EAGAN, Minn. — Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores is already putting his unique stamp on his newly revamped Vikings defense.
Whether he's buzzing around to different position groups during the team's first training camp practice at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center or meeting individually with players, Flores' veteran coaching presence is noticeable.
Entering his 16th season as an NFL coach, Flores knows how to educate players regardless of circumstance. Take defensive end Danielle Hunter for example. Hunter did not attend Minnesota's offseason program or mandatory minicamp, but he did report to camp by Tuesday's deadline.
Hunter did not participate in drills on Wednesday. It is unclear when the team's sacks leader last season will participate, but that has not stopped Flores from both teaching Hunter his new defense and connecting with him off the field.
"We've had communication since I've gotten here. I'm not going to get into those exact times or places. But [yesterday] is not the first time we've connected. He's a great human being. I was excited to meet him and get to know him. I've gotten to know him over the course of the past few months," Flores said. "Danielle is a phenomenal player. He's a guy who has had a lot of success over the course of his career. He's an impact player who brings an element of rush and is overall solid [versus] the run and pass."
With Hunter idle, Vikings pass rushers will have ample opportunities to prove themselves during camp. Marcus Davenport and D.J. Wonnum opened the team period as the outside linebacker spots.
Flores is also anticipating a competitive camp amongst the cornerbacks.
"We have a lot of guys who showed well in the spring and have done well in meetings, walk-throughs and spring practices. Then they come back, and they are ready to go. In our first couple meetings and our walk-through today went solid," Flores said. "I expect these guys to compete in the meetings, compete in the walk-throughs, compete in practice, compete in the preseason games, and at the end of the day, we will sit down with Kwesi [Adofo-Mensah] and K.O. (Kevin O'Connell) and try to put the best group out there."
Similar to Flores, there are several newcomers on the Vikings defense. Davenport and cornerback Byron Murphy, Jr., highlight a group of free agents Flores will deploy.
Flores spent 11 years coaching in New England under Bill Belichick, three years as head coach of the Dolphins, and this past season he assisted the Steelers defense led by Mike Tomlin. Flores is known for his exotic schemes and pressures. He's comfortable deploying three or more safeties to keep quarterbacks guessing.
Flores had Murphy taking reps at both outside corner and nickel during practice. Vikings defenders are already moving around before the snap before shifting again when the play starts.
These details are difficult to teach but, when executed correctly, should create controlled chaos.
"This early, you are trying to make sure you are right with everything. Getting 11 guys on the field, getting the call in, getting the front correct," Flores said. "Then, with offenses in this league, there is movement on every snap. They move the Y (tight end). They move a receiver. They jet-motion, then they explode to empty [backfield]. A lot of it is just making sure we can handle the various and myriad of formations the offense gives us. Then once we see exactly what it is, then we'll be able to play our technique and fundamentals so that we can execute one play at a time."
Practicing against Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson, and T.J. Hockenson should push the defense to perform its best.
Flores doesn't consider himself a "Fun Ra-Ra Guy." Instead, he has fun through his players. As long as Vikings defenders are playing fundamentally sound and within their assignments, then Flores wants them to have fun.
"I'm focused on these guys and this group and their ability to play fast, play physical and enjoy playing the game and having fun out there," Flores said. "That's a big part of playing good defense. The good defenses I've been around have a lot of fun. We are going to try and do that."
View photos of players during 2023 Vikings Training Camp practice on July 26 at the TCO Performance Center.
Flores acknowledges that only so much evaluating can occur while players are in in shorts and helmets. The Vikings will be in full pads on Monday as they work through the NFL's mandated acclimation period.
Next week is when the real fun begins for Flores and the Vikings new-look defense.
"Those padded practices, joint practices, and games are important because there are a limited number of opportunities to see the game the way it is played on Sunday. All of them count." Flores said. "Is there more emphasis on those padded days to see what a guy can really do? The short answer is yes. The guys know that. They know they have to perform with pads on."