Vikings Head Coach Says “No Thanks” to Checkdowns

New Starters
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

The Minnesota Vikings ended their chapter with quarterback Kirk Cousins after he captained the offense for six seasons. Despite having a contract offer on the table from Minnesota, he moved on and joined the Atlanta Falcons, signing a four-year contract with $100 million fully guaranteed. His old team, meanwhile, addressed his vacated spot by selecting J.J. McCarthy tenth overall.

Vikings Head Coach Says “No Thanks” to Checkdowns

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports.

McCarthy’s draft stock rose in public perception between his last snap in a Michigan Wolverines uniform and the draft. He ultimately received a call in the first round of the draft after general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah traded up a spot to grab him as the highest quarterback in franchise history.

The rookie’s first action on the field came during the rookie minicamp, which kicked off roughly three weeks after the draft. It is supposed to be an acclimating phase for the new faces in the locker room. Getting some live reps and getting to know the facilities helps them get used to the next level.

McCarthy threw passes on his first few days with his new team, including one interception, when the rookies drilled some plays.

Drops One Hint
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

However, his head coach, Kevin O’Connell, encouraged those throws and made that clear when asked about evaluating the tape and correcting mistakes like a pick-six.

We’ll go in and watch the competitive reps that we had and tie some teaching points together. Was he open enough throwing to his left, or was he closed enough throwing to his right? Hey, what did you see here pre-snap that made you anticipate making that throw, or why didn’t you anticipate making that throw? And then we try to tie it all together with the multiple views that we have. (It is a) total learning environment.

I know some folks are keeping track of interceptions and completions and things like that, but it’s too early for that conversation. I can tell you that much. It’s all teachable. That’s what makes this time of the year so valuable.

The buzzword is “learning environment,” as the head coach wants his new passer to attempt throws he might turn down in an actual game to get a feel for which windows he can target. Only by testing his limits can he use his full potential on the field when the season arrives.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

Rookie linebacker K.J. Cloyd caught McCarthy’s lone interception. After his opening practice, the signal-caller explained the pick and incidentally showed precisely why his head coach wanted him to attempt those kinds of risky throws.

“I felt like I could fit it in,” McCarthy said, “but these guys are a lot faster. Which is great to learn before the vets get here.”

Bad passes in October are a problem, but the same passes in May are a learning experience.

Vikings Top Draft Target
Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy celebrates after the 34-13 win over Washington to win the national championship game at NRG Stadium in Houston on Monday, Jan. 8, 2024.

McCarthy is still only 21 years old, and one knock on him before the draft was his limited experience as he played in an offense that ran through the rushing attack. He only attempted 713 passes in his collegiate career and must gain more data points. As long as he’s learning from his mistakes, those are totally fine to make.

Having former quarterbacks O’Connell and Josh McCown in his corner will help the rookie get up to speed faster, as they can talk to him from their own experience.

The rookie will be tested more once the veterans join the young players on the practice field. McCarthy can get valuable practice reps in minicamp, OTAs, and training camp. Once those practices go well enough and he has learned enough to compete on a Sunday, O’Connell will insert him into the starting lineup over Sam Darnold, who should be expected to start until further notice.

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