Kevin O’Connell Kept His Word about the Brian Flores Defense

Theory on Harrison
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Turn the clock back to January. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell met with the media fresh off of a 7-10 season.

One of the striking elements of the presser rested in the head coach’s optimism about where things were going with Minnesota’s defense. Rather than lose Brian Flores, the Vikings were prepping for another year of Flores. Even better, the word from the head coach was that the personnel was going to improve and be adjusted to better fit what the DC preferred. How did that promise turn out?

Kevin O’Connell, Brian Flores, and the Vikings’ Defense

Give O’Connell — and Adofo-Mensah — credit: the Vikings did well rebuilding their defense.

The word from the coach: “And ultimately, I think the most exciting thing is where Flo is going to take that defense from here. And as we can improve our depth and continue to add pieces to that side of the football, I have so much confidence in what he’s going to be able to do.”

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No doubt, there have been some painful losses.

Seeing Danielle Hunter take off is regrettable. The long-and-strong defender specializes in walking quiety and suplexing quarterbacks. Can never have too many of those players. D.J. Wonnum did some good things, but he’s now in Carolina. And then seeing Jordan Hicks depart leaves a bit of a hole at middle linebacker.

The replacements, though, are exciting. The sense one gets is that Flores is going to be able to push his group a decent bit higher in 2024.

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Blake Cashman is younger and faster than Hicks. The hope is that he’ll offer some excellent play beside Ivan Pace Jr. Recently, Janik Eckardt of PurplePTSD argued that Cashman is the FA addition who hasn’t been getting enough attention.

Even more encouraging is that the edge rusher group is looking formidable. Jonathan Greenard and Andrew Van Ginkel look like a sneaky-good pair. Tossing No. 17 pick Dallas Turner into the mix is the cherry on top. Those players could form a terrifying trifecta on third and long. Or, at least, that’s the hope.

Not one single player in that cluster is being entrusted with replacing Hunter. Rather, the goal is for Greenard, Van Ginkel, and Turner to be collectively better than Hunter, Wonnum, and Marcus Davenport. There’s a good chance that occurs, if for no reason other than the injury issues last season.

At corner, the additions of Khyree Jackson (draft) and Shaq Griffin (free agency) are supposed to allow for a bit more man coverage. If so, then Brian Flores will be able to be more unpredictable since he can be more multiple. Doing so will likely lead to good things.

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Of course, change doesn’t necessarily mean improvement. Quite possibly, the Flores defense struggles in 2024, mirroring the late-season letdown that largely contributed to Minnesota missing out on the playoffs.

More likely, though, is a good step forward for a group that finished at 13th in the NFL by allowing 21.3 points against per game. The returnees get to keep perfecting the Flores system and critical position groups — edge rusher and corner — are showing more formidable depth. Does that lead to a top-10 finish for points against?

Kevin O’Connell said back in January that the Vikings were going to adjust the roster to help Flores take that next step. After several months, it’s safe to say that O’Connell’s promise has been fulfilled.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference helped with this piece.

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K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.