Vikings rookie tackle Brian O’Neill can talk and block at the same time
Brian ONeill hadnt yet started a game for the Vikings when he began introducing himself to established NFL stars.
The whistle had blown on a play during the Vikings 23-21 victory in Philadelphia on Oct. 7 when the rookie tackle put his hands on the chest of Eagles defensive standout Fletcher Cox.
The seconds that followed might be the best example of why ONeill was labeled fearless by one team captain.
With the quickness of a three-time All-Pro, Cox whisked ONeills hands away. He responded with a step forward, sharp wit and a brush of the facemasks.
After the game ONeills high school basketball coach, Brendan Haley, texted him: I saw you jawing. It hasnt stopped since high school.
He was like, Yeah, [Cox] couldnt say anything back!andthinsp; Haley said. I said look, this is the pros. Its Fletcher Cox, keep it under control. But he just loves that stuff. Im sure thats why his teammates love him.
So this week, ONeill is leaving the fawning over his primary opponent, Bears edge rusher Khalil Mack, to fans and media.
The 23-year-old prepares to make his fifth NFL start on Sunday night in Chicago with a mental edge fit for an offensive lineman, and one hell need against Mack. The Bears move around Mack, the overpowering outside linebacker, but he rushes quarterbacks most where ONeill will be at right tackle (64.8 percent), according to Pro Football Focus.
I dont really get caught up in whos who or what somebody is supposed to be or not, ONeill said. I just try to go out and do my job the best I can.
ONeill is the well-spoken nephew of Delaware Gov. John Carney. But his sharp tongue was the first muscle he developed as the youngest of four siblings to Brendan and Liz ONeill. He was the rare sophomore to start in varsity football at Salesianum, an all-boys Catholic school in Wilmington, where ONeills teams won Delaware state titles in football and basketball.
Stories about ONeills trash talk abound from his high school coaches, Haley and Bill DiNardo (football), but its not rooted in arrogance. Charisma lifted ONeill into being the leader on a state title-winning basketball team also featuring current Milwaukee Bucks guard Donte DiVincenzo. He knew when to confront or build up teammates, according to Haley, and when to defend them or himself against opponents.
He talks more stuff than any human being I know, DiNardo said.
That on-field confidence has eased his NFL transition. This season is only ONeills fourth playing offensive line.
The former high school receiver and college tight end moved to tackle for the University of Pittsburgh in 2015. ONeill is still adding weight to his 6-7, 297-pound frame, which should help him as a run blocker in seasons to come. His nimble feet and hands basketball-tested have already flashed.
Even as a second-round pick (62nd overall), ONeills trajectory into the lineup was hard to predict when he struggled in August training camp, bouncing between the Vikings No. 3 and No. 4 tackle on the preseason depth chart.
Hes since turned his first NFL start, replacement duty in Week 6 vs. Arizona, into the full-time job at right tackle. Only five other NFL tackles have played as much as ONeill (382 snaps) and not yet surrendered a sack this season, according to PFF. However, his 16 quarterback hits and hurries allowed are the most among them.
Everybody says the game slows down, but really its your process speed picking up, ONeill said.
In-game adjustments have been the biggest improvement for ONeill, according to defensive end Stephen Weatherly, who described ONeill catching on to Weatherlys long-arm technique and developing an effective countermove in practices.
Well get into these long battles, Weatherly said. Just colliding like two rams.
However, many Vikings defenders say they havent heard ONeill jaw with teammates at practice. It sounds like the rookie knows when he should and shouldnt pull out his verbal countermoves, too.
That part is fun, ONeill said. Its not going to be a distraction. Im not going to let it get out of hand, but if somebody is going to say something, Im not going to walk away. I probably should, but Ill probably say something back.