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Vikings QB Kellen Mond Excited About New Coaching Staff, Fresh Start in 2022

Mond struggled with COVID last season and had a head coach who didn't talk to him.

There's a lot of excitement in the Vikings' locker room right now about the team's new direction under head coach Kevin O'Connell, who replaced Mike Zimmer this offseason. But perhaps no player has more reason to be rejuvenated by the change in leadership than quarterback Kellen Mond, who had a rocky rookie year and is thrilled to be turning over a new page in 2022.

A third-round pick out of Texas A&M in 2021, Mond was never expected to challenge Kirk Cousins for the Vikings' starting job in his first season. Still, his rookie year was more challenging than anyone could've anticipated. Mond struggled through a bout of COVID-19 in August and had a head coach who rarely talked to him and famously criticized him in a January press conference.

Mond tested positive for COVID on July 31st last year and because he was (and still is) unvaccinated, he had to spend ten days away from the team. He told the Pioneer Press's Chris Tomasson that he lost about ten pounds while dealing with COVID symptoms and never fully recovered during the season.

"Last year, I kind of got hurt when I got COVID and lost a bunch of muscle, so a lot of ability and power and strength. I kind of had to detour a little bit. … I was down to like 204, 205 (pounds) and lost a lot of muscle, so it definitely set me back. It was hard to recover during the season just because I wasn’t lifting. You can’t really lift and pump iron during the season. So I didn’t get that really back until this season."

Mond told Tomasson he was at 215 pounds before getting COVID and is now back up to around 212 or 213, with plans to be up to 215 or 216 by the time the season begins.

If dealing with a significant illness right before his rookie season began wasn't enough, Mond also spent his first year in the NFL playing for a head coach who may have never wanted him on the team in the first place. At least that's the theory of Mond's father Kevin Mond, who believes his son was in Zimmer's doghouse all year, in part due to his decision not to get vaccinated.

“I think he wanted a defensive player (with that pick)," Kevin Mond told Tomasson. "Zimmer wasn’t mad at the person, he was mad at the selection of the quarterback. So whoever was going to get his venom thrown at him, it just happened to be Kellen. Kellen was in the doghouse from the start because of the draft and then, number two, the COVID. So he was in Zimmer’s doghouse and wasn’t getting out. They weren’t going to give him the time and Zimmer not playing him at the end of the year was, personally to me, Zimmer just sticking his thumb at (then-GM Rick) Spielman."

Mond rarely saw any time on the field last year and mostly struggled when he did get opportunities. Shortly after returning from his COVID absence, he looked like a raw rookie QB in three preseason appearances, totaling 310 passing yards on 51 attempts with no touchdowns and an interception. Then, when Cousins was placed on the COVID list ahead of the Vikings' must-win game against the Packers in Week 17, Zimmer elected to start veteran backup Sean Mannion instead of Mond. 

Mond ended up getting into a blowout loss in the fourth quarter, completing two passes for 5 yards and then nearly throwing an ugly pick-six.

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Afterwards, Zimmer was asked if he wanted to see Mond play the following week in a meaningless regular season finale against the Bears. His answer, which quickly blew up on social media, was "not particularly." Why not? "I see him every day," Zimmer replied.

Zimmer walked back the quote a bit the following day, and Mond says he wasn't affected by it, but it was a pretty bizarre moment. Zimmer was fired the day after the season ended.

“Someone ended up telling me about it,” Mond told Tomasson. “One, he’s never really talked to me personally, so I didn’t really take too much offense to it. He kind of backtracked on his word a little bit after. But it’s all fun and games, whatever. It’s a new year, new coaches, new team. I’m a year older, second year in the NFL."

Zimmer never talking to a third-round pick personally is a pretty awful look and says a lot about why he ended up being fired after eight years in Minnesota.

The important thing is that Mond has turned a new page and is excited about what the future holds with O'Connell at the helm. He's feeling good physically, thinks O'Connell will "add a little bit more flavor" to the offense, and has been drawing praise from coaches as he competes with Mannion for the backup job in OTA practices.

"Kellen's having a good spring so far, working incredibly hard, digesting the system," O'Connell said. "He made a couple checks yesterday at the line of scrimmage that he wasn't prepared play by play for of, 'Hey, make sure on play 12 you're ready to do this.' He just kind of instinctively did that. Those are the little things you look for."

“Kellen is very sharp," said offensive coordinator Wes Phillips. "He has really picked up the offense very well. I don’t know if you guys have seen him out here every day, working with (assistant QBs coach and fellow Texas A&M alum) Jerrod Johnson, extra drill work, really working on his fundamentals. He’s really done a nice job of getting up to speed with our offense, our terminology. He’s calling the plays really well in the huddle."

It's clear that Mond is in a much better situation this year, both physically and in terms of his relationship with the Vikings' coaching staff. It'll be interesting to see if this fresh start helps him beat out Mannion for the backup job in training camp. 

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