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Brian Flores Guiding Vikings Defense with Intensity Despite Offseason Physicality Limits

EAGAN, Minn. – Somebody forgot to tell the Vikings defense it's only May.

Sure, there's no tackling to conclude a play, but there are competitive reps and all kinds of pre-snap movements.

The defense came out all cylinders firing earlier this week, when Minnesota held its first Organized Team Activity practice at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.

The offensive players are taking it all in — or at least trying to at this point.

"Exotic. They're exotic. A lot of coverages, a lot of movement from the fronts. I'm not even in there, and I can see it," Vikings receiver K.J. Osborn said Tuesday. "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."

Running back Alexander Mattison, whom the Vikings signed to an extension this spring, called the defense "intense."

View photos from the Vikings OTA practice which took place on May 23 at the TCO Performance Center.

He and the Vikings backfield already are getting a run for their money, Mattison noted.

"Those 'backers and the way they're moving around and the way they're lining up out of the gate is intense, and it's going to make us a better football team," he said. "I'd love to see it [be a problem] for other teams. It's got to be a problem, and for us, it's going to make us a lot better on offense.

Day 1 yesterday, the way they came out, it was extremely intense."

New Vikings Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores smiled Wednesday when he heard the words "intense" and "exotic" had been used to describe the unit.

"Mattison's pretty intense, too," he quipped.

Flores acknowledged the competitive nature he's already seen from the Vikings defense, and he emphasized that he and his coaching staff are installing an aggressive system and mindset.

There may be four-plus months before Minnesota plays a regular-season game, but setting the tone early is important.

"Building an identity is a big part of the defense in this league. It's early, but that's part of it, too," Flores said. "Every time we step on the practice field – 'What is our identity? What are people going to say about us?' Not that we're worried about that, but what do we want to look like? That's a lot of the conversation that's had.

"We'll continue to have it, and we'll continue to work to put that product on the field that we've talked about," he added.

Second-year safety Lewis Cine loves Flores' approach.

"If we want to be a championship team, we've got to practice like a championship team does. That's kind of the mindset and mentality going forward. I like that," Cine said. "I mean, respectfully and humbly, I've won everywhere I've gone, so I don't really plan to stop it here."

View photos from the Vikings OTA practice which took place on May 22 at the TCO Performance Center.

Flores urges intensity but also stresses the importance of practicing within the league's offseason guidelines, of course, and in a way that keeps teammates safe.

Marcus Davenport told media members following Tuesday's practice that he's having to "learn the pace" as OTAs get underway.

"We're trying to take care of each other," Davenport said. "We kind of brought it. But that was our fault. So we're adjusting. They handled it quite well."

Left tackle Christian Darrisaw spoke for the offense in confirming Davenport's comments.

"It's crazy. We're only on Day 2 of OTAs, and B-Flo's already bringing looks you'd think we'd be getting on day 15," Darrisaw laughed, shaking his head. "But it's only going to help us get better, and I'm excited just to watch those boys fly around when they're playing a different opponent.

"Those looks, we weren't seeing those last year. We'd get into games and teams would run out a certain defense, and we were negatively affected," Darrisaw continued. "Now we're getting to practice against it every day, and it's just not one certain [system] like 4-3, 3-4. He brings it all."

View photos of the Vikings 2023 coaching staff.

Flores loves coaching the details for every defender on Minnesota's roster, regardless of how any became Vikings.

"We teach every guy the same," he said. "I've told our guys this – I don't care where they came from. By what means they got to this team, first round, free agent, undrafted. When you come here, you put in the work, you find a way to learn and apply what you've learned … you'll have an opportunity."

As Flores prepares for his first season in Minnesota, he's grateful for a talented and creative coaching staff that includes Mike Siravo (inside linebackers), Mike Smith (outside linebackers/pass rush specialist) and Daronte Jones (defensive backs) among others.

"It's collaborative in a lot of ways. I think they understand my nature, as far as wanting to be aggressive, but not reckless," Flores said. "I think we're all trying to find out what our guys do best and put them in positions to do what they do well."