EAGAN (FOX 9) - Stefon Diggs was all smiles as he flew around the field at TCO Performance Center on Wednesday. He was back after missing most of last week’s organized team activities to address some issues at his house in Washington, D.C.
Diggs was running routes, making plays and learning the nuances that the Minnesota Vikings hope to feature on offense this season. So why was he so happy? He saw familiar faces in quarterback Kirk Cousins and offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski.
Stefanski will get help from offensive advisor Gary Kubiak, but he was promoted to offensive coordinator after holding an interim role for the final three games last season. This season will be the first time in Diggs’ career that he won’t be switching coordinators. He finished with 102 catches last season, with 14 of them on 23 targets over the final three games.
“I’m excited. I’ve got 100 percent faith and trust in him based off those last three games. Going into the offseason, I was 100 percent confident and seeing him and being back into the motion of the swing of things is just exciting,” Diggs said of Stefanski.
The Vikings hosted their fifth workout of OTAs on Wednesday, and they’re halfway through the workouts.
Diggs and Stefanski are hoping continuity and consistency within the offense will translate to a big year for quarterback Kirk Cousins. The Vikings made a splash last year in free agency after signing Cousins to a three-year, $84 million fully-guaranteed contract. He threw for nearly 4,300 yards and 30 touchdowns, but struggled in primetime games and shouldered much of the blame for the Vikings missing the playoffs with an 8-7-1 record.
The big difference for Cousins this year is he’s not looking for a place to live, he knows who his teammates are and he continues to learn their tendencies. That continuity can take the Vikings offense to the next level, if it translates on the field.
“Kirk is coming into this year with a familiarity of our players, of his teammates, and I think that’s invaluable,” Stefanski said. “That’s everybody, so I think that element of having been through that for one year with our guys is so important.”
The Vikings feature one of the most dangerous wide receiver combinations in the NFL with Diggs and Adam Thielen, who combined for 215 catches and more than 2,300 yards last season. They also both got paid for their efforts. Diggs earned a five-year contract extension before last season, and Thielen became one of the highest-paid receivers in football in April. He signed a four-year deal worth more than $64 million.
Not bad for a former Division II star who was an undrafted college free agent and had to earn his way onto the Vikings through special teams.
The familiarity and continuity part of the offense is the primary focus of OTAs for the Vikings. They want to do whatever they can to make Cousins feel confident about what he’s doing.
“That’s what you want, you want to do things that makes him comfortable. As far as being a receiver, I want him to be comfortable. I want to play to his strengths and try to be there any way that I can,” Diggs said.
Laquon Treadwell is facing a critical year himself, after the Vikings declined his fifth-year contract option in the offseason. He already notices the continuity on offense.
“I feel like everyone is getting better because we know each other a little more. Kirk came in, big signing, there was a lot of news around it. We know Kirk for Kirk, it’s not he’s trying to impress us or win us over,” Treadwell said. “He got the team to know what’s going on, and I think he’s doing a great job just honing into his position.”
It should also help with Dalvin Cook as the primary option in the run game, with Boise State rookie Alexander Mattison the likely top contender for the No. 2 running back spot.
It’s still a work in progress on several fronts, which it should be with nearly two months to go until training camp.
Vikings hire part-time kicking coach
Mike Zimmer hinted during rookie minicamp that he could hire a coach to help with kickers. That guy, for now, is Nate Kaeding. The nine-year NFL veteran kicked mainly with the San Diego Chargers, and drives up from his Iowa home a few times per week to work with the Vikings. Special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf called Kaeding “another set of eyes.”
The Vikings finished last in the NFL last season, making about 69 percent of their field goals. Kaeding was selected to the Pro Bowl twice and was First Team All Pro in 2009, when he made 32 of 35 kicks for the season.
“Nate’s done it before so that’s somebody that you can trust and that’s experience that you can’t find just with any coach,” Maalouf said.
Wednesday’s OTA highlights
- There appears to be a three way battle for the No. 2 quarterback spot with Sean Mannion, Kyle Sloter and Jake Browning. In team drills, Mannion found rookie Irv Smith Jr. on a corner route for a touchdown. Mannion also delivered a pair of touchdown passes, one to Dillon Mitchell and the other to Jordan Taylor. Browning had two touchdown passes to Davion Davis, and a third to Alexander Mattison.
- Defense won the day as the Vikings focused heavily on red zone offense. Eric Kendricks had an interception, Trae Waynes also had a pass breakup covering Smith and Marcus Epps broke up a pass in the end zone intended for Diggs.
- Dan Bailey was a perfect 7-of-7 on field goal tries on Wednesday, ranging from 30-50 yards. In one of the last team drills, he was rushed on the field with less than 10 seconds to go and calmly made a kick from about 45 yards. Bailey is 12-of-13 with a long of 50 yards in the two practices open to the media.
- Tight end Kyle Rudolph was absent from OTAs Wednesday to attend a golf tournament in Ohio for his Man of the Year nomination. Long snapper Austin Cutting was absent to attend his graduation at Air Force Academy. Cornerback Mike Hughes did work off to the side as he recovers from ACL surgery. Brian O’Neill returned to practice after missing time with an injury, and David Morgan didn’t practice due to injury.