The eyes of Vikings pass defenders could be wide-eyed today against the Raiders in Las Vegas. That’s because players like Minnesota cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. will be facing a rookie quarterback in Aidan O’Connell who didn’t take over the starting assignment until early November. When matched up against an inexperienced QB, Murphy told Sports Headliners a defender can think “this week I gotta go get more picks.”
O’Connell took over from George Clooney look-a-like Jimmy Garoppolo for the November 5 Raiders game against the Giants. Vegas is 2-2 since, with wins over the Giants and Jets, and losses to the Dolphins and Chiefs.
The 25-year-old fourth round draft choice from Purdue played sparingly until given the starting assignment against the Giants. Now the Raiders are committed to him this season—although not unexpectedly he has been inconsistent throwing six interceptions (three against the Dolphins) and four touchdown passes to receivers who include elite WR Davante Adams.
“Playing a younger quarterback, they’re trying to make everything perfect, and obviously trying to get the ball to their top guys,” Murphy said. “So that kind of gives you a tell (clue) where the ball is going. Where you need to be on that type of play.”
The Vikings will try to confuse O’Connell with their defensive looks and blitz-happy scheme. That will challenge his QB IQ and poise but there is a feeling in Vegas the rookie is improving.
Vincent Bonsignore, writing for the Las Vegas Review-Journal Friday, noted that in O’Connell’s last game (against the Chiefs) he had no fumbles or interceptions. Among those impressed was Raiders coach Antonio Pierce.
“That last game (against the Chiefs), that kid played well,” Pierce said in the Journal’s story. “He gave us a chance to win, took care of the football, made the adjustments, made the corrections that we needed to, was poised … that’s what we want to see.”
Murphy is in his first season with the Vikings after four years with the Cardinals. The Vikings, under second-year coach Kevin O’Connell are known for their culture, and Murphy is a believer saying “the support system around this place is just amazing.”
During the team’s bye week Murphy went home to Arizona and spent time with his six-year-old son. The most exciting development, however, was learning he will be the father of a baby girl due in April.
The Vikings’ own elite receiver, Justin Jefferson, returns to the lineup today after missing seven games because of his hamstring injury. “I mean It’s huge (having him back),” WR K.J. Osborn said. “It will change the way teams defend us, give us another playmaker.”
Osborn and Jefferson are close so he knows how frustrated his friend was. “He’s a competitor. He wanted to get back out there. I know it was killing him. …”
Osborn talking about Jefferson’s personality and make up: “He’s a great guy. The same guy that you guys (media) see is how he is. Very personable. Funny, always wants to have fun. Smile on his face. Nice guy that comes from a great family.”
Jefferson has 5,396 career receiving yards and needs 117 receiving yards to surpass Michael Thomas (5,512 receiving yards) for the most by a player in his first four seasons in NFL history.
Osborn will be a free agent after this season but said nothing is happening now regarding a contract extension with the Vikings.
Just like the Raiders, the future of the Vikings’ QB situation is unsettled both short and long term. Joshua Dobbs was named the starter for today after there was anticipation Nick Mullens would get the call. However things to turn out today, there will be many fans who will say, “I told you so.”
Vikings’ left guard Dalton Risner, now in his fifth NFL season, knows the public is fickle. “You can’t focus too much on the outside (noise),” he said. “They’re gonna love you when you’re up. They’re gonna hate you when you’re down.”
Dobbs does provide a running threat that Mullens can’t offer, and Osborn has been impressed. “Cause I didn’t even know he was that athletic. I think it surprised a lot of us. But he goes out there, and when he has to, he’s able to extend plays with his legs and help us out that way.”
Risner doesn’t anticipate a quarterback controversy inside the Vikings’ locker room. “This is a strong locker room. From what I’ve taken it’s a locker room that supports whatever the coaches are doing and whatever the organization chooses. “
Risner joined the Vikings two games into the season. He became a starter on October 23 and while some on the outside may be so-so on his performance he isn’t. “I’ve had a really good year. I haven’t even given up a sack yet.”
The Vikings’ other starting guard, Ed Ingram, was maligned last season as a rookie but he’s improved now. Ingram told Sports Headliners that as a rookie playing next to standout tackle Brian O’Neill, he was nervous and “I didn’t want to mess him up.”
Ingram said the coaches have told him his “level of play has elevated since last season.” He now believes he and O’Neill complement each other.
Vivid Seat’s Fan Forecast is 54 percent of the patrons at today’s game at Allegiant Stadium will be Vikings fans.
Maxwell Woods, the running back / defensive back from Chanhassen High School, was today named Mr. Football for 2023 by the Minnesota Football Coaches Association (MFCA). In a news release Chanhassen coach Cullen Nelson said:
“Maxwell Woods is the hardest worker I have ever coached and his drive to win is unmatched. He is an ambassador for our football program and school. He is the ultimate competitor and teammate. He isn’t a stats guy; he is a team guy. He gets just as excited when his teammates score as when he does. I will never coach a player better than Maxwell Woods. He is the total package. Maxwell is committed to North Dakota State University to play running back next year.”
The Mr. Football Award is co-sponsored by the MFCA and the Vikings. The two organizations also annually collaborate on the All-Star football game matching high school seniors from the state in a North-South rivalry. With its varied activities to benefit high school football, the MFCA lives by the mantra “The Keepers of the Game.”
Audra Martin, the Twins sideline reporter, and Wild studio host, is the latest guest on “Behind the Game” with hosts Patrick Klinger and Dave Boden. A Chicago native and graduate of Central Florida, Martin has worked in this market since 2015. The show is available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gW-LqbyoZhI