The Vikings Coach Embracing a New Role During the Preseason
Kevin O’Connell is the primary mastermind behind the Vikings offense. Similar to the arrangement in Los Angeles with Sean McVay, O’Connell is the HC who largely functions as an OC since he’s leading the unit even though the team has an offensive coordinator.
Well, for a portion of the Titans game, a different Vikings coach was allowed to take the reins. Wes Phillips took charge, even calling the drive that resulted in DeWayne McBride’s touchdown. O’Connell was quick to offer his praise for his OC during the post-game press conference. Even more exciting is that O’Connell foreshadowed something similar for the Cardinals game on Saturday.
The Vikings Coach Gets to Call Plays
Unless something totally unforeseen happens, O’Connell will still be the voice in Kirk Cousins’ ear on September Sundays.
Nevertheless, there’s some wisdom in allowing his OC to get some reps during the preseason. Doing so allows the head coach to sit back and see how someone else works through the play sheet while also giving that individual coach the benefit of more experience.
Take a peak at what the coach had to say: “I called some of the early, first half stuff. And then trying to get [Phillips] some reps. Thinking about trying to get creative with the game next weekend.” So, confirmation that Phillips was tossed into the mix against Tennessee while pointing to a mysterious “creative” option for the upcoming game.
O’Connell goes on to reflect on how he received a similar chance while working for Jay Gruden in Washington and Sean McVay in Los Angeles. Shortly thereafter, O’Connell notes some of the benefits: “I just think it’s a really good thing for me to sit back and kind of evaluate our whole team sometimes.”
Even more impressive is that Phillips was the man behind the team’s touchdown drive. O’Connell praised his OC for being able to avoid “delay of games or pre-snap penalties.” When asked about the creative option for next week, O’Connell notes that Phillips will probably get some chances to call plays but that other coaches may get a shot. Similarly, Brian Flores has been allowing some of his assistants to hop in the saddle.
During the offseason, Phillips had a chance to interview with the Chargers but declined due to his desire to stick around Minnesota. Take a look at how ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler described the situation: “The #Chargers have requested to speak with #Vikings offensive coordinator Wes Phillips about their OC position, but Phillips plans to stay with Minnesota, per sources. Phillips highly valued there and Vikings building something he wants to see through.”
One has to assume that O’Connell’s conscious effort to allow his assistants to develop is part of what keeps coaches in town.
The expectation is that Minnesota will boast an excellent offense and an ascending defense. How high can Flores’ crew ascend? Well, that’s a difficult question to answer. Very few expect defensive dominance à la 2017 Zimmer but a repeat of last year’s horrendous defense is also very unlikely. League average for points allowed feels both ambitious and plausible.
The combination of continuity and high-end talent on offense offers the potential to see a group that’s within the top 5 of the NFL. Yes, that’s a lofty projection, but the possibility exists given the weapons that are available to O’Connell and Phillips.
Clutch Cousins gets to toss the football to Jefferson, Addison, Osborn, and Hockenson. The OT tandem can be among the league’s best and the Oliver addition may help actualize the run/pass balance that was elusive for last year’s offense (Phillips has certainly been complimentary of the humongous tight end at various points).
The Vikings will continue fine-tuning their operation in the coming days as the Arizona Cardinals visit TCO Performance Center ahead of Saturday’s preseason game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Expect plenty of Jaren Hall as the team begins to fully look ahead to the September 10th showdown with the Bucs.