Vikings Training Camp presented by Omni Viking Lakes Hotel is just around the corner.
As the team prepares to grind toward the regular season, NFL.com's Kevin Patra offered a training camp preview for each NFC North squad. He included training camp dates and info, preseason schedule, notable roster changes, schedule notes and five subplots to track.
Looking at Minnesota, Patra listed the following storylines:
What will life look like without Dalvin Cook?
How will Danielle Hunter's situation unfold?
It will be a pivotal season for Kirk Cousins, who is due to be come a free agent next offseason.
What will [Defensive Coordinator] Brian Flores' defense look like, especially with a revamped secondary?
Is Justin Jefferson's contract extension coming?
Patra pointed out that Alexander Mattison is "set to take the lead back role" in the wake of Minnesota releasing Cook.
Mattison has never handled more than 134 carries in a season since entering the league in 2019. He's in for a big boost in playing time in 2023, but we should expect some sort of rotation to shake out of Minnesota's backfield. Ty Chandler, Kene Nwangwu and seventh-round pick DeWayne McBride will battle for reps during camp.
Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah have emphasized that they hope to reach an agreement with Hunter, who did not attend the team's mandatory minicamp. Time will tell whether the outside linebacker will play a role in the Vikings defense in 2023.
And speaking of defense, the Vikings are enthused about their new coordinator in Flores, whom they hired following a 2022 campaign that struggled defensively.
Hiring Flores to lead the defense was a coup for Minnesota, particularly after the group struggled last season (28th in points allowed, 31st in yards allowed). The secondary remains the most significant question mark. Byron Murphy, Jr., was signed in free agency, and third-round pick Mekhi Blackmon could be in line for a substantial role. Outside of Harrison Smith, the Vikings secondary is riddled with questions. We'll start to get some answers during camp.
View the best photos of Vikings G Ezra Cleveland from the 2022 season.
Ryan Wright ranked in NFL's top 10 punters entering 2023 season
Vikings punter Ryan Wright impressed last season as a rookie.
He beat out veteran punter Jordan Berry last preseason for the job and went on to garner attention around the league. Wright recently was included in CBS Sports' list of top 10 punters entering the 2023 campaign. John Breech ranked Wright 10th overall, writing the following:
In the first six weeks of the season, it became pretty clear that the Vikings made a smart decision by keeping Wright. In Week 4 Wright proved that he can do more than punt when he converted a key fourth down with a 13-yard pass that gave Minnesota a first down.
View the best photos of Vikings RB Alexander Mattison from the 2022 season.
In Week 6 against the Dolphins, Wright punted the ball 10 times, a total that included a booming 73-yard punt out of his own end zone, a kick the Vikings desperately needed in a game they ended up winning 24-16.
Although Wright finished outside the top 10 in both punting average (47.4) and net punting average (42.5), he more than made up for that with his ball placement. Not only did the rookie have the lowest touchback percentage in the NFL – he punted just one touchback on 73 punts – but he also ranked fifth with the percentage of his punts that he placed inside his opponents' 20-yard line (44.7 percent). Those are two key categories for a punter and the fact that Wright ranked in the top-five in both is why he made this list.
When it comes to punting, the 2022 season was definitely the year of the rookie. Wright is one of two rookies who cracked our top-10 list.
The other rookie Breech highlighted was Tennessee's Ryan Stonehouse, who "completed one of the most impressive punting seasons in NFL history," according to Breech. Stonehouse landed at No. 4 on the list.
The undrafted free agent averaged 53.1 yards per punt in 2022, which smashed Sammy Baugh's NFL record that had stood for 82 years (Baugh averaged 51.4 yards per punt in 1940). Stonehouse broke the record even though he was asked to punt the ball 90 times, which was the second-most in the NFL last year.
The top three punters on Breech's list were Michael Dickson (Seahawks), Tommy Townsend (Chiefs) and Johnny Hecker (Panthers).
Minnesota is slated to face Dickson and Townsend in Weeks 4 and 5, respectively.
Justin Jefferson Nominated for 2 ESPY Awards
Fans can vote for Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson, who is nominated for two ESPY Awards.
The 2023 ESPYs will be held Wednesday evening in Los Angeles, beginning at 7 p.m. (CT). Jefferson is nominated for "Best Play," thanks to his astounding 32-yard catch on fourth-and-18 at Buffalo last season, as well as "Best NFL Player."
There are 17 categories at all, spanning multiple sports, teams and leagues.
Click here to cast your vote.