EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings 60th season will feature fresh faces – both coaches and players – and a fresh start.
Minnesota's offense will be under new direct guidance after Kevin Stefanski accepted a head coaching job in Cleveland. But the system will remain largely the same under Gary Kubiak, who joined the Vikings last season as an offensive advisor and recently moved into the coordinator role.
In wake of his title change, Kubiak took a few minutes with "Voice of the Vikings" Paul Allen to look back over 2019. He evaluated how far the team came in his first season with the Vikings, as well as where the offense – and individual players – are headed in 2020.
Kubiak recalled first arriving in Minnesota and understanding Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer's focus on committing whole-heartedly to the run game.
"I remember coming in here about this time last year and Zim' talking to us as a staff, saying, 'We've got to get more physical; we've got to run the ball,' " Kubiak said. "Obviously, we have a great piece back there in Dalvin [Cook] to do it."
Kubiak later was asked by Allen what makes Cook such a special player to have on the roster.
His response? Cook is truly a three-down back.
"You can say that about some players in this league, but then you turn the game film on and they come out of the games in certain situations," Kubiak explained. "Dalvin's a great pass protector, understands what's going on scheme-wise on third down as far as picking up blitzes, those types of things.
"He has great hands. I mean, you go back and look at the screens we ran with Dalvin, he was probably as good as anybody in football doing that," he continued. "So, I think you've gotta give him the credit. He's an all-around player. He's not a guy who just does this well or that well. He does a lot of things well."
There's plenty of talent behind Cook, too.
Kubiak commented on the rookie season of Alexander Mattison, whom the Vikings drafted in the second round last April. Mattison played in 13 games last season and recorded 100 rushes for 462 yards and his first career touchdown.
Kubiak said he "definitely" believes Mattison will make a big jump from year one to year two, as will other young players.
"You look at Irv [Smith, Jr.] You look at [Bisi Johnson], the job he did when Adam [Thielen] was out," Kubiak said. "As we go back and we really take a hard look at ourselves last year, you look at how big of contributors those guys were and what they can become in year two. It really gets you excited to go back to work."
One key for rookies joining the Vikings is the willingness of veteran teammates to take them under their wing.
It's not a culture that exists in every organization, Kubiak pointed out.
"I mean, Irv got to sit next to Rudy (Kyle Rudolph) in a meeting every day. Not many players get to do that," he said. "[Mattison] got to sit next to Dalvin every day. I think the atmosphere that [Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman] and Zim' have created here, the type of people and players that they have in place in these meeting rooms and out there competing day-in and day-out, enables some young players to really latch onto the right thing."
The same goes for right tackle Brian O'Neill, who already has shown tremendous strides since being drafted by Minnesota in 2018.
The former Pittsburgh standout was thrown into the fire during his rookie season but proved through that process that he belonged in the starting lineup. Over 967 offensive snaps during the 2019 season, O'Neill allowed just one sack of Cousins and committed only seven penalties.
View the best photos from Vikings team photographers of the offensive line during the 2019 season.
Part of what makes O'Neill so successful is the way he fits perfectly into Minnesota's outside zone blocking scheme.
"All you've gotta do is watch Brian run out of the tunnel and you realize how athletic he is. He looks like a wideout when he comes out there," Kubiak said. "Guys like that are hard to find. Guys who have that type of athletic ability.
"Players usually, if they're going to be a good player, they make their biggest jump from year one to two, and that's exactly what he went and did," Kubiak added. "I'm very excited about his future."
So then, what about second-year center Garrett Bradbury, the Vikings first-round draft pick in 2019?
The young lineman out of N.C. State had ups and downs throughout his first pro season, but Kubiak was pleased overall with his performance.
"He did really well. You know, you go back to OTAs, he walked in the building, and we didn't say, 'OK, let's do this for a month and figure it out.' No, we said, 'You're the starting center. Pat [Elflein], you're going to move to guard,' " Kubiak recalled. "I think that was a tremendous move on Zim's part to say, 'We're not going to waste any time here. We're going to go to work.' And Garrett will benefit from that in the long haul. He played against a lot of great players.
"That's the way you get better in this business," Kubiak added. "He loves to play. He's very bright. He's got good people around him. He got to sit there next to Riley [Reiff] every day, and Pat, those types of players. Those guys really benefited from the quality of people we have on our team."
This season may be Kubiak's first as the Vikings offensive coordinator, but it will mark the 24th NFL coaching season for the former head coach and four-time Super Bowl champion.
Having garnered a well-revered reputation across the league over the years, Kubiak will continue to bring that expertise to a Vikings offense that includes young players as well as more established veterans, such as quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Asked specifically about Cousins' 2019 campaign, Kubiak emphasized that the passer is "in the prime of his career" as he preps for his third season in Purple.
"There's no doubt about that. I think the better we become as a group, the better Kirk's going to play within the system, those types of things," said Kubiak, who added that he was most impressed with the way Cousins got rid of the football last season.
"You can talk about those things, but getting a guy to do that is about him [and his growth], and that's what I saw," Kubiak said. "He got rid of the football quick this year, got it out of his hands, and it kept us on schedule, so to speak. I think as he continues to grow with that, understanding that, the better we play around him, get open, protect, all those types of things, the better he's going to play."
Reflecting back on the 2019 season and ahead to 2020, Kubiak is excited and optimistic about what's to come.
"We grew as a team. I thought up front we grew as the season went on," he said. "We had an identity; we played to that identity week-in and week-out. Some weeks maybe weren't as good as others, but over the course of the season, I think we knew exactly what we were and how we tried to win each week. Hopefully we can grow from that, go right back to work."