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Kevin O'Connell wants 'competitive environment' for Vikings QBs Sam Darnold, J.J. McCarthy at training camp

The Minnesota Vikings retooled their quarterback room this offseason, signing Sam Darnold in free agency and drafting national champion J.J. McCarthy with the No. 10 overall selection.

Heading into training camp in July, the Vikings plan to hold a competition between the two signal-callers for the Week 1 starting gig.

Asked Tuesday by Adam Schein on "Mad Dog Sports Radio" about the QB job, Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell said the club wants to create "a competitive environment" at every position, especially quarterback.

"At the quarterback position, look, we're really excited about Sam," O'Connell said. "I had a lot of the same feelings that you did about Sam coming out, really kept a close eye on his quarterback journey and not all quarterback journeys are the same. Although the position tends to catch a lot of eyes and a lot of different coverage from a standpoint of what a guy is and isn't -- wins and losses and all those things -- but you're right, circumstances and environment that those guys are in play a lot to do with it and play a lot into it.

"Sam's had a heck of a quarterback journey. I think he's learned a lot along the way and I'm really excited about the time in his career in which we're getting him in our building. I feel strongly about his ability to continue his, even at this point in his career, continue his development and what can he become within playing quarterback in our offense with the type of players we have around him, all well knowing that we're going to have a competitive environment with J.J. McCarthy, with Nick Mullens and Jaren Hall."

Entering the 2024 NFL Draft, some scouts believed that McCarthy could use time on the sideline to gain seasoning after playing in a Michigan offense that didn't ask him to carry the load as a passer. Landing in Minnesota is an ideal spot for the rookie quarterback, playing with an excellent receiver corps, behind a solid offensive line, and with a great play-caller.

The Vikings have gone out of their way since the draft to avoid putting pressure on McCarthy -- something new QB coach Josh McCown learned first-hand with Bryce Young last year.

During offseason workouts and minicamp, Darnold was squarely ahead of McCarthy in the pecking order, per beat reporters, with the rookie even taking reps behind Mullens. O'Connell taking questions about how he plans to handle the QB situation and using it as a springboard to discuss Darnold continues to keep the focus on the veteran.

Darnold is poised to enter training camp in line to start Week 1. O'Connell confirmed as much on Wednesday, telling reporters, "We haven't had to put out a depth chart or anything like that, but I would say Sam would be the guy I would look to."

However, we've seen rookies make their moves during camp and preseason action. If the mental aspect of the game is there for McCarthy during the summer, he could push Darnold, who's never shown consistency in six seasons (56 career starts). If O'Connell coaxes a career year out of Darnold, it would underscore the coach's brilliance in managing and getting the best out of quarterbacks.

"I really feel like our job is to build the best possible environment that we can, coach at a really high level, have a really structured plan to where these guys know exactly what the expectations are every day, and then go out and compete and just go play football," O'Connell told Schein. "And make sure we're taking the opportunity this spring, which we've done, for all those guys to have personal development plans and really teach at a high level so that the can report to training camp and know that they can go compete it out every day and see kind of where the chips fall."

The play of Darnold and McCarthy during camp will determine where the chips fall when the Vikings open the season against the New York Giants on Sept. 8.

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