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Monday Morning Mailbag: Aspirations for Offense & WR Depth

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Welcome everyone to August 2022, and thanks to more than 3,000 fans who were able to attend Saturday's first open practice of the season at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center. There will be a preseason NFL game this Thursday between the Jaguars and Raiders, the latter of which will host the Vikings on Aug. 14. That's less than two weeks away, which in training camp time, seems a long way away but will be here before we know it.

The Vikings have completed their ramp-up period with four practices (two in helmets only and two more in helmets and shells). This included a session last Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium that ended with Jared Allen speaking to this year's squad moments before he was surprised to be named the newest member of the Vikings Ring of Honor.

Major congrats to Allen, who will be formally inducted during a halftime ceremony on Oct. 30 when Minnesota hosts Arizona.

With the emphasis on the passing game this time around, our team reminds me of the '98 Vikes with Moss and Carter catching the ball and Robert Smith running the ball. Dalvin Cook's touches will decrease, but how does this new offense affect the other backs? I'd like to see Kene Nwangwu line up in the backfield or as a receiver. He could be special. SKOL.

— Nicholas Balkou

Do you think the Vikings offense can be the 1999 Rams? Can Kirk be Kurt [Warner]?

Regards,

— Curtis from Easton, Pennsylvania

I grouped these questions together because of the lofty aspirations of trying to match two of the most impressive offenses that featured multiple Hall of Fame players. The '98 Vikings lost the heartbreaker in the NFC Championship Game a year before the Rams won Super Bowl XXXIV.

Randy Moss as a rookie and Cris Carter were incredible for the 1998 team that set a since-topped scoring record of 556 points that was helped by six return touchdowns (three interceptions, two fumbles and a kickoff return).

View the best photos of Vikings legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Randy Moss.

The Vikings passing game put up a league-leading 41 touchdowns. The rushing attack added 17 more.

Minnesota ranked second in offensive yards and benefitted from high-efficiency by leading the NFL in net yards per pass attempt (7.8) and ranking fifth in rushing average (4.3 yards per carry), but perhaps the most underrated aspect of that historic season was how well the Vikings faired in turnover margin (plus-14). The Vikings committed just 20 turnovers (third fewest in NFL), including only four fumbles lost, which was the best in the league.

The 1999 Rams also led the NFL in scoring (526 points), passing touchdowns (42) and net yards per pass attempt (7.7). If not for committing 31 turnovers, St. Louis could have had a better shot at the points record set by Minnesota the season before — although that Rams team also benefitted from 11 return touchdowns (seven interceptions, one fumble, two kickoffs and a punt).

View photos of Vikings legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Cris Carter.

Every offensive starter from last season has returned (Minnesota has been leading with newcomer Jesse Davis at right guard instead of Olisaemeka Udoh), but most of the coaching staff changed.

Kirk Cousins has reunited with Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell (his position coach in Washington in 2017), and Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips was tight ends coach there from 2014-18, overlapping four seasons with Cousins.

QB1 said there have been moments where the offensive system has "evolved greatly, and I have to unlearn things and learn new parts."

"There's other pieces where you say, 'I haven't done that since I was back in Washington, and I remember being in the room when that was invented,' if you will," Cousins said. "The key piece is that it's now the 2022 Minnesota Vikings.

"I remember when 2019 started and Kevin [Stefanski] was the offensive coordinator and Gary [Kubiak] had come in to help. Rick Dennison had come in as the O-line coach, and the question was, 'What will this offense be?' And the answer is just that it was the 2019 Vikings offense," Cousins said. "It's hard to say more than that. And I'd say the same thing now, that as systems evolve and there's change and there's different backgrounds coming together, it just becomes the 2022 Vikings."

Protecting the football remains the most important aspect of the game, but combining that with a high average net yards per attempt appears to be quite helpful as well. The 2019 squad ranked fifth in net yards per pass attempt but only 13th in turnovers.

Specifically for the question from Nicholas, the 1998 Vikings attempted 533 passes and ran the ball 450 times. That's pretty balanced when added up at the end.

Smith's stats from 1998?

249 rushes for 1,187 yards (4.8 yards per carry) and six touchdowns; 28 receptions for 291 yards and two touchdowns

Cook's stats from 2021?

249 rushes for 1,159 yards (4.7 yards per carry) and six touchdowns; 34 receptions for 224 yards

Much of our coverage from camp so far has highlighted the passing game because Minnesota has not worn pads yet (today's the first day!). Cousins has looked sharp, especially on connections with Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. K.J. Osborn has picked up where his second season left off.

The 2022 Vikings might throw more than Minnesota has the past three seasons, but I expect there to be a nice balance with the run game, especially considering the array of weapons at that position group.

Coaches are seeing Cook up close, further increasing their belief on how special a player he is. He'll have opportunities to contribute as a runner and a receiver. A reduction in workload, either from passing the ball more or by rotating in Nwangwu, Alexander Mattison or maybe even rookie Ty Chandler, could help Cook remain optimized throughout the season.

As for Curtis asking if Kirk can be Kurt, Warner's stats in 1999 were as follows:

325-of-499 passing (65.1 percent) for 4,353 yards with 41 touchdowns against 13 interceptions and a passer rating of 109.2

Cousins' season averages since joining the Vikings are as follows:

363.3-of-531.7 passing (68.3 percent) for 4,096.8 yards with 31 touchdowns against nine interceptions and a passer rating of 103.5

I am afraid if our new GM and head coach get too attached at the hip to Cousins they will find their stay at the Vikings shortened. Cousins is an overpaid, overhyped average starting QB, and they need to keep their distance to keep their jobs.

