era from 2018 to 2021. Drafted in the 2nd Round five years ago, many considered O’Neill a developmental-type offensive tackle who would take a year or two to mature into a starter’s role. Well, due to teammates’ injuries in 2018, O’Neill was thrust into action as a rookie — and was immediately productive.

Significant Week 18
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports.

Then, he never looked back. He became better, in fact, and by 2020, was classified as a Top 3 right tackle in the business, a standing he hasn’t relinquished heading into his sixth season. In the aftermath of the Achilles’ tear, some feared the worst — it’s a unique Vikings-fan trait that will probably never cease — expecting a long, spooky recovery from one of the sport’s nastiest injuries.

Unless the Vikings coaching and training staff are wrong — unlikely — the update on O’Neill’s prognosis couldn’t be more positive.

to Spell Absolute Doom
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Named to the Pro Bowl after the 2021 season, O’Neill has finally earned respect as one of the NFL’s best offensive linemen. He isn’t loud or self-promoting, so his stardom was a bit late to the party, at least in terms of name recognition. The Vikings awarded O’Neill a hefty contract worth $18.5 million per season before the start of 2020, and the Pittsburgh alumnus hasn’t disappointed. At the moment, he’s the fourth highest-paid right tackle in the league.

Moreover, with O’Neill presumably in the saddle for Week 1, the Vikings will have total offensive line continuity for the first time in ages. The club could swerve and draft a different guard in the draft, but for now, this fivesome appears to be the starting group:

  • LT = Christian Darrisaw
  • LG = Ezra Cleveland
  • C = Garrett Bradbury
  • RG = Ed Ingram
  • RT = Brian O’Neill
Vikings Pro Bowler's Once-Sentence Reaction to the Mayhem
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports.

Last year, Minnesota finished the season with the NFL’s 13th-best offensive line grade, according to Pro Football Focus. The placement was noteworthy because, in the same rankings, the Vikings typically ranked near the basement during the Mike Zimmer era.

O’Neill will turn 28 right after the Vikings Week 1 game this year.

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 Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by OverTheCap.com.