Good Vibes Are Nice as Vikings Assemble but Will They Be There When Games Start?
Vikings Insider, The GM’s View
It’s springtime, and as the saying goes, hope springs eternal. Such is the case at Vikings headquarters as the players returned for the nine-week offseason program. As the old Beach Boys song goes, there are “Good Vibrations” abounding at TCOPC.
I sense a distinct difference as I listen to many of the team’s star players speaking in media sessions this week. From the mouths of Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook, Harrison Smith, and Patrick Peterson, it was an almost identical theme—that of the Vikings having a talented group, a great organizational and team culture, and an excitement about the new coaching staff led by the man they call Coach K.O. (Kevin O’Connell).
The players all say there’s a lot of hard work ahead as they learn and implement new offensive and defensive schemes, but there is a unified feeling of what the two Vikings who have been with the team for the longest time–Smith and Thielen—both called “positivity and energy.” Thielen added, “With the fresh culture, it’s an exciting time. Now we have to put the work in and there’s a long way to go but we’re very excited about the coaching staff and the scheme. It’s going to be great for everyone.”
Yes, we always hear positive thoughts when teams in any sport reassemble to begin preparing for the season ahead. We listened to many of the same lines from Vikings players in the past when they showed up for OTAs under Mike Zimmer and his staff. About a fresh start, excited to be back in the team facility and looking forward to the new season ahead—yada, yada, yada.
But I’ve been around NFL teams for 30 plus years, and it’s evident to me that this team was ready for a change in leadership, and they are genuinely excited about the new coaching staff and love the vibe of inclusiveness that O’Connell is pitching. I thought Zimmer was a good head coach with a winning record overall. Sometimes it’s just time for a change in leadership so the players have new direction and hear a new voice. Team owners Zygi and Mark Wilf were wise to recognize that.
The overriding question, of course, is if the players will be singing the same tune when the regular season arrives and the real games begin in a league where it’s tough to win consistently and become a playoff team and Super Bowl contender. How will O’Connell, his coaches, and the players react after a few heartbreaking defeats that are inevitable over 17 games plus—they hope—playoffs?
For now—in mid-April—the honeymoon is in full bloom for O’Connell, GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, and the new assistant coaches.
The team’s best player—Jefferson—said, “ I hear nothing but great things about Coach K.O. from Odell (Beckham, who was with O’Connell at the Rams). We’re excited. New players, new coaches, and we all want to get back on the winning track, and we have so much potential with this team. And I’m excited to hear about moving me to different positions to get me open.”
To coincide with the new regime’s arrival, star running back Dalvin Cook is changing his jersey number from 33 to 4, which he wore in high school and college. Cook is very enthusiastic about the big changes at the top and the influx of talent on the offensive line and defense. “I love the energy in the building, Coach K.O. is doing a great job sending his message to the team of working together to achieve, and we appreciate him saying his door is open for talk. I’m glad we have 55 from the Packers (edge rusher Za’Darius Smith). He was a problem. Teaming him with Danielle (Hunter) will be something special. Now, we have to put the pieces together, put the hard work in, and then it’s about winning.”
Cousins is happy to be working with a head coach who has an offensive background and worked with in Washington when O’Connell was his QB coach. “I’ve been fortunate to be around great football minds in my career, and this is a continuation of that,” he said. “ I look around the locker room, and it’s encouraging to feel good about the group and the players we have.”
Speaking for the defense were the two most experienced players—Smith and Peterson. “We have a very positive building that guys want to be part of,” Smith said. “It’s an opportunity to learn new schemes that may look similar, but we do differently.”
Peterson saluted the coaching change by saying, “We needed to get led in a different direction. The Wilf family did a great job of bringing in some great leaders, great innovators on the offensive and defensive side of the ball to take us where we want to be. Along with the core of the team coming back, it was an easier decision for me to come back here with the guys I have rapport with.”
Peterson also likes what new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell brings to the D. “His scheme travels very well,” the eight-time Pro Bowl corner said. “We’ll have the ability to confuse quarterbacks giving our pass rushers an edge to get to the quarterback.”
Cook made the boldest statement about the 2022 Vikings’ prospects by saying, “We can win a Super Bowl with the team we’ve got.”
That’s probably a stretch, but playoffs and challenging the Packers in the NFC North certainly can be a distinct possibility with some key additions in the upcoming draft, especially if an elite cornerback and more help on the interior offensive line are added to the mix that includes plenty of talent with a more positive attitude among the players.
Around the NFL Observations:
When I saw Stefon Diggs had signed a four-year, $96 million extension with the Bills, I said this was a good trade for Buffalo in acquiring a top receiver. But on further analysis, I say clear advantage to the Vikings, and a great trade for them in receiving five draft picks for Diggs and the No.1 that ex-GM Rick Spielman used to select superstar Justin Jefferson (who is six years younger and already a better player than Diggs) made it terrific on its own.
Then it gets even better for Minnesota considering the other players selected with the picks from the Bills, which include Cam Bynum (a good possibility to start at safety), a contributor at defensive end in Kenny Willekes, and two other seemingly good prospects–tight end Zach Davidson and defensive end Janarius Robinson.
Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl