Very Sneakily, the Vikings Point Toward a Pretty Large Development for Week 1

NFL: Pro Bowl-NFC Practice
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Brian O’Neill looks like he’s ready to roll.

All offseason, the word has been that the stud right tackle was gunning for that opening contest against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. O’Neill has been upbeat and positive, coinciding with the overall tone emanating from others at TCO Performance Center. Even still, seeing him listed as the starting right tackle qualifies as a reasonably large development.

Brian O'Neill
Oct 2, 2022; London, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Brian O’Neill (75) during the NFL International Series game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports

On the team’s website, Craig Peters relays the unofficial depth chart. There’s no flair or extra attention. Instead, there’s the simple inclusion of O’Neill at the top spot for the right tackle position. The simple affirmation of his status within the roster hierarchy should come as an encouraging bit of news for Vikings fans.

After all, the team is looking to kick off their 2023 season with a win at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Bucs and their still-talented defense stand in the way, so having O’Neill on the field will certainly help.

The Vikings Point Toward Brian O’Neill Starting

When fully healthy, there isn’t too much debate: Brian O’Neill is the RT1.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills
Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Minnesota Vikings full back C.J. Ham (30) reacts to scoring a touchdown along with Minnesota Vikings tackle Brian O’Neill (75) during the second half against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The proud owner of a 5-year, $92.5 million contract, O’Neill very quickly established himself as a long-term answer at one of the game’s preeminent positions: offensive tackle. He was a second-round selection after putting forth a strong college career at Pittsburgh.

Initially, the belief was that the 6’7″, 310-pound offensive lineman would sit for a little while, but he ended up starting 11 games as a rookie while appearing in 15. Since then, he hasn’t come out of the starting lineup (except for injury, of course).

Questions Answered: One Injury Hiccup, 32nd-Ranked Defense, the Jets
Dec 20, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) and Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw. Mandatory Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports.

Placing him opposite Christian Darrisaw means the Vikings boast one of the NFL’s best OT tandems. The Week 17 Achilles tear put that tandem in doubt to start the 2023 season, but all of the indications are pointing toward ample playing time against Tampa Bay on Sunday.

Speaking to reporters recently, Brian O’Neill — complete with a sensational handlebar mustache — confirms that he’s “excited for the game” before noting that there are “steps” he needs to complete before he can “hopefully” be ready to roll. So, optimism and yet a tiny bit of uncertainty.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
Dec 5, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Minnesota Vikings center Mason Cole (52) and Ezra Cleveland (72) and offensive tackle Brian O’Neill (75) wait to take the field to play the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

Obviously, the unofficial depth chart doesn’t guarantee anything, but it’s simply one more bit of evidence suggesting that the big man will be available on Sunday.

The game is scheduled to begin at 12 p.m. CDT at U.S. Bank Stadium. If, for some reason, O’Neill isn’t healthy enough to play, the Vikings will likely be turning to Oli Udoh to step in at right tackle. By no means a one-for-one replacement, Udoh is more than capable of holding down the fort in a short-term capacity.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap 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.