Vikings’ Kevin O’Connell Gets Honest on Sam Darnold, J.J. McCarthy’s Future

Sam Darnold has excelled at Minnesota Vikings spring workouts, but it’s only a matter of time before J.J. McCarthy takes over — and that may be sooner than expected after head coach Kevin O’Connell said he’s not afraid of McCarthy facing some adversity.

Appearing on a June 10 episode of “The Rich Eisen Show,” O’Connell detailed his plan for McCarthy, tipping his hat to the 21-year-old who he expects to compete in training camp but also has a higher bar to achieve in finding comfort in the system.

“We’re going to have a competitive training camp, but we do have a plan for J.J., a long-term plan. We see him as our quarterback of the future and when that ultimately starts will really be about his process to getting there and demonstrating he has total comfort in the system,” O’Connell said.

McCarthy has had his highs and lows throughout his first spring in the NFL while Darnold has been the more polished quarterback and is poised to start training camp leading the first-team offense.

However, O’Connell showed that he’s not afraid of McCarthy getting learning experience on the fly as the team’s starter.

“The natural learning environment that is playing quarterback in the NFL, We’re not going to be able to control every aspect, and it is good to expose him to some things as he grows and develops,” O’Connell added. “But we want to make sure it’s the right time and J.J. feels 100% confident that he not only can go in and have success but also, when adversity does hit, is he attacking it the right way from a foundation that we’ve built up over a good amount of time that he can feel confident to go and attack this thing for 17-plus [games].”

J.J. McCarthy Exceeding Early Expectations of Vikings, O’Connell

At McCarthy’s first day of practice in Minnesota, O’Connell immediately cautioned reporters to not buy into too much of what they were seeing. McCarthy was encouraged to throw into tight windows, throw contested balls and get a feel for the timing of the next level.

“I know some folks may be keeping track of completions and interceptions and things like that,” O’Connell joked after practice, calling rookie minicamps a “total learning environment.”

“These guys tend to, when they’re not feeling the rush, they tend to be a little more aggressive with their arms, and I like that – trial and error – and we move on to the next rep.”

Since that first rookie minicamp, McCarthy has continued to progress on the field and in the classroom.

“Everything so far, we had hoped to get out of J.J. from the spring confirming a lot of the things we thought about him throughout the pre-draft process. He’s done all those things and then some,” O’Connell added in his interview with Eisen. “He’s been wearing us out at the facilities, working his tail off, and I think he’s gonna be in a great spot to continue his growth and development.”

Early Observations From Vikings QBs Sam Darnold, J.J. McCarthy

The biggest surprise of McCarthy so far has been his arm strength.

“Super windy day @Vikings mini camp, and QB JJ McCarthy’s passes cut through it like the cliched knife through butter,” KFAN’s Paul Allen wrote in a post on X (formerly Twitter). “Holy cow does he have wonderful arm talent. #SkolFastballs.”

Super windy day @Vikings mini camp, and QB JJ McCarthy’s passes cut through it like the cliched knife through butter Holy cow does he have wonderful arm talent. #SkolFastballs

— Paul Allen (@PAOnTheMic) June 6, 2024

However, McCarthy’s point of development has been his footwork, which will be the foundation for him to add more touch and control on his throws. Here’s a clip broken down by Locked on Vikings’ Luke Braun.

good rep, let’s see it every time like this


— Luke Braun (@LukeBraunNFL) June 6, 2024

While McCarthy still has a long way to go before he contends for the starting job, Darnold fits the bill as a polished seventh-year pro. He’s made some throws that flash real potential for him to have a breakout season in the best situation of his career in Minnesota.

Sam Darnold has a chance to SHOCK a lot of people this season!

A couple notes from Vikings mandatory minicamp ⬇️ #skol

— Leighton Glodek (@LGlodek) June 8, 2024

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