Vikings Coach Can’t Help Himself, Spending ‘Too Much Time’ With New QB

O'Connell, Cousins, Vikings

Getty Head coach Kevin O'Connell of the Minnesota Vikings watches during warmups alongside quarterback Kirk Cousins prior to a game against the Chicago Bears in January 2023.

Minnesota Vikings rookie minicamp marks the start of an important chapter in head coach Kevin O’Connell’s career.

Overseeing fifth-round pick Jaren Hall, O’Connell’s first run at developing a quarterback in a culture that’s entirely his by design. History says Hall may never start a single game in his career as a Day 3 pick.

However, Hall will have the best resources and environment for developing a quarterback in Minnesota since Dennis Green was head coach in the late ’90s.

Hall’s experience seems already polar opposite of 2021 third-round pick Kellen Mond, who Mike Zimmer didn’t pay much mind as a defensive head coach with his job on the line.

Kevin O’Connell spoke on his experience with Hall after the first day of rookie minicamp last Friday and had a hard time staying away from the young prospect.

“I was picking my spots today, I tend to maybe overdo it sometimes and I’ve got some great coaches and want to let those guys form that initial relationship, that initial bond. But I spend a lot of time with Jaren (Hall) and I’m a big fan of his, love the way he came out and commanded a group of guys that are learning a bunch of information for the first time,” O’Connell said in a May 12 media conference.

As the new regime is still trying to navigate their future with Kirk Cousins entering the final year of his contract, O’Connell will undoubtedly be pouring into Hall, who is the only quarterback under contract beyond the 2023 season.

“There were some ups, there were some downs and that’s what we expect and ultimately just trying to give him tangible real things, that when Monday morning comes around and the veterans walk in here and he’s throwing alongside Kirk (Cousins) and Nick (Mullens), that he’s got some real tangible things he can work on every single rep,” O’Connell said, adding that the quarterback coaches better get used to him butting to coach up Hall.

“It’s watching and evaluating and giving them clear-cut coaching points with real tangible ways of fixing those things. And when they do it right, it’s the positive reinforcement that’s exactly how it should look every time. [Hall] was pleasant, and a joy to work with for Chris (O’Hara, quarterbacks coach), Grant (Udinski, assistant QBs coach), and myself. I’m sure those guys thought I butted my head in there a little bit too much but they better get used to that.”

Kevin O’Connell Showed His Ability to Develop Young QBs with Dwayne Haskins

Formerly the Washington Commanders’ quarterbacks coach, O’Connell was thrust into the offensive coordinator position after Washington started the 2019 season 0-5 and fired head coach Jay Gruden.

He took over the offense, helmed by first-round pick Dwayne Haskins, who died in a car accident last November. Like all rookie quarterbacks, Haskins had his warts. He won just two games in 2019 after replacing Case Keenum as the starter in Week 9, averaging a 68.6 passer rating in his first five starts.

However, he showed growth in his final two starts of the season.

Haskins threw for four touchdowns and posted passer ratings of 121.3 and 143.2. O’Connell maximized Haskins’ mobility, adding more bootleg and screen-pass concepts to the playbook, allowing the rookie to minimize his mistakes in a game manager role. The game seemed to slow down for Haskins, who was sacked just three times in those final two games after being sacked four times a game in his first five starts.

O’Connell’s work in Washington garnered head-coach candidacy buzz the following offseason. He went on to take the offensive coordinator position with the Los Angeles Rams, while Haskins played another season in Washington before the Commanders cut him amid the turbulence of the organization.

Had O’Connell stayed, Haskins’ career in Washington may have panned out differently.

Jaren Hall Is Likely Not the Answer at QB, But He Can Help

If O’Connell can help Hall realized his ceiling in the NFL, he may become a starting-caliber quarterback one day.

However, more than likely, especially early in his career, he’s going to go through the bumps and bruises of development as he has his technique broken down and built up for the next level.

In a scenario where Cousins is gone in 2024 and Hall is starting, he will have a competent coach who could prove he can plug and play any quarterback in his system without a hitch, much like his fellow coach in Washington Kyle Shanahan has done with the San Francisco 49ers.

But if Hall crashes and burns, that could land Minnesota in a much more advantageous position to draft a quarterback in the following year’s draft.

Hall isn’t the long-term solution for the Vikings, but he does present O’Connell’s first opportunity to install the process of development for a young quarterback that he can build upon for a future first-rounder.

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