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10 Takeaways from 2023 Vikings Offseason Program

EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings offseason program is in the rearview mirror, capping on-field activities with two days of a mandatory minicamp.

The rest of the program is voluntary, but participation levels were generally high among players who seem excited to take the next step with Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips, as well as those who are interested in making an impact under new Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores.

After a long Minnesota winter, it's always great to see players on the field, even if they're throttling down from their full capabilities to take care of each other for the long haul.

The team and coaches will now have a break before returning to Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center and ramping up for Vikings Training Camp.'s Lindsey Young and Craig Peters teamed up for 10 takeaways from the 2023 Vikings offseason program.

1. Dealing with roster turnover | by Craig Peters

In a few ways, this season feels like more of a page turner than 2022 when the Vikings hired a first-time general manager in Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and head coach in O'Connell.

Salary cap-induced releases of players long associated with the Vikings like Adam Thielen, Eric Kendricks and, more recently, Dalvin Cook have been at the forefront of conversations.

Dalvin Tomlinson received an offer from Cleveland well beyond Minnesota's budget, and Patrick Peterson also departed via a nice deal with Pittsburgh.

Replacing key players — leaders/captains/Pro Bowlers — is easier said than done, but O'Connell is optimistic that the foundation set in 2022 is strong enough to build on as new players join.

View exclusive photos from the 2023 Minicamp practices, shot by Vikings Team Photographer Andy Kenutis.

2. Vets in all places | by Lindsey Young

Garth Brooks still sings, "I've got friends in low places."

Well, the Vikings have friends in all places. Minnesota did lose notable veterans this offseason, but well-established names remain at each level of offense and defense.

The Vikings are returning Jonathan Bullard and Harrison Phillips on the defensive line (and added Dean Lowry), Jordan Hicks at linebacker and Harrison Smith at safety from last year's squad. The signing of Byron Murphy, Jr., added valuable experience at cornerback.

On offense, Kirk Cousins is entering his sixth season in Minnesota. While Thielen and Cook are no longer on the roster, Alexander Mattison, Justin Jefferson and K.J. Osborn – though youngsters – provide leadership and stability at their respective positions. And as mentioned earlier, the offensive line remains completely intact following last season.

3. Fierce defense under Flores | by Lindsey Young

It didn't take long for the Vikings offense to get a feel for the intensity of the defense.

Flores wasted no time this offseason rolling out a system that's been called exotic and challenging by players on the other side of the ball.

"A lot of coverages, a lot of movement from the fronts. I'm not even in there, and I can see it," Osborn said early on in Organized Team Activity practices. "Disguising defenses and different leverages – man, zone, all different types of things.

"We're only on practice day two, but we would need a full-week game plan to do all the stuff they're doing already," Osborn added with a laugh. "But it's exciting to see that they're giving us a challenge."

One of the criticisms of Minnesota's defense last season was a lack of pressure and aggressiveness; it's already clear Flores plans to change that in 2023.

"I'm aggressive by nature. Philosophically, that's something I believe in," Flores told media members in February after being hired. "Not reckless – there's a method to the madness. There's a rhyme and reason, whether it's down and distance, field goal position, etc. But … yes, by nature, I like to play an aggressive style."

4. Multiple looks in defensive backfield | by Lindsey Young

Not only is Flores aggressive, but he's also creative in his defensive approach and consistently moves players around in the secondary.

Flores told reporters early in the spring he was "big on versatility" and coaching players up to play in multiple spots. That mindset showed up during OTA and minicamp practices.

Murphy has taken reps at outside corner as well as in the slot.

Lewis Cine, who missed most of his rookie season after suffering a broken leg Week 4, is back in the fold and has been utilized multiple ways, including in two- and three-safety packages, along with Camryn Bynum and Smith.

Safety Josh Metellus also has been used at different spots, including at linebacker alongside Jordan Hicks in dime packages.

"We are playing a lot of personnel groupings and just trying to mix and match with our safety group to ultimately see how we can get the best 11 on the field regardless of situation of the game, run or pass," O'Connell said. "Then let Flo' take it from there with his call and how we want to play defensively. A lot to be determined."


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5. Offensive versatility | by Craig Peters

While Flores plans to implement multiple looks, the same can be said for O'Connell and Phillips.

It's highly likely much of the offense will run through Jefferson — and for plenty of good reasons. The dynamic playmaker is coming of single-season franchise records for receptions (128) and yards (1,809), leading the league in both categories and making the Pro Bowl for the third time in as many seasons.

Jefferson was participating in multiple marketing opportunities during the voluntary offseason program. He did hit the field for both days of minicamp last week and said he's looking forward to training camp.

Jefferson's absence from those sessions enabled other receivers like Jalen Reagor and Jalen Nailor to log quality reps with Cousins.

The Vikings believe they can run 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end and three receivers), or they have multiple other groupings they can use to attack a particular opponent.

The return of T.J. Hockenson for his first full season in purple, combined with the signing of Josh Oliver, should enable some opportunities in 12 personnel. Throw in veteran Johnny Mundt, either with Oliver or with the newcomer and Hockenson, and there will be other elements to keep defenses on their toes.

