The Vikings' practice on Monday night — held before a capacity crowd in the 7,500-seat TCO Stadium — was their fifth padded practice in seven days, concluding the most concentrated stretch of work in Kevin O'Connell's first training camp as head coach.
"It's just so important for our team," O'Connell said Monday evening. "We've seen the competition ramp up – obviously ones vs. ones in these competitive periods – that's where we're really defining our identity, really in all three phases."
In many of the Vikings' practices, though, O'Connell has included a full-team period that matches up the team's starting offense against its second-team defense, or its defensive starters against its No. 2 offense.
It's where Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson have put some of the team's second-string defensive backs through their toughest work, and where second-year quarterback Kellen Mond made perhaps his best throw of training camp, beating Cameron Dantzler with a throw to Albert Wilson as Mond rolled to his left away from pressure.
The starters-versus-backups snaps have several purposes, O'Connell said, but one of the main objectives is an opportunity to test players the Vikings might need — or want — to become starters later this season.
"You can really see guys establish themselves and deserve to be in that first huddle, possibly, by those reps," O'Connell said. "Everybody wants to talk about guys being in those first huddles in end of July, early August – it really matters at the end of this month – but those ones versus twos allow us a lot of times to see matchups that maybe you don't see, see young guys respond.
"It's not like we're splitting this playbook in half; we're running every single Minnesota Vikings play right now to digest it all, to do their best to learn it and then go try to play fast, and then we coach it up on the tape and see if we can limit the fact that we're not making the same mistake over and over again. If we can fix those things and guys can move forward, maybe we can start working them into those competitive ones-versus-ones periods."
It's a philosophy O'Connell said he learned through different stops as a player and coach around the NFL. He said one of the reasons for the Vikings' large coaching staff — the team has 24 assistants on its roster — is so the team can have as small of a player-to-coach ratio as possible, giving even the Vikings' reserves access to detailed instruction.
His message to the Vikings' No. 2 units in those practice periods?
"They're not a scout team," he said. "There's no rules that say they're not allowed to go try to win that drill."