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Monday Morning Mailbag: Defensive Coordinator Process Continues

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Congratulations to the seven Vikings who participated in the 2023 Pro Bowl Games and emerged victoriously over the AFC. The event was re-envisioned this year in Las Vegas to center on flag football contests and skills challenges. It was entertaining and offered chances to see players with their helmets off for a change.

View photos of Vikings players competing in the 2023 Pro Bowl Game in Las Vegas.

Will that be the future of the all-star event? I don't know. They've tried so much to reinvent the game in the last several years by going "unconferenced" and having drafts to celebrity coaches. This year blended a bit of that.

Biased, but I think the NFL regular-season and playoff contests are so impressive and enjoyable to watch that the recent years of players in pads and helmets not going full-throttle seemed lower than the standard set in games that count.

Curious to know what you all thought of the format.

Be sure to check out this recap by colleague Lindsey Young who arrived in Las Vegas last Thursday and will have a couple more cool features from the trip this week.

The largest current storyline with the team — the open defensive coordinator position — remains front-and-center for a lot of emailers, so we'll start there.

What is going on with the DC hiring process? We've read that a few interviews were conducted, one of which was already hired. No word on any other candidates scheduled to be interviewed. When can we expect a decision? There are and will be other teams looking for a DC when they fill their HC vacancy, so shouldn't we get on with it, so we don't lose our top candidate?

— Paul in Apple Valley, Minnesota

As of today, I have seen the names Ryan Nielsen (hired by Falcons), Sean Desai, Mike Pettine and Brian Flores. That's it? Where are the successful coaches like Gregg Williams and Rex Ryan? If this is the best they can do, we are doomed to have another disastrous defense. I don't want some young coach who just sees this as a stepping stone to a head coaching job. Get me someone who just wants to be a great DC (ala the late Jimmy Johnson with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers).

— Eric Walker in New York

Paul's email was sent last Monday, and a week later, no hire has been made heading into this week (Eric's was sent Thursday).

Nielsen, Desai, Pettine and Flores are the four who have participated in official interviews confirmed by the Vikings. Media reported last week that Desai removed his name from consideration.

I think this NFL offseason has shown just how interconnected dominoes can be across the league.

I've seen some people anxious for a hire to happen, and I understand wanting to have the new hire in place sooner than later, but with candidates looking at different types of openings, there have been multiple factors that have necessitated time.

To his credit, Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell is trying to be as thorough as possible and has exercised patience in making an incredibly important hire. There's still two-plus months before players will begin the 2023 offseason workout program.

Last year, O'Connell could not be hired by the Vikings until after the Rams season ended, but I think most would agree he was worth the wait. He had to quickly put an entire staff together in mid-February.

Now, he's examining each candidate's plan for the roster and a unit that is quite seasoned at some spots and incredibly youthful at others.

To Eric's point, I'd say that the four coaches named initially have had their set of successes. Williams and Ryan have as well, but the Eagles can provide a counter for not wanting an "up-and-comer."

Philadelphia's Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon is probably someone that wasn't known by huge circles, despite his years as an assistant coach. He's only 40 years old and interviewed for head coaching positions last year. Based on what I observed from working for the Titans when he was there and the Vikings when he was here, I expect him to continue to be successful in whatever he attempts.

Gannon's ambition and possible future goals did not prevent him from helping the Eagles reach the Super Bowl.

Hello and SKOL! What direction do you think we're going in with the defense and who do you think is the best hire for the job? Thank you in advance!

— Paul Marquez

While I won't weigh-in on "best hire," I'd imagine the person hired will be interested in attacking more on defense.

It's a group that hasn't had good statistics for three consecutive seasons and has contractual question marks on the horizon.

I'm sure that O'Connell is gathering candidates' assessments of the group and vision for players who were here and players who are becoming free agents (or will be available in the draft) to enable the new defense to improve.

John Randle (for a small player) created chaos for offenses back in the day. Our defense needs to become John Randles. Look at old film. John Randle was hungry for quarterbacks. We need a hungry defense — all of them.

