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Harrison Phillips & Josh Metellus Welcome Return of Brian Flores & 2024 Vikings Plans

EAGAN, Minn. — Harrison Phillips, now heading into his seventh NFL season, has learned to expect change with every offseason.

"When guys leave in free agency, that's always one of the hardest things about the game," said Phillips, who signed with Minnesota in 2022 after beginning his career with Buffalo. "I think I learned more each year how to go about that. My rookie year, I was super tight with guys and thought that we would be best friends forever. And then they're gone, and you never see them.

"Each year, I've kind of dealt with the business side of it differently," Phillips added. "And so I have a mature understanding of how this business works now and an optimism about what we're building here and what these guys have been doing for the last two years."

Phillips described himself as "pretty optimistic about it all" and added he believes in the staff "wholeheartedly."

That's a bit easier with how he's connected with Head Coach Kevin O'Connell, Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores and other coaches.

Phillips has started all 34 games with Minnesota in the past two seasons and set career highs in playing time and productivity in 2023, his first campaign with Flores. Phillips played 839 defensive snaps and recorded 92 tackles, 3.0 sacks and six quarterback hits. He also knows how teammates flourished with personal bests in their first year with Flores.

The quick successes Flores posted with Minnesota's defense led Phillips to believe the Vikings might need to replace him this offseason.

"I'm kind of blown away that he wasn't poached somewhere to be a head football coach," Phillips said. "I mean, that was one of my biggest fears this offseason was like, 'Well, shoot, Flo' is going to be gone. And what does that mean for my role? And what does that look like for me? And I had a career year in his system. And I hope to even surpass that personally. And we played great defense.' "

Flores, who had been the head coach of the Dolphins from 2019-21 before spending a season as an assistant in Pittsburgh, did not receive an offer to interview for any of the vacancies in this year's cycle.

Instead, he's focused on where his feet are, enjoyed increased time with his family and has been tapped for his thoughts on ways the Vikings can continue to improve the defense. Flores, who began his career on the personnel side with the Patriots, provided input on potential free agents who have signed with Minnesota, as well as this year's draft class.

Every player signed has an individual plan that Flores has been crafting. He began the rollouts this week as Minnesota opened its voluntary offseason workout program.

"It's always great to get the guys back in the building, hear about how their offseason has been," Flores said. "A lot of guys have been traveling, spending time with their families, which obviously after a long season, they're deserving of that, and just trying to catch up with our players. But also, talk to them about the plan that we have in place for each one of them as a staff.

"We spend a lot of time obviously watching our own stuff and self-scouting that, but really watching each guy individually so that we could have a, let's call it, an offseason plan of development for each player," Flores added. "We kind of presented those to those guys yesterday, and we'll be kind of working through that throughout this offseason. And we're excited to do that and really help these guys improve as much as we can.

"That's really what the offseason is about, is individual player improvement, development," he continued. "And in doing that, when we collectively put it all together, hopefully their skill development is at a place where they can really, really do some good things when we do get on the field in 11-on-11 competition."

The Vikings moved on from quarterback Kirk Cousins and outside linebacker Danielle Hunter after six and nine years, respectively, with the club.

The salary cap trade-off for parting with those veterans was adding multiple players, particularly on defense in the early wave of free agency.

Outside linebackers Jonathan Greenard and Andrew Van Ginkel, and linebacker Blake Cashman were added quickly. Defensive linemen Jerry Tillery, Jonah Williams and Jihad Ward were added in the next wave, along with cornerback Shaq Griffin and linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill.

Flores said it's important to try to see a big picture of how what one player brings to the table can accentuate another player's skill set.

"Guys like Cashman and [Van Ginkel] and [Greenard], I mean, I think what they all bring is some position flexibility, which I would say may allow us to go from one front to another front or one coverage to another coverage," Flores said. "I think they're all great … human beings. I think they'll be great additions as teammates to the group we already have. They all have leadership qualities.

"They all love to play, and football is really important to them, so I'm excited to work with each one of them," Flores added. "When we're looking at a specific player, you're looking at his fit, his role within the team and how to make the group better, 'Does this player make our entire group better?' I think, you know, with everybody we added, they make the group better."

Flores said he loves that extra time in the offseason allows him to build bonds as he bounces ideas around with Vikings offensive assistant coaches.

Defensive back Josh Metellus is a shining example of Flores' best-laid plans coming to fruition.

Metellus lined up all over the field in 2023, starting all 17 games and playing 1,065 defensive snaps on the way to career highs of 112 tackles, four forced fumbles, 2.5 sacks, seven tackles for loss and 10 QB hits.

Metellus said the variety took him back to his youth football roots in Florida when he played his first season at defensive end and tight end and then was a nose guard and running back the following year.

View photos of Vikings players arriving for offseason workouts at the TCO Performance Center.

He recalled introducing himself to Flores more than a year ago.

"If you've ever been in his office, he has just a list of everything he thinks just thrown onto his wall. Like, everything that he ever thought of what the defense could be, he just throws onto the wall," Metellus said. "What he thinks guys can do here, here, here. And when I first came in, he sat me down and said, 'I watched a couple of your tapes, like your film. I think you can do this, this and a little bit of this.' But in my eyes, it was just one here, one here. Like, let me pick one. Because the year before, I only had a package where I was being called on third down.

"So, in my head, I was thinking the same thing where I have to pick one and just master that," Metellus said. "Then as you get going, you start to do a couple of things, and we start to realize, we get to a point where, you know, it's beginning of the season, you know, going into Week 1, and I'm like, 'Oh, these are all different things.' "

Phillips said he's looking forward to seeing Flores "cook" with all the new ingredients he described as "puzzle pieces or chess pieces."

"Flores has kind of suggested that physicality and joy would be two of the key words that he'd like to see in a defense that we build," Phillips said. "And I would co-sign that as well. So I definitely appreciate his willingness to take input and his appreciation for the joy of the game. We play a children's game, and we make a lot of money doing it."

Metellus also looks forward to seeing Flores' plan for trying to maximize this year's squad.

"He does a really good job of using guys to the best of their ability. The things we did last year were just because of the group we had, that's what we excelled at," Metellus said. "We have a different group this year, a bunch of different guys, you know, a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things. It's just going to be real fun to see what we can come up with, what we can do to cause chaos within an offensive mind."