As they welcome All-Pro receiver Justin Jefferson back to their active roster, the Minnesota Vikings will spend the next few days deciding which of their three quarterbacks is -- among other things -- best suited to maximize Jefferson's skills, coach Kevin O'Connell said Tuesday.
Kirk Cousins was the Vikings' starter when Jefferson originally injured his right hamstring in Week 4. Since then, however, Cousins has suffered a season-ending Achilles injury, backup Nick Mullens has injured his lower back and No. 3 quarterback Jaren Hall has suffered a concussion. Newcomer Josh Dobbs has played the majority of the Vikings' past four games, but after leading them to victories in his first two, Dobbs has committed six turnovers in consecutive losses.
After Dobbs threw four interceptions Monday night in a 12-10 loss to the Chicago Bears, O'Connell said he would use the team's upcoming bye to reevaluate his options at the position. On Tuesday, he said Jefferson's return is "definitely a part" of the discussion he'll have with his coaching staff and the team's front office before choosing a starter for the Vikings' Dec. 10 game at the Las Vegas Raiders. Both Mullens and Hall are now healthy and were in uniform Monday night.
"Justin's role in our offense, really from Day 1 since we arrived here, has always been very, very significant," O'Connell said. "... Anytime you can infuse the best receiver in football back into your offense, there's going to be ways to not only get Justin going and make sure he has a critical impact on the football game ... [and] the quarterback position absolutely plays into that.
"We're going to make sure that whoever is playing quarterback is aware and understands the intent behind plays where either Justin is the primary [target], or based upon coverage, based upon the defensive look, how to quickly and efficiently get to the right place to go with the football. In the end that's what the NFL passing game is about: rhythm, timing, understanding that the defense can and will take some things away, but progressing in rhythm."
O'Connell noted that Mullens has many of those attributes, given his 1½-year tenure in the Vikings' offense, while also pointing out that Hall "showed some real positives" in a short stint against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 9 before suffering his concussion. He said that Dobbs' contributions during that stretch of injuries "can't be discounted." Dobbs, however, has been "trying to make up for a lot of time on task" that he missed while spending training camp with the Cleveland Browns and the first half of the season with the Arizona Cardinals, O'Connell said.
"There are still a lot of things that are new for him," O'Connell said, "and just the margin of error, when you're talking about the NFL pass game, can be razor thin sometimes. The difference between conversions and chances for catch-and-runs versus potential turnover-worthy plays is such a small margin of error. That's what I'm trying to balance throughout the game, throughout our preparation, to make sure we do whatever we can to control what we can to put our players in the best possible situation.
"If that means molding and adapting more than we have, that's what we'll take a look at doing. If that means obviously trying to mix and match and figure out what's best personnel-wise, we'll take a look at that as well."
Vikings players have the rest of the week off and will reconvene next Monday after the bye. O'Connell said Tuesday there was no timetable yet for deciding on a starter, and he did not say whether he prefers to have someone in place for the full week of practice or will evaluate multiple options before deciding closer to the day of the game against the Raiders.
Jefferson was formally added to the 53-man roster Tuesday. Wide receiver N'Keal Harry was waived in the corresponding move.