EAGAN, Minn. — Thirteen padless practices over the course of a four-week span capped the Vikings offseason workout program and shed some light on what things might look like in Minnesota when training camp opens next month.
While the sessions aren’t tell-all, the did provide insight on personnel groupings and elements of schemes, opportunities to try new looks on offense and defense and assessments of the on-field potential that newcomers can bring to the 2019 Vikings.
Head Coach Mike Zimmer waited to share his goals for 2019 with the team until Thursday morning. He expects the team to return ready to hit the ground running when camp opens.
View images from the Vikings final minicamp practice on June 13 at TCO Performance Center.
Here are 10 top takeways from the offseason program in the eyes of the Vikings.com editorial staff:
1. The starting O-line is set | By Eric Smith @Eric_L_Smith
It appears the Vikings have solidified their offensive line, as the unit looks to have starters at three new positions in 2019.
Garrett Bradbury, of course, is slated to be the starting center, a role he has taken on from the moment he arrived in Minnesota after being the 18th overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Minnesota will also have new starters at guards, although one is a familiar face. Pat Elflein made 27 starts at center over his first two pro seasons but will now line up at left guard. Josh Kline, a free agent signee, is the right guard after making 46 starts for the Titans over the past three seasons.
Veteran Riley Reiff manned the left tackle spot this spring, and second-year lineman Brian O’Neill was on the right side.
The starting unit will be tasked with improving a rushing attack that ranked 30th in the NFL with 93.3 yards per game in 2018.
In the 13 spring practices, the second-team offensive line consisted of: left tackle Aviante Collins, left guard Dakota Dozier, center Brett Jones, right guard Danny Isidora and right tackle Rashod Hill. The third unit was, from left to right, Storm Norton, John Keenoy, Cornelius Edison, Dru Samia and Olisaemeka Udoh.
While the Vikings repped some reserves at the “skill positions” with the first team, they kept the o-line units the same, showing the importance of developing continuity and the need for five offensive linemen to play as one.
2. Stefanski & Kubiak forming ‘Minnesota offense’| By Craig Peters @pcraigers
Players and fans — and Zimmer — received a sample size of how Kevin Stefanski would install an offensive game plan and call a game last season when Stefanski served as interim offensive coordinator for the final three weeks.
Minnesota had its best day of running the football all year against the Dolphins in Stefanski’s debut, and heavily involved Kyle Rudolph, who had a career-best 122 yards the following week at Detroit.
The showing, which helped the Vikings win two games after dropping four of six led to the removal of the interim tag.
Stefanski is only 37 years old, but he has broad-ranging experience with multiple position groups as an assistant and an ability to teach that has impressed Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak, who was hired this offseason.
Stefanski and Kubiak have worked together with other veteran and younger offensive assistants to blend ideas into the “Minnesota offense.”
It appears that the offense will be designed to capitalize on versatile running backs, be more committed to establishing the run early in games and then utilizing play-action passes to play to the strengths of quarterback Kirk Cousins, whom Kubiak said “plays the game on the move really, really well.”
3. Competition at WR3 shaping up to be a good one | By Lindsey Young @LindseyMNSports
It’s safe to say that Vikings are set at their top two receiver spots with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, but who will fill that WR3 spot?
Over 10 voluntary Organized Team Activity practices and three days of mandatory minicamp, it seems the top two contenders – at this point – are Chad Beebe and former Broncos receiver Jordan Taylor. Beebe (four catches for 39 yards in 2018) is returning for his second season in Purple after signing with Minnesota as an undrafted free agent last spring; the Vikings signed Taylor in April as a free agent. He recorded 29 career receptions for 351 yards and two touchdowns with Denver before missing 2018 because of hip injuries.
Taylor, who has some familiarity with the offense after spending time with Gary Kubiak in Denver, did not practice during the Vikings minicamp due to injury.
Minnesota’s other receivers who could vie for the third spot are Laquon Treadwell, Brandon Zylstra, seventh-round draft picks Dillon Mitchell and Bisi Johnson, Jeff Badet, Davion Davis, and Alexander Hollins.
Treadwell has 56 receptions for 517 yards and a touchdown in three seasons with Minnesota. Zylstra had one catch for 23 yards in his rookie campaign.
4. Multiple tight end usage could help run and pass games | By Craig Peters @pcraigers
Mentioned in takeaway number two, Rudolph wasn’t the only tight end to experience an uptick after Stefanski’s promotion late last season.
Rookie Tyler Conklin had 53 of his 77 receiving yards on the season against Miami, pulling in two of his five receptions on the year.
The Vikings used their second-round pick in April to draft Irv Smith, Jr., which prompted some on the outside to question Rudolph’s status, even though he was under contract for 2019. Rudolph recently inked an extension, and the Vikings used multiple tight ends on plays during open practices this spring.
