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Kevin O’Connell embraces new reality as Vikings head coach at OTAs

Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah (L) and head coach Kevin O’Connell speak to the media at the TCO Performance Center on February 17, 2022 in Eagan, Minnesota. ((Photo by David Berding/Getty Images))

Kevin O’Connell embraces a new reality every time he steps onto the training grounds at the TCO Performance Center in Eagan: He’s no longer just a coordinator, he’s in charge of everything.

Hired as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings in February, every decision made on the field over the next three months will directly impact his first season in charge. He preaches communication and collaboration, but ultimately he makes the calls on games, personnel, and in-game decisions will fall to him.

That’s why he learns as much as his players during three weeks of organized team activities and three days of mandatory mini camp before the team hits the road to training camp.

“Just little things. The clock, where we’re going to operate on the pitches, how to film things. You’re responsible for everything. I can just do what I think is best for the team,” O’ said. Connell.

One of the new features of the TCO Performance Center is an in-field jumbotron, showing plays as they happen. If O’Connell or a coach doesn’t like something they see in the movie, they can stop and fix it before it becomes a bad habit.

Organized team activities serve multiple purposes for O’Connell: bring rookies and veterans onto the pitch at the same time, and take a look at what the first position battles could be in August as players compete a spot on the roster of 53 players. .

“The intention is to make sure we show up to training camp in our most competitive environment as we progress into the season in the fall. That’s when the real competition will happen.” , O’Connell said.

On Wednesday, O’Connell praised tight end Irv Smith Jr., who missed the entire 2021 season after tearing his meniscus in a preseason game. He’s back healthy and he’s been doing well on the pitch so far.

They don’t rush him into team situations. He mostly did light work on the side and ran some routes in 7-on-7 drills. Smith was set for a breakout season after making 30 catches for 365 yards and five touchdowns. He had also made progress in blocking runs.

He played well enough for the Vikings to release veteran Kyle Rudolph before last season, and Smith was on course to be the No. 1 tight end.

“I know there were a lot of people excited about him last fall before this injury happened. I think where he’s at in his career and part of the success he’s had, I think that he’s ready to absorb it all and be able to go play fast, go play with a lot of confidence,” O’Connell said. “He’s going to play a major role in what we do.”

VIKINGS HOST DIVERSITY COACHING SUMMIT

While hosting OTAs, the Vikings also host 12 coaches from the college ranks Wednesday through Friday for a Diversity Coaching Summit, designed by associate head coach Mike Pettine. Through college connections and a series of virtual interviews, the Vikings tapped quality control coaches, analysts and graduate assistants to one day develop their pipeline to a position in the NFL.

“The real premise of the program is really to feed the pool of candidates for the NFL from the bottom up. I don’t think there’s enough emphasis on entry-level jobs,” Pettine said. “It’s the glue, and people don’t realize how important those positions are. It made too much sense.”

This year’s group includes 11 coaches of color and Roseanna Smith, a candidate who is currently director of football operations and running coach at Oberlin College in Ohio.

Pettine said the summit was about building relationships for future opportunities. They will attend meetings, do interviews and learn about the culture of an NFL training ground. Pettine, who tried to top Green Bay before the COVID-19 pandemic and then was eventually released, hopes it’s a practice adopted by NFL teams.

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