Minnesota Vikings rookies take the practice field for minicamp

Minnesota Vikings rookies took the practice field for the first time on Friday for minicamp at TCO Performance Center in Eagan.

There will be plenty of firsts for Kevin O’Connell as the new head coach of the Minnesota Vikings.

He’s started his first offseason, went through his first NFL Draft and Thursday, learned his first regular season schedule. Friday, he took the practice field for the first time as a head coach as the Vikings started rookie minicamp at TCO Performance Center in Eagan.

The team’s 10 draft picks, undrafted free agents and other tryout players, about 42 in total, were on the field Friday. They were only in helmets and jerseys, no pads. The message was still simple and direct. You’re here for a reason, go out and compete.

"Try to make it look like football on Day 1. You’re trying to really see can they take the information from the meeting room and can they apply it to how they play football out here?" O’Connell said. "Some of the great tryout or rookie stories that I’ve been around in this league are guys that flash from the very first practice."

Top draft choice Lewis Cine was on the field, as was former Gophers’ standout Esezi Otomewo on the defensive line and defensive back Akayleb Evans. The only notable player limited was second round pick Andrew Booth Jr. The defensive back did some individual work on the side, and stood watching while the defense did drills and installs. He’s coming off sports hernia surgery, and is close to practicing.

The Vikings also brought in quarterback Brett Hundley for a veteran tryout.

O’Connell challenged Cine to be a leader at the first rookie practice. He’s their top draft choice, and the likely starter at safety alongside Harrison Smith if he stays healthy and all goes according to plan.

"Even though he’s just in a helmet, he’s not in shoulder pads, he’s not in full pads, it’s not full contact out there. You watch him step over the little white lines and the Lewis Cine from tape comes out," O’Connell said. "How I saw it was the ownership of the information."

Cine, one of five Georgia defensive players selected in the first round of the NFL Draft, considers himself a natural leader.

"I know that once I’m on the field, it’s work. It’s what’s going to feed me, my family and everyone so I’ve got to be serious about what I do out there," Cine said. "I feel like I’m a freshman again, except now it’s in the big leagues. Everyone is good. You’re only a rookie once, so just getting to enjoy it, soak it in. Just play the game that I love."

O’Connell pushed back rookie minicamp a week, so that the players can stay in town this weekend as the Vikings begin organized team activities next week. That’s when the veterans return to mesh with the new faces.

O’Connell was also asked about the 2022 schedule. Rather than lobbying with the NFL for a bye week after Week 4 in London, they pitched for a home game. The Vikings’ bye is Week 7, but O’Connell has eyes on his head coaching debut.

The Vikings host their biggest NFC North rivals, the Green Bay Packers, Week 1 at U.S. Bank Stadium.

"Shoot, we’ve got some great opportunities. Obviously opening up at home against the Green Bay Packers, that’s the one I see on the schedule right away," O’Connell said. "A great opportunity for our fans to come out to U.S. Bank Stadium, make sure that thing is full of purple. I can only wait to hear how loud that’ll be."

The Vikings will also mix in some fun this weekend. O’Connell and players will take in the Minnesota Twins game on Saturday. He’ll throw out the ceremonial first pitch.