MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Vikings had the final practice of their offseason workout program on Wednesday, wrapping up mandatory mini camp at TCO Performance Center in Eagan.
The team will have meetings on Thursday and a barbecue before coaches and players depart for the summer. The Vikings will get six weeks off before reporting for training camp in late July. Kevin O’Connell, hired to replace Mike Zimmer in February, gathered the team at the end of practice and told them everything they do between now and late July, on and off the field, matters.
In addition to individual drills and team situations, O’Connell jumped into drills himself and threw passes to defensive players on Wednesday. Four weeks of organized team activities and mini camp under a new coaching staff are done. Now, it's time to rest.
"They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do, it’s been absolutely phenomenal. I told them I’m having a blast with them out there every single day. These players are everything and more that I hoped for when you get an opportunity to be a head coach," O’Connell said.
The team has had outings away from the football field at Target Field for a Minnesota Twins game, at Adam Thielen's charity softball game and at Topgolf for entertainment. It’s clear that along with communication and collaboration at all levels of the team, building chemistry was also a clear focus from Day 1. It will continue to be until they host the Green Bay Packers Week 1.
"It’s difficult to quantify how does time together at Topgolf equate to a fourth quarter win, but I’ve been around team sports too long to believe it doesn’t," quarterback Kirk Cousins said. "It just kind of creates an extra heartbeat or a greater love for the guys around you that for some strange reason helps you play football better together."
The defense largely won the final day of mini camp. The second unit got an interception from D.J. Wonnum, and the entire defense ran the length of the field with him in celebration. Cousins was nearly intercepted on a deep throw by Cam Dantzler, intended for Justin Jefferson.
Kellen Mond was intercepted by Parry Nickerson, and every player that could sprinted down the sideline with him celebrating.
"Do I love the fact that the day ended with the defense making a red zone turnover? I absolutely do, because I’m coaching everybody out here," O’Connell said. "They’re running around the field, they’re excited. We push it to that absolute limit of competition, and then we understand that we’re all teammates and we’re making each other better."
The Vikings’ defense will largely have the same players from last year, also adding rookie safety Lewis Cine. Ed Donatell is installing a new 3-4 defense, with the biggest changes coming in disguises and pre-snap looks.
It had Cousins confused a couple times on Wednesday. Patrick Peterson, entering his 12th NFL season, recalled the first team meeting with Donatell when asked about how it could look in the fall.
"He just preached about stealing a second from the quarterback. Disguises, lining up in certain things to steal that second is going to make our job that much easier," Peterson said. "When you have a confused quarterback, that gives Danielle and Z (Za’Darius Smith) an opportunity to get that much more pressure on him. I love the scheme, just excited to see how it’s going to unfold here."
"It’s muddy, it’s really muddy so when you drop back, you don’t quite know what you’re getting. As a quarterback, you want to know what you’re getting, they’re doing a good job with disguise," Cousins said. "It just makes practice difficult."
The Vikings hope it’s also muddy for the Packers and their other 2022 opponents in the fall. It’s a new era for the Vikings with a new coaching staff, and now we wait until the start of training camp for it to come together.
"We’re leaving this offseason program exactly where we wanted to be," O’Connell said. "What they do from now until that day matters, everything they do matters, from the preparation they do on their own to the decisions that they do ultimately make."