Salesianum's Brian O'Neill adjusting to NFL as Vikings rookie, excited to face Eagles
Brian O'Neill's first time getting into an NFL game happened in sort of slow motion.
The Salesianum School graduate was standing on the sidelines in Week 2, watching his fellow Vikings offensive linemen go against the Green Bay Packers defensive line. It was the third quarter when he noticed that right tackle Rashod Hill didn't get up after a play.
O'Neill remembers looking at his position coach and saying, "Rashod's down."
"I stood there for a few seconds, and then it hit me that I'm going in," O'Neill said. "I looked over at my coach, and he gave me a head nod, and I'm in the game. At that point, there's no time to think or look around. We had a play to run, and I had a job to do."
O'Neill finished out the game, a 29-29 tie on Sept. 16.
Hill was able to start the next week, so O'Neill was on the sidelines when Hill had to leave the game late in the second quarter with an injury. O'Neill finished out that game as well, a 27-6 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
O'Neill didn't play in the next game, just four days later against the Los Angeles Rams. And there's no telling if he'll play Sunday against the Eagles, the team he grew up following until he went to college at the University of Pittsburgh.
But O'Neill said he'll approach it as if he's playing, and be ready.
"My approach is that I'm playing every single game," O'Neill said. "I prepare that way. If I don't, I won't be ready if I'm called on. My mindset doesn't change if I'm a starter or not."
For now, O'Neill is a reserve. But that shouldn't last much longer. The Vikings drafted him in the second round, 62nd overall, last spring, with the expectation that he would eventually become a starter.
The Vikings, after all, came into the game with a veteran line that had been together last season when they reached the NFC Championship game, losing 38-7 to the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.
O'Neill, meanwhile, is relatively new to the offensive line position. He was a tight end at Salesianum, and was recruited at that position. He was switched to tackle going into his sophomore year. He only played there for two seasons before declaring for the NFL draft.
It helped that O'Neill grew into his 6-foot-7, 297-pound frame.
"I feel Brian has improved in every aspect from where he was when he came in here," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. "He’s a very bright, athletic guy. He’s worked very hard with the techniques and the things we’re trying to teach him. He’s going to be a very good player in this league, and I think it’ll be sooner than later."
O'Neill, of course, wants it to be sooner. But he knows there's an adjustment.
"The best guy I ever saw in college is every single guy here," he said. "You have to be on point because everyone here is fast, strong and athletic. There's such a small margin for error in this league."
But if anyone knows that O'Neill can make that adjustment, it's his former teammate at Pitt and current Eagles defensive back Avonte Maddox.
Maddox, the Eagles' fourth-round pick, calls O'Neill "one of my best friends," and remembers how quickly O'Neill picked up the tackle position when the coaching staff decided to switch him there going into his sophomore year.
But first, Maddox said, O'Neill had to add a lot of weight.
"He was ready to take it on," Maddox said. "He was like, whatever you guys need me to do – gain the weight, learn a position, and that’s a hard position to learn. He learned it well and became a second rounder.
"His time will come. I know he’ll make the most of it."
O'Neill is confident that will happen, too. For now, he's excited about playing in front of several friends and family members at a stadium in which he watched several Eagles games as a kid.
And he's also excited about seeing Maddox. He watched Maddox on video this week during film study get his first NFL snaps on defense against Tennessee last Sunday.
The two talked during the week, and O'Neill said he talked to some friends back home about returning as an NFL player.
"But I'm shutting all of that stuff off now," he said. "I've got a game to get ready for."
Contact Martin Frank at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.