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For 10 days during training camp last summer, Vikings quarterback Kellen Mond was quarantined while on the COVID-19 reserve list. When he finally returned to the team, he said he never felt the same for the rest of his rookie year.
Selected in the third round of the 2021 NFL draft out of Texas A&M, Mond was the leading candidate to serve as Kirk Cousins’ backup. After he tested positive for COVID on July 31, he lost weight due to the illness. He was shaky in three exhibition games, prompting the Vikings to re-sign Sean Mannion to be the backup for a third straight year.
“Last year, I kind of got hurt when I got COVID and lost a bunch of muscle, so a lot of ability and power and strength,” Mond said in an interview with the Pioneer Press. “I kind of had to detour a little bit. … I was down to like 204, 205 (pounds) and lost a lot of muscle, so it definitely set me back.”
Mond, 22, said he weighed about 215 pounds before contracting COVID. He wasn’t able to regain the lost weight during the season.
“It was hard to recover during the season just because I wasn’t lifting (weights),” he said. “You can’t really lift and pump iron during the season. So I didn’t get that really back until this season. So right now, I’m about 212, 213. I’ll probably play at 216.”
Mond said he is finally back to full strength, and he’s in a much better state than during what was mostly a lost rookie season. He played in just one regular-season game, when he served as Mannion’s backup on Jan. 2 at Green Bay after Cousins was ruled out due to being on the COVID-19 reserve list.
Mond completed 2 of 3 passes for 5 yards in a three-and-out series in the fourth quarter of an ugly 37-10 loss, which eliminated the Vikings from the playoffs. After that game, then-Vikings coach Mike Zimmer bristled when asked if he wanted to see Mond play in the meaningless Jan. 9 season finale against Chicago at U.S. Bank Stadium, saying, “Not particularly. I see him every day (in practice).”
The day after the Bears game, for which Mond was inactive for the 15th time in 17 games, Zimmer was fired after the Vikings finished with an 8-9 record in his eighth season. He was replaced by Kevin O’Connell. Mond said the change for him has been good, going from the defensive-minded Zimmer to the offensive-minded O’Connell, a former NFL quarterback.
“I think so,” Mond said. “I think Kevin, he’s obviously a young guy and he has some youth, especially with his offense. I think he’ll add a little bit more flavor. I think that’s something that the fans were missing a little bit last year. … New coaches, fresh team. So I think a lot of people will be excited about what we have to offer this year.”
There was some excitement from fans when the Vikings drafted Mond on April 30, 2021. He piled up impressive numbers in his four years as the starter at Texas A&M, throwing for 9,661 yards and 71 touchdowns.
Then came July 31, when Mond tested positive and was out 10 days. That day, Cousins and quarterback Nate Stanley were put on the COVID-19 reserve list for five days as close contacts because they were not vaccinated. Mond wasn’t vaccinated when he went on the list, and said he still isn’t.
“The COVID deal, that set him back, me and him have talked about it,” Mond’s father, Kevin Mond, said from the family home in San Antonio. “It’s unfortunate but we were dealing with a pandemic at the time. The first couple of days, he had body aches and that’s when he lost the weight in his body. Muscular aches. He couldn’t eat well and hold down food.”
After returning to practice on Aug. 10, Mond got into preseason games on Aug. 14 against Denver, Aug. 21 against Indianapolis and Aug. 27 at Kansas City. Overall, he completed 28 of 51 passes for 310 yards in those games with no touchdowns and an interception.
Practice work in which the Vikings did anything of substance was closed to the media during the regular season, so nothing more was seen from Mond until his three plays against the Packers. He third pass was nearly intercepted.
Zimmer then offered his coarse critique of Mond after the game. The following day, with Minnesota in line to play the Bears with Cousins back, Zimmer did back off.
“I just mean he’s the third-team quarterback,” Zimmer said then. “He’s improved. He’s improved throughout the year. He’s got a chance to be a good player. But he’s third on the depth chart, so we kind of knew that.”
