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Vikings Embodying Togetherness, Reaping Rewards of Connectivity

EAGAN, Minn. – You can't force camaraderie.

But the Vikings this season simply have it – a unique chemistry within the team that shows up on game days and beyond.

"We're really close-knit. Everybody has each other's backs, it's not really cliquey. I hang out with offensive people, you know, people hang out with me, special teams, all alike," linebacker Eric Kendricks said. "We're all in this together, and I'm blessed to be a part of this locker room."

Tight end Johnny Mundt spoke about togetherness after scoring his first career touchdown in Sunday's defeat of Arizona.

"[It's] collective as a team, with the defense buying into our process, our way," Mundt said. "There's a lot of unity going on. It's very special to be part of it."

Especially impressive is the bond that so quickly forged among Minnesota's defense, which added several new faces this spring and summer.

The Vikings signed Harrison Phillips, Jordan Hicks, Za'Darius Smith, Chandon Sullivan and Jonathan Bullard in free agency; Minnesota brought back Patrick Peterson for a second season in purple and elevated Cameron Dantzler, Sr., into the other starting outside cornerback role.

Then, they added a new defensive scheme and coaching staff on top of that.

No one would be surprised if the unit took a while to really get to know one another and feel united, but it hasn't taken much time at all.

Harrison Smith, drafted in 2012 by Minnesota, has seen plenty of players come and go; he emphasized the difference in this season's roster.

"I've never really seen that many guys added and really come in and impact the locker room, and you can feel it right away," Smith said. "It's pretty special."

Smith noted that "a lot" of factors can attribute to a team's chemistry, but noted the importance of it at the leadership level.

The Vikings are under the direction of first-year General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Head Coach Kevin O'Connell, who have stressed the importance of collaboration and trust since they arrived.

"From really the first meeting in the spring that I had with the team, we didn't talk about Xs and Os; we didn't talk about football philosophy; we talked about culture," O'Connell said Monday. "We talked about what the hope would be to build within our locker room, within our building. How do we all become the best versions of ourselves? How do we all become the best collective group as this year's version of the Minnesota Vikings? I feel very strongly about some core principles of really what it looks like."

Smith observed that O'Connell and Adofo-Mensah have brought in the right types of players and retained players who already have been leaders in the Vikings locker room.

"Leadership from the head coach, the GM, the coordinators – a trickle-down effect," Smith said.

Hicks played for the Eagles (2015-18) and the Cardinals (2019-21) before joining the Vikings this spring. After riding the emotions of facing his former team, the linebacker praised leadership "from the top down" in Minnesota and credited the team's current success to culture.

"You know, it starts upstairs, and they've done a great job getting everybody on the same page, communicating, listening to the players, but then directing, as well," Hicks said. "K.O. (O'Connell) has done a great job every week – week in and week out, we know what the game plan is. I understand what the offense is trying to do. The offense understands what the defense is trying to do.

"The leadership and the direction our leaders is impeccable," he added. "That's what you have to have."

Phillips echoed much of Hicks' sentiment and pointed all the way back to this spring when players first got together for Organized Team Activities.

He noted that team building was important to Adofo-Mensah, O'Connell and Vikings Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell, among several other coaches.

"[We as] leaders have to act as sponges and take their [desires for] and image of the team and break that down to the player level," Phillips said. "I think we just did that in a really solid way, and as the season goes, we're only going to get closer and closer and closer."

Phillips has been part of the Vikings organization less than a year but already is as close to teammates in Minnesota as he is with friends he's grown up with.

"I think it's a really cool [result of] fighting and sweating and grinding with these guys every day," he said.

Za'Darius Smith is no stranger to winning teams, having played for talented Ravens and Packers teams before signing as a free agent in Minnesota. The outside linebacker was asked Sunday if he believes the Vikings feel like a "great" team. And, if so, why?

"Yes," Smith said. "Because as a group … we're treated like family. Everybody is treated like family. [Coach O'Connell] wants to know what the players want, and that's a good thing to have on a football team. As you can see, 6-1, it's a great feeling."


View postgame celebration photos from the Vikings 34-26 win over the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium on Oct. 30.

That's exactly what O'Connell has emphasized since being hired as Minnesota's 10th head coach in franchise history.

"We try to just build an environment here, where we work incredibly hard to attack each and every week. We do it together. We hold each other accountable – that's coaches to players, players to coaches and everybody in between," he said. "The only thing that I can control as the head coach, is … I want to be the same guy every single day. Through the highs and the lows, I want to be consistently leading from the front and being somebody that our guys and our players, both veterans and young players, as the example of what our standard is.

"I told our team Saturday night, I feel like they've not only taken the ownership of that, but they've also taken it to a place that I didn't know was really possible," O'Connell added. "Eight weeks into the season, and we've been able to do that, and the results have only helped that. But our process to get there is what matters the most to me."