If Eagles want to stop Justin Jefferson, maybe they should stop this Delaware resident first

If Eagles want to stop Justin Jefferson, maybe they should stop this Delaware resident first

It’s an easy storyline that the Eagles should focus on stopping wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who has more receiving yards in his first two seasons than anyone in NFL history.

Back then, Jefferson had received 184 yards in the Minnesota Vikings’ season opener against the Green Bay Packers, the most by a wide receiver in Week 1.

So now it’s up to the Eagles to find a way to stop Jefferson when the two teams meet Monday night at Lincoln Financial Field.

But to stop Jefferson, the Eagles may first have to find a way to stop Delaware-born Brian O’Neill, the Salesianum School star who turned himself into one of the best right-wing tackles in the NFL.

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That’s because much of Jefferson’s success depends on how much time Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins ​​has to throw the ball. Cousins ​​is not mobile like Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, who can take off and run if the pocket collapses.

And yet Cousins ​​was fired just 30 times last season, the fifth fewest in the NFL. O’Neill, meanwhile, is in his fifth season and has allowed only six sacks in total, according to Pro Football Focus.

“He’s a smart player, a Pro Bowl-type player,” said Eagles defense Brandon Graham, who takes on O’Neill Monday night. “You have to make sure your technique is on point because he’s really good. He’s athletic so he doesn’t use his hands that much. He can absorb the bull (rush). I just think he’s really good at it does by just a good balance.”

That’s why the Vikings made O’Neill the second-highest-paid right-hand tackle in the NFL last season when they signed him to a five-year deal worth a staggering $92.5 million, with $49 million guaranteed.

It’s also why the Vikings have named him one of their team captains this season.

O’Neill, who turned down an interview request, recently told reporters covering the Vikings that he sees the offensive line as “a violent group”, adding: “You will see a better offensive line from us than in the past few years.”

If you’re in the market for a prototype, look no further than Eagles’ right-hand tackle Lane Johnson.

O’Neill was a tight end at Salesianum, and he was also named Delaware’s senior basketball player of the year. This was on a team with current NBA player Donte DiVincenzo, who plays with the Golden State Warriors after starting his career with the Milwaukee Bucks.

O’Neill was still a tight end to his freshman year at the University of Pittsburgh. After that season, the coaches asked O’Neill to stack up and move to the left. O’Neill gained 30 pounds that summer alone.

Eagles cornerback Avonte Maddox was O’Neill’s teammate at Pitt at the time. The two quickly became best friends and Maddox immediately noticed the difference.

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“He was skinny when he got there,” Maddox said with a laugh. “Then they said to him, ‘We want you to tackle.’ That summer he came back and he is as big as what. I said, ‘What were you doing? He said, ‘I woke up at 3 a.m. and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.'”

O’Neill is listed at 6-foot-7, 310 pounds.

So it was with Johnson. He was a quarterback at Kilgore Junior College in Texas before moving into the tight end, defense end and then the offensive line by the time he got to Oklahoma.

“We’re very similar,” Johnson said. “I think I’m a bit taller than him. But definitely similarities in speed. He’s super athletic.”

Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert also saw this first hand.

Goedert met O’Neill in the months leading up to the 2018 draft. They are represented by the same agency, so they spent weeks training together in a training facility preparing for the NFL Combine.

They soon became friends. Goedert was drafted in the second round by the Eagles with the number 49 overall pick. O’Neill went to the Vikings 13 picks later.

They congratulated each other after being lined up. The next day, the Eagles drafted Maddox in the fourth round. O’Neill then told Goedert to introduce himself to Maddox.

Goedert and Maddox also became best friends and lived together in a house in South Jersey until this summer. But during the off-season, the three rented a house in Newport Beach, California and trained together from February to mid-April before reporting to their respective teams for off-season training.

“There have been times when I’ve been to his parents’ house,” Goedert said. “We’ll go down the coast, to Dewey Beach or something and hang out there for a bit.

“It’s always cool to talk to him, to pick his brain over different people (in the NFL). It’s great to see the success he’s had in the league. He’s one of the better right-wing tackles in the game … He works very hard and deserves everything he has been given.”

O’Neill’s success was no surprise to Maddox either. The two were captains together at Pitt.

“He’s always worked hard,” Maddox said. “He was always a selfless man, who just showed the determination to add the weight he did to tackle. He always put the team first. So whatever you could do to help on and off the field , he did it.”

BFFs on the Eagles

O’Neill was in Wilmington for a few weeks last summer, giving a free youth clinic in Wilmington with fellow Delawareans in the NFL in Chargers linebacker Troy Reeder and Packers safety Darnell Savage.

He called Goedert and Maddox “two of my best friends”, adding, “So when I’m home I get to see them both, which is really cool.”

That extends to the field. If O’Neill sees Maddox crawling in defense of the Vikings, he can nod to him. But really, it’s all business.

“We’re saying a bit of nonsense, but for the most part we’re just saying, play a good game, play your best game,” Maddox said. “We always want him to do well. You never want to wish a good friend down. But if I see him a lot on the field, I’ll tell him, ‘Don’t try to block me when I come off the edge and put me on my ass!

“Everyone, he has a pass, but not me!”

O’Neill was also quick to point out that the Vikings are 2-0 against the Eagles since he, Goedert and Maddox are in the NFL. But they haven’t played each other since 2019.

Goedert is also aware of this and is looking forward to changing that. He’s also looking forward to seeing his friend, just like Maddox.

“We haven’t talked much (this week),” Goedert said. “But I’m sure we’ll talk and catch up. Maybe when he’s here, if they’re not too busy, maybe I’ll drive into town, see him, have dinner with him.

“It will be fun.”

But once the game starts and O’Neill ends up having fun, it’s because he helped clear the way for Jefferson to play a big game.

Please contact Martin Frank at mfrank@delawareonline.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.

This article originally appeared in Delaware News Journal: How This Delaware Native Is Key to Vikings Justin Jefferson’s Success

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