Nobody would blame you if you shuddered when Andrew Booth Jr. suffered a non-contact injury in Saturday’s preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers. It happened almost six years to the day that Teddy Bridgewater suffered a career-altering leg injury after an Aug. 30, 2016 practice.
Fortunately, Booth’s injury isn’t as severe. “It was kind of that same ankle he’s kind of dealt with,” Kevin O’Connell reassured everyone after the game. “It sounds like it’s a positive thing from the standpoint of, you know, just an aggravation of an injury that we kind of know about already.”
Booth reaggravated his ankle cutting on an innocuous incompletion in the second quarter, the kind of movement every corner makes multiple times a game. But his ankle has bothered him in camp, and Booth may not see action until Week 1. “He’ll be a little bit more than day to day,” O’Connell said on Tuesday. “We’ll see how he progresses throughout the week. But the hope is, no matter what, he should be greenlit for the Green Bay game.”
The Vikings are using modern technology and one-on-one instruction to prepare Booth for the home opener on Sept. 11.
“We’ve got some real resources,” says O’Connell. “We’ve got a virtual room [and] a bunch of coaches that can be meeting with him extra if he needs that time. And then, obviously, we’ll have walk-throughs. We’ll have different ways of keeping him engaged, even though he can’t get those full-speed reps.”
Minnesota’s approach with Booth, or any injured player, is symbolic of their overall organizational philosophy. In some ways, they’re cold and calculated. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah started his career on Wall Street; O’Connell roots his coaching methods in analytics. But they preach collaboration, and O’Connell empathizes with his players. He’s young enough to have been cut on Hard Knocks and knows the rigors they face throughout a season.
Virtual reality is incredible technology. It would baffle older coaches who sat in dark rooms with projectors and film reels. VR can allow you to immerse yourself in the beat of your favorite song or duel Darth Vader in your living room. It’s an effective tool for developing players to react to what they see on the field when they’re not healthy enough to be on it. But it inherently isolates the user from reality. Anyone who’s used it will tell you that you lose a sense of space. Often you’ll take off the mask and realize you’re in the corner of the room, facing away from the TV.
Conversely, one-on-one coaching is intimate and personal. O’Connell and his coaching staff want his players to understand why they’re doing what the coaches ask them to do. It’s a far cry from the authoritarian mindset most coaches used to have, and it permeates throughout his staff. Ed Donatell, 65, has coached in the NFL for over 30 years. Still, his defense is innovative, and he embraces teaching players. Instructing an injured player is difficult, but he says embracing the challenge is essential.
“It puts our coaches on speed learning,” he said. “We’re looking for every way. We’ve got some expert teachers. They have digital stuff. We’re working toward simulators here, those kinds of things, video, anything that can train reaction and also just getting flat in the book. [But] nothing is more valuable than one-on-one teaching. We try to create one-on-one with a coach when a guy is out or taking those breaks.”
Booth is the kind of player who’s easy to root for. The former Clemson corner might be the steal of the draft. He’s a first-round talent who slipped to the second because he tore his quad training for the 40-yard dash and had core surgery in March. Perhaps he’ll turn out to be injury-prone, but it’s too early to tell. The team seems confident he’ll be ready for the Packers game, and they aren’t worried about his understanding of Donatell’s new defense.
“I think Andrew will be just fine from a mental standpoint,” says O’Connell. “We’ve had a lot of our defense in and installed. Ed’s still working by adding some things here and there, but for the most part, I think Andrew’s done a really nice job and really progressed despite having the ankle early on – and then, obviously, kind of the reaggravation of that. But I like what Andrew’s done; he’s done some really nice things in the games.”
Booth faced an uphill battle to beat Cameron Dantzler for a starting job in camp. Still, he gave himself a chance and will likely be a vital depth player in the secondary. The NFL has become a passing league, and opponents exposed Minnesota’s cornerback depth last year. Nobody wants to see a young player get injured, especially in a non-contact situation in the preseason. But the Vikings expect Booth to be prepared to play Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on Sept. 11, even if he gets a little turned around along the way.