MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - This time last year, Kevin O’Connell was fresh off winning a Super Bowl with the L.A. Rams and had just been hired as the newest Minnesota Vikings head coach.
Fast forward about 12 months, and O’Connell looked refreshed and energized to talk about the Vikings at the NFL Combine on Wednesday in Indianapolis. O’Connell had a big first season leading the sidelines, helping Minnesota win 13 games, its first division title in five seasons and earning a home playoff game.
We all know how the season ended.
Wednesday, O’Connell talked about hiring Brian Flores to make the Vikings’ defenses more aggressive, had high praise for Justin Jefferson and had a promising update on Lewis Cine.
In O’Connell’s first season as a head coach, Jefferson led the NFL with 128 catches for 1,809 yards. He has the record for most receiving yards in a player’s first three seasons, set Vikings’ franchise records and flirted with Calvin Johnson’s all-time record. What has impressed O’Connell most about Jefferson is his approach to the game.
"One of my favorite players I’ve ever coached, I told him that. Unbelievable talent, what he means to our league. How he carries himself, how he works every day but what I was really impressed by with Justin was the leadership. The next step of understanding he believes he’s the best receiver in football, I happen to agree with him," O’Connell said. "A lot goes with that, and I just watch the way he carries himself. To say I’m excited about coaching Justin for a really long time is an understatement. Him and I have just scratched the surface of where we want to go as an offense with him as our premiere receiver."
That’s a scary thought as Jefferson just finished his third NFL season. Now, it’s up to Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and the rest of the front office to keep him in Minnesota. Jefferson is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and it’s in the Vikings’ best interest to get an extension done before next season. He deserves to be the highest-paid receiver in the NFL, which would require north of $30 million per season.
Adofo-Mensah said at the Combine earlier this week an extension is a ‘high priority."
LEWIS CINE ‘WELL-AHEAD’ OF REHAB PROCESS
O’Connell was asked Wednesday about his young corps in the secondary, mainly Lewis Cine, Akayleb Evans and Andrew Booth Jr. All three missed time due to injuries, and Evans missed a lot of the season with three concussions.
Cine was just starting to come into his own as the Vikings’ top draft choice when his rookie season came to an end after a gruesome leg/ankle injury on a special teams play against the New Orleans Saints in London. He needed surgery, and spent his birthday in a London hospital before eventually coming home.
O’Connell said Wednesday Cine has been at TCO Performance Center every day, and is "well-ahead" in his rehab process. Cine has posted several videos to social media of his progress and rehab. He even wants to know what the team’s schedule is for the offseason workout program, so he can be ready.
"Lewis is in a great spot right now. I see him, it’s unique to see a player every single day this time of year at the facility, but that’s been Lew. Been in my office a lot asking what’s the schedule. I said just hold on, we’re going to be just fine," O’Connell said. "Ultimately hopefully this is just going to be a small bump in a great road to Lew becoming the player he’s going to become."
We’ll get a much better sense of how the Vikings will approach the offseason, and what roster decisions they make, when the NFL league year starts later this month.