When the Vikings hit the field this spring for Organized Team Activities, free-agency signees and draft picks won't be the only new faces at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
Minnesota's offensive coaching staff has a new look for 2019 under the direction of Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski. In addition to bringing on Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak and his son, quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak, the Vikings also hired run game coordinator/offensive line coach Rick Dennison and tight ends coach Brian Pariani.
Combined, the four new coaches bring more than 70 years of NFL coaching to the table, and Stefanski has spent an impressive 13 seasons with the Vikings. The question is not in regards to their experience but rather what type of impact they will make on Minnesota's offense behind quarterback Kirk Cousins, who is entering his second season in Purple.
It seems a common belief across the league that the Vikings coaching changes will have a positive effect. Vikings.com caught up with a number of experts at the NFL's Annual League Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, this week and asked them to weigh-in.
"[Kevin Stefanski] is already talking about this collective process they have in the meeting rooms and, as they go into the new install this offseason, of getting a lot of different perspectives and voices," explained Courtney Cronin of ESPN.com. "When you have someone like Gary Kubiak, who brings with him such a wealth of experience — and such a wealth of experience for his coaching staff, too … I think there's really room for this offense to grow."
Cronin referenced comments made by Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and Head Coach Mike Zimmer, who both emphasized that free agents generally take a step forward in their second season with a team. She opined that Cousins, who signed with Minnesota last March, reaching another level on the field will be dependent on the offensive system.
"Obviously there's the Kyle Shanahan and Mike Shanahan connection," Cronin said of the father-son duo that coached Cousins with the Redskins and has strong ties to Kubiak. "That's really going to be beneficial here, using that terminology and those West Coast principles that he grew up on in Washington.
"He's in a system now where he's able to expect a few years of the same type of thing without any change to deal with," Cronin added.
According to The Monday Morning Quarterback writer Albert Breer, Cousins can be among the NFL's top passers "if he's playing on schedule and playing in rhythm," which results from being part of the "right" offensive system.
Breer also emphasized the Shanahan-Kubiak relationship and its significance for Cousins.
"Having the influence of Gary Kubiak in the building is huge," Breer said. "When you look back to what [Kirk] did well with the Redskins under Mike Shanahan, Kyle Shanahan and [former Redskins Offensive Coordinator] Sean McVay … there's going to be a lot of carryover under Gary Kubiak, and I think the hope is that they'd be able to apply a lot of that stuff."
While some initially raised questions about the Vikings adding Kubiak after removing the "interim" tag from Stefanski's title, Mike Garafolo of NFL Network pointed out the ideal blend of "experience mixed with ingenuity and youthful energy" that the pair brings.
"You've got that forward thinking and that experience that they're hopeful is going to come together," Garafolo said.
ESPN's Adam Caplan highlighted the stability that he expects to see from Minnesota's offense in the 2019 season under Stefanski and Kubiak and described the "full battery" the Vikings have on that side of the ball thanks to healthy – and returning – players.
"[Pat] Elflein's back, he's healthy. The two receivers (Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen) are back," Caplan said. "Kyle Rudolph is back at tight end. You've got [what they call] the battery – the center, the quarterback, two receivers, the tight end. And Dalvin Cook, also, healthy.
"So this offense is looking really good on paper, and we have to see how they perform," Caplan said.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and ESPN's Kevin Seifert reminded that, although disappointment surrounded the Vikings 8-7-1 campaign in 2018, the foundation of a successful team is there.
Rapoport said that Cousins did well overall last season, finishing the year with a career-high 70.1 completion percentage and passing for 4,298 yards and 30 touchdowns, but that a variety of factors weighed on the Vikings offensive production.
"I actually thought year one [for Cousins] was OK," Rapoport said. "I mean, the team didn't win as much as you'd like, a lot of injuries, obviously struggled to run the ball, had the offensive coordinator change.
"I thought Cousins did well," he continued. "I think the overall team will be a little bit better and will probably be in very good position come January."
Seifert reasoned that Minnesota "probably should have" been a playoff contender in 2018 and should make a strong run in 2019.
"They've made some nice moves. I think some people – it's no secret – would agree that they can continue to work on that offensive line and see where that gets them," Seifert explained of the Vikings, who recently signed free agent guard Josh Kline. "I do think … that some of the coaching additions they made on offense can have something to do with improving the line play. It's not just about changing the players out.
"But they're what I thought they were last year, which is a strong playoff contender – and most teams are," Seifert added. "There's only a few teams you can say are definitely making the playoffs and only a few teams at the bottom that you think have no chance, and everybody else, the 25 or so, they're in that mix. And that's right where the Vikings are."
Taking into consideration the Vikings offensive coaching changes and Cousins having a season under his belt, what is Minnesota's outlook for 2019?
Cronin believes the expectations are right "where they need to be" for the Vikings.
"They obviously addressed some needs in free agency, certainly a lot more to go in the draft," Cronin said. "But overall, this is still a really talented team. Overall, I would say, arguably one of the best rosters in the league. They're going to have to go through a lot of teams to contend for a Super Bowl, but the talent is there.
"They've done their homework and know who they have on this team and what they need to do to get to that next level," Courtney added. "[Now] it's just a matter of, 'Can they get there?' "