Vikings display their relationship with Gophers at UMN’s Pro Day

Among a large group of Vikings staff at Pro Day on Wednesday were GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and head coach Kevin O’Connell

Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck, left, speaks with Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell and general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensa during the Gophers’ Pro Day at Larson Football Performance Center in Minneapolis on March 15, 2023.
Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck, left, speaks with Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell and general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensa during the Gophers’ Pro Day at Larson Football Performance Center in Minneapolis on March 15, 2023.
Courtesy of University of Minnesota Athletics via St. Paul Pioneer Press

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings caravanned a large group of coaches and front-office staff from Eagan to the Gophers’ Pro Day in Minneapolis on Wednesday. The guests of honor were general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and head coach Kevin O’Connell.

It’s a 10-mile drive but a rare sight for such high-profile staff to come to the Gophers’ annual workouts. Previous Vikings GM Rick Spielman stopped coming after 2015. A GM’s duties during the start of free agency can make it tough to attend.

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In the previous decade, most NFL teams sent one scout to the university, and the Vikings would usually bring a few to check out that year’s crop of talent.

“One thing I love is the relationship we have with the Vikings,” Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck said. “Since I’ve been here (starting in 2017), we haven’t had that close of a relationship.”

Two weeks ago, Vikings’ staff also were on campus, and the Gophers’ staff will return the visit for Vikings organized team activities this spring. Gophers went to OTAs under O’Connell a year ago, too.


Esezi Otomewo
Courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings

Fleck, Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell chatted, and shared some laughter, in the Gophers' weight room Wednesday. “That was Kwesi,” Fleck said. “… Kwesi is way funnier than I am.”

Their relationship has been more than congenial. The Vikings drafted Gophers defensive end Esezi Otomewo in the fifth round last April.

Wearing a Vikings winter hat, Otomewo made an appearance at his alma mater and chatted with Gophers, hugged his old defensive coordinator Joe Rossi and talked to new Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores and Adofo-Mensah. Otomewo played in five games for the Vikings a year ago.

Hidden gem?

Last year at the Gophers Pro Day, tight end Ko Kieft’s performance stood out, leading to the Sioux Center, Iowa, product being taken in the sixth round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

University of Minnesota defensive lineman Thomas Rush poses for a photo Wednesday, July 13, 2022, during the team’s media day in Minneapolis.
John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press

Thomas Rush might be this year’s version.

Rush switched positions with the Gophers from linebacker to defensive end and then went through linebacker drills during the Pro Day. He also showed he can help on special teams during his time at Minnesota. He ran a sub-4.6-second 40-yard dash at 251 pounds on Wednesday.

“He is going to be able to do a lot of things for teams,” Fleck said. “I’m not saying he will play 10 years, but those are the ones that you look up and the next thing you know he’s been in the league forever.”

Meanwhile, Kieft’s legacy lives on, with guard Axel Ruschmeyer reflecting: “Ko is a football guy through and through, a hard-nosed hillbilly from Iowa. He cracks people with his skull and he’s got red hair to boot.”


Known for his punishing blocks, Kieft had seven receptions for 80 yards and one touchdown across 271 snaps for the Bucs last season.


All 32 NFL teams, one CFL club and 70 total personnel were at Wednesday’s event. … Potential first- or second-round pick center John Michael Schmitz worked with Vikings offensive line coach Chris Kuper and Giants O-line coach Bobby Johnson. … Safety Jordan Howden set out to out-perform his testing numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine. He was especially successful with 39 1/2-inch vertical jump after a 33½-mark in Indianapolis two weeks ago. … Tailback Mo Ibrahim did not run a 40-yard dash Wednesday; he declined at the combine, as well. Fleck continues to reiterate the vision and power Ibrahim showed in his record-setting 4,668-yard career. … The Gophers' other participants were: Tanner Morgan, Terell Smith, Mariano Sori-Marin, Matthew Trickett, Chuck Filiaga, Justus Harris. … Nine small-school players also participated: Minnesota Duluth’s Brent Laing, Armani Carmickle and Zach Olije; Minnesota State-Mankato’s Alijah McGhee and Jalen Sample; Matt Weimann (St. Thomas); Travis Sinclair (Bethel); Brock Annexstad (Illinois State); and Garett Maag (North Dakota).


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