Vikings’ right tackle Brain O’Neill is only in his second season in Minnesota, but he’s playing like a truly talented veteran; not allowing a sack in 26 starts and keeping a tenacious attitude on the football field.
Brian O’Neill is a Delaware guy. He was born in Wilmington, Delaware, has a family of athletes that starred through the state, and an uncle who is actually the Governor.
That may not mean much to people that don’t know much about Delaware, but it’s important to understand that Wilmington is an East Coast town, just outside of Philadelphia. It’s a tough town with tough kids that usually root for the Philly teams; Flyers, 76ers, Phillies–and Eagles.
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Yes, the Eagles. It’s a family devotion Bian O’Neill had to deal with when he went to Pittsburgh and one that has continued on even as he became a professional Viking.
His mom is a particularly tough nut to crack.
“It’s just kind of understood where her allegiance lies,” O’Neill reported to the press, “I’m the only person on our team that she’ll root for.”
For O’Neill, that’s good enough after a lifetime of hearing Mom support him through a sundry of high school varsity sports and into the enemy territory of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to play college football.
Of course, Elizabeth O’Neill wanted her son to be drafted by Philadelphia, but instead it was Minnesota that chose him with the 62nd pick in the 2018 draft.
Becoming A Pro
A week before his first start in 2018, O’Neill got a chance to meet the guy who he wanted to fashion his professional game after, the 13 -year and six-time Pro Bowl tackle 49ers Joe Staley.
“It was cool to see him in my first game. I was all nervous walking onto the field before, and he was just loose,” O’Neill said of it.
At 6′ 7″ 297, next to Staley at 6′ 5″, 295, O’Neill may have styled his game alongside Staley’s, but his attitude is a little more compact and directed; perhaps an effect of being born outside of Philadelphia rather than Central Michigan like Staley.
And maybe, a bit about the Irish in the big lad.
In 2019, O’Neill spends little time complimenting himself after a year-and-a-half of starting at right tackle. In fact, he’s even criticized his first efforts on the field after seeing them on film.
“Man, I can’t believe I was doing some of that stuff,” he says, a little embarrassed, “Because I think I’m so far away from (in the film) what I can be and who I want to be as a player.”
That kind of player has developed for Minnesota, but the work it’s taken to complete O’Neill’s transformation as a wide-eyed lineman trying to compete with professionals into a formidable right tackle has not been on quite an even road.
Dating back to his college days at Pittsburgh, 2019 makes O’Neill’s sixth consecutive season with a new offensive coordinator.
“That’s just been the norm for me, to be honest,” he said of changing coaches. “It’s not a good thing. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just the way it is. I don’t have a choice but to take something from everybody.”
Running The Football
O’Neill is happy to be a part of an offensive line that not only runs the ball but does so with a moving, run-first strategy and a back in Dalvin Cook that appreciates the work being down in front of him.
“He’s (Cook) really, really talented; and he’s really, really down to earth; and he also works really, really hard. … I don’t think there is a missing piece, in my mind, to him as a football player,” O’Neill said of his teammate.
O’Neill is also doing exactly what is asked of him by his direct coach, Rick Dennison. If that’s straight push blocking, pass protection, or getting up on the move to open up a wide-zone for Cook to find a hole, he’s on it.
“The only thing I’m listening to is Coach Rico (Dennison). That’s the only thing I think about – his techniques and what he’s saying,” O’Neill explained. “Big picture, it really helps (to have learned things from different coaches), but in the moment, you’ve really gotta dial into who’s talking to you.”
Leading By Example
With two veterans, one rookie and one peer his own age on the Vikings’ offensive line, O’Neill doesn’t do a lot of talking. Instead, he looks to do his job with a concentrated ability and fierceness that his coaches–and opponents–respect. That ability has now grown to the point where he is credited as being one of the best young tackles in the NFL.
His Vikings teammates all admire O’Neill’s talent, size, and labor from last year into 2019.
“He’s a lot more comfortable with what he’s been asked to do,” defensive end Stephen Weatherly said. “His ability to communicate with the offensive line has gotten a lot better. Bigger, stronger. He’s always had that quickness, he’s always been agile but if anything…this sport is about confidence, the more confidence you have the better you play. It’s a really big jump that he’s had, he feels like he’s supposed to be there.”
As for toughness, O’Neill recognizes that it’s both essential–and a bit of an illusion in the game.
“I don’t go out there trying to play ‘tough guy’ and show people that I can hit [defenders] so hard. No, I want to play well. I want to play really well. So whatever’s asked of me to do that, that’s what I’m going to do.”
What’s been asked of O’Neill–and the Vikings line as a whole–was to improve the play of their unit by directly supporting their quarterback and his passing game as well as a ground game that sat in the basement of the league in 2018.
With solid data and arguments being made for making that quarterback and the lead tailback of that ground game to be included in the 2019 NFL MVP race, Mom and the folks from Wilmington are no doubt proud of their son and the job he has done so far with his teammates.