Randle's intensity and ability went hand-in-hand. There are plays were you just shake your head sometimes and appreciate never having to try to block him.

The quickness, power and agility were all elite, but he just always seemed to have more than the opponent more times than not.

I'm not saying there aren't players on the Vikings roster who have similar fires, but I would like to point out just how unique Randle is. It's so great that Randle is still in Minnesota and has been welcome around the team facilities to continue to mentor young players.

Like I said, I expect whoever is hired to attack more than we saw in the past year.

Figuring the Vikes will need to cut some playmakers to get under the cap, as well as provide funds to sign some free agents. I would focus on quality pass rushers. Any secondary will be exposed without pressure up front, and the Vikings had little in 2022, regardless of the sack counts. We drafted corners last year, and a strong upfront push will make a difference as we go back to 4-3. The days of [Chris] Doleman, [Keith] Millard, and [Henry] Thomas in the middle is what I hope we return to.

— "Saratoga Ralph"

It's understandable why folks would love to see the type of team production that Doleman, Millard, Thomas and Co. produced.

Pass rush and coverage are interconnected, and we saw what happened to the Vikings defense when Danielle Hunter was injured for all of 2020 and most of 2021.

Hunter and Za'Darius Smith accounted for the majority of Minnesota’s pass rush. It seemed like the whole group was really starting to make strides before Dalvin Tomlinson was sidelined because of a calf injury he suffered against Arizona.

Smith's production waned from an absolute flamethrowing start, and Hunter heated up from a slow start as the season progressed. Both of those guys are under contract to return, so will the new coordinator try to maximize each even more, or can the Vikings boost production at another spot?

I am a lifelong fan of this organization thinking about solutions to our situation. What I have come up with is risky but would bolster the team for the foreseeable future. Not everyone would agree with this part, but it needs to be done.

First, we seek out a trade for [Kirk] Cousins, which I am thinking this year's second and third round draft picks as well as next year's third. We trade [Dalvin] Cook for this year's third and possibly a seventh-round pick. Restructure [Adam] Thielen, which would give us a solid [No.] 3/4 on the roster. Trade [Danielle] Hunter for a possible fifth-round pick and trade our first-round pick and hopefully gather both a second and fourth round pick for this year. Restructure/cut some defensive members and extend [Justin Jefferson], leaving us with approximately nine picks for this year's draft. We could use some of our top one hundred picks to bolster our defense and add some pieces to our offense such as Interior lineman, maybe a QB and a HB and picking up a QB in free agency to fill in for the 2023 season without breaking the bank. I am looking forward to watching how our team moves forward and reminding our opponents that this is indeed SKOL Nation. Thanks,

— Jonathan Knauer

Including all of Jonathan's proposal doesn't mean I agree or disagree with any or all of it, but I did appreciate the time he's put into multiple scenarios.

That's quite a few proposed moves, as well as a high emphasis on the draft for a team coming off a 13-4 season with a division title.

Do the Vikings think they've arrived? Absolutely not. Will they be able to equal last season's results in 2023 against what is likely to be a tougher schedule with or without dramatic moves? I don't know.

I do have a general intrigue about finally seeing Cousins play consecutive seasons with the same play caller and in the same system.

I'm not going to wade far into the draft valuation waters, because that is well beyond me, but I would say the proposed trade Hunter for a fifth doesn't sound very fair, given the fact he's only 28 years old and has 71 career sacks through 102 games.

Jared Allen had 43 career sacks through 61 games with the Chiefs before Kansas City got a first and two thirds (and swapped sixth-round selections) from Minnesota.

More recently, the trade that sent Khalil Mack from the Raiders to the Bears involved two first-round selections (2019 and 2020) going from Chicago as part of the deal. Mack was 27 and had 40.5 sacks through 64 games at that time. The Chargers picked him up last spring at age 31 for a second and a sixth.

I noticed that more often than not the play clock is under 15 seconds when the Vikings break the huddle and around 10 by the time team full team is set at the line. Is this by design so the OL does not have to "hold their water" too long? Seems to me it limits the offense's ability to audible or even make blocking adjustments.

