EAGAN, Minn. — The relationship between Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and new Defensive Coordinator has evolved over the past 15 years.
In 2008, O'Connell was a draft pick selected by the Patriots in the third round and Flores was transitioning from New England's scouting department to the sidelines as a special teams assistant.
Although their NFL careers steered them in different directions, O'Connell and Flores reconnected this offseason and are continuing to evolve the relationship.
The offensive-based head coach who is preparing for his second year in the role was able to add Flores' expertise on defense, as well as his experience as head coach of the Miami Dolphins from 2019-21.
They converse multiple times daily, ranging from broad-ranging philosophical questions O'Connell has to "subtle things with how we're going to practice."
"In a lot of ways, I'm fascinated by just learning right alongside some of our guys when I'm not installing things on offense and handling some of the other things that I have to do," O'Connell said Saturday. "I like to just sit in the back with a pen and paper and try to learn myself.
"Something I knew that would take place that's been really cool for me is his former experience as a head coach, having just another former head coach in the building that I can bounce things off of and talk through things offensively and defensively," O'Connell added. "[He] has a great understanding of the kicking game with [Special Teams Coordinator] Matt Daniels. I told our team I feel really, really good about the alignment of our schemes and our play callers in all three phases. I couldn't be more pleased with where we're at right now. We've got to compete against each other every day. He makes life hard on us at times, so maybe if you ask me in a week or two, I might not have such a rosy answer, but it's been great so far."
O'Connell and Flores want to have a defense that can "do a lot of things out of a lot of different personnel groupings that carry over to the others."
"There's going to be mistakes made, and what I love about him the most is in that meeting room, the accountability and just how much the players are responding to that," O'Connell said. "You see the improvement the very next day. I still think back to a play Cam Bynum made in a 2-minute [drill] in the spring where I can remember sitting in the back and hearing Flo' and [defensive backs coach] Daronte [Jones] make a coaching point about a certain look, and the very next day, the exact same scenario came up and he was able to make a play on the ball and intercept the ball to end the 2-minute period.
"That's the type of things you look for as the head coach," O'Connell added. "I am in full confidence of the coaching of our schemes, but when you start seeing that immediate turnaround and player ownership of things, it gets you really excited, knowing that you've got the right guys."
View photos of players during 2023 Vikings Training Camp practice on July 28 at the TCO Performance Center.
Here are three other takeaways from O'Connell's media session.
1. Nailor injury update
O'Connell provided an update on wide receiver Jalen Nailor, who participated in the team's first training camp practice Wednesday but was a non-participant Thursday and Friday.
"Jalen sustained kind of a contact leg injury in a clean play on a competitive ball in the air," O'Connell said. "He's day-to-day. We're hoping to turn him over and have him pretty ready to roll, here, hopefully early next week. I'll keep you guys posted, but Jalen's doing really well."
O'Connell also re-emphasized the positive progress Brian O'Neill has been making in his rehab from an Achilles injury suffered late last season.
2. Continuing dialogue with Danielle Hunter
O'Connell assured that business conversations are continuing with Danielle Hunter, who is at the team facility but has not been participating in practices.
"We're still kind of in that ongoing process daily, where Danielle's in the building [and] I'm having daily dialogue personally with him," O'Connell said.
He emphasized that Hunter has "played a lot of football.".
"But my hope is he'll be out on the practice field with us sooner rather than later. He's been great, and I'm just looking forward to taking it a day at a time," O'Connell said. "Like I said, I have not tried to hide my feelings. Danielle Hunter's 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 explained Hunter still has a "schedule" he's sticking to despite not being on-field.
"Making sure whether it's physical or above the neck and just trying to get himself prepared as we continue to work through that positive outcome, positive solution which, like I said, having 99 in Purple would be my choice in that," O'Connell said. "[We want to make] sure we use the time we have so that not only we feel really good about his personal situation but, more importantly, Danielle feels really good about that situation. So a lot goes into it.
"The day-to-day communication's probably the most important thing to me, and he's been great about that," O'Connell added.
3. 'Synergy' with outside body coaches
In his conversation with media members last week, Kirk Cousins explained that for the first time in his career, he opted to hire a full-time “body coach” to work with him independently from the team.
O'Connell said there's also the possibility that Cousins could complete some of that work with his body coach at the team facility.
"I absolutely think it's possible for synergy just because of what we have set up with [Executive Director of Player Health and Performance] Tyler [Williams] and already what Tyler, [Head Athletic Trainer] Uriah [Myrie] and [Director of Player Performance] Josh [Hingst] do for our players, and we're constantly bringing in – whether it's massage therapists, the ART (Active Release Technique) [therapists], different things that help our players at different times of the season, different times of the year," O'Connell said. "I've been around some players and teammates who have had people come out and make sure – whatever helps, you know, from a time-management standpoint, if we can do that here and can help those guys out, and we're certainly lucky to have a facility that allows us to do that and a space to do that.
"I think it's a great idea," O'Connell added. "I think along the lines with what you guys and our fans saw [in the Netflix Quarterback documentary] in terms of [Kirk's] preparation for games, that's in total alignment with where he's at, and it's really cool to see him as he continues to carve away and shape what that process looks like for him for the rigors of a regular season."