Zulgad: J.J. McCarthy’s mistakes need to be accepted, part of the process

J.J. McCarthy’s every move on the football field will certainly be dissected. That’s a given. The question is just how much stock should we put into what we see or hear reported about the Minnesota Vikings’ first-round quarterback.

This came to mind after watching McCarthy participate in Organized Team Activities that were open to the media on Tuesday at the TCO Performance Center. I’m as guilty as the next person of keeping an eye on McCarthy.

I charted his passes in team and seven-on-seven drills and noted that he was working with non-first-teamers. McCarthy’s arm has been stronger than I thought, but his two incompletions were both thrown high, and there were times he looked to scramble because the play broke down around him.

Not surprisingly, scrolling through X in the days after that practice, I saw plenty of commentary on McCarthy’s performance, and a few aggregators took it upon themselves to emphasize the mistakes.

So what are we to make of this?

My suggestion: Nothing.

Like the rest of the world, sports fans and media are eager to pass judgment on what they see, and sometimes, that is the right call. But when it comes to McCarthy, it makes little sense to try to judge anything.

That doesn’t mean he should be ignored or that progress reports are a bad idea, but there’s a big difference between monitoring someone’s progress and judging it, and judgment on McCarthy is quite a ways off. It certainly can’t come during the Vikings’ offseason program.

McCarthy, 21, might have been the 10th pick in last month’s draft, but he also is a work in progress. The Vikings didn’t sign veteran Sam Darnold to be their long-term starter, but they are paying him $10 million on his one-year contract to have a starter in place so that they have the luxury of time when it comes to their young quarterback.

Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell and quarterbacks coach Josh McCown have a plan for McCarthy that includes working to fix some of his mechanics. Offensive coordinator Wes Phillips, for instance, mentioned Tuesday the Vikings have McCarthy in a “left foot up stance, which is a little different for him.”

That might seem like a simple change to make in the shotgun, but for now, McCarthy has to think about it each time he sets up to take a snap.

Remember the draft experts’ criticisms of McCarthy’s throws at Michigan? O’Connell saw those, too, and now it’s his job to make sure McCarthy’s footwork and throwing motion enable him to change any troublesome tendencies. Coaching bad habits out of a quarterback isn’t easy because the natural thing is to go back to what you were comfortable doing when the pressure is coming. That can’t happen.

That’s not even getting into the fact that McCarthy is learning an NFL playbook for the first time. Kirk Cousins had played 10 NFL seasons in 2022 when he was first handed O’Connell’s playbook and later admitted to the system’s complexities.

O’Connell, a third-round pick by New England in 2008, knows all about the fine line between success and failure for a young quarterback, and he knows that many jobs depend on McCarthy ironing out any issues.

That means McCarthy will have moments in practices where his strong arm wows you and he will have moments where his failure to make the proper read, or set himself correctly, will raise eyebrows. At some point down the road, it will become fair to critique those moments. But, for now, McCarthy should be afforded the opportunity to make mistakes in the name of getting it right in the future.

That’s going to take time and patience. The Vikings appear willing to accept that, and the fanbase should be as well.

Story originally appeared on Vikings Wire