Vikings OTA No. 2 Recap: What We Saw From J.J. McCarthy, Sam Darnold, Others

The Vikings' quarterbacks drew plenty of attention at Tuesday's practice.
In this story:

The Vikings just had OTA No. 2, their second full-team practice of 2024 and the first one open to members of the media. It was held in the indoor fieldhouse at TCO Performance Center due to rain in the Tuesday afternoon forecast. Although contact was limited and things haven't yet fully ramped up the way they will in training camp, it was fun to watch the team play some football again. Here are some takeaways from the action.

All eyes on McCarthy, who has a long ways to go

There's no doubt that rookie quarterback J.J. McCarthy will be the player watched most closely at Vikings practices throughout the spring and into training camp later this summer. As the highest-drafted quarterback in franchise history, his presence brings hope. The potential for what he could become down the line is undeniably exciting. But as of right now, the reality is that the 21-year-old has a long ways to go — which is what we expected.

McCarthy's physical tools are evident when you watch him practice. He looks the part size-wise, he's mobile, and the ball jumps out of his right hand with easy velocity when he lets it rip. He had several impressive throws during Tuesday's practice, including a perfectly-placed dart to Lucky Jackson on an out-breaking route at the right sideline.

With that said, McCarthy was primarily working as the QB3 behind veterans Sam Darnold and Nick Mullens. When the team split up for parts of the day, it was Darnold and Mullens rotating with the starters and McCarthy and Jaren Hall working with the young players and backups. McCarthy had plenty of moments in this practice that reminded you just how much learning and growth is ahead of him. There were several reps where you could see him going through his progressions, hesitating a bit, and then scrambling or throwing to his checkdown option. He's clearly still working on getting the rhythm and timing down within Kevin O'Connell's offense. McCarthy also dropped a shotgun snap for a fumble at one point and had a few inaccurate misses.

None of that should be surprising. McCarthy is going to have to work his way up the depth chart over the course of this year. The Vikings have a specific plan in place for his development, one they aren't going to rush or deviate from. If he doesn't beat out Darnold, prove he's ready, and win the Week 1 starting job, he might remain the QB3 to start the regular season so he isn't an injury away from being thrust into action. It's going to be fascinating to see how he progresses throughout this offseason.

Don't forget about Darnold

The Vikings' current QB1 — and the most likely candidate to open the season in that role — shouldn't be overlooked amid the understandable interest in every move McCarthy makes. Darnold is 26 years old and entering his seventh season in the NFL. He looks comfortable in his new surroundings, he looks confident, and he looks like a veteran quarterback. The former No. 3 overall pick showed off plenty of arm talent of his own during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 reps with the first-team offense (which is without Justin Jefferson and T.J. Hockenson).

The ability to sling the ball around has never been the issue for Darnold. He became a bust in New York because of things like decision-making, taking care of the football, and inconsistency. But he also didn't come into the best situations during his first few years in the league. His head coaches with the Jets were Todd Bowles for one year and Adam Gase for two. Then he went to the Panthers, where Matt Rhule wasn't much better (and was fired midway through Darnold's second season there). Darnold put together the best stretch of his career late in that 2022 season with the Panthers, then spent last year learning under Kyle Shanahan as a backup with the 49ers. Now he's in Minnesota, which is a fantastic environment for any quarterback. If he holds off McCarthy to keep the job, it's not impossible to envision Darnold having a season like Baker Mayfield did last year and reviving his career.

"Sam's been great," offensive coordinator Wes Phillips said after practice. "He's right where he needs to be at this point in the year, asking the right questions, still leaning on his experiences as well. He's played a lot of football. ... The other thing that you see with Sam is the 'arm talent' that gets thrown around a lot. He was the third pick in the draft for a reason. And we've really seen it show up here since Day 1, since we got on the grass."

Other observations

— Blake Brandel seems to be basically unopposed as the Vikings’ starting left guard. He’s been a backup at various positions throughout his career, but he’s in line to be a starter this year. Phillips said Brandel has “earned this opportunity.”
— Jefferson isn’t here, but that was expected. There’s nothing new on that front. Patience is required.
— Without Jefferson, the competition at wide receiver is an interesting one. Jordan Addison is obviously locked into a huge role, but who’s the No. 3 option? Brandon Powell, Trent Sherfield, Jalen Nailor, and Trishton Jackson all rotated with the first-team offense. Further down the depth chart, Lucky Jackson and Thayer Thomas stood out as top options for McCarthy.
— Mullens is always entertaining to watch. He ripped a back-shoulder dime to new tight end Robert Tonyan during 7-on-7s, then tried a deep ball to Powell against double coverage (it got broken up). He’s quite the gunslinger.
— Speaking of Tonyan, Phillips had high praise for him on Tuesday. It sounds like he’ll be competing with Johnny Mundt to be the Vikings’ top receiving TE during Hockenson’s injury absence, which is expected to last at least the first 4-6 games of the season.
— Defensively, new cornerback Shaq Griffin picked off a deep ball and generally looked impressive. He was a big addition for a Vikings team that needed more experience at corner.
— Lewis Cine got beaten in coverage a couple times and also dropped an interception off of a deflection. It's very early in this offseason, but the 2022 first-round pick might be at risk of getting cut before his third season.
— Dallas Turner mixed in with the first-team defense while Andrew Van Ginkel recovers from a foot injury. Turner just seems to have the look of a future star.


Thanks for reading. Make sure to bookmark this site and check back daily for the latest Vikings news and analysis all offseason long.

Follow Will Ragatz on X/Twitter


Published
Will Ragatz

WILL RAGATZ

Will Ragatz is the publisher of Inside the Vikings, an SI.com channel in the Fan Nation network. He's in his fourth season as a credentialed Minnesota Vikings beat writer, covering the team at practices, games, and all offseason long.  Will posts daily Vikings articles year-round. Not only is he on top of all the latest news, he provides the analysis and context to put the news into perspective. He knows the team inside and out, which allows him to bring depth and quality to his coverage. From free agency to the draft to training camp and the NFL season, Will covers every relevant story surrounding the Vikings. Prior to taking this role in 2019, Will attended Northwestern University and studied at the renowned Medill School of Journalism. As a student, he covered Northwestern Wildcats football and basketball, among other sports, for SB Nation's Inside NU. Will was a co-editor-in-chief of the site during his junior year. In the fall of 2018, Will interned at Sports Illustrated's newsroom in New York City, writing articles primarily on Major League Baseball, college football, and college basketball for SI.com. A native of Minneapolis who still resides in the city, Will grew up a diehard Minnesota sports fan. He played baseball at Southwest High School and wrote for the student newspaper.