For such a big fella, Vikings rookie Brian O’Neill sure spends a lot of time focusing on and practicing the smallest details of playing right tackle in the NFL.
For example …
“It can be something as [little] as the difference in two inches where your hands are placed on the backside of a zone play,” O’Neill said Monday. “It can be how your second step hits the ground and at what angle you’re going to come out of your stance. … What are the fine details of [blocking] in terms of footwork, pad level, angles, hat placement?”
His awakening to the infinitesimal details of line play at the game’s highest level was drilled into him by Vikings coaches and is being fine-tuned by new friend and teammate Mike Remmers, the current right guard and former Vikings right tackle.
O’Neill’s 11th consecutive start since overtaking Rashod Hill will come Sunday vs. the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium. Not bad for a second-round draft pick the draft experts labeled a long-term project as a converted tight end coming out of Pitt.
Coach Mike Zimmer said the Vikings expected O’Neill to contribute at some point this year but thought it would come closer to the end of the season. Already an athletic run blocker who can reach the second level, O’Neill surprised the team in how fast he developed as a pass protector.
“And he probably has a little more toughness than I thought he might have moving from tight end in college to offensive line,” Zimmer said.
“He’s really shown a lot of toughness, grit and those kinds of things.”
According to Pro Football Focus, O’Neill has played 488 snaps in pass protection. He has given up zero sacks.
In the 25-20 loss at Chicago on Nov. 18, O’Neill allowed only one pressure in 54 snaps as a pass protector. Sunday, the Vikings can reach the playoffs with a victory over the Bears or an Eagles loss at Washington.
“I take pride in the fact that I think I’ve been able to help the Vikings win,” O’Neill said. “Obviously not as many games as we would have liked, but I think I’ve been able to help this team. I’m excited moving forward that I’ll be able to continue helping this team.”
Running the ball gives line an ‘edge’
O’Neill said he thinks the offensive line is developing a more aggressive attitude in recent weeks.
“I think we’ve been fighting for each other a little bit more,” he said. “And playing with a little bit more of an edge.”
Zimmer was asked if he agrees with O’Neill. Sounding hesitant to revisit the Dec. 11 firing of offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, Zimmer still pointed to the new emphasis on the running game.
“I think the last couple games they have,” he said.
In the past two weeks, the Vikings have run the ball 68 times while passing it 49 time under interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski.
“I think [the linemen] knew that we were going to run the football a little bit more,” Zimmer said. “And again, I’m not second-guessing anything we’ve done in the past, but it’s hard to sit back and back up 40 times a game as you’re absorbing blows [as opposed to] you’re basically trying to run the football and you’re going forward.”
Zimmer didn’t give his players a “Victory Monday,” but they still didn’t have to show up to work the day after beating Detroit.
“It was more for Christmas than it was for Victory Monday,” Zimmer said. “These guys have been working hard and I just thought they could spend some time with their families and we’ll get back to work on Wednesday.”