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Turns out, plenty were ready for Vikings Training Camp.
Not just the quarterbacks, rookies and select veterans who reported July 23, or the remaining players who checked in before last Tuesday's deadline.
Fans were ready to see their initial look at the 2023 squad and were able to get their first glimpses on Saturday at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center. They added to a festive atmosphere as part of Back Together Weekend presented by The Salvation Army.
Saturday's session, in which Justin Jefferson put on a show, also included picks by recent Vikings draft picks Lewis Cine, Andrew Booth, Jr. and Mekhi Blackmon. Undrafted rookie NaJee Thompson also nabbed one in the session.
WATCH: Monday's practice is scheduled to be broadcast in the Twin Cities on FOX 9 KMSP and streamed on Vikings.com, starting at 2 p.m. (CT).
Players received a scheduled off day Sunday, but the front office kept rolling along, confirming the finalization of a deal with Danielle Hunter.
View photos of players during 2023 Vikings Training Camp practice on July 29 at the TCO Performance Center.
So we'll start there and flow into questions about new Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores.
I am glad to see [Hunter] back for one year. He makes our defense so much better.
— Gerald Goblirsch
In an offseason where fans have dealt with other departures of experienced veterans, including Hunter's 2015 draft classmate Eric Kendricks, I'm joining most out there in thinking the deal should help the 2023 Vikings.
Hunter will bring his experience and elite talent to a group that's still relatively young. His presence also will enable Flores to be more flexible in using different personnel groups to pressure quarterbacks.
Opponents also will have to spend some time prepping for Hunter or face some consequences.
Editor's Note: The following question was sent before the deal was announced Sunday. I still wanted to include.
Just wondering if you had any extra insight on the Danielle Hunter situation than what we can find on our own. When the news broke that Brian Flores was taking over as defensive coordinator there seemed to be a mutual interest between player and coach to tackle the season together. Between the amount of cap space we still have, combined with the lack of proven depth at the position currently on the roster and injury history for Marcus Davenport, it feels like it should be a no-brainer for the Vikings to find a way to get something done with Hunter for at least the 2023 season.
— Skol, Todd
I have not spoken directly with Danielle recently, but I do know how driven he is as a player to be as great as he possibly can. In that respect, I have great reason to believe he's excited about working with Flores, who shared his thoughts on Hunter last week.
"Danielle is a phenomenal player. He's a guy who has had a lot of success over the course of his career," Flores said last Wednesday. "He's an impact player who brings an element of rush and is overall solid (versus) the run and pass. He's someone who must be taken into account of where he is at so he does not cause havoc to the game offensively.
"I think he is a great player. I look forward to working with him," he added. "I met with him individually [Tuesday]. That was a good conversation. I am excited to work with him."
O'Connell spoke about the current situation — Hunter is under contract for 2023, but he did not participate in the voluntary offseason workout program or mandatory minicamp and is not practicing — on Saturday.
"We're still kind of in that ongoing process daily, where Danielle is in the building. I'm having daily dialogue, personally, with him," O'Connell said. "Danielle Hunter is a very special player, and as soon as we can get him out here, you guys will see him out here, and our fans will see him out here."
O'Connell said Hunter has a schedule but declined to get into the details. It's likely they'll slowly ramp him up with the goal of being ready for the Week 1 opener against Tampa Bay.
"We continue to kind of work toward that positive outcome, positive solution, which like I said, having him hopefully in 99 in Purple would be my choice on that," O'Connell added.
Davenport was added through a one-year deal after five seasons in New Orleans. A first-round pick in 2018, he has appeared in 63 games and made 32 starts. Davenport and D.J. Wonnum have taken first-team reps at outside linebacker so far during camp.
Davenport's sacks have fluctuated in the NFL, going from 4.5 to 6.0 to 1.5 to 9.0 to 0.5.
Kudos for the calm that O'Connell, General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and others showed as they worked toward a resolution, even if it's only for one year at the moment.
View photos of Vikings S Harrison Smith at training camp from over the years.
Any chance Brian Flores sticks around to see this championship push through?
The turnover we've experienced at coordinator positions over the last decade is extremely discouraging. And while it's great to see guys like Kevin Stefanski move on, it isn't always to greener pastures. If Kwesi and Kevin are really building a beast here in Minneapolis, do you think Brian Flores might want to be on the ship more than he might want to jump ship for some rudderless franchise as the head guy?
— Matt Boffa in Newtown, Pennsylvania
I believe the defense will certainly be better because of Flores. My question is how long or short will Flores' career be with the Vikings?
— Kevin Porter
Combining these thoughts from Matt and Kevin as we keep focus on the defense.
To Matt's point, the turnover at defensive coordinator has quietly crept up to what we saw at offensive coordinator in recent years.
This is the fourth time since 2019 for Minnesota to have a new defensive coordinator (George Edwards, 2014-19; Andre Patterson and Adam Zimmer, 2020-21; Ed Donatell, 2022).
The short and honest answer is I don't know how long Flores will be here.
If the defense makes improvements — remember that unit has ranked in the bottom 10 in scoring and total defense in each of the past three years — Flores is likely to gain some attention and consideration for a head coaching spot.
