Vikings’ Kevin O’Connell Speaks Openly After Eyeing $17 Million Free Agent

Kareem Hunt

Getty Images Free agent running back Kareem Hunt.

The Minnesota Vikings have ventured into making a late addition to the training camp roster with less than a month before final cutdown day.

Minnesota hosted former Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt for a visit on Friday, August 12. A 2017 third-round pick, Hunt earned Pro Bowl honors his rookie season with the Kansas City Chiefs and has made over $17 million in his career as a reliable one-two punch with the Browns’ Nick Chubb.

Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell addressed Hunt’s visit to the team’s facilities as a means of building a connection with the veteran running back and establishing the possibility of a “potential fit” with the team.

“It was – much like we’ve done in other scenarios – just trying to build a relationship, gain a little bit more information about that particular player and maybe a potential fit on our football team. But we’re always just trying to explore every avenue,” O’Connell said in an August 12 media conference. “Not only to have the best training camp possible but looking forward to what certain position units look like.”

O’Connell also cleared the air of any questions facing the running back room that is entering its first season without Dalvin Cook.

Third-year running back Kene Nwangwu was taking second-team reps behind starter Alexander Mattison before suffering an injury setback ahead of Thursday’s preseason opener against the Seattle Seahawks. Hunt’s visit raised some speculation about the severity of Nwangwu’s injury. Ty Chandler took 11 carries for 41 yards while also catching all four of his targets for 29 yards as the lead back.

“With Kene [Nwangwu] kind of working through what he’s been working through, I think Ty [Chandler] – you can’t say enough about taking advantage of his opportunity in Seattle. [Alexander Mattison] is having a great camp,” O’Connell conti. “Alex is doing everything and more as far as being our lead back, and that will not change. And we like our two young guys we now have, with our new addition (Abram Smith), and [DeWayne McBride] is coming along.

“There’s a learning curve and a process there that is a daily, minute-to-minute thing,” O’Connell added. “We really feel good about the group, and like we do with all aspects of our team, we’re always looking to explore whatever avenue we can to improve our team if we feel that’s the way to go.”

Kevin O’Connell Tips Hat for Ty Chandler to Finish Last Phase of Development

Ty Chandler

GettySecond-year running back Ty Chandler is considered a breakout candidate for the Vikings in 2023.

A 2022 fifth-round pick, Chandler flashed in the preseason his rookie year, taking 15 carries for 113 rushing yards and a touchdown in three games. He made the 53-man roster before landing on the injured reserve list with a thumb injury. Chandler returned to play 12 snaps in the Vikings’ regular-season finale against the Chicago Bears.

Entering his second season, O’Connell has seen everything he needs to from Chandler, and it’s on the 25-year-old to put it all together consistently.

“He’s just in his second year, and we’re asking a lot of him. And he’s getting reps with our first group where we’re moving pretty quick, we’re getting the full ‘Brian Flores experience’ on a daily basis, so there’s a lot of moving parts to that,” O’Connell said in a postgame media conference following the preseason opener. “And the consistency factor, it’s one of those things that, that’s how you ultimately prove that last phase. It’s clear Ty has unbelievable physical talent with his speed, his vision and his burst, and his ability to make defenders miss – which he’s proven time and time again in those competitive situations.”

Chandler ran a 4.38 40-time at the combine and can also excel as a receiving option out of the backfield. Putting together more solid pass-blocking reps and showing understanding in his assignments is the final step for Chandler to potentially move further up the depth chart.

 Vikings Eyeing Other Veteran Free Agents

Hunt is among three notable veteran free agents the Vikings have invited for a visit in the final month before the 2023 season.

Minnesota hosted veteran cornerback Ronald Darby for a workout on August 3, per the Star Tribune’s Ben Goessling. Darby, entering his ninth year, is coming off an ACL tear but has proven to be a starting-caliber cornerback throughout his career.

Former Denver Broncos guard Dalton Risner also visited the Vikings but left without a contract as Minnesota continues to evaluate its roster.

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