Do you think, as I do, that tempo is something that needs more focus?

SKOL Vikings! Thanks for a 2022 season that surpassed anyone's preseason expectations!

— Jeff in Jackson, Mississippi

I think there are some games when I could probably cast all of my attention on the game within the game that happens between snaps.

I think playing within a rhythm is important and being able to adjust for certain situations is also valuable. Sometimes a strong 2-minute drive at the end of the first half can really light a fire in the second half. That's usually with no-huddle and calling plays out fast (and with a reduction of types of plays).

There are some games where teams want to lengthen the time between snaps (underdogs vs. favorites may try to take the air out of the ball a bit and use every second of the play clock). That tactic also could be used if the offense is trying to give the defense an extended breather.

Generating offensive tempo can come with a risk of a quick three-and-out.

But, you're also correct in the time before the snap offering an opportunity to size up the defense and make adjustments. The communications device from the sideline to the quarterback goes out with 15 seconds on the play clock. This past season involved Cousins reacting and communicating at the line more than in years past, and that's one of the reasons I want to see him in the system with the same play caller for a second consecutive year.

There's probably an ideal amount of time to ask the big fellas up front to hold their stance without flinching and getting a false start.

I hope that KAM & KOC paid attention and keep three QBs on the roster as it is too important a position to not to. I also hope they continue to get more explosive by keeping Cook and giving [Kene] Nwangwu and [Ty] Chandler more snaps and all of them more go and crossing routes versus stationary routes that don't gain as much yardage. Hopefully, they re-sign PP (Patrick Peterson) and add a good veteran CB to go with him & [Duke] Shelley. Hopefully, they will add a good DT pass rusher and an aggressive defensive coordinator. SKOL

— Allen Carter

I really wish the NFL could figure out an exception or rule adjustment of some type to allow a third quarterback to be on the roster (with protection from being poached off a practice squad) without counting against the 53. It would provide a layer of injury insurance.

That said, some teams make sure to keep three on the 53, and others ride with two because of needs at other positions.

I feel like the Vikings have a really good understanding of what they have in Cook, but Nwangwu and Chandler haven't had as many in-game looks.

Crossing routes could be a good way to stretch the defense sideline to sideline if an opponent is playing man.

Peterson turned in a strong season, and Shelley came from an unsung role on the practice squad to play well once he was elevated.

Adding to the interior pass rush threats can only help, if you ask me.

Will the Vikings trade for Trey Lance?

— Wyatt Pohlen

I know Lance is incredibly beloved in Minnesota, particularly in the Marshall area where droves of fans traveled from last summer for the joint practices between the 49ers and Vikings.

San Francisco seems to have another QB conundrum on its hands. Whatever happens with Lance will be connected to where they think he is and whether they think Brock Purdy is capable of matching the remarkable success he had with the team as its third-string QB after becoming Mr. Irrelevant (the final pick of the 2022 NFL Draft. Purdy's injury in the NFC Championship Game at Philadelphia adds to what San Francisco will have to evaluate.

FSU QB Jordan Travis needs to be on the Vikings radar for 2024.

— Richard A. Muñoz

I've explained in a previous Mailbag how I'm just now getting caught up on the draft class of 2023, so I won't pretend to be an expert on Travis, who could have left campus for this year's NFL Draft instead of returning to Florida State.

I appreciate Richard's comment because it provides a reminder of the long-term planning that every college scouting department does with an eye on players who will be eligible each year, as well as those who return to college.

Keeping tabs on that in the past couple of years has been extra work because of the eligibility expansions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

View home and away photos of the Vikings 2023 regular season schedule.

Trade Cook. He is no good on short yardage. Need O and D lineman.

— Arvig

I think the Vikings team can improve on short yardage and it's not just all on Cook.

There were several runs this season when the backfield was disrupted and Cook was stopped before he got started. That's not on him if a defender gains access to the backfield as he's getting the ball.

