EAGAN, Minn. — We're talking about practice. Not a game, not a game … but practice.
The Vikings kick off Organized Team Activity practices this week, as the team will have 10 voluntary sessions over the next three weeks. Minnesota will then hold a three-day mandatory minicamp from June 11-13.
The Vikings have made plenty of offseason moves over the past few months, including new voices on the offensive coaching staff, adding some free agents and bringing in a dozen rookies from the 2019 NFL Draft.
Players and coaches have been together since mid-April for classroom meetings and on-field drills, but OTAs are seen as yet another step toward the 2019 season.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer's squad went 8-7-1 and missed the postseason in 2018. With the team hungry to compete for an NFC North title and get back in the playoffs, here are six Vikings storylines to follow over the next few weeks.
1. How the offensive coaching staff works together | By Eric Smith
We can't blame you if you do a double take when looking at Minnesota's offensive coaching staff. Only two coaches remain in the same role they were in a year ago: running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu and assistant offensive line coach Andrew Janocko.
Kevin Stefanski, who was the quarterbacks coach and then the interim offensive coordinator for the final three games in 2018, is now the offensive coordinator. And the Vikings made a splash when they brought in Gary Kubiak, who has four total Super Bowl rings, as the assistant head coach/offensive advisor.
Drew Petzing, who was the assistant wide receivers coach in 2018, was elevated to the wide receivers coach in the offseason. Minnesota also added Klint Kubiak (quarterbacks coach), Brian Pariani (tight ends coach) and Rick Dennison (offensive line coach) as new faces.
How will the new staff implement and teach the offense as OTA practices roll on? What will Stefanski's fingerprints look like on the offense?
Players and coaches haven't kept it a secret that the Vikings offense needs to be better than it was in 2018 to have success in the season ahead. That work begins now.
2. Player to watch: Anthony Harris | By Eric Smith
Harris arrived in Minnesota as an undrafted free agent in 2015, and has seen his role increase each season. He started eight combined games in his first three years, but topped that total with nine starts in 2019.
He made an impact on the field, too, with three interceptions this past season while being a steady presence next to Harrison Smith. If the season were to start today, Harris would likely be the other starter at safety. It will be interesting to see how he handles his biggest role yet in 2019.
3. Overhauled offensive line | By Lindsey Young
The Vikings placed a focus on offensive line this spring, using free agency and the NFL Draft to bolster the position group.
Minnesota added free agent guards Josh Kline and Dakota Dozier to the roster in March, and the Vikings used their first-round pick (18th overall) to snag N.C. State center Garrett Bradbury. They also traded up to draft Oklahoma's Dru Samia in the fourth round and selected Elon tackle Olisaemeka Udoh in the sixth.
In addition, the Vikings signed undrafted free agent John Keenoy, who played at Western Michigan under Head Coach P.J. Fleck before Fleck took over at the University of Minnesota in 2017.
Returning offensive linemen who started at least 11 games for Minnesota last season are Pat Elflein, Brian O'Neill and Riley Reiff.
It will be interesting to see how Bradbury and Samia, who participated in rookie minicamp earlier this month, do in full-team OTA practices. It also will be worth noting which line combinations Vikings coaches use in practice and how often they switch it up.
"We're just trying to get the best football players in here, and then once we get into the OTAs, once we get into training camp, the coaches will figure out what's the best combination," Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said during draft weekend. "The most important thing right now is getting the best football players we can get in."
4. Player to watch: Ameer Abdullah | By Lindsey Young
Heading into OTAs, I'm most interested in watching running back Ameer Abdullah, for a couple of reasons.
Abdullah joined the Vikings in November last season after being released by the division-rival Lions, so he was, in a sense, "thrown into the fire." Abdullah played a very limited number of snaps on offense and was most utilized as a kickoff returner.
Now having the luxury of spring workouts and practices with the team, will Abdullah be more heavily involved in the offense during OTAs under Minnesota's new offensive coaching staff?
I'm also intrigued by the Vikings return game and who will get special teams reps there; it will be interesting to see if Abdullah gets looked at for both punts and kickoffs. Longtime punt returner Marcus Sherels signed with the Saints in free agency, leaving that spot essentially up for grabs.
5. Opportunities for receivers | By Craig Peters
The Vikings top two receivers — Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs — have cemented themselves in the upper echelon of the league's top tandems.
Both had career bests (Thielen: 113 receptions, 1,373 yards and nine touchdowns; Diggs: 102 receptions, 1,021 yards and nine touchdowns) in 2018.
Laquon Treadwell had the next-most receptions among the position group with 35, followed by Aldrick Robinson, who recently signed with Carolina. Rookie Chad Beebe added four catches, and Brandon Zylstra's lone grab went for a gain of 23 in his first NFL season. Jeff Badet is back after spending last season on the practice squad.
That means nearly half of the 11 receivers on the roster are new to the squad.
Minnesota signed former Bronco Jordan Taylor during free agency, then drafted Dillon Mitchell and Bisi Johnson in the seventh round. The Vikings then signed undrafted rookies Davion Davis and Alexander Hollins.
Mitchell, Johnson, Davis and Hollins each had some impressive moments when participating in the rookie minicamp earlier this month.
6. Player to watch: Karter Schult | By Craig Peters
Schult was one of a handful of players from the Alliance of American Football that Minnesota signed when the AAF abrubtly suspended operations.
The Northern Iowa alum and native of Tripoli, Iowa, is back in purple and gold after impressing with the Salt Lake Stallions. He had 26 total tackles, 7.0 sacks and 11 tackles for loss or no gain in eight games with the AAF.
Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson and assistant defensive line coach Robert Rodriguez are known for their ability to refine players' techniques. Those who have come from other organizations have talked about how a tip here or there has helped them take their games to another level.
Although the best assessments along the offensive and defensive line won't happen until the pads go on at training camp, it will be interesting to see how Schult fares in the Vikings defense and against the next level of competition.