Conklin and Smith were unable to participate in minicamp, and David Morgan missed the offseason program because of injury, but Minnesota implemented Rudolph, Cole Hikutini and Brandon Dillon this week.
Cousins had considerable success with multiple tight ends in the passing game in Washington, and versatile players at the position can cause defenses headaches because they have to respect the run, which might prompt them to go with a personnel grouping that can be exploited in the air. If defenses go smaller and quicker to counter pass gains, then an offense could have a favorable run-block matchup.
View images from the Vikings second minicamp practice on June 12 at TCO Performance Center.
5. There is great depth along the defensive line | By Mike Wobschall @wobby
You know the regular cast of characters – Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter and Linval Joseph. But what transpired during the offseason program has made it obvious the defensive line has a lot more going on than an impressive trio of returning starters.
Shamar Stephen has jumped right back into the fold without missing a beat and even took reps at nose tackle in Joseph’s stead. Hercules Mata’afa caught some praise from Zimmer, and Stephen Weatherly looks poised for another step forward.
Jalyn Holmes and Jaleel Johnson continue to develop on the inside, and 2019 draft pick Armon Watts has flashed potential. There are more names to name...once we get to training camp. For now, though, suffice it to say talent and depth abound along the defensive line.
6. Year 2 for Cousins | By Eric Smith @Eric_L_Smith
Welcome to Year 2 of the Cousins era, where expectations are all about wins and less about personal stats.
Cousins put up strong numbers in his first season in Purple, but Minnesota went 8-7-1 and missed the postseason. Now, although the quarterback is learning yet another new offense, he is doing so with a cast of characters he’s familiar with.
Cousins has an established rapport with Thielen, Diggs and Rudolph, and the quarterback knows the skill set of Dalvin Cook.
And, it helps that he doesn’t have to worry about getting his family settled in a new state as he learns his way around a new building with new teammates.
The Vikings will certainly rely on Cousins at times to get them wins in 2019, but they will place an emphasis on building to the franchise quarterback’s strengths.
7. A new punt returner in town | By Lindsey Young @LindseyMNSports
For eight consecutive seasons, the Vikings rolled with one punt returner.
Minnesota native Marcus Sherels held the role from 2011-18. This spring, however, he signed with the Saints in free agency and left the position vacant.
New Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Marwan Maalouf has been evaluating a number of players at punt returner, including Beebe, Taylor and cornerback Holton Hill.
“We’ve got a good group of guys who have been getting a lot of reps in practice, which is important because I’m still familiarizing myself with this roster and kind of fitting the pieces to the puzzle,” said Maalouf, who added that it will be exciting “seeing how it all shakes out.”
8. Vikings are loaded at running back | By Mike Wobschall @wobby
Ameer Abdullah has gone against the Vikings as a feature back in Detroit. Now in Minnesota, Abdullah is trying to find a niche in a position group that includes a young star in Dalvin Cook, a third-round rookie in Alexander Mattison and two summer standouts from a year ago in Mike Boone and Roc Thomas.
Yes, the Vikings running backs stable is stacked once again. And we haven’t even mentioned fullback
C.J. Ham, a versatile and valued part of both the offense and special teams.
9. Mannion, Sloter offer different strengths in quest to win backup QB job | By Mike Wobschall @wobby
Sean Mannion has four years of experience being a backup. He knows parts of this offensive system, he knows how to prepare and help the starter prepare, he knows how to provide in-game input on the sidelines and he has the physical tools to play the position.
Kyle Sloter is two years younger than Mannion. He’s entering his third season, and he’s never appeared in a regular-season game. At the same time, his ceiling is unknown and his physical ability is intriguing.
Which type of player is best suited to be Cousins’ backup in 2019? Will Mannion make plays during camp to inspire confidence he could step in and produce should Cousins become unavailable? Will Sloter display the wisdom and poise all quality backups possess?
And what about undrafted rookie Jake Browning? Can he build on a solid spring? These are all questions that will be answered during training camp and the preseason.
10. Rookie DBs impress in secondary | By Eric Smith @Eric_L_Smith
Kris Boyd and Marcus Epps might have a hard time cracking the starting lineup for a stout Vikings defense, but that hasn’t stopped either of them from turning heads over the past month.
Epps, a sixth-round pick from Wyoming, spent time at both safety and nickel cornerback during spring practices. He had an interception in Wednesday’s minicamp practice and was seemingly always around the ball.
The former team captain for Wyoming could also carve out a role for himself on special teams during training camp.
Boyd, meanwhile, was a seventh-round round selection out of Texas. He, too, had an interception in Wednesday’s session and has shown up in coverage all spring, including locking down Mitchell in the red zone on Thursday.
Minnesota’s secondary features household names such as Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes, plus other starters such as Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Anthony Harris and Jayron Kearse.
Epps and Boyd will likely still have some work to do to keep impressing coaches in training camp and the preseason, but they are off to a good start so far.