A source told the Pioneer Press after Zimmer was fired that Mond wasn’t bothered by the comments made after the Green Bay game. He concurred with that.
“Someone ended up telling me about it,” Mond said of Zimmer’s comments. “One, he’s never really talked to me personally, so I didn’t really take too much offense to it. He kind of backtracked on his word a little bit after. But it’s all fun and games, whatever. It’s a new year, new coaches, new team. I’m a year older, second year in the NFL.”
Zimmer and Mond had little communication during the 2021 season. Kevin Mond said Zimmer never was keen on then-general manager Rick Spielman selecting Mond in the draft, saying, “I think he wanted a defensive player (with the second pick in the third round).’’ And Zimmer had been vocal about wanting his players to get vaccinated, especially his quarterbacks.
“Zimmer wasn’t mad at the person, he was mad at the selection of the quarterback,” Kevin Mond said of Zimmer’s comments after the Packers game. “So whoever was going to get his venom thrown at him, it just happened to be Kellen.
“Kellen was in the doghouse from the start because of the draft and then, number two, the COVID. So he was in Zimmer’s doghouse and wasn’t getting out. They weren’t going to give him the time and Zimmer not playing him at the end of the year was, personally to me, Zimmer just sticking his thumb at Spielman.”
Spielman, who was fired the same day as Zimmer and eventually replaced by Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, did not return a message seeking comment. Zimmer could not be reached.
Through it all, Mond said he still got benefits out of last season.
“I think once I understood what my role was, I’m going to do it to the best of my ability, and lot of it was making sure I’m prepared for the games, which I was, and just making sure I’m doing the best I can on scout team and getting certain defensive guys a look,” he said.
Now, though, Mond is hoping for an expanded role as he battles Mannion to be Cousins’ backup. He said he’s much better than last year.
“I personally think it’s night and day, just being able to get in this system, get a year under the books,” Mond said. “A lot of the stuff (with the new offense) is very similar in terms of the wording and the concepts. … I’m back feeling great. My body feels great. My arm’s looking great. So I’m excited.”
And Mond has plenty of support from his head coach. O’Connell was hired after serving the past two years as offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams, which included a Super Bowl victory in February.
“Kellen’s having a good spring so far, working incredibly hard, digesting the system.” O’Connell said.
O’Connell pointed to a recent practice at organized team activities in which Mond got an unexpected look but “made a couple of checks” at the line of scrimmage and “just kind of instinctively” made the proper adjustments.
Vikings offensive coordinator Wes Phillips, the Rams’ tight ends coach the past three seasons, also has been pleased with what he has seen from Mond.
“Kellen is very sharp,” Phillips said. “He has really picked up the offense very well. … He’s really done a nice job of getting up to speed with our offense, our terminology. He’s calling the plays really well in the huddle, and his eyes were in the right place. … So far, so good.”
The Vikings showed some support for Mond when they did not select a quarterback in last month’s draft. Cousins, who signed a one-year contract extension in March that takes him through 2023, is entrenched as Minnesota’s starter for 2022 and perhaps for 2023, but the Vikings appear willing to give Mond every chance to develop.
The Vikings have developed lots of quarterbacks over multiple seasons before they eventually became starters. That list has included Tommy Kramer, Wade Wilson, Rich Gannon and Brad Johnson.
Kramer, who played for the Vikings from 1977-89, is like Mond a San Antonio native. He was impressed when he watched the quarterback at Texas A&M.
“He moves real well and he’s got a strong arm, so what more do you want?” Kramer said. “But the only way you’re going to get better is by getting more reps. You can get reps in practice. But I think he can play.”
For now, the reports Mond’s father is getting from Minnesota are a lot more positive than they were during his rookie year.
“Where he is now, he’s in a good frame of mind,” said Kevin Mond. “He has a good relationship with everybody there. He loves the new coaching staff, he’s getting the playbook down. He’s grasping it very well. He’s in good spirits.”