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When will HC Kevin O'Connell meet the team for the first time? I'm really excited for the offseason and the next season in general! Greetings from Germany!
— Benedikt Auch
It's the start of a busy week, so let's get rolling.
We're about a month away from O'Connell's first full-team meeting, as the Vikings can begin Organized Team Activities on April 4. This is two weeks earliest than most teams, but it's allowed by the league because the Vikings have a new head coach.
But if we're building off Benedikt's excitement for the offseason, the real fun — and O'Connell's introduction on a national stage — is right around the corner.
The 2022 NFL Scouting Combine kicks off this week in Indianapolis, and it is back in person after a year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I'll be on the ground in Indy with a strong contingent of folks from Vikings Entertainment Network, and we'll have wall-to-wall coverage on everything Vikings-related that goes down in Indianapolis.
That means national introductions for both O'Connell and Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. Both are not new to the combine, but they will be there for the first time in their respective roles.
We'll get a better idea of where they stand on Minnesota's roster and the 300-plus invited combine participants, plus get some insight on where things stand with free agency and the start of the New League Year almost two weeks away.
To me, the combine always feels like the true start of the offseason, and it will be great to be back in this week.
For a week each year, Indianapolis is the center of the football world, with anyone and everyone descending on the city for at least a few days.
The conversations that take place there could end up shaping the rest of the 2022 offseason.
For the Vikings, that means meeting with agents of their own potential free agents, plus getting the lay of the land for what else is happening around the league.
Be sure to check Vikings.com all week for plenty of in-depth coverage.
Still no mention of winning a Super Bowl. I've been reading comments from Kwesi and Kevin and they've both spoke of collaboration and its importance in changing the culture. However, neither has said anything about winning a championship. To truly change the culture, the goal has to be winning a championship and anything less is a failure. I've been a fan for 50 years now, and I've yet to see ANYONE in leadership say, 'Our goal is to win a championship and nothing else.' Is it any wonder we've struggled for so long? If you can't say it and make it THE goal, what's the point? It's time for a culture change, and it has to start at the top.
— JB in Keller, TX
Let's all fire up the ol' Internet and time travel all the way back to Feb. 17. Less than two weeks ago.
Here is a quote from Adofo-Mensah as he introduced O'Connell:
"I'm excited to form that partnership with him in building a championship team."
And here is a quote a minute or two later from O'Connell:
"Trying to win championships here is the goal. But it takes a great fan base to do that, it really does."
And while division titles are nice, I don't think either was referring to the NFC North in this context.
Teams that make deep playoff runs and are in the race for a Super Bowl in any given year do not clean house and bring in new leadership.
And that new leadership that Minnesota brought in has talked publicly, as noted above, about wanting to be in a spot to contend for world championships.
While those quotes were from a press conference that lasted roughly 45 minutes, it's worth noting it was on the heels of O'Connell helping the Rams win Super Bowl LVI. Adofo-Mensah's final season with San Francisco ended in Super Bowl LIV in a loss to Kansas City.
It's safe to say people with no Super Bowl rings want their first and people with one want another.
Considering the new Vikings regime likely scouted our players at draft time or game-planned against us for an upcoming game, who on the current roster do you feel has potential to blossom? Kenny Willekes? Wyatt Davis? James Lynch? Other? None?
— Dave in Chicago
A great question from Dave, as there is plenty of buzz about the current state of the Vikings roster.
(A quick side note on that. I've gotten all your emails on Kirk Cousins. All of them. I might end up running a Cousins-specific Mailbag at some point given all of the interest, but that likely will be later down the road).
OK, back on track.
One of the things I'm most interested in watching unfold over the rest of 2022 is how the Vikings second-year players fit into future plans. Most of that intrigue stems from the fact that, other than Christian Darrisaw — and Camryn Bynum to a lesser extent — Minnesota's 2021 rookie class hardly played on offense or defense.
Minnesota's 2021 draft class consisted of 11 players. Darrisaw played 653 offensive snaps, while Bynum was next up with 211 on defense.
After that? It was pretty bare.
Patrick Jones II played 99 defensive snaps, Ihmir Smith-Marsette played 86 on offense and Kene Nwangwu played 29 on offense (in addition to being a star on special teams). Kellen Mond was on the field for just three snaps.
But five rookies — Chazz Surratt, Wyatt Davis, Janarius Robinson (Injured Reserve), Zach Davidson and Jaylen Twyman (Non-Football Injury) — didn't see the field on offense or defense at all for various reasons.
You can make the case that everyone but Darrisaw could be intriguing to watch in 2022, simply because the left tackle is the only one with a starting spot locked up. Throw in the eight current picks that the Vikings have in the 2022 NFL Draft, and you're looking at one-third of the roster who could either be first or second-year players looking to make an impact.
So, Dave, my answer would be all of Minnesota's second-year players, mostly because a large portion of that group barely played at all as rookies.
The hope is that a full year of NFL experience will have readied them to be contributors going forward.
Where does Danielle Hunter and the rest of the defensive ends on this team currently play in a 3-4 scheme? They're too small to play on the defensive line in the front three, meaning they would have to be outside linebackers. I just don't see it? Don't you see them trading Hunter?
— Duane Miller
Lots of inquiries about a 3-4 defensive scheme, and I suspect those won't go away once players return to the facility and get back on the field for workouts/spring practices.
But let's start with what new Vikings Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell said last week when he was introduced to Twin Cities media members.
"You ask about the scheme we're gonna implement here; it's going to be a multiple, dictating 3-4 and 4-3 setup. Just know we'll have both fronts. That will make us hard to play against."
That's the same thing O'Connell mentioned, and both referenced the fact that most defenses spend the majority of the time in nickel anyway.
So, until players get on the field and we can how they are aligned, it's all a bit up in the air.
I will say that the Vikings did run some 3-4 principles last season, with three down linemen and players standing up as rushers in what would be the outside linebacker in a true 3-4 scheme.
Hunter did that. So did D.J. Wonnum. And a host of other younger edge rushers, too.
I can't give you an answer on Hunter's 2022 roster status, all of that will be played out in the coming weeks.
But if Hunter is in Purple in 2022, I can absolutely see him still being able to get after quarterbacks if he's standing up.
We've seen that the only thing seemingly able to slow down No. 99 the past few years are unfortunate injuries. He has 42 sacks in his past 55 starts and is still considered one of the league's best pass rushers when healthy.
If he can stay healthy this coming season and is with the Vikings, I don't see that recent success changing anytime soon.
I just want say that it has been a great experience to see and hear Courtney Cronin these past five years. I know she doesn't work for VEN, but I just wanted to say she is great. I wish nothing but the best for her going forward. I hope you don't mind me using this media place to congratulate a friendly competitor.
— Pete Westmoreland
We'll end on a bittersweet note.
In case you missed it, Courtney announced a week ago that she is leaving the Vikings beat and moving to Chicago to cover the Bears.
She's still staying with ESPN and staying within the NFC North, but this also will provide a chance to increase her already-budding radio career in a bigger market.
I believe I speak for everyone on the Vikings beat when I say that we are extremely happy for her to go back to her hometown and that we have no doubt she will continue doing big things.
But I probably also speak for the beat, too, when I say that she will be missed. She brought humor and friendship to the beat in addition to her superb work covering the Vikings, too.
To circle back to the top of Mailbag, one of the reasons I'm looking forward to Indy this week is getting a celebratory drink with her as a final send off.
We'll still see her twice a year, but the beat won't be the same without Courtney around on a daily basis.
Simply put, she's one of the best.