DENVER — Some Vikings players slept on a flight Friday to Denver. Some watched movies. Quarterback Nick Mullens was deep into his playbook.
Mullens was acquired last Monday from the Las Vegas Raiders for a conditional seventh-round draft pick to most likely be Minnesota’s backup quarterback behind Kirk Cousins. Since then, he has constantly been working to get up to speed on learning a new offense.
Mullens dressed out for the Vikings’ 23-13 loss to the Broncos in the preseason finale Saturday night at Empower Field but did not play. Head coach Kevin O’Connell said he could have been utilized as an emergency third quarterback but instead Sean Mannion played the first half and Kellen Mond the second. Cousins sat out Saturday’s game and did not play at all during the Vikings’ 0-3 preseason.
“I’m just studying as hard as I can, not wasting a minute, not wasting time,” said Mullens, entering his sixth NFL season. “I think that’s really important to me like on these flights. You can watch a movie, or you can study. I’ve got to be studying and hammering the playbook and things like that.”
When the Vikings cut their roster down to the regular-season limit of 53 players on Tuesday, two quarterbacks on it will be Cousins and Mullens. There could be a third in either Mannion or Mond. Or both could be cut, with at least one signed to the practice squad.
Both Mannion and Mond were inconsistent in the preseason, including on Saturday. Mannion completed 9 of 16 passes for 121 yards for a passer rating of 80.5, and he lost a fumble in the second quarter that was returned 17 yards for a touchdown by linebacker Baron Browning. Mond completed 10 of 17 passes for 102 yards for a passer rating of 76.1, and was sacked four times.
For the preseason, Mannion completed 27 of 43 passes for 265 yards and a passer rating of 80.1, and Mond completed 29 of 51 passes for 303 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions and a passer rating of 71.0.
“I think as we’ve evaluated them throughout training camp, those guys have had some positives that really bled over into their game performances,” O’Connell said. “They also had some things that we’ve talked to them about and how they can improve in certain areas all across the board at the quarterback position.”
Mannion is entering his eighth pro season, and has been Cousins’ backup the past three. Mond, a third-round draft pick in 2021, is entering his second season.
“I feel like I’ve been efficient,” Mannion said of his preseason. “I kept working to get better and better every day. So, I think I’ve put my best foot forward.”
Mannion’s contract guarantee of $277,200 (of his $1.12 million base salary) is the same sum he would earn if he spent the entire 2022 season on the practice squad. He was asked if he would accept a position on the Vikings’ practice squad.
“I don’t want to speculate on anything,” he said. “Obviously, there are a lot of moving parts this time of the year in the league.”
Meanwhile, Mullens will continue to prepare for the Sept. 11 regular-season opener against Green Bay at U.S. Bank Stadium. He has played in similar offensive systems from 2017-20 with San Francisco and last season with Cleveland, and said that has been a help.
“It’s been a really smooth transition, working as hard as I can,” Mullens said. “(Assistant quarterbacks coach) Jerrod (Johnson) and (quarterbacks) coach Chris O’Hara have done a tremendous job just meeting with me and teaching me everything I need to know to be able to execute.”
Mullens said he was informed Saturday morning he wasn’t expected to play against the Broncos but would dress out.
“He probably could have handled playing,” O’Connell said. “He had a lot of snaps in those (three) games played for the Raiders (before being traded). It really wasn’t a matter of us not wanting him to get time, and he’s done a great job of acclimating already. He was ready (Saturday) to be our third emergency quarterback if we needed him. But I didn’t want to throw him out there just yet.”
Still, Mullens, who has been assigned No. 12, considered it a valuable experience putting on a Vikings uniform for the first time.
“It was good to just go through the process,” he said after the game. “I think any time you can get in the uniform and see how Vikings game day goes, I think it was good for me, and I tried to treat it as real as possible, and I think it helped. … It was cool. I liked the white and purple (jersey).”
Mullens then headed to the team plane for the flight back to Minnesota, ready to hit the playbook again.