Let's not forget fullback C.J. Ham, who will enable coaches to use personnel groupings and formations to try to create mismatches.

6. Approach at running back going forward | by Craig Peters

Mattison, who turned 25 on Monday, has six starts in 59 games played. That's six more starts than Kene Nwangwu, Ty Chandler and DeWayne McBride combined.

The Vikings have seen Mattison handle the carries of a feature back in those six starts, with him logging more than 20 carries and at least 90 yards in four of those games.

Although Mattison didn't start a game under O'Connell in 2022 (because Cook was available for all 17), coaches did say they believe his abilities kept open the entire playbook when he did spell Cook.

Mattison led the young group throughout the offseason program while the uncertainty of Cook's status continued. That leadership continued after Cook's release earlier this month.

Nwangwu (2021), Chandler (2022) and McBride (2023) have been drafted in each of the past three years. Perhaps they'll mix with a rotation, perhaps one or more spells Mattison for a breather.

7. Osborn providing leadership & making plays | by Lindsey Young

Osborn spoke with media members earlier this spring and said he's "excited" about the addition of Jordan Addison in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft, but he's also determined to continue showing coaches what he brings to the field.

"It's the NFL. They're always looking to replace you. To me, it's about respect, man. I want to earn my respect," Osborn said. "It's not about the draft, it's not about anything. I was a fifth-round pick, I was a two-star recruit, I came from the MAC. If they drafted somebody, didn't draft somebody, I'm trying to prove it to myself. Not to anybody else.

"I want to prove myself right. I don't care about any doubters or haters like that. My standard is higher than any fan or any coach," he added. "I always have a huge chip on my shoulder."

Osborn also takes seriously his responsibility as one of the leaders in the receivers room. He emphasized the importance of supporting young players "the same way guys have helped me out in the past."

"When Jordan got drafted, I texted him right away, reaching out to him and letting him know anything that he needs, I'll help him,' " Osborn said. "The rookies are doing walk-throughs, things like that, and it's weird because I'm one of the older guys in the room. I'm going on Year 4, but I feel like the vet, which is crazy. But I think I'm a natural leader, and it's something I've embraced and am comfortable with."

8. Cousins' command | by Craig Peters

It's one thing to want to be as versatile as the Vikings might be when they have the ball, but that can only truly come to fruition if a team's quarterback can handle moving parts.

The Cousins era in Minnesota has been one of consistent statistical production despite having a new play caller every year. Now, the QB is poised to have the same voice in his ear on game days, which should help him navigate the complexity.

Cousins' opportunities with Jefferson were limited to two days this offseason program, and the Vikings were overly cautious with Addison, who was dealing with an undisclosed injury that popped up during rookie minicamp.

That's a couple of play-making options not available at the end of practices during situational drills, but Cousins led the available group on some nice drives building off the understanding of the offense from a year ago.

"Last year they had to 'hold my hand' to call the play, where it was like, 'I don't even know how to say this play, when you call it. I can't see it in my head, so I can't call it.' So to be able to have the play come in and just – boom! – call two plays in the huddle and 'Let's go.' It's just night and day from last year," Cousins said early during OTAs. "So you'd like to think that starting in a much further spot in May advances everything – to August, to September, you're just more comfortable."

9. Consistency on the o-line | by Lindsey Young

Continuity at all positions makes a difference, but it might be most valuable on the offensive line. Minnesota returned its entire starting o-line from 2022, including center Garrett Bradbury, whom the team re-signed this spring.

Left tackle Christian Darrisaw, left guard Ezra Cleveland, Bradbury, right guard Ed Ingram and right tackle Brian O'Neill have a complete season together under their belts after Ingram started all 17 regular-season games of his rookie campaign.

Instead of using the offseason program to learn new plays, the linemen dived deeper on existing ones.

"There's a deeper understanding of the intricacies [of the offense] on our end," O'Neill explained.

O'Neill missed the final regular-season contest, and Minnesota's Wild Card game against the Giants, last season after suffering an Achilles injury at Green Bay. Though he wasn't a full participant and spent time working on the side field with athletic training staff, O'Neill assured last month his recovery has been smooth.

"I've taken the approach of, 'Let's get this right. And let's do it right each step of the way.' There will be enough time," he said.

10. Kicking competition to be continued | by Craig Peters

The Vikings returned Greg Joseph, whose five game-winning kicks in 2023 included a franchise-record 61-yarder.

The team also signed undrafted rookie Jack Podlesny out of Georgia.

Joseph and Podlesny turned in solid springs during team periods and appear more than capable of pushing each other through a competition during camp and the preseason.

That differs from last year, when the Vikings wound up waiving undrafted rookie Gabe Brkic on June 10.

As for the other two specialists, Andrew DePaola is back at long snapper after his All-Pro and Pro Bowl season, and Ryan Wright is punting unopposed after an impressive season as an undrafted rookie.

That means Joseph and Podlesny should be able to work with the same battery as they compete on field goals and extra points.