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Marcus Dixon Reunites with Kevin O'Connell, Sizes Up Defensive Line

EAGAN, Minn. – Kevin O'Connell and Marcus Dixon have overlapped at a few stops along their NFL journeys.

This season marks the third time O'Connell and Dixon will share a team – and second as coaches.

O'Connell, who is entering his third season at the helm for Minnesota, hired Dixon this spring as the Vikings defensive line coach. The two previously coached together in Los Angeles, where O'Connell served as the Rams offensive coordinator and Dixon as the assistant defensive line coach.

"It's a blessing and honor to be here," Dixon told Twin Cities media members Wednesday afternoon. "Truly honored. Truly a blessing to be here with K.O. again. The culture he's building, working for Flo' (Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores), the collaboration we have across the defensive staff – the staff working together with [Flores], the players – man, it's been tremendous. It's awesome. I'm glad to be here."

Dixon and O'Connell first intersected in 2010 when both played for the Jets – Dixon as a defensive tackle and O'Connell as a backup quarterback.

O'Connell spent that season on Injured Reserve but still managed to impress Dixon with his football I.Q. and insight.

"There was something different about him," Dixon recalled. "He always had great ideas. I think Mike Pettine leaned on him a lot when he was the D.C. with the Jets. So he's always been somebody that you just knew he was gonna be something. You didn't know what it was gonna be or how far it was gonna go, but you knew he was special."

Dixon continues to see those qualities from O'Connell as they work together in Minnesota, and he's equally grateful for the chance to work with Flores.

Dixon noted Flores' philosophy is focused on confusing the offense as much as possible, keeping the opponents on their toes.

"And being able to change and adapt to any situation within the game – at the drop of a dime," Dixon said. "It's funny – when I interviewed with him, I was asking like, 'What's the scheme? How do I fit?' He's like, 'Ahh, it's not really a scheme.' So it's very fun to be a part of. It helps you and makes you think outside the box.

"At d-line we always think like, 'Hey, it's just d-line. You just go in this gap and that's it.' No, there's a lot of things we've got to think about, so I'm super excited about it," he continued. "It's allowed me to see the game from different angles, different positions. I mean, he's a great mind, along with that whole defensive staff."

Minnesota's defensive staff features some new faces but already has built a strong camaraderie, in part thanks to Flores' open invitation for outside ideas and coaching techniques.

"All the things we might have done [elsewhere], we bring it to the table, and then boom, we come to the field and are all on the same page with it," Dixon said. "It's like, what can we do as a staff to make these guys play better? And [Flores is] so open-minded about it."

Dixon's position group includes returning Vikings Harrison Phillips, Jonathan Bullard, Jaquelin Roy and James Lynch, as well as 2024 draft pick Levi Drake Rodriguez and free agency additions Jerry Tillery and Jonah Williams, whom Dixon worked with in L.A. The Vikings also added undrafted free agents Tyler Manoa and Taki Taimani.

Tillery spent three plus seasons with the Chargers and a season-and-a-half with the Raiders before joining Minnesota.

"I've always had a lot of respect for J.T. He played for one of my mentors, [Chargers defensive line coach] Giff Smith, so he kind of talked to me about him," Dixon said. "He's a guy who's very athletic. He's a guy that you wouldn't believe what he weighs because he's so lean, but he's, like, 295. So, I'm very excited about him. Athletic guy. Former first-rounder. Very, very smart.

"He loves the team. He loves the room. He's always engaged," Dixon added. "Very intense when you talk to him. It's almost like you feel like he's staring into space, but he's locked in. But he's been awesome."

Also appreciated is the experience Bullard, who re-signed with Minnesota this spring, brings as a nine-year veteran.

Dixon said he leans on Bullard as a leader of the group, both vocally and through his on-field work.

"He does things the right way. He's the ultimate pro," Dixon explained. "He's the guy that when he does speak, they listen – including coaches, because you have respect for a guy like that. I respect Bull' because we know [these practices are] voluntary. And he's a guy that that could have stayed home, but he decided to come and wanted to build a relationship not only me as a new d-line coach but with other guys that are coming in. I've got a lot of respect for Bull'."

Listen to Dixon speak and, like several of the Vikings coaches, you'll notice an emphasis on the organization's overall culture.

As he readies for his first season with Minnesota, Dixon is probably most appreciative of the environment from the top down.

"Culture is everything. And K.O. is doing a great job, talking about being resilient, talking about our team, our process, our way, and that's taught every single day," he said. "But I think the thing that he preaches is that it's the players that really make it come alive. And I think they are taking ownership over it. Again, I'm just new here, but I see that. And knowing K.O., I played with him with the Jets, I was with him with the Rams – I know what he's about. I know what his mindset is. So, I do feel like the guys are taking ownership on that.

"You'll see within the white lines [that] we believe it's a player-led team and not a coach-led team, so we're setting a culture, he's setting a culture, but those guys are making it come to life," Dixon added.