One day this summer, with the impressions from another sharp workout still reverberating in his mind, Adam Thielen picked up his phone and dashed off a quick text message to Kellen Mond,
"Whatever you're doing, keep doing it."
Thielen had worked with Mond a year ago, too, as part of the training sessions he hosts for around two dozen players in Woodbury, but this year, everything about the quarterback seemed different: the pace of his delivery, his ability to put the ball where he wanted, and the way he took command of the workouts, with specific directions for receivers.
When the Vikings drafted Mond in the third round a year ago, Thielen recalled how one of their coaches had told him the quarterback improved more in four years at Texas A&M than any player he'd scouted. Perhaps, after a rocky first year in Minnesota, he could do the same.
"I told him I was impressed," Thielen said. "Obviously, in shorts and a T-shirt on a field is a lot different than here [in training camp], but you couldn't have asked for anything more: the way he was out there leading and saying, 'Hey, run this route out of this formation,' getting you lined up and doing real football, instead of kind of running slants and stops when they're not even part of your offense. He did a great job."
A year ago, Mond contracted COVID-19 at the beginning of training camp, and his bout with the virus shaped his rookie season in multiple ways. He has tried, with mixed results, to consistently replicate the performances during training camp that caught Thielen's eye in the offseason. The second-year quarterback will play plenty in the Vikings' preseason opener in Las Vegas on Sunday; though a source with knowledge of the situation said on Saturday that Sean Mannion will start the game, coach Kevin O'Connell said on Friday the quarterbacks will split snaps "50-50" after Kirk Cousins tested positive for COVID this week.
After a trying rookie season, the 23-year-old Mond believes he established a foundation for himself this offseason.
"It was just a big self-evaluation, and understanding I wasn't at the right place where I was," Mond said. "I put in a lot of work this offseason, and I just want to continue to come out here and show it on the field."
Mond had few chances to do that as a rookie, sitting inactive for the Vikings' first 14 regular-season games after his recovery from COVID-19 led to an underwhelming preseason as he fought to get his rhythm back. He said he lost about 10 pounds, much of it muscle mass, and found himself picking up bad habits in his throwing mechanics as he tried to compensate for the loss of strength.
“My dad told me at a young age, the NFL stands for 'not for long.'If you don't show that you can continue to work and get better, they'll get rid of you. ”
Whenever he dropped back, Mond said, "I could feel it. Whenever I threw left, I would be falling over my front foot. Trying to make certain throws, it was usually just flicking my wrist, but I wasn't able to make those throws. A lot of it had to do with my power and my balance."
His positive test also sent two other unvaccinated Vikings quarterbacks (Kirk Cousins and Nate Stanley) into the league's close contact protocol at the beginning of training camp. While the three passers waited to return, the team's high number of unvaccinated players became a national story, particularly as coach Mike Zimmer voiced his frustration in news conferences and interviews.
The team brought Mannion back to be the No. 2 quarterback at the end of the 2021 preseason. When Cousins contracted COVID-19 before a must-win game against the Packers, the Vikings chose to start Mannion over Mond, who saw his only three snaps of the season when Mannion briefly left because of an injury. After the 37-10 loss eliminated the Vikings from the playoffs, Zimmer said he was "not particularly" interested in playing Mond for the final game against the Bears, adding, "I see him every day."
Attention to details
Mond did his best to insulate himself from the turmoil, as teammates and coaches on the Vikings offensive staff encouraged him to stay positive.
After the season, he took an extended break from throwing, using the time off to unlearn some of the bad habits he'd picked up. This spring, the Vikings' new coaching staff continued to focus on Mond's footwork, particularly when moving to his left.
"I could tell he put a lot of time into it during the summer, because he came back and he had fixed a lot of those things," offensive coordinator Wes Phillips said. "He can kind of speed it up and make throws, reactionary-type throws where he needs to just get his feet in the ground and deliver. He's very diligent in his preparation, and he's improved in his fundamentals."
Mond was drifting to his left last Friday when he made perhaps his best throw of training camp, slinging an off-balance 40-yard touchdown to Albert Wilson just beyond Cameron Dantzler's coverage while Mond evaded a pass rush. He also threw several interceptions and was part of three botched exchanges last week, before he had another fumbled snap on Thursday.
As Mond searches for consistency, Vikings coaches have had no qualms with the way he's approached his job.
"We've hit the gas with our entire football team with the hope we can see guys absorb it, practice it and ultimately when there are corrections to be made, be able to make that correction and not let similar mistakes happen again," coach Kevin O'Connell said. "Kellen's done a nice job in that area."
Last year, he completed 28 of 51 passes for 310 yards in the preseason, throwing an interception and fumbling once. As the Vikings' exhibition schedule begins Sunday, Mond will get chances to impress a new coaching staff, with Cousins — who's been unavailable for just one regular-season game the past four years — starting a new contract that runs through 2023 (the year before Mond becomes a free agent).
"You don't really get credit for experience. You get credit for performance," Phillips said Friday. "We're just going to let these guys go out there, compete and evaluate each play as it comes."
For Mond, the Vikings' three preseason games could be precious opportunities to make impressions like the one he left on Thielen this summer.
"My dad told me at a young age, the NFL stands for 'not for long,'" Mond said. "If you don't show that you can continue to work and get better, they'll get rid of you. That's not necessarily the motivation, but I want to continue to get better."