First-year Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell’s anxious wait for training camp finally over

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Vikings training camp gets underway Wednesday. That means the wait is finally over for first-year head coach Kevin O’Connell.

“The Fourth of July hits, I was ready to get back to work right then and there,” he said Tuesday.

Thirty-one Vikings rookies and select other players reported to the TCO Performance Center on Sunday, and the team held a walkthrough Monday. On Tuesday, remaining players on the 90-man roster reported in preparation for Wednesday’s first full-squad practice.

O’Connell, 37, was hired by Minnesota on Feb. 16 and took the field for spring drills. But things really started in earnest at training camp for the rookie head coach, when starting positions and roster spots will be decided and there will be a lot more physical activity on the field after teaching was a primary objective during the spring.

“I’ve clicked into gear, and I’m ready to roll,” O’Connell said.

So are many players. Running back Dalvin Cook and wide receivers Justin Jefferson and K.J. Osborn spoke this week about being fired up for camp. And first-year general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said that around the time the Vikings concluded spring drills on June 8, he got a text from recently signed defensive tackle Harrison Phillips that read, “Kwes, I can’t wait to get those pads on.”

The first day in pads doesn’t happen until next Monday. But there’s still much for O’Connell to do with players as camp gets underway, and Adofo-Mensah is excited to see him work.

“He’s been ready for this for a long time,” Adofo-Mensah said of O’Connell, who has never been a head coach at any level and came to the Vikings after serving as the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive coordinator. “He’s incredibly detailed. …As his friend, now that we’re pretty close, I’m excited to see him fulfill his dream.”

O’Connell said he’s moving “a thousand miles an hour” as camp gets underway. He doesn’t deny that there’s still plenty up in the air.

“There’s really not very many definite things right now,” O’Connell said. “We’re still figuring out how we’re going to deploy our personnel.”

Even Cook, a three-time Pro Bowl selection entering his sixth season, isn’t sure what his precise role will be under O’Connell, who will call the offensive plays and is expected to have a more wide-open style of play than Mike Zimmer, the previous coach who preferred a more conservative approach.

“Nobody knows how they’re going to be used,” Cook said. “It’s the first time we’re in the system. We’ve got new coaches. We haven’t played enough football to know anything.”

Cook said he’s ready for the grind of a second straight 17-game NFL season. He has missed 24 games because of injury in his career, including four last year, and he revealed Wednesday that he’s “been doing a lot more acupuncture” in a quest to stay healthy. He said he learned about such procedures a few years ago from former teammates Stefon Diggs and Xavier Rhodes and others.

“I’m figuring out what’s good for my body and what’s going to get me through the year and help this team win a bunch of football games,” Cook said.

On defense, veteran defensive coordinator Ed Donatell will be in charge. Safety Harrison Smith likes what he has seen from Donatell, 65.

“He starts every defensive talk with what we’re trying to get done with certain things,” said Smith, entering his 11th season with the Vikings. “It might seem like a small thing or not a big deal, but to me that adds up.”

Smith is the only player who has been on Minnesota’s 53-man roster under each of the team’s past three coaches. He spent 2012 and 2013 under Leslie Frazier, who was then fired and replaced by Zimmer.

Smith said going through a coaching change that “it’s important to kind of know what from the top down is expected.” So far, he feels comfortable with the new staff and likes the energy O’Connell is bringing.

“He’s a very positive guy,” Smith said. “He’s very confident in what he’s doing and what we’re doing, so it’s easy to buy into that.”

After practices Wednesday and Thursday at the TCO Performance Center, the Vikings will head to U.S. Bank Stadium on Friday because O’Connell wants all players to be acclimated to the venue before the only home preseason game against San Francisco on Aug. 20. Then it will be back to Eagan for a Saturday practice, the first in front of fans.

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