Kevin O’Connell Offers a Word of Caution

NFL: Minnesota Vikings Training Camp
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin O’Connell, God bless him, is doing his best to ensure Vikings fans don’t get carried away with the initial depth chart.

The organization released an unofficial depth yesterday, allowing fan and analyst alike to capture a glimpse of the roster hierarchy as training camp continues marching forward. Predictably, a lot of digital ink has been spilled trying to dissect the insights we’re gleaning from the unofficial depth chart. The team’s head coach cautioned against going too far, though.

Vikings Set Training Camp Schedule
Jul 28, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell and wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) talk during training camp at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

During his press conference, O’Connell indicated that much remains to be determined. “While we’re very much into the competition, right in the meat of the competition phase of training camp” the coach notes, “I would not over evaluate any one particular area.”

Kevin O’Connell and The Vikings’ Initial Depth Chart

After offering his initial few words of caution, O’Connell explains what still needs to arrive before the coaching staff can make firm determinations about the depth chart.

Per O’Connell, the team still needs to let practices and preseason games influence things: “We got a lot of jobs guys are still fighting for. We’re going to allow not only our practices but joint practices and preseason games to play out before we make any final determinations.”

Wise words from the young head coach.

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.

Across the NFL, teams regularly force their youngsters to earn the higher spot on the depth chart. Ivan Pace Jr., for instance, has been turning heads at training camp, picking up all kinds of hype for his capacity to very quickly get himself into the mix with both the 1s and the 2s on defense. As an UDFA, Pace has been doing some remarkable stuff.

The depth chart, though, puts Pace down at the LB5/6 spot. Jordan Hicks, Brian Asamoah, Troy Dye, Troy Reeder, and William Kwenkeu all see their names listed before the former Cincinnati Bearcat. The discrepancy between the practice field and the depth chart has caused some eyebrow raising among those who follow the Vikings.

Sep 24, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (0) runs onto the field prior to the game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t look too far into the initial listing, though. As O’Connell suggests, the Vikings still need to do a lot of competing and evaluating before shifting players up and down. If the expected occurs — Pace keeps playing well — then he’ll be in the LB3 or LB4 slot before too long. Starting the young fella in a lower spot allows the linebacker to keep climbing rather than (potentially) tumbling down the depth chart had he underwhelmed in a real game.

Indeed, teams often like to play the momentum game. The UDFA has the wind at his back when it comes to both making the roster and seeing playing time. Starting him in a humble spot (LB5/6) allows for that good feeling to continue. Ongoing strong play will mean that Pace’s ascent continues, allowing him to chisel away at the names higher on the list. Eventually, he may carve out enough room for his name to reside in the LB3 or LB4 opening.

If he lives up to his potential, Pace can find some playing time opposite Asamoah and/or Hicks once the regular season arrives.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings Training Camp
Aug 3, 2023; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Brian Asamoah II (33) during training camp at TCO Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Other notable details from the depth chart are that Kene Nwangwu is the RB2, Blake Brandel slots in at RG2, and Akayleb Evans comes in as the CB2. As O’Connell notes, though, the preseason and the training camp practices (especially the ones involving the Titans & Cardinals) will go a long way in solidifying who belongs where.

The Vikings have a trio of preseason games. The opening one takes place on the road (Seattle, Aug. 10th) before a pair of home games (Tennessee, Aug. 19th & Arizona, Aug. 26th).

Keep an eye on positions like free safety, corner, defensive tackle, right guard, and kicker to capture a glimpse of who may be pushing for more playing time once the regular season hits on September 10th. O’Connell and his staff are going to reward the best players with prominent positions on offense, defense, and special teams.