MINNEAPOLIS - Kevin O’Connell had a message for his team as the Minnesota Vikings finished their third session of organized team activities open to reporters on Wednesday: Stack good days together, and don’t make the same mistake twice.
It sounds simple on the surface, but it’s not easy to do with a new coaching staff and new offensive and defensive systems to install. The Vikings are in the middle of their final week of OTAs at TCO Performance Center. They return next week for a three-day mandatory mini camp, then get a break before convening for training camp.
Kirk Cousins and the offense are going through changes in scheme and verbiage, and the same goes for the defense. On Wednesday, more than 20 Vikings’ legends took in practice, as did owner Zygi Wilf. O’Connell says he plans to have former players at practice as often as possible, especially during training camp. It’s something that hasn’t happened a lot the last two years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among the attendees Wednesday were Joey Browner, and Paul Krause.
"I told them today every time we can have that connection between the past and present, with the history of this organization, I think that’s a real positive. Try to make it happen as much as we can," O’Connell said. It’s awesome. Having them around your team, understanding we’ve got a special, special history in this organization. We’re going to ask them to come back and just be around our football team."
As for practice, wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette watched while on a walking boot on his right leg and moving around on a scooter. O’Connell said he suffered a lower leg injury during a recent workout and is done for the spring, but should be ready for training camp.
"It’s really a precautionary thing," O’Connell said.
Smith primarily played return duties on special teams last year, but did have five catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns in eight games as a rookie. Edge rusher Za’Darius Smith also did not practice, which O’Connell deemed cautionary. He said Smith should be back on Friday.
There will also be competition on the offensive line for the starting spot at right guard. Jesse Davis got the first-team reps on Wednesday. Last week, it was Chris Reed along with Christian Darrisaw, Ezra Cleveland, Garrett Bradbury and Brian O’Neill.
"You blink and everything is already here. You just take it day by day, don’t look too far ahead, don’t look in the past too much and try to get better every day," said Davis, who is in his sixth NFL season after spending his first five with the Miami Dolphins.
The offensive highlight of Wednesday came from Adam Thielen during a 7-on-7 red zone situation. Kirk Cousins found him across the middle on a route in the end zone. Thielen adjusted to the ball, making a leaping 1-handed catch before celebrating the touchdown with teammates.
Vikings’ fans could be seeing a lot of big plays from Cousins to Thielen in O’Connell’s offense. Thielen has already proven to be a trusted red zone target. He’s got 24 touchdowns the last two seasons combined. In 28 starts the last two years, Thielen has 203 catches for 1,651 yards.
"What he’s done in the red zone over the course of his whole career speaks for itself. He’s got a tremendous feel and knack for just understanding as that field shrinks, where that open grass is and how can I be a friendly target to the quarterback?" O’Connell said. "That play is just an example of Kirk kind of feeling his body language in the route, he’s just really throwing Adam open with some trust."
The Vikings have also signed Albert Wilson to add depth to their receiver room. He has 12 career touchdowns over seven NFL seasons between the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins.
"I'm very excited for the opportunity and to be up here and get to work," Wilson said.
The Vikings have three practices next week before breaking for the summer.