Liking What I Hear from DC Flores, but Does He Have the Talent to Create a Better Defense, Aggressive Scheme? 

Vikings Have 2023 Defensive
Oct 31, 2021; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores looks on against the Buffalo Bills during the second half at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports.

As a former NFL head coach in Miami, new Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores is smooth in his media interactions. That’s obvious in seeing how he answers questions during his press conferences. There’s a lot to like when I hear DC Flores talk about the defense he is currently installing during team meetings and OTA practices. 

The big question is how quickly Vikings players will adapt to Flores’ aggressive style on D. And, most importantly, whether there is enough talent for the Vikings to have a top 15 defense as was the case for Flores in Miami (in 2021) and in Pittsburgh working as a senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach under Mike Tomlin last season (a top 10 D would be nice but just getting into the top half of the league should be enough to be a playoff team considering the Vikings’ talent on offense). 

Flores or Bust
Jan 9, 2022; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores watches from the sideline during the second quarter against the New England Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

For now, the focus of Flores and the players is on learning the system and finding out which players fit best (albeit without Pro Bowl edge/outside linebacker Danielle Hunter on the field as he waits for his extension to be completed).  

“What’s happening now is we’re trying to lay the groundwork with terminology, basic information and a foundation along with building relationships you need to have success in the league,” Flores said after a recent OTA session. “It’s a process and we’ve got to make every day count. I tell the players that we don’t care where they came from—which round they were drafted in or if they’re free agents or undrafted. It’s about putting in the work and competing.” 

Vet safety Harrison Smith is excited about the new defense and its aggressive nature. “We’re learning and I think it will be fun,” Smith said. 

Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith (22) warms up before the game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell hired Flores to improve on fired DC Ed Donatell’s more passive scheme that resulted in the league’s 31st ranked defense last season. There are a lot of young players being counted on such as last year’s top two draft picks—safety Lewis Cine and cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. along with two other second-year players—corner Akayleb Evans and linebacker Brian Asamoah. Byron Murphy was a key free agent signing at corner and like Cine and Evans, Murphy is coming off a season where he lost several games due to injury.  

Another defensive player who must produce is free agent signee at edge/outside ‘backer Marcus Davenport as he replaces Za’Darius Smith.  

And it will be a nice bonus for the Vikings if three defensive rookies from this year’s draft–third-round corner Mekhi Blackmon, fourth-round safety/slot corner Jay Ward, and fifth-round nose tackle Jaquelin Roy–can contribute this season (they certainly should help on special teams if not on defense initially). Flores says of his rookie defenders—“They have a long way to go and lot of catching up to do as they get acclimated and figure things out but it’s exciting to find out what guys do well.”  

Flores also likes the defensive staff he and O’Connell have assembled and encourages the other defensive assistants to give lots of input. “I’m big on guys being creative and thinking outside the box,” he said.  

The aggressiveness of Flores’ defense has impressed veteran defensive players such as Smith and defensive tackle Harrison Phillips and also has caught the attention of offensive players like running back Alexander Mattison. 

Youngest Offseason
Jan 8, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison (2) walks off the field after the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports.

Flores is happy to hear the positive reinforcement. “Building an identity is important and you build it over time. That’s a lot of the conversation we have in our meeting room,” Flores said. “They understand my nature of wanting to be aggressive but not reckless and putting guys in a good position to do what they do well.” 

The proof of whether Flores is successful as Vikings DC will be there for all to see beginning September 10 in the opener against the Buccaneers. And even more so with tougher tests coming in Week 2 at defending NFC champion Philadelphia, Week 3 at home against the Chargers (and star QB Justin Herbert) and – yikes – in Week 5 when the Vikings host Patrick Mahomes and the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs.    

Around the NFL Observations: 

1. Nice to hear that Damar Hamlin is participating in the Buffalo Bills’ team drills for the first time since his scary cardiac arrest during a game at Cincinnati on January 2. The third-year safety was fully cleared to resume playing football in April and after extensive conditioning work early in the offseason program, he is back on the practice field this week. 

2. The Bills further reinforced their defense and especially their pass rush with the signing of free agent outside linebacker Leonard Floyd. He had 29 sacks and 184 tackles over the last three seasons as a productive defender for the Rams and now joins D-linemen Von Miller (who should be back healthy after his ACL injury last season) and Ed Oliver along with top linebacker Matt Milano in a strong Bills front seven on D.  

3. One of the teams chasing the Bills in the AFC East will be the Jets who have QB Aaron Rodgers back on the practice field in OTAs after improvement with his minor calf injury. The team is being careful with Rodgers and having him participate in 7-on-7 and two-minute drills but not full team 11-on-11 sessions as of now.   

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