Stefanski's climb is really impressive. He progressed from an opportunity as an assistant to former head coach Brad Childress in 2006 to becoming an offensive coordinator and then Cleveland's head coach in 15 seasons. That might sound protracted, but it's fast by traditional standards. He earned the promotions he received at every step and remained incredibly humble and gracious along the way.
I can understand the allure of becoming one of 32 head coaches because I appreciate the privilege of having any role with an NFL team on the business or football side. I also wonder about an alternate NFL universe where Stefanski had stayed put a little longer. I honestly think about alternate NFL universes from time to time, not just on what Matt asked about.
I think Mike Zimmer gave everything he could to take the Vikings where he did and left them off better than he found them. There's no way Stefanski probably envisioned Minnesota having an opening in 2022 when he took the Cleveland job in 2020. Would that have changed his decision? They always say hindsight is 20/20.
Ultimately, though, the Vikings did make a change just before O'Connell became available, and he went on to turn in the best results ever by a first-year Vikings head coach. Current Vikings Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips garnered some mentions for roles elsewhere after last season but is back for a second year with the Vikings.
O'Connell talked Saturday for a bit about how much he’s enjoyed Flores’ presence so far.
So far in camp, we've had one media session with Flores, and he's scheduled to speak again today.
In case you missed it, you can check out last week's session in the video below:
Toward the end of the session, he said, "The good defenses I've been around, they have a lot of fun. We are going to try and do that."
"I'm not Mr. Rah-Rah Fun Guy, as you guys can probably tell. But I try to have my fun through the players," Flores added. "That is a point of emphasis, and hopefully we are doing that through training camp, preseason and all the way through."
Like I began advising folks last season when the Vikings opened with so much success, I'd recommend enjoying the enjoyable moments instead of worrying about when they might end. That's the case in a league with very few guarantees.
Will there ever be a schedule release of the jersey colors for the season?
How will we get back to the real Purple People Eaters defense Vikings are known for? I feel we have the talent. I just want to know do others feel the same way?
— Ian Wimberly
Appreciate the question on announcing the full season of uniforms, and I'm not saying it will never happen, but we have been announcing uniform combos during the weeks of games.
As for the second question, I think the first step is realizing the Vikings are quite removed from that era that helped fuel a decade of dominance.
According to NFL Media Research, Minnesota is the second team since 1950 to allow 25-plus points per game and 380-plus yards per game in three consecutive seasons. The other team was Cincinnati from 2018-20.
The Bengals improved their defensive rankings in points against from 30th in 2018 to 25th in 2019 to 22nd in 2020 to 17th in 2021 when they made it all the way to Super Bowl LVI. Last season, the group ranked sixth.
Zac Taylor was hired as the head coach in 2019, and he brought in Defensive Coordinator Lou Anarumo that season. Cincinnati has seemed to have some hits with its free agent signees on defense that don't get as much attention as quarterback Joe Burrow.
View home and away photos of the Vikings 2023 regular season schedule.
The Vikings hope to have similar success with players they've tried to strategically add while working against a tight salary cap.
Flores and the coaching staff have a few areas of the game they could target as they try to make improvements for the defense. Since 2020, Minnesota has forced opponents to go three-and-out on 23.4 percent of drives, the lowest rate in the NFL in that span. The Lions rate of 25.1 percent is the next-worst mark.
Minnesota's sacks total fell from 51 in 2021 to 38 last season, and the team's QB pressure rate in 2022 was 25.8 percent, which ranked 25th in the NFL.
While Davenport's sacks have fluctuated a bit, his career QB pressure percentage of 15.1 is the fourth-highest among 131 players with 1,000 or more pass-rush snaps since 2018, according to NFL Media Research.
Combine Hunter's return and Flores' commitment to be aggressive without being reckless, and there could be more pressure coming at quarterbacks in 2023.
Well first off, I drink the purple Kool-Aid, and it sure tastes good right now. I am so excited for this coming season. What are your thoughts on the free agent pick up of Josh Oliver? I think it was a great move by Kwesi to go out and add him. How does he fit in to Coach O'Connell's offense?
— Minnesota Joe (currently working in Arizona)
Phillips was asked last week about involvement of a fullback in the offense and used the opportunity to draw a dotted line to using multiple tight ends after first speaking well of FB C.J. Ham. Phillips and O'Connell think the variety of personnel groupings they have will allow them to attack opponents in targeted ways.
"When you just look at his production, a lot of it last year with Baltimore was in the run game," Phillips said of Oliver, "but he was also a guy coming out that we all graded that was very productive in the pass game. He's just a big physical player."
T.J. Hockenson was asked about Oliver last week, as well.
"That's my dog. He's obviously, you see him, and he's such a big guy," Hockenson said. "To be able to be in the huddle with a guy like that, you just feel safe. It's great to be alongside him. Great football knowledge."
It would be shocking if the offense doesn't go through Jefferson because of how singular his talents are, but there are multiple options for O'Connell and Phillips to attack opponents based on what defenses do to try to slow down Jefferson's impact. I expect Oliver's contributions to be noticed in the run game and the pass game.