If there's anyone who knows running backs, it's Terrell Davis.
The former Denver Bronco played seven seasons in the NFL and was named All-Pro from 1996-98. Recently, the running back-turned-analyst predicted three young running backs who are poised to "break out" in 2019. Davis topped his list with Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, projecting him to rush for 1,150 yards and 12 touchdowns in his third NFL season.
The former Pro Bowler also has experience with Vikings Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak, whom Minnesota hired following the 2018 season. Davis wrote:
How many times last season did [Vikings Head Coach] Mike Zimmer say he wanted the offense to run the ball more? I lost count by November. This is why no one should be surprised that he brought in Gary Kubiak … to guide and help the unit under new [Offensive Coordinator] Kevin Stefanski. Kubiak is the right guy to right this offense – I know because I played for Kubiak as the running back for the Denver Broncos from 1995 to 2002.
Davis said that Kubiak "brought out the best" in him – and the rest of Denver's offense – during their back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. He also pointed out that Kubiak's offenses "ranked among the top five in total offense and top 10 in scoring offense" in all but three of his seasons as the Broncos offense coordinator. Davis called that "great news" for Cook and Minnesota's offense.
Knowing Kubiak's history, Cook should get a lot of opportunities this season, far more than the 133 carries he had in 2018. The third-year pro has the natural ability to be a top-10 running back, and we've seen glimpses of his talent in the last two seasons. Unfortunately, injuries (ACL in 2017; hamstring in 2018) have prevented him from staying on the field for a full season. With a healthy offseason under his belt and more than a year having passed since his knee injury, Cook will be a major player in the Vikings offense in 2019.
Davis also believes that Tampa Bay's Ronald Jones II will take a step forward in 2019, projecting the second-year back to total 750 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Additionally, he highlighted Seattle's Rashad Penny, whom the Vikings will face both in the preseason and the regular season (Week 13).
[Penny] battled nagging injuries (finger, knee) in 2018 but is ready to prove why he was a first-round draft pick. With his new approach, expect Penny to make the most of his opportunities, giving him a real shot at taking over the starting job at some point in the first half of the season. As the RB1, Penny's athleticism and natural ability to be full display this fall in [Seahawks Offensive Coordinator] Brian Schottenheimer's run-first offense.
'Biggest Questions' for Vikings opponents include Packers offensive chemistry
The 2019 NFL schedule has been set since April, and Minnesota knows its list of opponents.
It's safe to say that some questions can be asked of each of the NFL's 32 teams, but Anthony Broome of 247 Sports recently took a look at each of the Vikings opponents, specifically.
When looking at the Vikings NFC North rival Packers, Broome asked if quarterback Aaron Rodgers will "be on the same page" as new Head Coach Matt LaFleur early on and pointed out that Green Bay has two tough opponents in Chicago and Minnesota to start the season.
Broome asked if the Bears, who claimed the division last season, "have staying power" heading into 2019. As a reminder, Chicago's former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio departed in the spring to take over as the head coach in Denver. Broome wrote:
Mitchell Trubisky's legs gave the Vikings some problems last season, but it is his arm that will determine where the Bears future will go. The defense is elite and will have them in the conversation, but their fate lies in the offense (and maybe whoever kicks for them).
Speaking of the Broncos, Broome looked at the Vikings Week 11 matchup and asked if Joe Flacco is "a franchise guy or a stop-gap." Flacco spent his first 11 NFL seasons in Baltimore before joining Denver this offseason via trade.
Some Broncos fans would have you believe that Flacco solves all of their problems at the quarterback position, but he has not made a whole lot of noise since winning a Super Bowl and getting a big contract, either. From a numbers standpoint, he compares pretty favorably to the guy they just gave up on in Case Keenum, but he does have a big arm and more of a track record.
To see Broome's full list of questions for the Vikings opponents, click here.
Jaleel Johnson re-focusing heading into Year 3
Defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson has been referred to as a "bull in a china shop" in previous interviews with Zimmer. The head coach said during Vikings minicamp, however, that Johnson is "being more receptive to coaching" and "has done a much better job so far."
Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune spoke with Johnson before the team departed for its pre-training camp break.
"I remember when I first got here I was always like, 'OK. I've got to make a big play to impress the coaching staff,' " Johnson told Krammer. "I wanted to be disruptive on every single snap, and that wasn't always the right way of looking at it. They obviously look for guys that are going to make big plays. They just don't want guys that are out of control trying to do it."
That's something Johnson has learned since being drafted by the Vikings in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. And as his mindset has matured, his playing time has increased.
It's no longer about getting the sack, or the tackle for a loss, on a given play. As long as he's in the right spot, that's the only thing that matters.
If his play during minicamp is any indication — Johnson took most of the first-team reps at nose tackle with Joseph recovering from an undisclosed surgery — his role could be enhanced moving forward. After appearing in just 41 snaps during his rookie season, he saw his workload increase to 260 snaps the next year, and seems to be in line for even more work this season.