MINNEAPOLIS - When Kevin O’Connell takes the field at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday afternoon, it’ll be for his debut as an NFL head coach.
It doesn’t get any bigger for the Minnesota Vikings than opening the 2022 regular season with a home game against their biggest NFC North Division rival, the Green Bay Packers. It’ll be the first real snaps for most starters, as none played in any of the three preseason games. O’Connell said his focus is on making sure the team is ready, but didn’t hide the fact that he’s looking forward to his coaching debut.
"I’m excited, I’m excited to get to U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday and feel that energy. I already feel it within the Twin Cities," O’Connell said Monday from TCO Performance Center.
VIKINGS PLAYERS PICK 8 CAPTAINS FOR 2022 SEASON
O’Connell said Vikings’ players voted last week to determine the team’s captains for the 2022 season. When it was done, eight players will wear the "C" during the season, and some were near unanimous picks.
The Vikings will have four offensive players – Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Brian O’Neill and Adam Thielen, as captains. There are three defensive players – Eric Kendricks, Harrison Smith and Patrick Peterson. C.J. Ham, a fullback and on special teams, is the other captain.
O’Connell said as many as 20 players received votes.
"It was an unbelievable process to see 20 players have votes. Those guys have earned it from Day 1. We’ll rely on those guys moving forward," O’Connell said.
WILL IRV SMITH JR. PLAY SUNDAY?
One of the biggest questions for the Vikings entering Sunday’s game is the health of tight end Irv Smith Jr. He suffered a thumb injury on the team’s first day in pads that required surgery. Coming off a torn meniscus that ended his 2021 season before it could start, it was another setback for the talented tight end.
He was back on the practice field Monday, and said he’ll play Sunday.
"A lock to play? I mean, for sure. I put in a lot of work throughout this time. We’ve had a great plan and it’s been amazing," Smith said.
O’Connell was asked if anything has happened to put Smith’s status for Sunday in doubt.
"Nothing has happened. If anything, I feel as confident as ever that we’ll have him. Barring any set backs, we hope to have Irv on Sunday," O’Connell said.
The hope is Smith is back healthy and ready for a 17-game season after making 66 catches for 676 yards and seven touchdowns in his first two seasons. He has big individual goals for the season, but most importantly, wants to help lead the Vikings to a Super Bowl.
"It’s definitely a big year, I’ve set a lot of high expectations for myself, I know my coaches have a lot of high expectations for me. At the end of the day, it’s football. It’s going out there, competing, having fun, playing a game that you love," Smith said. "That’s kind of how I look at it."
ZA’DARIUS SMITH, CHANDON SULLIVAN EXCITED TO FACE PACKERS
Sunday’s game against the Packers isn’t only a division battle to start the season, it’s a reunion for two current Vikings’ players. Za’Darius Smith spent the past three seasons in the Packers’ defense, along with Chandon Sullivan.
Smith missed most of last season with a back injury, but was back in time for their playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers. It’s also Smith’s birthday on Thursday.
"Excited, had a whole year off and now I get an opportunity to go do something that I love. Just happy, I can’t wait. Six days away man, just every excited. Birthday coming up too, so hopefully we got a dub for my birthday," Smith said.
"He’s got a different energy already. I don’t know if he took like a three-day nap the last three days, but he is fired up and got a lot of energy," defensive tackle Harrison Phillips said.
The Vikings host the Packers at 3:25 p.m. Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, a game you can watch on Fox 9.