Jordan Addison debuts, offense continues to evolve as Vikings open training camp

EAGAN, Minn. — For a brief moment, Jordan Addison left the field for the locker room. But then, as most of the Minnesota Vikings finished their first day of training camp, Addison returned.

Backup quarterback Nick Mullens walked alongside the rookie wide receiver. They stepped onto the turf, put on their helmets and took their positions. Mullens crouched down like he was receiving a snap. Addison positioned himself out wide.

Mullens threw passes to him. One, then two, then 10. Addison caught each one, flipped the ball back to Mullens, then went again. Another route, another throw.

Wednesday marked Addison’s first action in front of the media. He did not participate in organized team activities or minicamp due to an injury that neither he nor the team specified. Physically, he looked the part. Late in an 11-on-11 period, quarterback Kirk Cousins placed a ball in a tight window over the middle. Addison dove and smoothly secured the catch.

“He’s a physically gifted player,” Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell said Tuesday. “We’re excited about him.”

There are still some hurdles to clear, most of which are related to Addison’s acclimation to life in the NFL. First, he has to stay out of trouble off the field.

Last Thursday, Addison received a citation from the Minnesota State Patrol. According to the incident report, a state trooper observed a Lamborghini driven by Addison traveling 140 mph in a 55 mph zone on I-94 around 3 a.m.

Addison released a statement the following day, saying he “made a mistake and used poor judgment.” In person Wednesday, Addison reiterated that message.

“I take full responsibility and full ownership of my actions last week,” the 21-year-old said. “It’s never a good thing when (O’Connell) or Kwesi (Adofo-Mensah) have to answer questions about me off of the field.”

Reporters asked Addison about the specifics of the citation, including the fact that Addison told the state trooper his dog was having an emergency. Addison did not expound.

“I acknowledge that I used poor judgment and made a really poor decision that I’ll definitely learn from,” he said.

Neither he nor the team has mentioned any punishment, but Addison was present throughout Wednesday’s practice.

But there are on-field challenges, as well. Learning O’Connell’s playbook on the fly has not been easy. The sheer volume of plays is one layer, and there are intricacies to how receivers in the system have to run routes.

“If you don’t know football at all, you’d think that receivers just get out there, and they’re given a route, and … you just run that,” fellow receiver K.J. Osborn said Wednesday. “At my position, and all of ours, you are reading the defense as you’re running. The defense is disguising and changing as you’re running, and you’re changing your route at full speed.”

Receivers also attempt to run their routes similarly so the defense cannot decipher what they’re running.

Then there is the fact that Cousins expects precision. Osborn recalled a moment during his second season when Cousins told him he does not like throwing the ball without the certainty that it’s the right throw.

“There are a couple of times that he’s going to put it up there and give you a chance,” Osborn said. “But a lot of times, when it leaves his hands, he wants to know it’s going to be a catch.”

Attaining that level of trust takes time and consistency. Osborn knows that better than most. After practice Wednesday, while Addison and Mullens repped different patterns, Osborn and backup receiver Trishton Jackson discussed different releases from the line of scrimmage.

Osborn said the conversation was a testament to a room built by receivers coach Keenan McCardell and veterans like former Viking Adam Thielen. Osborn is committed to helping Addison carry the torch.

“I’m here whenever he needs me,” Osborn said. “I’m gonna be helping him out on the field like anybody else. He knows I’ve got his back through anything.”

The Vikings offense is evolving

One of the Vikings’ most interesting under-the-radar moves this offseason was their decision to extend C.J. Ham.

Wednesday, the fullback said he appreciates that the franchise values his position. He also explained why it does.

“I mean, everybody likes to say the NFL is getting away from bigger personnel and using fullbacks,” Ham said. “But you just see it time in and time out. A lot of the successful teams are very versatile when it comes to their personnel.”

Multiple elite offenses from 2022 — like the Chiefs and 49ers — support Ham’s point.

The Vikings not only inked Ham to a new two-year deal, but they also signed free-agent tight end Josh Oliver. Osborn said the current personnel “is going to give us a chance to do a lot more things.”

“Obviously, we have (Justin Jefferson), who is the best receiver in football, so defenses are going to be keying on him,” Osborn continued. “But we’ve got T.J. (Hockenson). We brought in Josh so we can get the run game going a lot to get off that coverage, to get some easy throws, then get (Alexander Mattison) going. … We can go five wide. We can go with a bunch of tight ends and no receivers out there. All of that just stresses the defensive coordinator and the defense.”

This evolution has a direct link to the amount of two-high safety coverage Minnesota faced in 2022. Teams utilized this approach to limit Jefferson. The Vikings tried to run the ball against lighter box counts but struggled, which forced them to do some brainstorming this offseason.

Already, the Vikings are showing the possibilities. Once Wednesday, Cousins set up in a shotgun formation with Mattison standing to his left and Ham to his right. Oliver positioned himself on the line of scrimmage. Call it 21 personnel. Call it evolution.

Other thoughts

• We’ll start with Jalen Nailor. He impressed throughout the spring and again Wednesday. Speed has never been the issue for the 2022 sixth-round pick, but he looks lean and shifty. Additionally, Cousins is not afraid to give him chances. On one play Wednesday, Cousins scanned the field, hitched, then fired a dart to the sideline. He placed the ball perfectly, but Nailor still secured the catch, tip-toeing the sideline. When the Vikings were in 11 personnel, Nailor was often the No. 3 receiver. He looked confident in that spot, which is quickly becoming a theme.

• The Vikings have a large group of young and inexperienced talent at cornerback: Akayleb Evans, Andrew Booth Jr., Mekhi Blackmon and others. One of those others is Joejuan Williams, a former Patriots second-round pick who stands 6-foot-3. He’s massive. He almost looks like he could be a tight end. Wednesday, he was pressing receivers at cornerback with the No. 1 defense. He does have familiarity with the system, given defensive coordinator Brian Flores has kept a lot of the Patriots lingo. It is worth following Williams’ standing as the weeks progress.

• Harrison Phillips, Dean Lowry and Khyiris Tonga played the majority of first-team snaps at defense tackle. … Rookie quarterback Jaren Hall feathered a perfect pass down the sideline to wide receiver Lucky Jackson but also sailed a pass in an 11-on-11 drill. … Safety Cam Bynum, who played most of the snaps with the No. 1s alongside Harrison Smith, reacted quickly and broke up a pass near the line of scrimmage. … Kene Nwangwu and Ty Chandler both received snaps at backup running back. … Trishton Jackson, who got lots of reps this spring, continued to flash when thrust into routes with the backups.

(Photo: Abbie Parr / Associated Press)

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