Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from www.purplePTSD writer and editor of purplePTSD and VikingsTerritory, Joe Oberle.
It’s time for Vikings training camp, and as in every season, there are some nagging questions we hope it will answer, So, I am going to go all Brett Favre on this piece, which means asking questions and trying to answer them—or at least answer by asking myself more questions. Actually, definitive answers here—this is a training camp primer in two parts to give all you camp dwellers something to watch for when the rookies report in about a week (July 23rd).
Today, in part one, we will go with the offense and look at some of the biggest questions and concerns going into to camp. Perhaps the biggest question is whether or not the camp at TCO Performance Center will be bigger and better than the one that took place for more than 50 years in Mankato. Bigger yes, but better? Well, longtime readers of this space know where I stand on that.
How quickly will Cousins assimilate?
The new Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins hit the ground running in OTAs and then stumbled just a bit wending his way through mini-camp. He is key to the team taking it to the next level this season, and it will be important to watch how quickly he can assimilate the new offense, feel comfortable behind the offensive line and get in sync with his receivers.
In 2017, Case Keenum came in for the injured Sam Bradford (who, in his first game of the season looked like he was ready to go with the offense in his second season as a Viking) and barely missed a beat. We are hearing now that Keenum might not have been asked to do as much as Cousins will be asked to do, but he did get behind the wheel of the revving engine and took it for a deep ride in the playoffs.
That (and a lot more) will be expected of and needed from Cousins this season. The schedule doesn’t allow for a long get-acquainted period, and Cousins’ sizable contract doesn’t allow for a lot of patience from the Purple faithful. All eyes will be on No. 8 in camp. But I believe Cousins’ work ethic will have the offense humming early.
Can the O-line gel and protect Captain Kirk?
This question is, perhaps, number 1-A and moving up fast, since the above question will be great affected by the answer here. By now there isn’t a Vikings fan that isn’t clutching their purple brick and squeezing the life out of it, worried about how the line will do. We have heard that Cousins gets a little skittish under pressure and that PFF thinks the purple pocket protectors are going to be one of the worst in the league.
I have more confidence in this group than many (but that is cautious optimism—my default position), as I believe if Nick Easton and Pat Elflein can return to form and are joined by Mike Remmers at right guard, they make a decent interior. Riley Reiff will be solid at left tackle and there is a good battle going on over at right tackle. As of this writing, there is some depth (improved over what they have had in the past), but then injuries often happen on the offensive line. But I like the idea of the Vikings putting together a fast, athletic offensive line (with Rashod Hill losing some weight and Brian O’Neill gaining some) and watching them all get out in space this season. As they say, speed kills. It will be fun to see how much movement we see from them in camp and the preseason.
What will Cook’s return from injury bring?
There is precedent on this one, as Adrian Peterson once came back from a torn ACL to lead the league in rushing the following season. In fact, the returning from ACL surgery is becoming tantamount to Tommy John surgery when it comes to players recovering and resuming their careers following those devastating injuries. Vikings certified athletic trainer Eric Sugarman and his career know how to get the job done, and there was no greater sight at minicamp than seeing Dalvin Cook out there on the field running the ball.
But as I noted at that time, all the pass plays in the flat to him were to the right so he could plant his uninjured leg and then head up field. That tells me they are taking things slow and might continue to do so in camp (which will be something to watch—how many reps Cook gets), and that is find idea. They know what they’re doing.
That being said, we might just see a repeat of the AP treatment in the preseason, where the Vikings will hold Cook out of game action until the regular season starts. I don’t know if this will be the case, but it makes sense, given the team’s past handling of a franchise running back. The problem is that Cook only hand four regular season games in the offense last year and is learning a new one this year. The reps are more important to his development than they were to the veteran Peterson.
Cook has exhibited a great attitude toward his rehab, but he might be getting antsy by the time the third preseason games rolls around. This is one to watch.
Who is Wide Receiver Number 3?
As we said earlier, Cousins needs to get on the same page with his receivers, and we think he has been putting in the required time to do that with Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph. Only more time working together will increase this.
But as you more than likely have read regarding the springtime workouts, Laquon Treadwell became one of Cousins’ favorite targets and the two hooked up quite often in OTAs and minicamp. We’re not sure yet if this was a product of the defense blanketing those two aforementioned starters or Treadwell is indeed taking the next step in his development. Perhaps Cousins sees the field better than his purple predecessor (many observers say this is true) and it coincides with Treadwell finally making putting things together.
Whatever the case, the coaches, who installed Treadwell as the number three wideout, and Cousins, who has consistently gotten him the ball, are giving him every opportunity to grab that role. There are players barking at Treadwell’s heels for starting reps, so keep an eye on this camp battle to come.
Will there be bumps with the new offense?
Last season was the first full season with Pat Shurmur’s offense. The season before that was Norv Turner’s offense. This season the offense belongs to John DeFilippo—the third new offense offensive coordinator in three seasons. That means there could be issues: issues in understanding the offense, issues in confusing it with a previous one and issues on marrying it with this roster. As Bette Davis once said, “Fasten your seats, it’s going to be a bumpy night.” (Link submitted for those millennials who don’t know who is Bette Davis is.)
Well, a bumpy training camp, maybe. But that is what training camp is for, smoothing out those bumps and getting ready for the regular season. There will be some smoothing out to do with the new OC, new quarterback, kind of new running back and a slightly revamped offensive line. But then every season there is new personnel, so there is some version of this going on in every camp.
Regardless, I like DeFilippo’s energy and work ethic. He is an intense individual who impresses you as someone not interesting in putting up with players not learning their assignment. He works hard and he expects the same out of the players. DeFilippo will do what it takes to get his offense installed and operating at a high level, as this season is likely his audition for a future head-coaching job. It’s a big camp for everyone.