Kevin O’Connell – Minnesota’s Impressive Head Coach – Was Once a Bill Belichick Draft Pick

Three Tests Kevin O'Connell Faces in 2023
Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports.

Before becoming the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, Kevin O’Connell played quarterback for Bill Belichick’s Patriots.

In fact, O’Connell went reasonably high in the draft. The Patriots chose him 94th overall, making him a late third-round selection. At the time, the Patriots were among the league’s best teams. Tom Brady was under center and the Randy Moss/Wes Welker pair was in town. The defense still boasted players like Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, and Vince Wilfork.

Unfortunately for Minnesota’s head coach, things didn’t work out as an NFL QB. Indeed, the playing career for Kevin O’Connell was quite modest. Coming into the draft, there was optimism about his size and athleticism. At 6’6″, O’Connell offers the height one looks for in QB prospects, especially since he ran a 4.61 forty.

Alas, things didn’t work out. He was only in New England for a single season, appearing in a couple games. He finished his NFL career having gone 4/6 for 23 yards.

Kevin O’Connell, NFL Head Coach

As many will know by now, the Vikings HC had several coaching jobs before arriving in The Land of 10,000 Lakes. He has worked for Cleveland, San Francisco, Washington, and LA before being hired by Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and the Wilfs to lead the charge in Minnesota. So far, he has done wonderfully as the head coach, as the 8-2 record suggests.

The next test will come on Thanksgiving night when Belichick’s Patriots visit U.S. Bank Stadium. Their defense is coming in at 2nd in the NFL in points against, allowing a mere 16.9 points per game (on average). The task will primarily fall to O’Connell to identify weaknesses in the defensive scheme. From there, he’ll need to equip his squad with the capacity to exploit those weaknesses on the football field.

Last week, the Vikings’ offense wasn’t anywhere close to good enough. A mere 3 points isn’t going to be enough to win games, especially when the other side is piling up points like it’s going out of style. What everyone is looking for, then, is a serious bounce-back game for the Vikings.

The main strength of Minnesota’s offense rests in the abundance of skill. Justin Jefferson stands at 1093 receiving yards, and that’s even after a very quiet 33 yards against Dallas. After him, the Vikings can turn to Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, and T.J. Hockenson as the next pass catchers. Having Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison in the backfield further puts the defense in a tough spot.

Kirk Cousins – and the somewhat beleaguered offensive line – is tasked with allowing that skill to shine. Brightly.

Kevin O’Connell needs to devise a game plan that allows his QB to get into a rhythm. Some of that plan will involve running the ball effectively, thereby allowing the offense to face 3rd downs that aren’t totally daunting. Some of that plan will involve getting the ball out of Cousins’ hands quickly. Jefferson’s release off the line of scrimmage allows him to create separation on a consistent basis, so one wonders if we’ll see some short routes to begin the game.

Beginning with modest gains through the air and a commitment to running the ball may function as the body shots that allow Kevin O’Connell to land the knockout blow. One could certainly envision a scenario where some early success underneath leads to Osborn getting loose down the field. Or, perhaps, Hockenson and Thielen start to pick up yards in the intermediate area of the field.

Some Purple Thanksgiving Football

In a perfect world, the Vikings can reverse what transpired in Week 11. Rather than a disastrous effort, put forth a sensational one. Flipping the outcome so that it’s a massive Minnesota win would be a welcome development for many Vikings fans. Remove the stress from the game by being dominant from start to finish.

Kevin O’Connell hasn’t had to overcome too much adversity since taking over. The Vikings, for the most part, have remained healthy. The close games have resulted in wins. If we exclude Week 11, the lone time Minnesota lost led to a 7-game win streak. So, things have gone well for the rookie HC.

Moving forward, the key will rest in hindering the recent poor performance from spiralling into poor performances. Keeping things singular rather than plural will be no small feat. The Patriots are a good team and are coached by perhaps the greatest coach of all time. There’s simply no way for O’Connell to match Belichick’s experience.

Thankfully, Kevin O’Connell doesn’t need to prove he’s the better coach. All he needs to do is allow his team to be better for a few hours on Thanksgiving night. If he does, then the former Patriots third rounder will be 1-0 against the man who brought him into the NFL.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference helped with this piece.

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