MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - Just when the Minnesota Vikings got out of an 0-3 hole to start the season and got back to .500 with a win at Lambeau Field last Sunday, they got thrown a curveball that nobody with the team was ready for.
Playing arguably the best football of his career, Kirk Cousins went down with a torn right Achilles in the fourth quarter. He had surgery on Wednesday morning, and is out for the rest of the 2023 season. Nick Mullens is normally the No. 2 behind Cousins, but he’s on injured reserve with a bad back. That leaves rookie and fifth-round pick Jaren Hall to be the starter this Sunday at Atlanta.
Hall stepped in when Cousins went down against the Packers, and faced early adversity with a lost fumble after being sacked. He eventually was 3-of-4 passing for 23 yards. One of those went to T.J. Hockenson for a first down.
The Vikings made a trade for Arizona Cardinals’ quarterback Josh Dobbs on Tuesday. He’s busy learning a new playbook, leaving Hall to get his first NFL start on Sunday against the Falcons. Hall held his first weekly session with reporters on Wednesday as the new starter.
"I just want to do my best and focus on this game. A career doesn’t ride on one game, although you don’t want to take the importance away from it. This is a 1-0 week for us and it’s the only game I’m focused on. It’s got to be my Super Bowl every week, because it’s the most important thing that’s coming next," Hall said.
He’s got the support of his entire team, and the organization as he takes over a huge void filled by Cousins, if only for one week.
"We’ve kind of all told him he’s got nothing to lose. Just got out there and sling it. He can’t worry about anything, just trust his guys, trust his receivers and trust that he knows what he’s doing. He’s ready for the opportunity," Hockenson said. "He went to BYU, so he’s pretty wise. He’s always walking around here with a chip on his shoulder, which is what you need out of a quarterback."
Whether Hall keeps the starting job is largely up to him, but Dobbs comes to Minnesota ready to step in if needed. The former Tennessee star is in his seventh NFL season after earned a college degree in aerospace engineering.
"I've known him. I can remember him coming out, the rocket science, ‘Kwesi, you’re going to love this guy.' I guess he thought I was a nerd," Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said of Dobbs. "I've known him and I know his skill set."
Kevin O’Connell, Adofo-Mensah and players watched carefully as Hall took over the Vikings’ huddle in crunch time against the Packers. The consensus was the moment didn’t overwhelm him.
There’s no doubt the Vikings will look a lot different with Hall as opposed to Cousins. His arm isn’t proven by NFL standards. Can he read a defense under pressure? He’s mobile, but can he make plays on the run? Is he ready to be the top quarterback?
"Ultimately you don’t know that anybody is ready until you get out there. I can tell you the poise that he has, every interaction I’ve ever had with him, he is poised. We asked the players what it was like with him in the game, they were all like it was not too big for him," Adofo-Mensah said. "I think that’s the first test you always look for. It’s not going to look the same as Kirk Cousins, but I think there’s a way that he can play that we can function."
Hall played at a high level at BYU. In 31 games and 25 starts, he had 52 total touchdowns and just 11 interceptions. He ran for 796 yards and 11 scores in two seasons. He threw for more than 6,100 yards in college. That includes 3,171 yards, 31 touchdowns and just six interceptions in 2022.
So how can O’Connell make the Vikings’ offense function with a quarterback making his first NFL start? He’ll have to simplify the offense, and instill confidence in the rookie, similar to how he empowered Cousins.
"It's a combination of how do we want to win the game, what do we think it’s going to take to win the game and then working backward from there. To me, it’s about execution. It’s about doing the little things right around Jaren, allowing him to feel like he’s in a position where he can just go out and do his job that he’s been coached to do," O’Connell said.
Hall took the approach throughout the offseason, in training camp and in practice that he’s the starter. Now, it’s real.
"It’s going to be an adjustment, it’s going to be different. Jaren is ready for this moment, we’ve got a lot of confidence in him," O’Connell said.
"You gotta have the mindset you can run it all, I don’t think we’ll hold anything back," Hall said.