For Vikings rookie QB J.J. McCarthy, the team's summer break won't be a vacation (2024)

The Vikings constructed J.J. McCarthy's first spring as an NFL quarterback to be a kind of workshop, where the 10th overall pick in the draft could practice some of the footwork adjustments the team is coaching him to make and try throws he might not attempt in a game without any repercussions.

Players are off for five weeks before training camp. McCarthy will spend much of that time with his fiancée in Minnesota, having gotten his fill of travel in the months between Michigan's national championship in January and the draft in April. There'll be time for him to "maybe play a little golf," he said. "I can drive for the show, but not putt for the dough."

Otherwise, he doesn't plan to take much of a break.

"I'm just going to be in the facility as much as I possibly can, focused on building habits I can rely on in training camp," he said.

McCarthy's extra prep time comes before a training camp where he'll be the first Vikings first-round rookie quarterback in a decade, since the days of the "How's Teddy looking?" questions and dispatches from Mankato on the QB competition between Matt Cassel, Teddy Bridgewater and Christian Ponder. Coach Kevin O'Connell appears to be taking a different tack with McCarthy now than Mike Zimmer took with Bridgewater then; O'Connell talked of competition in training camp but said Sam Darnold would begin camp as the No. 1 quarterback.

"We haven't had to put out a depth chart or anything like that, but yeah, I would say Sam would be the guy I would look to, based on the spring he's had and really where he's at in his quarterback journey," O'Connell said.

Nonetheless, McCarthy is the highest-drafted QB in Vikings history, and perhaps the biggest source of intrigue during the team's nine open training camp practices later this summer. Daily tracking of his practice statistics on social media seems inevitable; video clips of his throws figure to become fodder for commentary almost immediately.

The Vikings will not be able to insulate the 21-year-old from all of it, and McCarthy's time at Michigan means he's already familiar with that kind of scrutiny. His experience with it gives his coach hope he can keep it in perspective.

"This is not going to be something where you can have ultra control to the point where, when J.J. is out there playing for us, we are expecting some finished product," O'Connell said. "That's part of the development: getting exposed to in-game adversity, getting in a rhythm and feeling like you can't miss, and then there's other days where it feels like the defense has 13 guys on the field. You've got to be able to withstand both and overcome both, and continue to just have a next-snap kind of mentality where you're worrying about the details of your job with the other guys in the huddle."

Said McCarthy: "Growth is not a straight line. It goes up, it goes down, it goes up, it goes down. But I'm just trying to maintain the trajectory of it going up and up, and I feel like I'm on that. ... Failure is inevitable in sports. You've just got to learn from them and learn from those little dips and not be attached to them emotionally. That's what I've been working on."

The Vikings coach their quarterbacks to keep their dropbacks free of clues defenders could use to tell the difference between short, intermediate and deep throws, and preach "base, balance and body position" to help QBs arrive at a strong throwing platform as receivers come open.

"It's small adjustments: the difference sequences of a drop from the acceptance of a snap, the takeaway crossover steps, position steps to set your feet toward the target," O'Connell said. "And then on top of that, sometimes it's just decisionmaking. As long as they're reading the progressions the right way and playing with good timing, [they can] try and fit and football into a window or test their ability to stretch it outside the numbers and get it there before a [defensive back] can undercut it."

While the Vikings' footwork is different from what he's used in the past, McCarthy said it's not a drastic change. He's made progress connecting his footwork to the route concepts in the Vikings' playbook, he added, and he goes over play names with his fiancée most nights. "It's a hassle, but she understands," he said with a laugh.

McCarthy estimated he's thrown just one pass to Justin Jefferson, who was away for OTAs while his agents were negotiating the four-year, $140 million contract he signed last week, but Jefferson's locker is next to the quarterback's, "so it's nice to get those off-the-field interactions with him," McCarthy said. There'll likely be a buzz surrounding the first pass he throws to the receiver in front of fans, whenever it happens.

However much attention follows the rookie in camp, McCarthy's development will include trial and error. "That's the only way they're going to really learn," O'Connell said.

He's confident the quarterback has the mind-set to handle it.

"If your quarterback is riding the roller coaster emotionally, there's a good chance your team, especially your offense, is probably doing the same thing," O'Connell said. "No matter how it goes, whether it's a really positive day or there's a few plays he wants back, he's going to authentically be himself every day."

For Vikings rookie QB J.J. McCarthy, the team's summer break won't be a vacation (2024)
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