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Bleacher Report – Vikings

A closer look at rookie T Brian O’Neill’s debut

By Matthew Coller

Brian O’Neill’s first NFL action came at the drop of the hat and on the biggest stage.

When starting right tackle Rashod Hill went down with an ankle injury just over five minutes into the third quarter, the Minnesota Vikings’ second-round pick was forced into action. He played a total of 32 snaps and gave up one QB pressure, according to Pro Football Focus.

A closer look at his pass blocking reps reveals that O’Neill showed promising signs for his future and some of the reasons why the Vikings decided to start Hill and let their rookie grow before putting him up against some of the league’s best rushers.

USA Football offensive/defensive line analyst Brandon Thorn (known by Purple Podcast listeners as “O-Line Guy”) called the performance “admirable” and said he was most impressed that O’Neill wasn’t taken off guard by some of Green Bay’s pass rush wrinkles.

“The thing that I was impressed with more than anything was what I call ‘mental processing,’ basically his ability to see things,” Thorn said. “I counted the Packers ran three end-tackle stunts where the end crashes into the guard and the defensive tackle loops behind him and O’Neill recognized those very quickly.

Here is an example of O’Neill reacting quick enough to recover against a stunt to push No. 97 Kenny Clark past the quarterback.

“The stage didn’t look too big for him,” Thorn said. “If you consider the circumstances around him, coming in like that in the middle of a game and being able to see things quickly and not panic and pass off stunts, react quickly with very little hesitation, he looked confident. That stuff right there, I wasn’t expecting that in Year 1, to be honest.”

O’Neill was likely helped along by the sheer number of first-team reps he saw during training camp and preseason against starters. Hill opened camp with an illness, allowing the rookie to practice against star rusher Danielle Hunter on a daily basis throughout the late summer.

Thorn pointed out that he was able to handle Matthews’ power rush very well on several plays.

“He had a couple reps where his hand placement was really good on the inside and he had a stalemate quickly, he had a couple really good reps with his anchor,” Thorn said.

But there were also times where the former Pitt tight end-turned-lineman demonstrated why he was not given the starting job right away.

On the play below, Matthews drives him back into the quarterback’s face.

“The concern I had number one was his play strength and the biggest area that translates to on film is in his anchor, his ability to stop power rushes and Clay Matthews got him twice on power rushes,” Thorn said. “It looked like O’Neill had good initial positioning as far as pad level being down, hips dropped and hands in a good position, but he could just not hold it and you could see the lack of strength.”

Here is another example of him being driven back — and on this play, it disrupts Cousins’ drop.

Thorn said that the Packers lack a dominant force pass rusher, which would cause some hesitation about leaving O’Neill at right tackle even when Hill returns to full health.

“Getting blown up by guys that he got blown up by is concerning, especially if you’re talking about him eventually having to go against Khalil Mack,” Thorn said. “That sort of thing I worry about because you don’t want to hurt his confidence. Overall looked good. Mentally and his athleticism was there.”

Still the Vikings’ second-round draft pick put together a solid two quarters at Lambeau Field in a tight game and showed potential. The Vikings couldn’t have asked for much more than that in O’Neill’s debut.

The post A closer look at rookie T Brian O’Neill’s debut appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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