— David Walker

The Vikings have had Kirk long enough to know what they have. He is known to be a stat-padder in Washington and Minnesota. Isn't a spade a spade?

— Shawn from Richmond, Virginia (fan for 35 years)

Flowing right into this grouping from the previous two questions.

Vikings coaches who have worked with Cousins in the past wanted to join Minnesota's staff knowing he'd be the unquestioned starter.

We've seen Kirk have some great games wire-to-wire, and even several weeks in a row, since he's been here, and we've seen games in which the box score had better cosmetics than the game.

A phrase that General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell have used is enabling all Vikings to be "the best versions of themselves." That will go for the entire roster, from QB1 to the 53rd player kept and the practice squad.

I wouldn't lump the production that Cousins has consistently delivered as "average" by any means, but Minnesota's 33-29-1 record in his starts leaves room for the whole team to improve.

How will a fullback fit in the Vikings new offensive system, if at all?

— Howie Hanson, Duluth

To quote Ace Ventura, "Like a glove!"

Sorry, I couldn't resist referencing one of the most enjoyed movies of my early teen years.

The correct answer might be it is still being defined.

Since O'Connell's hire, some have wondered about the future of a fullback, but the coach has said multiple times that he likes the potential wrinkles added by C.J. Ham's versatility.

Minnesota was incredibly multiple in its personnel during a red zone period at U.S. Bank Stadium on Friday, and Ham was included in players who caught a pass in that area.

It seems like coaches have been able to evaluate the roster from the offseason program and will continue to do so in training camp. They'll log what each player is best at, as well as the unit, but the week-to-week approach could change based on what is believed to be the best way to attack a certain opponent.

Has Dan Chisena improved as a wide receiver? Or has he only worked on special teams? I love his speed, and he seemed to get better as a gunner on punts last year. But he seems like a longshot to beat the odds and make the roster again. Your thoughts?

— John Arveson

Which player do you think is the Vikings "best kept secret"? My money is on WR Jalen Nailor, if he gets the opportunities!

SKOL from Wisconsin!

— Dustin Klug

The Vikings have a really strong and deep group at receiver, but take the words of Phillips, who is a much more-qualified speaker on the topic than me.

"We actually feel like we're going to have some tough decisions at the end here when it comes down to it because of the depth we have at that group," Phillips said last week.

View photos of players during 2022 Vikings Training Camp practice on July 30 at the TCO Performance Center.

There are 12 receivers at Vikings camp but only a few spots on the 53-man roster that are not already claimed.

During Friday and Saturday's practices I watched receivers from a bit closer up. Chisena looked fluid running and tracking the ball in position drills, but there's quite a bit more to playing receiver, including as run blockers in this system. The former track athlete at Penn State is entering his third NFL season and is still one of the fastest players on the team, but he hasn't had much experience on offense in college or the NFL. The speed helps as a gunner, but his status could come down to roster math and needs at other positions.

Dustin, count me in as incredibly intrigued by "Speedy" Nailor, who was so important to Michigan State's successes during his time with the Spartans.

A considerable amount of Minnesota's work so far has actually been at jog-through pace to allow the team to ramp up its training camp. Nailor's quick-transition speed is something he put on tape in college, seeming to catch some DBs off-guard in games.

One thing I think about each year when camp opens is, 'Which player will we be featuring after the first preseason game that we haven't spotlighted much to that point?' There are a couple of receivers who are candidates for that.

View photos of Vikings fans during training camp practices at the TCO Performance Center.

Last year the Vikings gave up a lot of points at the ends of both halves. I believe the number of three-and-out drives had a lot to do with that. What do you see as culprits in the Vikings ranking toward the bottom of the league in that stat? Were they too predictable? Was Kirk a bit too cautious (because he was told to, maybe)?

Three-and-outs=defensive fatigue=points allowed.

— Gary Lipsey

There's probably not one magic answer, but Gary is correct that the 2021 Vikings allowed too many points at the ends of halves last season. There were defensive lapses (allowing teams, including the Lions in Detroit, to get out of bounds) and penalties (a costly pass interference call at Cincinnati in Week 1). Execution within a play also lacked at times.

Could fatigue of the defense have been a factor? Quite possibly.

Minnesota's offense tied with Pittsburgh for the third-most three-and-outs in the NFL last season (72 apiece). Houston led the way with 76, followed by Carolina (73).

That was compounded when the defense struggled to get off the field. Minnesota forced 50 three-and-outs by opponents, which tied with the Los Angeles Chargers for the fifth fewest.

I think the 2022 offense will be very multiple (hard for defenses to typecast). We'll find out how aggressive O'Connell will be as the season progresses.

One thing is certain: the 2021 Vikings struggled to play complementary football too often.

I've noticed in the schedule that there is no bye week before or after the game in London. Has there been a concern from team personnel about this, as there has traditionally been one in past years?

P.S. I'll be there with my purple on!!!

— Dan Jones

So great to hear that you'll be there when Minnesota plays New Orleans in Week 4.

We hit on this a bit briefly in our takeaways when the 2022 schedule was released, but I'm including it again as more people are thinking football with another calendar page turning.

The Vikings requested to not have their bye immediately after facing the Saints in London because O'Connell didn't want it to fall so early in the season. Minnesota instead will host Chicago in Week 5 and have its bye in Week 7.

Of the 60 teams who have participated in an International Series game in London, only five have not had their bye occur in the following week (one of the five was the 2017 Dolphins, who didn't have an option after a hurricane postponed their Week 1 game). The 2016 Colts were the first to choose to delay their bye and they followed by defeating the Bears.

View photos of the Vikings roster as of August 16, 2022.