Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from www.purplePTSD writer and editor of purplePTSD and VikingsTerritory, Joe Oberle.
The Minnesota Vikings got back out on the field for OTAs this week—and they had a new field (at TCO Performance Center) with a new team (particularly their signal called Kirk Cousins) and even some new coaches (including offensive coordinator John DeFilippo). And there are some new, lofty expectations, as the team made it to the conference championship last season and everyone is expecting them to take the next step . . . or two.
The OTAs (organized team activities) feature the entire team this week, with at least one notable exception: linebacker Anthony Barr. Barr was not at the facility on Wednesday or Tuesday for that matter, and according to head coach Mike Zimmer, Barr had called him and told him that he would not be there.
It is important to note that OTAs at this time of the year are generally voluntary, but when you are the only player not at the facility and you are heading into a contract year, the absence is noteworthy. When asked about whether or not it had anything to do with Barr’s contract (and not to mention the fact that middle linebacker Eric Kendricks, who was drafted a year after Barr, recently was extended), Zimmer would only say that he would keep his conversation with Barr between the two of them. Intrigue right out of the gate.
Other players in attendance who were in uniform but were limited, prevented from doing drills or spent time on another field rehabbing with certified athletic trainer Eric Sugarman included Kyle Rudolph, Dalvin Cook, Tyler Conklin, Andrew Sendejo, Mack Brown, Laquon Treadwell and C.J. Hamm (although Hamm was spotted taking part in some drills). In addition, center Pat Elflein and defensive end Everson Griffen were purple-clad spectators, as well.
That put (for what it’s worth) the starting offensive line at RT Mike Remmers, RG Tom Compton, C Nick Easton, LG Danny Isidora and LT Riley Reiff. This is the first week of OTAs. We shall say nothing more and read nothing more into it at this point. It was good to see Easton back on the field, however. And the same can be said for seeing Cook back in uniform, even if it was mostly doing rehab maneuvers on the side field.
Interestingly, another player who is in a contract year yet still was out on the field, happened to utter the most pertinent line regarding looking contracts—and he also had the highlight play of the practice session—that would be wide receiver Stefon Diggs. First the line: “I love being here. I love playing for the Vikings.”
And now the play.
Diggs ran a go rout down the right sidelines with a barely a step on the defender, and Cousins, stepped up and into the throw and hurled it downfield right into the outstretched arms of Diggs. Diggs had to kick it up another level to reach the pass and then stretched out for it and grabbed it before tumbling to the ground with a near-60-yard highlight reel grab. The connection was exciting for the play that it was and for who it involved: Mr. Minneapolis Miracle and Mr. (formerly) Highest Paid Player in the League.
Speaking of Captain Kirk Cousins, the new signal caller looked very comfortable in his new surroundings of leading the Vikings offensive huddle. He had a lot of zip on the ball on short passes to the flat, and clearly looked to have the arm to go deep.
“I thought he looked good,” Zimmer said of Cousins. “He’s a very anticipatory thrower. He throws guys open. He’s very, very accurate. I think he’s doing a good job of taking control of the offense. Like everybody, he’s learning a new system, learning new people. I thought he did good today and I thought he’s done good the whole time he’s been out here.”
The offensive coordinator agreed:
“The ball jumps off his hand better than I expected, to be quite honest with you,” DeFilippo said about Cousins. “He can drive the football to the perimeter. You need that to play quarterback in the National Football League. You have to drive the football to the perimeter. I knew he had a strong arm coming in. I didn’t know he was able to drive it as well as he does. He has a very compact release. The ball just jumps off his hand because he has a short stroke back. All of those things you look for in good quarterbacks.”
From an observer’s point of view, Cousins looked real comfortable running the huddle. He seemed upbeat and active, bopping around after a pass, and pumping his fist after the long connection with Diggs.
It is also interesting noting the new body language behind center for the Purple. When last spring you watched Teddy Bridgewater, and even Sam Bradford, as if you were waiting for the other shoe to drop (or knee to buckle) because of their injury problems. Cousins, on the other hand, was seen jumping around the backfield as though the weight of the world has been lifted from his shoulders. And now in Minnesota with his future set (and his past in Washington behind him) that may just be what we are seeing—a player who is very happy in his skin and his new uniform.
According to DeFilippo the first team offense had a very good day despite the fact that it is a new quarterback, a new offensive coordinator and new teammates.
“Sure, there’s an adjustment anytime you change offenses,” DeFilippo said. “Anytime someone else is teaching you. Anytime somebody else is snapping you the football. There is always a learning curve when it comes to those things. Throwing to new wide outs. I wouldn’t say we were rusty yesterday offensively, but it wasn’t our best effort. The thing about it is, I liked the fact that there were no balls on the ground today in terms of the snaps with the first group. I don’t think we had a drop. I have to go and watch the tape. I thought the protection again two days in a row was really, really good. Sure, there is going to be an adjustment anytime you have all those new factors involved.”
And as far as those new teammates are concerned, they seem to be enjoying getting to know Cousins, as well.
“Since I’ve spent some time with him, on and off the field, I’ve learned that he’s a great guy,” Diggs said. “He’s definitely a blessing to be around as far as the energy that he brings. As far as being our general and the guy that’s going to lead us, I put 100 percent faith in him and I trust him, as far as following his lead. However he approaches things, I’m right behind him.”
Another receiver sees another side of Cousins:
“Kirk is a different guy. He’s fun,” wide receiver Kendall Wright said with a big smile on his face. “He’s really a fun guy to be around. He’s outgoing for a quarterback. He’s out there throwing money balls every day. All we have to do is get open and go catch ‘em.”
It could be the start of a fun season.