Expect a Heavy Dose of the Vikings New Weapon in 2023

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The 2022 Minnesota Vikings were in the first year of the tenure of a new head coach and offensive coordinator. They had to use much of the personnel already in the building but had fresh ideas on how the offense should look. Coming from the Los Angeles Rams, Kevin O’Connell implemented an offensive system with heavy usage of 11 personnel (three WRs, 1 TE, 1 RB). This year, we will see a lot of sets with two tight ends.

Expect a Heavy Dose of the Vikings New Weapon in 2023

Expect a Heavy Dose of the New Viking in 2023
Baltimore Ravens tight end Josh Oliver (84) spikes the ball after a touchdown score as tight end Mark Andrews (89) looks on, and Jacksonville Jaguars safety Andre Cisco (5) is slow to get up after an attempted stop during the fourth quarter of a regular season NFL football matchup Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022, at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. The Jaguars edged the Ravens 28-27. [Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union]

Josh Oliver was the first addition to the roster in free agency, and folks were stunned to see the team go out and sign a second tight end when T.J. Hockenson was already in the building. But not only that, he was expensive when he signed his three-year $21 million contract, especially as a player with underwhelming production in the receiving department throughout his four-year career.

His signing has been the beginning of a new age of Vikings offense, with some elements from the Kyle Shanahan scheme, which is running heavy personnel groupings resulting in an outstanding running scheme. The rushing offense was a big problem in Minnesota in 2022 and a point of emphasis in the offseason. Signing a great run-blocker and implementing a more creative running system should help.

Do the Unexpected
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Offensive coordinator Wes Phillips was asked about Oliver, and he is excited to use him in the season:

I think if you have a guy like Josh [Oliver], you have to use him. Teams generally think they have a win there, particularly these 3-4 teams with these big outside linebackers, or if you’re lining up a defensive end over a tight end all the time, you feel like ‘Okay, we won there, now what’s the other problems in the offense.’ That’s really not the case with Josh. His big, he’s strong, he’s physical, he’s athletic, and then he’s shown in the pass game that he’s got really good hands and that’s going all the way back to college. And he’s super long so his catch radius is really big.

When he came out from San Jose, they didn’t really use him as a blocker. I remember grading him, and it was kind of like ‘he’s big, he’s long, he can run – I think he ran in the 4.5s – but he was probably about 250 pounds at that time. And we said, well, he’s got some talent but we need to teach him how to block, how to go in-line. I didn’t know that he’d end up being over 270 pounds but he’s really worked hard, he loves football, he’s a team guy, he’s been a great pleasure to have.

Wes Phillips, Vikings OC

Oliver came into the league as a pass-catcher. Injuries derailed his stint in Jacksonville, where he was drafted and shipped to Baltimore for peanuts. In their run-heavy scheme, he wasn’t asked to do much pass-catching next to Mark Andrew, but his blocking ability opened up a lot for them.

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In the last two campaigns in Baltimore, Oliver played in 31 games, starting 10 contests. He caught 23 passes for 215 yards and a couple of scores. Those numbers are easily achievable with the Vikings in the first year of playing with Kirk Cousins.

His presence will open up the running game and help T.J. Hockenson turn even more into a receiving threat because he doesn’t have to be too involved as a blocker. All his teammates and coaches rave about their new tight end, so the chances are good that the doubters of the signing will become fans of his early in his Vikings tenure.

The offense will be more versatile with him. O’Connell can now choose different packages for different opponents and hurt them by attacking their weaknesses by running at them with heavy personnel or using light offenses, as he did in 2022.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt