Kevin O’Connell Sends a Message & Delivers a Challenge to Backup Running Back

By and large, Vikings fans were pleased with what they saw from Ty Chandler on Thursday night in Seattle. More importantly, Kevin O’Connell was impressed.

At times, Chandler was the main spark for the offense, consistently displaying great balance as he picked up decent gains. He finished his day with 11 carries and 41 rushing yards to go alongside 4 catches (4 targets) for 29 scoreless yards. Not earth shattering numbers, but the film is more impressive than the stat sheet. Anyone who watched the game will know that Chandler played well.

Another standout performance in the preseason will make Chandler the clear-cut leader in the competition for the RB2 job (even with the Vikings’ interest in signing Kareem Hunt). Kevin O’Connell, though, sent a bit of a message to the sophomore in the post-game press conference.

NFL: International Series-Minnesota Vikings Practice
Sep 30, 2022; Thundridge, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell at press conference at Hanbury Manor. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

O’Connell certainly had good things to say, noting that “Ty Chandler jumped out.”

However, the head coach wants him to perform well on a daily basis: “Picked up really where he left off as far as his ability when the lights come on to sometimes turn into a different guy. Now I want to see it every single day and really see him be consistent because he’s proven when it goes live and it’s real football he’s a tough guy to bring to the ground.”

Kevin O’Connell and The Challenge to Ty Chandler

O’Connell’s words reinforce the conclusions we could draw from the unofficial depth chart.

While most evaluators have been pencilling the sophomore into the RB2 slot, it was Kene Nwangwu — the kick return specialist — who snagged the primary backup role. Of course, that’s only on paper, so there isn’t too much reason to overreact (as the coach was sure to remind us).

Nevertheless, one wonders about how the depth chart interacts with O’Connell’s comments. Does Chandler need to be more consistent to get his name above Nwangwu’s?

Aug 10, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Ty Chandler (32) carries the ball while being defended by Seattle Seahawks linebacker Jon Rhattigan (59) after making a catch during the first half at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings opted to snag Ty Chandler from the University of North Carolina during the 5th round of the 2022 NFL Draft. The ball carrier was coming off a season where he turned 182 carries into 1092 yards and 13 touchdowns. Similarly impressive is that his 15 catches went for 216 yards and a touchdown.

Leading up to the draft, Chandler ran a 4.38 forty, a super fast time that helped his case once the Vikings had to decide how to use their draft pick. At 6’0″, 210, Chandler isn’t the largest running back in the world, but he demonstrates good power and balance, which were on display against the Seahawks.

As he explains in the clip, O’Connell wanted to give Chandler an opportunity. Explaining that he wanted to keep giving the ball to Chandler speaks well of the RB’s abilities. Moreover, the coach’s positive assessment foreshadows how Chandler could factor into future game plans. O’Connell even ventures down that path a bit, discussing how better execution within the offense as a whole could lead to much more production from the RB2.

Even if the Vikings do add someone else to the RB rotation, Chandler is going to have a role in Minnesota. Yes, Alexander Mattison is going to be the lead ball carrier, but he’ll need someone to take the heat off from time to time. The RB2 for the Vikings could reasonably command 5-10 touches on a weekly basis.

Ranking the RB Rooms
Oct 9, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison (2) celebrates a first down against the Chicago Bears in the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

As a rookie, Chandler played in 3 games (he was injured for a while). He had 6 carries and 20 rushing yards. At that time, though, he had to overcome both Dalvin Cook and Mattison to work into the lineup. No such obstacle will exist in 2023, at least when it comes to Cook. Somewhere around 100+ carries and 20-30 catches wouldn’t be at all surprising for Mr. Chandler.

The running back will get the chance to keep impressing the coaching staff during the upcoming week. The Titans visit Minnesota, so Chandler will be hoping to shine in both the joint practices as well as the preseason game on the night of Saturday, August 19.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference, NFL, and Sports Reference CFB helped with this piece.

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