Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell was answering a question about his handling of the backup quarterback situation when he made a smooth pivot to praise starting quarterback Kirk Cousins' leadership abilities.

Perhaps no moment so far in the new Purple regime has offered a starker contrast between O'Connell and his predecessor Mike Zimmer.

"I don't want to provide any breaking news, but [Cousins] received a lot of votes to be a captain," O'Connell said Thursday. "You guys will find out just how many when we go through that. [Cousins' leadership] is not just in the quarterback room, but the entire team.

"I feel with the platform Kirk has on with our team and how he's taken it and ran with it, he's been authentically leading us from the front. Obviously, he has a role in that quarterback room, but it goes a lot further than that."

O'Connell obviously hopes Cousins' amazing run of durability continues into an 11th NFL season, especially early on. The only backup left on the active roster is Nick Mullens, who was acquired via trade on Aug. 22, a mere 20 days before the Sept. 11 season opener against the Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The Vikings are expected to sign former Lions quarterback David Blough to their practice squad on Friday. Blough, 27, started five games as an undrafted rookie in 2019, including a 20-7 loss to the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium, but has appeared in only two more games the last two years.

General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was looking to add a third quarterback to the practice squad after releasing both veteran Sean Mannion and second-year pro Kellen Mond on Tuesday. Mond was claimed by the Browns while Mannion opted to sign with the Seahawks' practice squad.

Asked if he assumed entering the preseason that either Mond or Mannion — both unproven as NFL quarterbacks and neither of whom gained Zimmer's trust — would step forward and win the No. 2 job, O'Connell said: "That was not my assumption and in fact I told both of those guys, 'Just understand that you are not just competing with one another.' I said I want somebody to win the job, not just have a competition. That meant whoever we felt was going to be our No. 2 quarterback needs to give us the best chance to win football games."

Then why not add another quarterback to the competition back in the spring instead of waiting until late August when there's so little time for the new guys to learn the offense?

"Kwesi and I talked a lot about how we wanted to provide a very fair, open competition between those two guys," O'Connell said. "It's pretty remarkable how close the rep count ended up being in games and throughout the spring and summer for those two guys."

Ultimately, Mannion wasn't good enough and Mond wasn't far enough along in his development.

"In my personal opinion, I still think Kellen has tremendous upside," O'Connell said. "He's got a heck of a football journey ahead of him. I'm a big fan of how Kellen works. I'm a big fan of the human being. I think he's got all the things you look for in an NFL quarterback.

"But to ask him to be that No. 2 quarterback, being a snap away on a team we feel very strongly [will be competitive], I didn't think that was fair to Kellen."

And that left Mullens, who has made 17 career starts, going 5-12, with the 49ers and Browns.

"With Nick, it's knowing the player, knowing the makeup, just the type of work ethic, and then the 17 games he played," O'Connell said. "In not always in the most ideal situations, he was able to compete, able to show his traits and how he will be able to fit into what we do. I think he's already shown to me that I'm really fired up to have Nick here.

"We had to make a very difficult decisions that I know we did not take lightly. But I do think we did make the best decisions to help us win football games."

Wednesday's trade for Eagles receiver Jalen Reagor and the corresponding move to release receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette were further examples of the team's "No stone unturned" philosophy.

"We're always looking at opportunities to improve the team," Adofo-Mensah said. "We saw Jalen as somebody who has a really great skill set individually but also how he complements that room, and then also our offensive football team."

He added: "Smith-Marsette's a really great kid. He had a great summer. We think he has a bright future."

O'Connell said Reagor will be given a chance to compete for the punt return job that had belonged to Smith-Marsette, who was claimed off waivers by the Bears on Thursday.

Adofo-Mensah said the Tuesday trade for Texans defensive lineman Ross Blacklock brought "different skill sets" the team was trying to add up front. To make room for him, the Vikings released presumed starter Armon Watts, who was later claimed by the Bears.

"We thought that was an opportunity to add somebody who's got a really good pass-rush skill set, really disruptive in that phase," Adofo-Mensah said. "That was a hard conversation with Armon — somebody who's been here for three years, been productive, great teammate, great person."


The Vikings signed cornerback Tay Gowan and receiver Travis Toivonen, a Red Wing, Minn., native who played collegiately at North Dakota, to the practice squad Thursday. With the addition of Blough, the Vikings will have one spot to fill on the 16-player squad.