Kevin O’Connell Picked Josh Dobbs, But he Did So While Shoehorning a Major Caveat into the Mix

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

A coach saying that a backup quarterback will be well-prepared for game action is akin to a politician saying he’ll actually help his constituents: the proof is in the pudding. Let reality arrive and then everyone will learn whether the words had any merit.

Nevertheless, the words from Kevin O’Connell were pretty notable.

The coach is going to keep rolling with Josh Dobbs. Many will think that’s a mistake; many will think it’s the best course of action. Regardless of where one stands in The Great Passtronaut Debate of 2023, a different reality shined through: Josh Dobbs isn’t going to have a long runway. A poor opening half will likely lead to being benched.

Kevin O’Connell Foreshadows a Short Leash for His QB1

In some ways, the message from O’Connell was a touch contradictory.

He put a lot of effort into describing how ongoing belief in Josh Dobbs will lead to a better quarterback. Seeing the head coach willing to get into the trenches with Dobbs, pushing toward the same goal in a shoulder-to-shoulder manner, will help propel Minnesota toward a goal that has been elusive in recent weeks: wins.

Nov 12, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell celebrates with quarterback Joshua Dobbs (15) after a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Give some of his presser a listen. In these moments, O’Connell describes his belief in Dobbs:

Perpetually positive, O’Connell will always give his players a vote of confidence in the media. With Mike Zimmer, the expectation was often terse, shorter answers, an approach that emanated from his personality. O’Connell is different. Young, energetic, and optimistic, O’Connell tends to give long, winding answers that often reflect on the importance of communicating well and believing in his players.

Don’t forget, though, what he had to say earlier in his presser. “Nick Mullens will be ready to go,” O’Connell said unprompted. “We’ll prepare Nick like we always do,” the coach goes on to say, “he’s one of the most professional guys I’ve been around, always ready to roll. And our entire team knows that they can count on Nick when called upon.”

In the Chicago game, O’Connell considered putting Mullens into the game. During the bye week, O’Connell considered naming Mullens as the starter. Don’t be shocked that the possibility of Mullens getting into the game is on O’Connell’s mind. “I feel like we’ve got three quarterbacks we can win football games with,” O’Connell says later in the press conference, “and what that looks like moving forward, the starting point is always the confidence in the room, in the players. And we have that.”

During the next answer, O’Connell reflects on moving through tape of both Dobbs and Mullens during the bye. Maybe the main takeaway is simply that the head coach was commonly found moving back and forth in his answers between the two QBs, hinting at how things could go if Dobbs struggles.

The coach thinks Dobbs is the main man, but the QB1 shouldn’t feel like his claim on the throne is fully secure. He’ll need to continue earning the QB1 position with his on-field performance.

Nov 5, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Joshua Dobbs (15) reacts after running for a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Someone like Nick Mullens — a backup QB who has had occasional stretches where he’s been the starter — is going to do an excellent job in preparation. Failing to do so would mean he isn’t in the NFL. A strong QB2 must act as though he’s going to get inserted into the game. That approach is as vital as caffeine to coffee, chicken to Chick-fil-A, or a wonderful glaze to a Krispy Kreme donut.

The notable part is simply that O’Connell decided on a detour in the middle of his opening preamble. Mullens, O’Connell points out, is going to be locked and loaded.

Mullens isn’t the perfect quarterback, but he does offer 17 career starts in the NFL. He won’t be intimidated by the moment. Statistically, Mullens looks pretty good, completing 65.3% of his career passes to go alongside a 27/23 TD-to-INT ratio.

Again, not otherworldly production but rock-solid for a depth option.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Jan 8, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Nick Mullens (12) stands behind center during the third quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports

Overcoming the Raiders isn’t a must-win in the most literal sense, but the game has supreme importance. The NFC has five teams — the Vikings, Packers, Rams, Seahawks, and Falcons — sitting at 6-6. Atlanta doesn’t matter too much at the present moment since they’re sitting in the playoff slot that is reserved for the NFC South victor. More pressing is the ability to fend off the advances of Green Bay, Los Angeles, and Seattle.

Minnesota is hoping that Josh Dobbs finds a way of reversing his cold streak, re-igniting the abilities that allowed him to lead the Vikings to victories in Week 9 and Week 10. If the opening half goes very poorly — emphasis on very — the Vikings seem intent on putting Mullens into the game.

Kickoff takes place at 3:05 p.m. CST on Sunday, December 10th.

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

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.