‘Our team, our way’: Vikings continue offseason workouts at TCO Performance Center

The energy and the vibe is different at TCO Performance Center in Eagan as the Minnesota Vikings enter their second week of offseason workouts under a new coaching staff.

The Vikings started a nine-week program last week. Tuesday, offensive and defensive players were on the field in different spurts doing a variety of conditioning. It varied from sled pushes to sprinting while attached to a resistance band. Next week, they start to get on the practice field and apply what they’ve been learning in the film room.

Two players looking healthy and ready to play after injuries that derailed their 2021 seasons? Danielle Hunter and Za'Darius Smith.

Entering his first season as head coach, Kevin O’Connell’s message to reporters about the team Tuesday was the same as it’s been since the first day he took the Vikings’ job: Everything they do, will be done together. That message will soon be displayed for players throughout the practice facility.

"Looking at it like it’s our team, our way, our process. This idea that it’s our team. We’re working in conjunction with the players, for the players. They feel that buy-in from us, they’re giving it right back to us. I think they get what we’re hunting early on here," O’Connell said. "Our culture is really our people, and it defines itself on a daily basis."

The Vikings offseason program continues with Phase 2 next week, where O’Connell and the coaches get to work with players on the field with installs and play-calling as the front office makes final preparations for next Thursday’s NFL Draft. Then it’s rookie mini camp, organized team activities and mandatory mini camp before a break ahead of training camp.

After weeks of meetings and film study, O’Connell gets to coach his new team next week.

"Ultimately you’ve got to get out on the grass and that will come next week. No better place to coach in my opinion than on the grass with your players," O’Connell said. "This phase, it basically turns into class on the grass in a lot of ways."


Irv Smith Jr. was on pace for a breakout second season with the Vikings, poised to be the No. 1 tight end after Kyle Rudolph was released and signed with the New York Giants. Smith had 30 catches for 365 yards and five touchdowns in 2020, and was having a promising 2021 training camp before his season was cut short.

In what he described a "freak accident," Smith suffered a knee injury while making a block during the first drive of the team’s final preseason game at Kansas City. He felt fine after the game, and even spoke with reporters. An MRI the following day revealed he suffered a torn meniscus. He had surgery, and his 2021 season was over before Week 1.

"I kind of felt it and I didn’t really think it was too much, I found out I hurt my knee more severe than what we thought, so I had to do what was best for myself and get it repaired," Smith said.

He was all smiles with reporters on Tuesday at TCO Performance Center. He did not participate in conditioning drills, but was doing his own rehab work on the side. O’Connell is in no rush with Smith, and has no need to be.

"I know he was feeling really, really good before the injury last year and had a productive camp. It was obviously a shame that he didn’t get to see all that hard work come to fruition in the season," O’Connell said. "That’s what we’re trying to help him do now, get him back to where he was if not better, if not stronger."

Smith has no doubt that he’ll be 100 percent healthy by training camp, and he’s learned a lot from a season on the sidelines.

"Things get thrown at you that you don’t expect, but it’s about how you bounce back. My team was there for me and they believe in me, that’s all I can ask for," Smith said. "That momentum hasn’t slowed down. I’m very confident once I get back on the field, I’ll be 100 percent."