Versatility Won’t Be Just a ‘Defense Thing’ for Vikings

Helmet
Dec 31, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; A Minnesota Vikings helmet against the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Because Brian Flores from 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers fame is taking over the Minnesota Vikings defense this autumn, fans daydream about the aggression, change of pace, and generalized versatility the group will showcase, especially compared to last year.

Versatility Won’t Be Just a ‘Defense Thing’ for Vikings

And while that theory is fine and dandy — it’s recommended, in fact — let’s not forget about Kevin O’Connell’s offense in Year Two.

Versatility
Kevin O’Connell after his first season with the Minnesota Vikings. The team finished 13-4, won the NFC North for the first time in five years, and produced the best season by a first-year head coach in franchise history.

The Vikings defense is gaining headlines for the philosophical shift, but the club’s offense shouldn’t be left behind. The group ranked eight in points scored last year, but 25th in sacks allowed and 27th in rushing yards. Nevertheless, Vikings.com senior editor Craig Peters outlined a whole speech on the offense‘s versatility last week, and folks should keep it in mind.

“It’s highly likely much of the offense will run through Jefferson — and for plenty of good reasons. The dynamic playmaker is coming off single-season franchise records for receptions (128) and yards (1,809), leading the league in both categories and making the Pro Bowl for the third time in as many seasons. Jefferson was participating in multiple marketing opportunities during the voluntary offseason program. He did hit the field for both days of minicamp last week and said he’s looking forward to training camp,” Peters opined.

Jan 1, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) prior to the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports.

Vikings fans and NFL pundits predicted ‘the Cooper Kupp role’ for Jefferson under O’Connell last year, and the prophecy came true, at least per Jefferson’s target load.

Peters continued, “Jefferson’s absence from those sessions enabled other receivers like Jalen Reagor and Jalen Nailor to log quality reps with Cousins. The Vikings believe they can run 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end and three receivers), or they have multiple other groupings they can use to attack a particular opponent.”

Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) and center Garrett Bradbury (56) take practice snaps before a game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports.

The Jalens will indeed afford Cousins some extra horsepower next to Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, and K.J. Osborn. The two are even vying for the same job — the WR4 spot.

Peterson also elaborated on Minnesota’s TE group, “The return of T.J. Hockenson for his first full season in purple, combined with the signing of Josh Oliver, should enable some opportunities in 12 personnel. Throw in veteran Johnny Mundt, either with Oliver or with the newcomer and Hockenson, and there will be other elements to keep defenses on their toes.”

Vikings.com’s Gabe Henderson talked with new Minnesota Vikings tight end Josh Oliver after he was signed by the team during 2023 NFL free agency. Oliver is on deck to serve as the Vikings TE2 in 2023 behind TE1 T.J. Hockenson.

Of all Peters’s talking points, Oliver generates the most newfound versatility. The Vikings didn’t appear needy for an extra tight end heading into free agency, but then March hit, and Oliver was the first newcomer Viking signed by general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. Folks immediately pinpointed Oliver as a ‘run-blocking tight end,’ yet coming out of college four years ago, he allegedly stunk at run support but possessed a wide receiver’s hands.

In reality, Oliver’s skillset is actually rather balanced, and O’Connell can use Oliver in the running and passing game.

Finally, remember the offensive line. Minnesota hasn’t employed the same fivesome in back-to-back seasons in ages. This year is different, according to the depth chart heading into training camp. The franchise is on tap to return the same five starters from last year.

Ergo, sprinkle some continuity in with enhanced versatility, and the Vikings defense may not be the only unit on the rise.


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 Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by OverTheCap.com.

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