By Craig Peters
Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell decided the joint practices with the 49ers in 2022 were so beneficial that he's doubling down on the approach in 2023.
O'Connell on Tuesday announced the Vikings will host joint practices with the Titans ahead of the Minnesota-Tennessee game in Week 2 of the preseason (game scheduled for 7 p.m. on Aug. 19).
A separate session of practices with the Cardinals will be held before Minnesota closes the preseason by hosting Arizona (game scheduled for noon on Aug. 26).
The practices will be held at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, and more details will be determined.
"We're really excited to let you guys know that we will be hosting joint practices not just one time this year but twice," O'Connell said. "It will give us a tremendous opportunity to have four-plus days of really good competition.
"I know both [Titans] Coach [Mike] Vrabel and [Cardinals] Coach Jonathan Gannon. Both of those guys I have personal relationships with," O'Connell added. "I know what kind of leaders they are and what kind of teams they'll be bringing here, ready to make sure we get some great work."
O'Connell said the takeaways from the practices with the 49ers, which featured intense competition but in a controlled environment under certain parameters, impacted his decision to opt for hosting both teams this year.
"I think back to that week of work, and we learned a lot about our football team that week. Everybody knew what type of team would be coming in from a competition standpoint," O'Connell said. "There are few coaches in this league that I have the amount of respect for that I have for [49ers Head Coach] Kyle Shanahan. I knew what we were getting from that organization coming in here. It was very competitive.
"It should push that line sometimes, but if guys are truly preparing for Week 1 of the regular season, they know how important that work is," he added. "We were able to get two great days of work that really helped our team, so with the spirit of knowing what our football team got out of that, I was really excited to get to line up two organizations with two great coaches that really have that kind of alignment of, hopefully, what we're trying to get done day in and day out while we're here to maximize it for both teams."
As for whether having so many joint practices will impact his decisions for playing time in the games, O'Connell said, "We'll see."
"I really tend to try to treat those as individual opportunities and really assess where guys are at in either their attempts to make our team or solidify a role if they're a guy we know is going to be here," O'Connell said. "Ultimately, if there's a chance to use those competitive environments to help solidify the best 53 guys for our team, we're going to do that, but never at the cost of potentially overly putting your players at risk — and that's where I think to get your starting group 70 to 80 percent of the work on those days, those guys feel like they played a preseason game and then some when you get to later on in those weeks.
"It's a great point. It's something that I'll be talking to [Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores, Special Teams Coordinator Matt Daniels and Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips], as far as each individual player, and we'll have a plan for those guys," he added. "It also pertains to the first game at Seattle and what that means for our group."