Tom Krasovic: NFL San Diego -- Kevin O'Connell, Chris Olave are shining as NFL rookies

Tom Krasovic, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Football

SAN DIEGO — In a friendlier world, NFL payments would soon reach San Diego zip codes — NFL money serving as a token of appreciation to select local schools.

Led by Kevin O'Connell, the poised graduate of La Costa Canyon High and San Diego State who stands 9-2 as a rookie head coach, San Diegans have lent sparkle to this NFL season.

The Minnesota Vikings are more watchable with O'Connell and staff moving the offense's chess pieces, much as the New Orleans Saints are more bearable with graceful Chris Olave (Eastlake and Mission Hills) catching rainbows and the San Francisco 49ers are more capable with All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner, the Seau-trained former Mission Hills star, directing their third-ranked defense.

O'Connell hugged Bill Belichick late Thanksgiving night after outlasting a savant who routinely devours young coaches. Quarterback Kirk Cousins and receiver Justin Jefferson, reviewing Minnesota's 33-26 victory, first mentioned their coach.

"I felt Kevin called a great game," Cousins told NBC's national audience after the Vikings completed 81.6% of their passes (the second-highest completion percentage against the Pats under Belichick, per ESPN). "It was 'K.O.' dialing up the calls," Jefferson said after defying Belichick's knack for deleting the opponent's best pass-catcher.

O'Connell's Vikings (9-2) hold a five-game lead in a sluggish NFC North that shows only losing teams elsewhere.


Jefferson was already a star but O'Connell — a former backup to Tom Brady and coordinator to Sean McVay — has given him additional answers via an array of crossing patterns and perimeter routes and by encouraging contested passes. The receiver's 1,232 receiving yards stand first.

Though Minnesota's 21st-ranked D argues against O'Connell enjoying a Super Bowl run just one winter after his surge with the the Rams, the offense has risen from 14th to 11th in points.


— Olave glided past All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey and gathered Andy Dalton's deep pass Sunday for a TD. The rookie is tied for sixth with seven catches of 20-plus yards downfield. At age 22, he trails only these stars (and a fellow first-year wideout): Tyreek Hill (14 "deep ball" catches), Jefferson (13), Stefon Diggs (11), Steelers rookie George Pickens (9) and CeeDee Lamb (8).

— In his Giants debut, S Terrell Burgess (San Marcos) played five snaps Thursday on special teams in New York's loss to Dallas. Burgess, 24, won a Super Bowl with the Rams, who waived him this month.

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