In his first Vikings practice, J.J. McCarthy loses a bet, learns from his coach’s mistake

webnexttech | In his first Vikings practice, J.J. McCarthy loses a bet, learns from his coach's mistake

Stationed at a podium just outside the Vikings’ headquarters, coach Kevin O’Connell gestured out to the team’s practice fields, turning reporters’ attention behind them to where rookie quarterback J.J. McCarthy was running sprints at the end of his first Vikings practice. The sprints, McCarthy admitted later, were the payoff for a bet he’d lost. With 16 snaps of skeleton passing drills scheduled for the first day of the Vikings’ rookie camp practices on Friday, McCarthy challenged the team’s defenders he could get through the drills with three or fewer balls hitting the ground. If he did, they’d have to run gassers; if four or more passes missed their target, McCarthy would be the one running. McCarthy and undrafted linebacker K.J. Cloyd, in particular, had been chiding one another in jest before practice. It was Cloyd who intercepted McCarthy in a Vikings uniform for the first time, stepping in front of a pass and pointing at McCarthy as he returned it for a touchdown in the middle of Friday’s practice. “I’ve got to stop talking smack because it always turns out, they win in the end,” McCarthy said. “The splits were a little messed up; I obviously take full credit for the outcome of the play. But you know, just reading it outside in, I felt like I could fit in there and force it, but at this level, they’re a lot faster, a lot longer. It’s great to learn now, before the vets get here. Hopefully I won’t be in that situation anytime soon.” The Vikings could take the error in stride on Friday, as the start of their rookie minicamp marked the next juncture in a deliberate process they plan to use for McCarthy’s development. McCarthy, the 10th pick in last month’s NFL draft, is one of just two quarterbacks in the Vikings’ rookie camp, with Eastern Kentucky QB Parker McKinney also in on a tryout. McCarthy spent enough time talking through the Vikings offense with the coaches before the draft that some of what he heard in prepractice meetings on Friday was familiar; his time between snaps was a stretch of consistent dialogue with offensive coordinator Wes Phillips, QB coach Josh McCown and O’Connell. “This weekend is really about preparing him to step in with the full group next week, and then a week from there, we start our first [organized team activities] with the whole group,” O’Connell said. “He’s doing a great job of handling everything. I’m just enjoying seeing the process: rep-to-rep improvement, taking coaching points from Josh or Wes or myself and just continuing to build. “We spent a lot of time together predraft, and one of the real benefits of that is, in a lot of ways, a lot of the things we’re talking about, he’s not hearing for the first time now. It’ll feel like a lot, at times, to him, and that’s OK. We just kind of want to continue to stress him above the neck, and then when we get out here on the grass, it’s techniques, fundamentals, rhythm, timing, all the things that go into playing quarterback in our offense.” McCarthy was one of the first players on the field Friday, going through his own warmup process he’d brought to the NFL from Michigan. McCarthy said afterward he wasn’t nervous to get on the field but was “more anxious than anything” to practice again after months of predraft interviews and workouts. “Being in this league, it’s a dream come true,” he said. “Being able to be out there with the guys and really live your dream has been truly special. So I was just trying to be in the present, take in the moment, and I had so much fun out there.” O’Connell has said several times he thinks young QBs benefit from not needing to play right away, and the Vikings figure to be patient with McCarthy unless he shows enough mastery of their offense that there’s no point in sitting him. Coaches planned after practice to review film with him, talk through his thought process of each throw he’d made and discuss his progress with the footwork the Vikings want their quarterbacks to use. McCown’s 16 years in the NFL, McCarthy said, make him a particularly valuable resource for the rookie. “It helps so much because he has those NFL scars,” McCarthy said. “Like, we had a play where it’s ripping a [far side of the] field to 8-yard stop [route]. That’s a far throw, and he’s just talking about his process going through it.” McCown mentioned a mistake he made on a similar play with Cleveland in 2015 that Denver’s Aqib Talib returned for a touchdown. “He’s so vocal about it,” McCarthy added, “and it’s just invaluable.” O’Connell was McCown’s quarterback coach on that play. Nine years later, both of them could instruct McCarthy, knowing the rookie could learn and laugh at himself a bit in the process. “As I told him the second time he got a chance to rep that play, in a joking way, I said, ‘Let’s hope you can survive rep number two of your Vikings career on the play,’ ” O’Connell said. “He was great. He’s having a blast out here.”

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