MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Vikings finished up their offseason program on Wednesday at TCO Performance Center. It was the first time Kevin O’Connell led a month’s worth of practices as a head coach.
Many of the same players that were on a team that finished 8-9 last season and missed the NFC Playoffs for the second straight year, forcing the dismissal of Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman, are back. So will a new coaching staff and new front office change everything?
We won’t know anything until Sept. 11, but here are some takeaways from the Vikings’ offseason.
Kwesi Adofo-Mensah talked about communication and collaboration at all levels of the organization when the Vikings’ ownership group hired him to replace Spielman. He stressed a competitive rebuild, while O’Connell is winning over current players on the practice field. He stresses positivity, and is relying on veteran coaches to install their new systems.
He comes to Minnesota having won a Super Bowl with the L.A. Rams, something the Vikings have never done. Players are smiling while they work out on the field, seem at ease and many of them have said throughout the season they like the coaching changes that have been made. Most have the offseason work has been "above the shoulders," in team meetings and film review off the field, and in walk-throughs and without pads on the practice field. It’s hard to glean a lot from the last four weeks, but it certainly feels different.
O’Connell left his team Wednesday telling them everything they do from now until training camp, every decision they make, matters. We’ll see if it translates in September.
Parry Nickerson intercepted Kellen Mond near the end of Wednesday’s final practice, and every player that could raced down the sideline with him celebrating. O’Connell had the team go a Twins game earlier this offseason, and they had a recent night out at Topgolf. The offensive players faced the defense in Adam Thielen’s charity softball game at CHS Field. Instead of a final day of practice Thursday, O’Connell canceled it and held meetings, and the organization held a barbecue before players were dismissed for the summer.
There’s chemistry that hasn’t been seen in a while. They’re having fun and enjoying each other. Again, we’ll see if it translates in September.
The Vikings know what they have in Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. Injuries to KJ Osborn and Ihmir Smith-Marsette have given Bisi Johnson a chance to show he’s back from a torn ACL. There’s a battle on the offensive line for a starting spot at right guard between Chris Reed, Jesse Davis and Ed Ingram. Irv Smith Jr. has shown flashes coming off a torn meniscus.
Dalvin Cook is getting more passes, and lining up in some packages as a receiver. O’Connell will call offensive plays this season. Can Kirk Cousins flourish after some clear tension with Zimmer? Can the Vikings utilize all their offensive talent? Can the offensive line hold up?
O’Connell hired Ed Donatell to install a 3-4 defense, and hired a veteran defensive mind in Mike Pettine to be the associate head coach. The Vikings signed Za’Darius Smith and Jordan Hicks in free agency. Danielle Hunter is back healthy. Patrick Peterson is back in the secondary, they signed veteran Chandon Sullivan and Cam Dantzler put on muscle. They added a first round pick in Lewis Cine to complement Harrison Smith at safety.
They’ve had their moments during practices, so it’ll be interesting to see how it translates in September.
The Vikings preseason games are at the Las Vegas Raiders on Aug. 14, hosting the San Francisco 49ers on Aug. 20 and at the Denver Broncos on Aug. 27. They’ll have joint practices with the 49ers before their preseason game at U.S. Bank Stadium. We’ll see what the real life, new-look version of the Vikings looks like against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers Sept. 11.
We’ll know a lot more about this team and the new regime when they face their first adversity. From what we’ve seen so far and the talk within the team, it’s hard not to be encouraged.