6 Vikings Takeaways from June Minicamp
The Minnesota Vikings are less than 95 days away from regular season football, venturing into a brave new world with Kevin O’Connell at the helm.
The franchise shifts from a defense-first approach to Sundays as Mike Zimmer departed in January. Zimmer’s replacement, O’Connell, was an offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams, so the Vikings are “getting with the times” with offensive-minded leadership.
And this week, the ballclub formally ended spring activities at mandatory minicamp. These are six takeaways from the two-day event.
1. Danielle Hunter Will Be Just Fine in a 3-4 Defense
Vikings linebacker coach Mike Smith called Danielle Hunter a “kid in a candy store,” reflecting on his minicamp presence inside the team’s new-look defense.
Few folks believed Hunter would struggle in adapting to a different defensive scheme, but the Smith quip is an affirmation that the LSU alumnus can be a tyrant in any defense.
From a birdseye view, Hunter’s production at minicamp is a bigger deal because a) He’s there in attendance and evidently not disgruntled about any contractual matters b) Hunter is healthy and is emulating the “old Hunter.”
2. Ihmir Smith-Marsette Is Injured
Now — for the bad stuff.
The Vikings frontrunner to land a WR4 job was beset by a leg injury and walked in a boot throughout mandatory minicamp. Of course, in six weeks, fans are likely to look back on the June boot and not care as Smith-Marsette is expected to be ready for training camp.
Yet, for Vikings fans scarred by lingering summer injuries — see: the aforementioned Hunter in 2020 — “something wrong” with Smith-Marsette is not ideal.
Thankfully, he’s “only a WR4,” and none of this — even if it turns into a bigger injury — is that big of a deal.
3. Greg Joseph, the Frontrunner at Kicker
Out of nowhere in May, Minnesota signed rookie kicker Gabe Brkic to a three-year contract. Greg Joseph is the incumbent, but the Brkic addition made fans ponder the what-ifs of a kicker battle.
If June is any indication, Joseph is on track to be the team’s 2022 kicker. He looked the part this week. Therefore, Brkic might just be a practice-squad contingency plan because God knows the Vikings need those at the kicker spot.
4. Kellen Mond Has an Honest-to-Goodness Shot at QB2
Standoffishness about Kellen Mond is deceased. No longer are “draft grudges” preventing the young passer from a fair shake at a QB2 job.
If only for two days in Eagan, Mond is progressing like a QB2 — not a blackballed rookie whose coach has seen enough of him. Mond’s ceiling caved in January, thanks to the former coaching staff, but O’Connell and his pals arrived in Minnesota to fix the roof.
Mond will be afforded a reasonable chance in July and August to become the Vikings backup quarterback. So far, it’s not The Mannion Show at QB2.
5. Open Battles at Interior OL
Jesse Davis, a free agent from Miami, is the current odds-on favorite to win the RG job. Garrett Bradbury is not preordained to start at center.
For Vikings obsessionists, those items are tremendously newsworthy.
Rookie guard Ed Ingram strangely hasn’t signed in his rookie contract. When he does, he should start as that’s what 2nd-Round guards do — start. For now, though, it’s Davis.
On Bradbury, the coaching staff makes the center job sound interpretive. Because Bradbury is a 1st-Rounder, most believe he’ll probably start in September. Yet, the brakes were severely pumped on the idea that Bradbury need only show up and accept the job. He’ll have to outlast Chris Reed and Austin Schlottman to re-earn his job.
6. The Post-Zimmer Defense Could Actually Be Good
Kirk Cousins said this week that the new Vikings defense “makes practice difficult.”
This is a good thing.
It means the defense — a unit some felt would be “left behind” with the new offense-first head coach — is doing its job. During the last two seasons, Mike Zimmer’s defense plunged to lower tiers of the NFL. The occurrence was the main reason he longer coaches the team — why employ a defense-first head coach when the defense stinks?
Early indications hint that the Donatell defense could be better than the 2020 and 2021 Vikings versions. And, truth be told, all the Vikings really needed in the last two seasons was a decent defense. Playoff games could’ve been on the menu, if so.
A decent [and perhaps better] defense for life after Zimmer now feels realistic.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).