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Brian Flores' 2nd Offseason Can Help Vikings Defense Build on Initial Push

In coaching, your tape is your résumé.

For years, Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell has kept a list of up-and-coming coaches, which helps him track where the young, innovative and creative minds are around the league.

On Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine, O'Connell said Vikings Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores landed on his potential hires list long before he was a coach.

"I think there's one person in particular that's been well-documented. He happens to be our defensive coordinator. My relationship was formed with him as a rookie player in New England," O'Connell said. "He was not exactly calling plays at that point. He was not directly coaching me, but [we] formed a relationship, and a few struggles later of trying to move the football against his defense, that's really all you need to know about wanting to engage in a process to maybe bring him to Minnesota."

O'Connell was drafted by the Patriots in 2008 when Flores – in his fifth year with New England – was a first-time coaching assistant after four years in the personnel department. Fifteen years later, O'Connell hired Flores to coach the Vikings defense, combining him with Offensive Coordinator Wes Philips and Special Teams Coordinator Matt Daniels.

All three will return to the Vikings next season, O'Connell said, marking the first time all three coordinators are returning for a consecutive season since 2016-17.

"I can tell you a year later, I'm really happy we've got Brian Flores in Minnesota," O'Connell said. "[I am] excited about what we have going on. All three coordinators coming back, which is really, really a big deal for me. Just feeling really strong about Brian Flores, Matt Daniels and Wes Phillips in those roles supporting me."

For Flores, he once again let his tape be his résumé. Minnesota ranked top five in points allowed through the first 13 games of the season. Flores deployed exotic looks and often utilized a three safety grouping of Harrison Smith, Camryn Bynum and Josh Metellus, and he blitzed opposing quarterbacks at a historic rate.

Injuries, however, drove the Vikings to the bottom four in points allowed in their final four games. In total, the Vikings finished 17th in defensive efficiency and 19th in defensive EPA.

Experts around the league believe the Vikings overachieved last season, a credit to Flores' unique and detailed scheme.

"The mark of a good coach and staff is being able to maximize those guys no matter where they were drafted," ESPN Draft Analyst Jordan Reid said in an interview with VEN's Gabe Henderson. "And we saw that development whether it was Ivan Pace, who was an undrafted free agent. Or Mekhi Blackmon of USC being a really good player in his rookie season."

Flores prepared rookie defensive players Pace and Blackmon for key roles and pushed veterans Metellus and Bynum to new heights. Pace finished fourth on the team in tackles. Blackmon recorded his first career interception in Week 10 and started three games afterward.

Metellus was named to his first Pro Bowl, and Bynum led all safeties with 137 tackles.

"He's a good defensive coach. He's proven that and it showed," ESPN NFL Reporter Jeremy Fowler said in an interview with VEN's Gabe Henderson. "He kind of created a hybrid scheme a little bit and [worked with] pieces that he had that were maybe different or had to be reworked [because of] injury and he had to get creative. And he showed that. He obviously has an affinity for the blitz, but he didn't overuse it at other times. So it seems like it was a good marriage."

The Vikings have questions on defense that will be answered as the offseason unfolds. In our third version of our Vikings 2024 Mock Draft Tracker, which includes 17 recent predictions from across football media, a dozen projections had the Vikings helping their defense with their first-round pick.

It's up to Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and the front office to add talent for Flores' defense. Adofo-Mensah said he's confident Flores will continue to put Vikings defenders in advantageous situations.

"He's a tinkerer. He is constantly trying to find that winning edge, that margin," Adofo-Mensah said. "Every week you walk by and he's quiet in his office, and you know he's tinkering. You know there's something that is going to come out of that. 'This week is going to look different than the previous week.' So when we talk about versatility and different things with evaluation, it's after a year of seeing how he's going to tinker and knowing I have to give him some things to tinker with."

O'Connell told Twin Cities media members Wednesday that he was surprised the Vikings did not receive requests from other teams to interview Flores in their head-coaching hiring processes.

"There were a couple of days where I thought there would maybe be some slips turned in, just never kind of came to fruition," O'Connell said. "I know he loves being in Minnesota. It was not something he was actively pursuing, but at the same time I was crossing my fingers because looking back on it, I'm just so happy we were able to get him in and make that decision, and now to get another full offseason with him, not only through the evaluation process, him with Kwesi, his thought process on the evaluation of guys in the draft, free agency, our own roster now that he's been around them, continue to have his imprint on that defense, which then really translates to our whole team, which is critical.

"I would be shocked if, next year, he's not made a significant target for a lot of teams out there based on not only what I think he's going to do but what he's done for us," O'Connell added.