Vikings HC Kevin O’Connell Offers Reality Check on Sam Darnold

Sam Darnold, Minnesota Vikings

Getty Quarterback Sam Darnold #14 of the San Francisco 49ers.

The Minnesota Vikings are still working through their process at quarterback in the post-Kirk Cousins. Head Coach Kevin O’Connell said as much during an interview on “The Insiders,” though he had plenty of positive things to say about free agency acquisition Sam Darnold.

“We added Sam Darnold to our team, which we’re excited about,” the Vikings head coach told the panel on March 25. “Always been a fan of Sam.

“I’ve known him for a long time. Watching him progress through his college career and then ultimately being a high draft pick, having done a full process on him then. We all go through a quarterback journey in this league. … But it’s a journey where you learn and you continue to grow and ultimately you just want to find yourself in a position in the future to be the best version of yourself and all the things you’ve learned along the way.”

“I think Sam’s at that point in his career,” O’Connell said.

Vikings’ Kevin O’Connell Points to 49ers Coaches as Reason for Optimism About Sam Darnold

Sam Darnold, Minnesota Vikings

GettySam Darnold #14 of the San Francisco 49ers.

The Athletic’s Mike Jones wrote on March 22 that the Vikings’ move from Cousins to Darnold was a “downgrade”. Compounding the issue, Cousins (Atlanta Falcons) and Joshua Dobbs (San Francisco 49ers) were labeled upgrades.

Jones pointed to Darnold’s propensity to turn the ball over.

It’s an issue the insider says plagued Darnold up to this past season. And the Vikings quarterbacks also battled turnovers last season. But O’Connell is confident in Darnold.

“I think his best football is ahead of him because how he’s handled the last couple years,” O’Connell said, pointing to the coaching Darnold received under 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Brian Griese last season.

“When you turn on the tape of his work in San Francisco, you can tell – Kyle, Brian Griese – the kid’s did a great job in the next phase of his career. Fundamentals, techniques – things you look at to see growth. I’m excited to get going with Sam because I think we can pick up where he left off last year. … I think it’s going to be a really really positive situation for Sam.”

Of course, O’Connell wasn’t conceding the Vikings’ potential plans to move up in the draft either.

Vikings Entering an ‘Exciting Time’

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, Kevin O'Connell, Minnesota Vikings

GettyGeneral manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah (L) and Head coach Kevin O’Connell of the Minnesota Vikings.

“At the same time, an exciting time for our organization to be looking towards the future in a way where maybe we select a player in this year’s draft, maybe we continue to build our team around a lot of really good skill position players, some really good foundational players.

“I love what [General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah] was able to do, especially on the defensive side of the ball, for us in free agency. And for me as the offensive guy, it never hurts to have Aaron Jones in your backfield. Regardless of how you design an offense, there’s some really cool things you can do with a player like that. So it’s a exciting time for us.”

Jones signed a one-year, $7 million contract in free agency from the rival Green Bay Packers, replacing the departed Alexander Mattison, who was cut and signed with the Las Vegas Raiders.

Mattison will vie to replace Josh Jacobs, whose arrival in Green Bay fostered Jones’ release.

O’Connell again referred to his roots as a “quarterback guy,” though. It has been the Vikings’ biggest question mark since Cousins went down for the season in Week 8 with free agency looming.

“You know me, I’m a quarterback guy and enjoy,” O’Connell said. “Love the process of trying to always go year-to-year where you’re finding the next great players to come into this league.”