We NEED TO PUT THE MONEY INTO THE DEFENSE. Thee!!!! back field!!!!! had trouble contesting the PASS!!!!!! and stopping the RUN!!!!!.

Are we at all concerned with our backs and safeties or maybe the front line?

We lost our last few games because of our lack of awareness. We got passed on. We got ran on, and Kirk and J.J. can't always put the points up to make up for the lack of defense.

What will Minnesota do next year to better last year's oopsies ON DEFENSE?

— Rich Martineau

Well, the first step is hiring the new defensive coordinator. There's no doubt that making improvements in that area will be paramount to the entire team's success.

Adjustments to personnel will be guided by the coordinator's philosophy and scheme. The coordinator will work with the pro and college scouting department to say what will work best in the scheme, and the leaders will evaluate the roster that's set to return, as well as how to make up for anything the team doesn't think it has yet.

View the best photos of the Vikings outside linebackers, ZaDarius Smith, Danielle Hunter, D.J. Wonnum, Patrick Jones II and Luiji Villian during the 2022 season.

The horrible draft of 2021 will hurt the Vikings for years. They struck gold moving down to get a superstar in [Christian] Darrisaw but whiffed on four third-round picks, as well as multiple picks in Rounds 4 and 5. Passing on [Talanoa] Hufanga, Trey Smith, Marco Wilson just to name a couple. We need to bring in a first-rate team to handle the draft as the Vikings continue to get little help from it. See 2022 as well.

— Mike Grosser

Hufanga appears to be quite a fifth-round find. Smith was a sixth-round selection by Kansas City, and Wilson was a fourth-round selection by Arizona at cornerback.

Darrisaw should encourage everyone for what they've seen from him and the fact that he was available at No. 23, which is where the Vikings are scheduled to pick (24th overall spot but 23rd selection because Miami forfeited its first-round pick).

Trading down to get four third-round selections in 2021 did not work since Kellen Mond, Chazz Surratt and Wyatt Davis are no longer on the Vikings (Pat Jones II is the only third-rounder from that year still with Minnesota). There are several players across the league who have made larger impacts for the teams that drafted them than Mond, Surratt and Davis.

The change in GM and head coach (and offense, defense and special teams) could have factored into the quick departures, but it's likely the sooner a team moves on from players it decides aren't in the long-term future, the better off it probably is for everyone.

View the best photos of the Vikings defensive line during the 2022 season.

I've been a Viking fan since the '90s and wondering if Kirk Cousins could get the Vikings to a Super Bowl or if Minnesota is still searching for its franchise QB?

Thanks for taking time to read my question.

— Christopher Aldrich

Trade him to a different team since he has done nothing to get the team to the playoffs only to lose in the Wild Card Round.

— Florence Dahl

Please do not get rid of Adam Thielen!!!!! Smarter move is to get rid of Kirk.

— Kathy Stanton

Grouping these together because they offer varying schools of thought.

Side note: I sometimes wonder what it would be like for Cousins if he played in the pre-social media era.

It seems like it's possible to line up supporters and critics every day. Pitting the groups against each other daily and weekly is even an approach media personalities have taken.

I'm not saying people don't deserve a right to have an opinion on Cousins or any other player for that matter. It's part of being passionate fans.

Cousins has climbed NFL and Vikings leaderboards and he's provided a level of continuity for the Vikings at a position that has been evasive since Fran Tarkenton and to a lesser degree Tommy Kramer or Daunte Culpepper.

Does that mean that Cousins can get the Vikings back to the Super Bowl for the first time since Tarkenton was under center? I don't know. I think we can all agree this year's squad exceeded expectations but somehow managed to never fully play its best for entire games.

Eight fourth-quarter comebacks in one season tied an NFL record. Teammates rallied around and with the QB this season in some ways we had not seen before, and the whole team benefited in those moments.

It's going to be tough to get much in return if leaders at other NFL teams value Cousins at the rate of his critics, but it also could be that some value what they've seen from him against anyone else as much as Cousins most ardent supporters.

View the best photos of Vikings quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Nick Mullens during the 2022-23 season.