Former GM: 5 Takeaways from Vikings 2023 OTAs

Vikings HC Has Rare 1st-Year Assignment
Kevin O'Connell

With Vikings OTAs in full swing with very competitive interaction in offense vs. defense drills, there was the usual coach speak from Kevin O’Connell about how the team is shaping up, but he added some interesting insight on a couple of subjects. 

Former GM: 5 Takeaways from Vikings 2023 OTAs

Here are my takeaways from OTAs and the coach’s comments leading off with the Vikings wide receiver situation: 

1. On Justin Jefferson’s absence: I’ll say first that this is totally expected from an elite, all-pro player in the midst of negotiating a record-breaking contract for wide receivers that will exceed Tyreek Hill’s $30 million per year extension signed last year. It’s highly unlikely that J.J. will run any routes at OTAs or minicamp until his extension is signed. There’s too much at risk for him (which his agent is surely reinforcing to him).  

5 Takeaways from
Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) dives for the end zone as New York Giants cornerback Adoree’ Jackson (22) defends during the first quarter of a wild card game at U.S. Bank Stadium. The call on the field was a touchdown but was changed after review. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

I think he’ll be here for minicamp in an observing role and perhaps do some walk-throughs and possibly at the latter OTA sessions. I see this deal getting done soon enough that Jefferson will be ready for training camp. 

“We’ve had great dialogue throughout the offseason, and I’ll keep that between Justin and me, “O’Connell said. “We’d love to have him here, obviously, and hopefully get him some work. I just know he’s getting his work in wherever he is, and I look forward to seeing him when he comes up, and I know his teammates will be excited to see him.”  

2. Regarding first-round pick Jordan Addison being held out of drills, O’Connell was not specific on the injury in saying, “It’s nothing serious, just something that came out of rookie camp, and we’re being overly cautious. It’s a day-to-day thing, and there’s so much learning that he’s doing. We want to be sure when the time comes to activate him. He’s ready to roll. It’s better to be safe with training camp not that far away.” 

Rookie minicamp highlights from Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jordan Addison’s first practice as a Viking after being selected in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Addison played at the University of Pittsburgh and USC in college.

I know from my GM days that rookies often develop minor injuries involving hamstrings and ankles and learn early in their careers how to train better in the offseason to avoid these injuries. We’ll see if that’s the case with Addison and if he is indeed able to stay healthy through training camp and line up with Jefferson and K.J. Osborn in the Vikings three wide receiver sets on opening day against the Bucs. 

3. It was good to hear that the offensive line — back intact with the starters and key backups — is considered a team strength by O’Connell. And especially that excellent right tackle Brian O’Neill is progressing well after his calf injury suffered late last season that kept him out of the playoff game against the Giants, and he certainly was missed in that loss.  

Left tackle Christian Darrisaw is being talked up by NFL analysts as one of the best young tackles in the league, so with O’Neill and Darrisaw, the Vikings are in a great position for years to come.

It reminds me of when I was Vikings GM in the late 90s, and we had two Pro Bowl OTs in former No. 1 picks, Todd Steussie and Korey Stringer, who gave us a great pair of bookend tackles. We had a terrific offensive line with Hall of Fame guard Randall McDaniel leading the group. That O-line was a big reason we had a 15-1 team in 1998 (along with some great skill players like Randy Moss, Cris Carter, Jake Reed, and Robert Smith and excellent quarterback play from Brad Johnson and Randall Cunningham).  

4. O’Connell praised the work of the running back group minus Dalvin Cook in OTAs (and a post-June 1 release of Cook could be coming soon). The head coach said he’s happy with Alex Mattison, Kene Nwangwu, and Ty Chandler and that rookie seventh-rounder DeWayne McBride is “coming along really well.” He added that having veteran fullback C.J. Ham in the running backs room is important as “C.J. is a critical part of our leadership group.” 

Vikings Pro Bowler's Once-Sentence Reaction to the Mayhem
Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Minnesota Vikings full back C.J. Ham (30) reacts to scoring a touchdown along with Minnesota Vikings tackle Brian O’Neill (75) during the second half against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports.

5. Prepare not to see the starters much and some not at all in the three preseason games. This was O’Connell’s approach in his debut season, and it worked out well when the Vikings beat the Packers in the opener. This strategy will likely be more prevalent this preseason when the Vikings host the Titans and the Cardinals in joint practices before the Week 2 and 3 home preseason games.  

O’Connell talked of the great work the starters got when the 49ers came to the Vikings facility for joint practices last year in what became very physical and competitive practices.  

“These joint practices with two different teams this year will give us two different looks for our offense, defense, and special teams,” O’Connell said. “Things will be happening that are different from what we’re used to in camp.” 

O’Connell said those 49er practices last August were like playing in a couple of preseason games for his starters, so expect the same approach with the Titans and Cardinals practices and the ensuing preseason games featuring almost no starters (or perhaps one series for them).  

Around the NFL Observations: 

1. With the release of five-time Pro Bowl receiver DeAndre Hopkins by the Cardinals (after they were unable to trade him with his large salary), many teams are now interested in signing him as a free agent. The Vikings hope Hopkins lands in the AFC, where Buffalo, Kansas City, and Cleveland are among the teams rumored to be interested, and not in Detroit or Green Bay, who also could use a quality vet receiver. At 30 years old, Hopkins should have several more good seasons remaining.   

Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl