Vikings right guard Brian O’Neill grew up following star Denver linebacker Von Miller. On Wednesday, he got to see him up close.
The Vikings and the Broncos faced off in the first of two days of joint practices at the TCO Performance Center, and O’Neill’s job was trying to block Miller, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection.
“I was excited to go against Von Miller,’’ O’Neill said. “That was pretty cool. I’ve grown up watching him and he’s a heck of a player, and it was fun. … Anytime you get to block Von Miller, it’s a pretty challenging day.”
It was a challenging day for the entire Vikings offensive line against a stout Denver front seven. While the Vikings don’t have to worry too much about O’Neill, who is their best offensive lineman and usually won’t have to face players the caliber of Miller, it remains to be seen how well the line will come together by the Sept. 12 opener at Cincinnati.
The Broncos had a good day against Minnesota’s line, which was maligned last year and might not be any stronger in 2021. The Vikings released well-regarded left tackle Riley Reiff last March in a salary-related move, and first-round pick Christian Darrisaw likely won’t start the opener. Darrisaw has battled groin issues and did not practice Wednesday. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer doesn’t expect him to play in Saturday’s preseason opener against the Broncos at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Along with O’Neill, Minnesota’s expected starters on the line to open the season are left tackle Rashod Hill, left guard Ezra Cleveland, center Garrett Bradbury and right guard Oli Udoh. O’Neill didn’t want to give an opinion on how the line looked Wednesday.
“I’ll let you know after I watch the tape,’’ he said.
Linebacker Eric Kendricks said it was beneficial for the Vikings to face another team in practice.
“We got some new looks we really haven’t seen on offense, so it was kind of refreshing,’’ he said.
In addition to Darrisaw being out, not practicing for the Vikings were wide receiver Justin Jefferson (shoulder), defensive end Danielle Hunter (undisclosed) and quarterback Nate Stanley (undisclosed). Linebacker Anthony Barr (undisclosed) and wide receiver Dede Westbrook (knee) were limited.
“He’s in getting his treatment, making sure that he’s getting extra treatment, still out on the field, helping the young guys and making sure he’s taking all his mental reps, which is great,’’ Vikings receivers coach Keenan McCardell said of Jefferson, who suffered an injury in practice Friday that is not considered serious.
McCardell was Jacksonville’s wide receivers coach the past four seasons, when Westbrook played for the Jaguars. He talked about his recovery from a torn ACL suffered last October.
“The guys are helping him out, and they know his big thing is making sure he rehabs and gets his knee back, and I think he’s taking it very seriously,’’ McCardell said. “He wants to get back on the field as soon as possible.”
Three Denver players returned to the TCO Performance Center after playing for the Vikings last season. Being welcomed back were running back Mike Boone, defensive tackle Shamar Stephen and center Brett Jones.
“It feels good to be back in the old stomping grounds,’’ Boone said. “I’m glad I got to see the guys. It felt a little weird to be on the other side of the ball.”
Boone was not tendered by the Vikings as a restricted free agent, Jones was not re-signed as an unrestricted free agent and Stephen was released in March after the Vikings agreed to a deal with free-agent defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson.
“Not my decision,’’ Stephen said.
Jones was thrilled to see plenty of familiar faces.
“It’s pretty crazy to come back here so soon,’’ he said. “I loved being in Minnesota.”
Zimmer said he has “settled on” how much starters will play Saturday but he wouldn’t reveal much. As for quarterback Kirk Cousins, he’s eager to play.
“I want to play as much as they’ll let us play,’’ Cousins said of the preseason.
Zimmer said Hunter will “probably get some plays in the preseason,’’ but he didn’t offer specifics about Saturday. He did say rookie quarterback Kellen Mond, who returned Tuesday after being on the COVID-19 reserve list for 10 days, won’t play against Denver.
“He’s rusty,’’ Zimmer said. “He’s catching up.’’
Zimmer also said that Greg Joseph will be the kicker in the game over Riley Patterson.
Vikings receiver Blake Proehl suffered an apparent knee injury when he went down early in the practice without contact. Proehl was in a good deal of pain when he was taken off on a cart. … Receiver Myron Mitchell was activated after 10 days on the COVID-19 reserve list, getting Minnesota back to the maximum of 90 on the active roster.