EAGAN, Minn. – Vikings Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips has a lot to feel positive about this summer.
Last year at this time, Phillips was working to install a new system, get to know players and settle in with a new organization. But everything has felt much smoother this offseason, as Phillips and the rest of Head Coach Kevin O'Connell's staff are able to pick up where they left off following a 13-4 debut in Minnesota.
Many pieces of the Vikings offense are set, carrying over from the 2022 campaign, but new faces, as well as second-year players looking to take a leap forward, also are catching Phillips' eye.
"We had a little developmental period for young guys, [but] what we're not gonna do … we're not gonna sugarcoat it and make it vanilla," Phillips said of getting players up to speed. "We're gonna push these guys. We're gonna move them around in different spots."
View photos from the Vikings OTA practice which took place on June 6 at the TCO Performance Center.
He noted the importance he and O'Connell put on "mixing things up" as opposed to leaving skill players in one specific spot.
The receivers group has been tasked with lining up in different roles within the offense.
"We've got a lot of guys mixed in, a lot of guys playing different positions," Phillips said. "Sometimes guys are, 'You're an X always' or 'You're a Z always,' but we've got some guys who have been able to switch positions and see some different looks from what they're used to, maybe – in the run game and the pass game.
"Individual guys that are standing out – the K.J. Osborns, the Jalen Nailors, and it's been great to see Jalen Reagor with a full install from Route 0 come out here and have a little bit better chance to get the details," Phillips continued. "Just in general, the details of the whole pass game, I think, have greatly improved because now we're going into Year 2 and we're kind of reinstalling things and detailing things as opposed to trying to teach the whole scheme."
Nailor, whom the Vikings drafted in the sixth round of the 2022 NFL Draft, contributed on special teams and sparingly on offense, recording nine catches for 179 yards and his first career touchdown.
Phillips has been impressed with the former Michigan State wideout.
"Jalen's a really good player. Every opportunity that he gets to show out, he shows up," Phillips said. "We put together a lot of install tapes to teach the concepts as we go, and a lot of the things – whether it's the opportunities against Chicago or Green Bay that he got to play, or whether it's practice clips from last year, he just shows up a lot as far as doing the right thing, being where he's supposed to be and then having the athletic ability to make the play. Really pleased with where he's at."
Other second-year players taking steps forward at other positions include right guard Ed Ingram and running back Ty Chandler.
Ingram started all 17 regular-season games, plus the Wild Card matchup, for Minnesota last season. And though Phillips acknowledged the ups and downs of Ingram's rookie season, he offered praise for last year's performance as well as progress made since.
"I couldn't be more pleased with our pick and the fact that he played the whole year, and he worked through the growing pains as a rookie – as any rookie in this league," Phillips said. "Particularly at offensive line where the slightest false step – a receiver can get away with a false step most times, but the slightest thing when you're inside, especially those interior three [positions], and you've lost. So the way he handled that, he wasn't fazed by it, he didn't blink about any of that stuff. He just kept trying to do better.
"And he's in great shape. I think he looks really good," Phillips added. "Looked good coming in, and I expect big things from him."
Chandler played just three games as a rookie but could see a bigger role on special teams or offense in 2023.
"Ty's obviously a great athlete — it's the reason why we brought him here, but he's a real pro. He's been working really hard at it, as has that whole [running back] group," Phillips said. "It's a really special group of guys as far as Alex [Mattison], Kene [Nwangwu] and Ty, and then of course [fullback] C.J. [Ham] being involved with that, as well.
"Ty's a guy where we're continuing to give him opportunities both in the run game and the pass game because of some of the things he can do coming out of the backfield catching the football," he added. "He's getting better every day."
Chandler has gotten reps at practice with backup quarterbacks Nick Mullens and Jaren Hall, the latter of whom was drafted 164th overall in April.
Hall hails from a BYU program that varies significantly from the Vikings offensive system, but Phillips noted the youngster's quick development.
"For a quarterback to come in – and especially if you're not thrust into the role right away and you're getting limited reps – just to see him out here kind of following Nick Mullens' lead [is great]," Phillips explained. "Right now, they're out on the field going through the script, the plays that he did not get, walking through, even if it's just visualization or mental, he's got young receivers out there right now and they're going through the plays.
"There's a lot to learn in a short time, but so far he's progressed really well," Phillips added. "He's learning how to play in an NFL system. They've got a great program at BYU, and their system's great for what they do, but there's definitely some different things that he's had to work on – footwork and kind of tying your feet to the reads, which is a little bit different, I think, from anything he's done."
Vikings tight end Josh Oliver also is learning Minnesota's system, though he isn't new to the NFL.
Originally a third-round pick in 2019, Oliver spent time with the Jaguars and Ravens before signing with the Vikings as a free agent this spring. The 26-year-old is listed at 6-foot-5, 259 pounds, and his potential impact is equally sizeable.
When asked about how Oliver can contribute to Minnesota's offense, Phillips quipped with a wry smile: "Well, have you seen the guy?"
"He's obviously a threat. He's a very large man with long arms, huge hands. He's strong. He's got all those things going for him," Phillips said.
He pointed out that while NFL teams has utilized Oliver almost solely as a blocking tight end, he shined as a pass catcher in college.
"He caught a lot of passes at San Jose and ran [4.63 seconds in the 40-yard dash]. When he gets that train rolling, he's just a tough cover due to his size, his length, his catch radius," Phillips said of Oliver. "We had a play down the goal line a couple days back where a linebacker had great coverage on him, and Josh just – it was basketball. He just boxed him out, he extended his arm, and there was just no way [the linebacker] could cover it.
"We're excited about what he can do both in the run game and the pass game," the offensive coordinator added. "But certainly that physical presence in the run game has really helped us."
Phillips is grateful to be guiding Year 2 of the offensive system, but he's also appreciative that his players can practice daily against a new defense under Brian Flores.
Flores' scheme is known for its intensity, which he doesn't shy away from during spring practices – within the physicality guidelines, of course.
"It makes you check all your answers to make sure you have answers. I think it's one of the more challenging schemes in the league," Phillips said. "And you know, I'd rather practice against it and then get less in a game, as far as pressures and all-out pressure looks if they're not always bringing pressure.
"That's kind of the beauty of it. They've got a lot of things that really are from different looks and give you some challenges as far as your protections or run game," he continued. "They talk you out of things where you're saying, 'We're just not gonna get work on that against these guys.' But we're also figuring out better answers than maybe what we had from his disciple, Josh Boyer, running a similar scheme. We've already got better answers than we did in that game against Miami, just from facing them day-in and day-out."